Topic 2 - Personal safety - notes

Personal safety has to do with our boundaries being violated, with limits we've set being exceeded, or by us being put in a situation to which we haven't consented.

Consent is a vital and central issue in BDSM. If we are forced or compelled to go somewhere or do something to which we haven't freely agreed then this can go so far as being a legal issue of illegal imprisonment, assault or rape. Even if it doesn't reach this point there will be serious ramifications for our future trust in our partner. It can destroy relationships.

Personal safety can have much less to do with physical harm than other safety issues, but the fact that personal boundaries, consent, and moral and ethical values are potentially compromised without our agreement means that this form of safety often impacts us greatly as we see ourselves. It can have dramatic consequences for our own feelings of self worth.

Personal safety is as much a concern for dominants as it is submissives because there are many ways a submissive can abuse or take advantage of a dominant.

For submissives

One of the common risks for a submissive involves bondage where they are tied up and made helpless and then their top or dominant goes beyond the limits of the activities which were agreed to. A submissive may agree to a simple fully-clothed bondage scene and end up being raped, for example. Or while maybe nothing physically harmful happens a submissive might also be kept against her will if the top won't release her at the agreed time the scene was supposed to end, or if he or she ignores either the agreed safeword or the requests of the submissive to be released.

During floggings it's frequently the case that the person being flogged isn't fully aware of what's happening to their back and buttocks and it's easy for a less-than-honest or excessively-enthusiastic top to ignore negotiated agreements against marks or bruises and to leave the submissive's back marked, scarred and bleeding.

For dominants

Dominants also are potentially at risk from their submissive partners. As we'll see later (in topic 5) some submissives will specifically seek out inexperienced dominants to allow them (the submissive) to engage in poor or harmful behaviour.

But dominants can also be vulnerable to submissives who stalk them. A dominant may engage in a scene with a new submissive at a play party and the new submissive, completely overwhelmed by the intense feelings, and underwhelmed by their own grasp on reality, can think that this new dominant is the one for them and that they must be completely and fully in love with them.

Sometimes, too, submissives who have been abused or raped in their pasts---particularly in their childhoods---may look for a dominant to help them relive those experiences. The submissive, of course, won't say this---they may not even be consciously aware of it themselves---but they manipulate the dominant into helping perpetuate this past abuse.

Finally, sometimes a submissive can get carried away in a scene and later come to regret what they did. This happens in non-BDSM relationships as well, and the person concerned may can claim that they were raped or taken advantage of. Where bondage was involved this can raise very real and very legal questions for the dominant, even if they were completely open and honourable the whole way through.

The malintentioned

As we can see, not everyone we meet in the world of BDSM is well-intentioned. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of very decent, caring and respectful dominants and submissives out there. In fact, there are. But this course is about safety and we have to consider the ones whose intentions aren't pure and how to defend against them.

They may not be deliberately nasty (though there are a few of these), and may instead be out to get as much out of you as they can and are happy to ride as near to the edge of honourable behaviour as possible to get it.

For example, a dominant or top might introduce themselves and represent themselves to be more skilled than they are. They do this because they find you attractive and think that they've got a better chance of getting sex or their ego stroked by bluffing their way through a scene than by being honest. Engaging in a scene with such a pretender can mean getting involved in activities more advanced or challenging than they can handle. This is an easy road to getting seriously injured.

They may not even be doing this intentionally and may be living in a hopeful world of ignorance and fantasy, and then find themselves in way over their heads performing scenes that they lack the skill to safely achieve.

The same thing can happen from the other side, too, when a submissive claims experience (and endurance and resistance) beyond what they're actually capable of. Being able to absorb large amounts of pain, or to handle strong impacts from heavy floggers are learned skills. They require good relaxation skills, they need the person to be quite fit, and they need experience to be able to gauge what is too hard or too fast and what is OK.

A submissive who has little experience but is keen to be partnered with an attractive and skilled dominant may be living entirely in their own fantasies when they say that they can take anything, that they're ready for action, or that no pain is too much. This can easily lead to a naive dominant inflicting more on them than they can actually take, potentially leading to real physical or medical damage (which is, of course, the dominant's fault when it gets to court because he shouldn't have been hitting her in the first place, should he?)

At the more deliberately malicious end of the scale,there are the people who deliberately set out to cause harm. They may be angry with their partner for some reason and choose to strike out at them, or they may be angry with someone or something else and, lacking an opportunity to attack the real cause for their anger, strike out at someone nearby. They might strike out due to jealousy, or they may be upset at someone's BDSM successes and set out to sabotage them.

A very useful warning sign is if your partner tries to keep you away from other people. This particularly applies if your partner is the dominant and you are the submissive. If they order you or try to stop you from talking with other submissives to compare notes, whether in person or online, or if they try to discourage you from reading about BDSM, then there's a good chance they're trying to mislead or manipulate you. They may be trying to prevent you finding out about their true skill levels, or they may be trying to create a world in which you think that what they're doing is "normal" and "healthy" when it's actually not. Healthy and safe BDSM is well-informed BDSM and, for my money, I always prefer a well-educated and smart submissive over an ignorant one.


One of the very first steps you should take to mitigate, or reduce any risks to your personal safety when engaging in BDSM is to understand your own motivations and weaknesses.

In particular, when you are in the throes of passion in the middle of an intense scene with your partner, are you going to be able too resist the urge to throw of your clothes and fuck the daylights out of them when you'd previously agreed with yourself before the scene that it was going to be penetration-free?
  • Do you know what you're trying to achieve via BDSM?
  • What feelings are you hoping to get?
  • What needs do you want to get fulfilled?
When you're thinking about exploring BDSM privately with someone who you don't know very well, here are a couple of things you can do to keep yourself safe from both them and you:

Get references. Ask around amongst people who have already played with this potential new partner. Quiz them directly on their experience and attitudes. Discuss their answers with more experienced folk to make sure that the answers, reasons and explanations they give you are sound.

A very important point when you're submissive and are evaluating a dominant is their common sense. How will they react when things go awry? Will they be able to handle it? Will they panic? What sort of experience have they had in dealing with things that don't go as expected? If they claim that things never go wrong in their scenes then they either live completely in a world of fantasy or they're not being honest. If in doubt stay away from risky or edgy activities.

If you do end up in a dungeon together, start slowly and then build up to more challenging scenes over days or weeks (not minutes). This gives you a chance to learn about each other's strengths and weaknesses, and what each of you considers to be "extreme" or "strong".

Take a chaperone. A chaperone doesn't need to come into the dungeon or bedroom with you, but the presence of a friend nearby can help make sure that both you and your new partner don't stray beyond the game-plan you agreed on with your chaperone before the scene. While some people may claim that having a chaperone around cramps their style, if they genuinely do care about your well-being then they'll accommodate the chaperone. A big benefit for a dominant is the chaperone can act as a witness in case the submissive tries to cry, "rape!", after the fact.

Use a safecall. A safecall is where, before you meet up with someone for some private BDSM hanky-panky, you provide a trusted friend with all the personal details of the person you'll be meeting and the address where you'll be playing, as well as a time by which you'll telephone this friend to say that everything is going smoothly. You should get the personal details directly from a driver's license or passport. Do note that some people can be reluctant to give out their personal details on a first "date" for valid reasons. They may be afraid of you becoming a stalker or, as with a friend of mine, they may work for some sensitive company, government agency or the military and their livelihood may depend on their employer not finding out about their BDSM interests. If this is the case, suggest a chaperone.

Wear a chastity belt and leave they key at home so that neither you (in a moment of lust) nor your partner can open it. While it's not going to prevent other forms of assault, it will prevent rape, pity-sex and will enforce your better judgement.
Last modified: Monday, 10 October 2011, 4:42 PM