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Safety is Sexy - Violet Fenn asks: What's your safe word?


Unless you only ever indulge in very straightforward hetero-monogamous sex, the chances are that at some point you – or your partner(s) – are going to need to be able to stop proceedings if necessary.

But how do you go about it? There’s nothing hot about punching someone in the face because they’re carrying on when you want them to stop, especially if they had no idea that you weren’t enjoying yourself anyway. But however compatible people are, I reckon it’s a fair bet to assume most of us aren’t sexually psychic and sometimes need telling when to stop (or at least to slow down).

Safe words can be really useful, especially when you’re in situation where one person has physical control of the situation. Obviously it shouldn’t need pointing out that you should never put yourself in such a position of vulnerability unless you trust the other person implicitly, but even the most trustworthy of people don’t always know recognises the signs of when to stop.

So how to tell them? The most obvious method is to use the ‘traffic light’ system. The dominant partner asks how the other is managing, and the answer is either red, yellow or green, depending how they feel. It’s as simple as it sounds – green means ‘oh god yes don’t stop’, yellow (or amber) is ‘I’m still enjoying myself but getting close to my limits’ and red is, unsurprisingly, ‘Stop it now or I’ll punch you in the face the second I get myself untangled from this chandelier’.

The other common method is to pick a word that you would never use in a sexual context and it simply means ‘stop right this second’. A quick poll on social media showed that people really are imaginative when it comes to safe words.

‘Rhubarb’ to slow down and ‘Rhubarb Custard’ to stop

‘Bananarama’ - it prompts instant laughter and breaks up any seriousness so it's ideal!

We go for something short and simple like 'apple' for no particular reason other than he wouldn't be saying it under normal circumstances!

One person made a very good point in their response, which was that safe words don't work in the case where oral communication is impossible, indistinct or not allowed as part of the scenario. Finger or hand signals can be useful here.

This is relevant, especially when you’re indulging in BDSM that involves restraint and/or some form of gag. So how do you signal that you need to stop? A friend told me about her simple method – “I hold something light in my hand – just a ribbon or similar – and when I’ve had enough I drop it so my partner knows to stop.”

Obviously this relies on your partner being aware enough to take notice, whether your signals are verbal or physical. This shouldn’t need saying, but it’s worth reiterating – never take part in any kind of BDSM activity unless you can trust the other person completely. You are handing over the responsibility for your safety and wellbeing, after all.

That said, some people like the idea of being restrained more than they like the reality of it – if that sounds like you, work within mental boundaries rather than physical ones.

Although I’ve only talked so far about using safe words in the context of BDSM-related activities, that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful elsewhere. When I was putting this blog together, another friend made a really useful suggestion – what if people arranged a safe word even if they only ever had ‘vanilla’ sex, on the basis that they could use it should they feel uncomfortable about anything?

Discomfort isn’t always physical – sometimes people have previous experiences that might risk them being triggered negatively should their partner say a certain thing. For example, one person might get off on being called a slut or a whore during sex, but another may have experienced those terms in an abusive relationship and get no enjoyment from it whatsoever. In that situation, wouldn’t it be easier to have a ‘stop now’ indicator that would make your partner realise you didn’t like what was happening, without pouring cold water on the moment completely?

At the other extreme, I’ve heard people argue that they shouldn’t need a safe word at all – that if you’re with a partner that truly understands you they would know instinctively what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and the need for an escape clause indicates issues within the relationship. Although I can understand the logic to this, I firmly believe that no one is a mind-reader and we can all make mistakes.

It’s better to be on the safe side and have that safe word!

Some simple, safety-first restraint suggestions: 


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