Today’s question is another one from Indigo Darling, on an aspect of kink and consent that many deal with: how do we let tops know that we really want them to stop?

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Consent is a big topic in kink, and in sexual relationships in general. How do we give it? How do we take it away? How do we know the other person really consents?

I have a question about subbiness and consent/coercion. Due to past abuses in my life, I find that coercion is a real hot button for me. If I say no, I mean it, and there’s a very short fuse between NO and FUCK RIGHT OFF if someone tries pushing me. If I am not sure, or something seems like it may not be all that fun but I am willing to experiment cautiously, I’ll say so. As I venture into kink and exploring my subby side, how can I leave room for a Dom to expand my horizons without running into this hard line?

This question is a common one for beginners in the kink world, and a really essential one too. The word “no” is fraught with issues in the kink community—it doesn’t always mean “stop”.

However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t say no at all. It just means that the “no” you’re talking about comes in the form of another word, i.e. a safeword.

I have a top friend who once told me that for her first few scenes with someone, she doesn’t use a safeword and lets the bottom say “no” to stop. This is a good idea, and here’s why: at the beginning, you want to get to know a person and their limits. You don’t want to start imposing complicated rules and safewords, especially as bottoms usually don’t like to safeword and are actually likely to forget it.

So, to answer your question: if you tell your top that NO means STOP, then that top is bound (if they’re a good person who cares about consent) to stop. Kink is not coercion. There should be nothing coercive about it. Even consensual non-consent is pre-negotiated. If you ever feel forced to do something you really don’t want to do, stop the scene or leave the relationship. (That’s why playing in public is beneficial—people can come help if your top refuses to stop a scene.)

So, using “no” as a way to tell your top to stop is perfectly fine. That will be practical at first, as you explore your own physical, psychological and emotional limits.

Safeword and exploration

Now you express the desire to push a little and expand your horizons—which is great. Kink, for a lot of us, is about pushing the boundaries of what our bodies/minds can do.

For example, I tend to say “no” a lot during impact play. It doesn’t mean I want it to stop—it’s just an instinctive reaction. I have a safeword—red—and if I want something to stop for reals, I’ll say it. Thankfully, the tops I play with tend to see when I’m reaching my limit and can feel and hear when I need to stop, so I haven’t had to use a safeword yet.

When you start, I suggest you use the traffic lights system: green for “everything is great, keep going”; yellow for “slow down a little bit, this is pushing my limits, please check in with me”; and red for “STOP RIGHT NOW”. It’s a good set of safewords for beginners because it lets you express a variety of issues, not just the final NO.

Although your top or Dom should be attentive enough to see when something is getting uncomfortable or unpleasant for you (in a not-fun way), saying “yellow” is a good way to let them know that they should tread with caution.

Another thing I would encourage you to do today (or at least before the next time you play with someone) is writing down your list of limits. There is a helpful list of sex and BDSM checklists that you can check out, download and fill up. Also called the “yes, no, maybe” exercise, it will help you determine what your limits—hard and soft—are BEFORE you get involved in any play. That way, you can clearly communicate them with your top.

Be aware that as you explore kink activities and try out different things, you might feel like your limits change with time. That’s perfectly fine. Mine have changed considerably over the last year, and all I have to do is inform my partners. So consider your list a thing that’s fluid and changeable, and be ready to go over it once in a while—maybe once every six months to once a year.

In short, if you want NO to be a safeword, tell your top. Once you find that NO doesn’t fulfill your needs or doesn’t leave enough flexibility for exploration, then you can switch to something like the traffic lights system (green, yellow, red). As you develop a relationship with a specific top, you’ll find that you may not need a safeword at all after a while (but always have one, just in case… nobody’s perfect).

Self-knowledge is also essential to understand your own limits and interests. I suggest to never go into a scene without knowing AND expressing your hard limits. Outside of hard limits, everything else can be negotiated.

I hope this helps, and have fun exploring your kinks!

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!