An In-Depth Guide to Negotiation in BDSM Relationships
"Negotiation? Wtf is this, a business meeting?"
Nay, silly goose. BDSM doesn't tend to involve a lot of meetings. (Unless you're down for some saucy office role-play. Rawr.)
Negotiation is a communication process many BDSM partners go through before playing for the first time. We do it to clarify expectations, figure out systems and procedures for play, and sort out which activities will initially be on or off our kinky menus.
It's also, in this bratty submissive's not-so-humble opinion, an absolute must that should never be skipped. Whether you're embarking on your kinky adventure with a longtime or brand-new partner, negotiation is guaranteed to expand the possibilities of your relationship and help everyone enjoy themselves as thoroughly as possible.
In this post I'm going to talk about the ins and outs of negotiation and give some tips on how to handle it.
"Wait, why negotiate? Shouldn't the dominants call the shots?"
Some people mistakenly think so, but that type of system isn't healthy. Tops lead the dynamic in practice, but bottoms have equal say over what flies or doesn't.
We want everyone to be safe, feel respected, and enjoy themselves before, during, and after play. Planning ahead helps us avoid problems in the moment.
Let's imagine a fresh couple that skips the negotiation process. They go on a date, mention their mutual interest in BDSM, return home together, and dive into playtime without explicitly discussing any details.
There are SO many ways this can go badly. Saying "Let's do BDSM" can have very different implications in the minds of two people.
Are we talking blindfolds and hair pulling? Knives and needles? Light spanking? Hardcore caning? Bondage? Face-slapping? Ball gags? Degradation? Bruises? Rough intercourse? Golden showers? Anal sex? Age play? Collars and leashes? Spitting? Choking? All of the above?
Any of those experiences could be extremely upsetting for someone who's not into that specific fetish, whether they're topping or bottoming. For someone who desires one of those elements, however, not having it incorporated into play could feel like a letdown.
Negotiation helps us steer clear of these problems. We not only can protect each other from (unwanted, heh) emotional and physical pain, but we can also pinpoint the RIGHT direction to head by identifying which of our fetishes and desires will click with our partner's. We can dive into play aiming for all of the good, but none of the bad.
When should you negotiate?
As I mentioned, practitioners often have an initial negotiation convo before playing for the first time. We then continue touching base and tweaking agreements as the partnership progresses, based on what works and what doesn't.
The time for negotiation is NOT in the middle of a session when emotions are heightened and you're lost in the heat of passion. This is the case for several reasons:
You don't want anyone feeling pressured to consent to especially risky activities for the first time.
Sometimes partners need a chance to prepare either physically, mentally, or emotionally for intense activities.
Everyone deserves a chance to learn and consider the risks of new activities before they happen.
For those seeking an immersive experience, attempting in-depth negotiation during a scene blurs the line between the fluid nature of the fantasy and the practical considerations of reality.
What should you discuss during negotiation?
Depending on the nature of your relationship with your partner and how much you already know about each other, you may want to cover some or all of the following points:
Health issues - Your partner should be made aware of any injuries or illnesses you have. Be upfront about your STI status, including how recently you were tested, if applicable. Also mention any allergies to foods, substances, or materials. (An allergy to latex or common ingredients in lube, for instance, could become problematic.)
Past trauma - PTSD can have a huge effect on how some people react to possible elements of BDSM. (I have a friend, for example, who was once robbed at knifepoint. He understandably avoids any type of play involving sharp objects.) Let your partner know of any triggers to avoid.
Hard limits - These are activities that you're unwilling to engage in under any circumstances. Your partner will want to avoid them entirely.
Soft limits - These are activities you're iffy about, but might be willing to try at some point under the right circumstances.
Preferences - These are activities or dynamics you enthusiastically want to engage in, or even consider a fetish need. Your partner will want to focus on them while figuring out how to please you.
Safeword Systems - What's the safeword? Will you just have one, or multiple words for different situations? Will both of you use the same words? How about non-verbal signals in case someone's gagged or unable to speak?
Scene Details - How long would a play session ideally last for you? Do you imagine scenes ending with someone calling a safeword, or before that point? These details all depend on the vibe of the moment obviously, but some people like to touch base about them. For example, if you like to play long and often, but S&M is ideally quick foreplay for your partner, that can be an issue to compromise about.
Sexual Details - Is sex on the table during play? (Never assume it is. Many people enjoy playing without actually fucking.) If so, will you use protection?
Risks - Are you aware of the risks of the activities you want to do? Is your partner? Make sure to discuss any big points together, especially when it comes to hardcore stuff like consensual non-consent, breath play, knife play, degradation, long-term bondage, etc.
Aftercare - What do you desire or require after play to feel good? Will you feel upset if your partner doesn't sleep over? Are you particularly wanting of affection after play? Figure out what will work best for both of you. (And don't make the mistake of thinking aftercare is just for bottoms. Many tops need it too.)
... and anything else you feel like talking about!
Jayzus. Is all of that really necessary?
It may or may not be. That depends on you, your partner, and the level of intensity you're aiming for.
For more basic activities like light spanking and hair pulling, you probably don't need to get into such detail. Deciding on a safeword and talking about aftercare might be enough.
However, if you're looking to delve deeper (for example, through extended role-play scenes involving things like simulated rape,) a more thorough approach is required to protect everyone's physical and mental health.
Does talking about BDSM in detail kill the magic?
Some people think so and others don't.
On one hand, it makes sense to want to live in the moment and keep things organic. There's much to be said for the element of surprise during play. Tops often make plans in advance, excited to witness their partner's reactions. For bottoms, not knowing what's in store for them adds curiosity and perhaps even fear, which can create a delicious sense of tension.
On the other hand, talking about kink can make for excellent foreplay. Telling your partner about your most taboo fantasies and hearing that they share those desires gives both of you something to look forward to. The more intimately you communicate, the more you'll probably end up turning each other on in anticipation.
I used to be far too embarrassed of my fetishes to talk about them with my partners, but these days I'm a huge proponent of forthright communication and BDSM has become more positive for me as a result. My worst past experiences happened due to a lack of communication rather than the opposite.
Find a comfortable balance of verbal and non-verbal communication with your partner. Don't skip talking about things that should be said out of fear of judgment. It's natural to feel shy, but BDSM is unsustainable and dangerous when communication's not present.
What if I'm inexperienced and have no idea what my preferences or limits are?
This is normal and you don't need to worry about it much. You'll figure out through trial and error what you do and don't like.
However, you probably have at least a vague sense of what you're looking for. "I think I want to try bondage. I don't think I'm interested in anal play," etc. That's at least a starting point for your partner to work with. You can always expand on it as you wade deeper into the pool.
What you don't want to say (especially my fellow submissives out there,) is "Do whatever you want," or "Anything's okay for me." This is common for first-timers, but it's a red flag in the eyes of more experienced folks. Everyone has limits, and empathetic partners will seek to avoid violating yours at all costs. Protect these partners and yourself by giving the issue some thought.
Are there any tools to help make negotiation easier?
One popular tool I've used with past partners is a BDSM checklist. It's a list of different activities, tools, systems, and dynamics that are present in the fetish world. You and your partner can fill one out and exchange results.
I've found checklists can be useful because:
They help you understand the possibilities of BDSM.
They help you gain a better understanding of your fetishes.
They give you a way to express your feelings about activities or situations you might be too shy or unsure to bring up out loud.
They give you a clear idea of your partner's fetishes, limits, and preferences.
They give tops a reference to work with for future planning.
You'll be able to compare answers and find common ground with your partner's kinks.
The whole process can be mega sexy and fun.
Uhh, where can I get one of those?
Here's a link to the one I used in the past. It originally appeared in the book Virtually Yours by MasterMHatter.
If that one doesn't float your boat, there are other resources like it online. Google 'BDSM checklist' to see what you can find!
Will negotiation guarantee that nothing will go wrong?
No. You're guaranteed to hit snags at some point during play because BDSM is an intense and emotional adventure. However, negotiation will help you steer clear of avoidable issues.
Also, don't let fear stop you from exploring. While a scene gone wrong can feel terrible, it can also bring partners closer together. Hashing out misunderstandings and points of contention generates empathy and ensures that things will go more smoothly in the future.
Do you have questions about negotiation or ideas to add? Leave a comment to share! And fill out that sexy form below to subscribe to my email list. I'll be in touch once in a blue moon with more posts.
Bye for meow.