tagReviews & EssaysSafe, Sane & Consensual

Safe, Sane & Consensual


The question I am most commonly asked about BDSM, both here and in real life, is how one differentiates between Domination using extreme sensation and abusive, hurtful relationships.

One of the few things I've consistently found agreement on within the BDSM community, here and elsewhere, is the primary need to adhere to the SSC motto. So, let's take a look at this a little more closely. What does Safe, Sane & Consensual really mean?

Safe:: A Dominant of any variety has a principal and unwavering ethical and emotional duty to their sub, bottom, slave (etc.) to keep them safe. This means, no matter how intense or edgy the play, that the Dominant must be in control of themself and the scene, able to protect the sub from real harm and damaging emotional turmoil. This means not physically harming the sub in a lasting way, it means knowing how to use any toys that enter a scene (particularly with potentially dangerous toys like TENS units), it means respecting hard limits, and it means always having one eye on the safety and emotional security of the bottom/sub. A Dominant who fails to do this fails both the sub, and themself.

Safety also requires submissives to protect themselves, particularly early in a relationship. Safe‑calls, safe‑words, discussions of limits, contracts, agreements, and even references from other submissives work toward this end. Honesty also goes a long way toward safety. If a submissive has health issues or limits which may affect play, it is their duty to be honest about them. If a sub has a negative, frightening, or damaging experience (like sub‑drop), this should also be communicated to the Dominant in the interest of safety.

Sane: A BDSM relationship is a relationship first. This means that all play should respect the boundaries of personal dignity and individual needs, shouldn't require a person to lose their sense of self, distance themselves from the rest of their life, surrender things they want to keep, or adopt an entirely new persona.

That's not to suggest that there are hard and fast limits as to what can constitute play, or how far it can go. It does mean, however, that consistent, rational focus, and clear self‑awareness are a principle part of playing in safe and satisfying ways. Drug use, sleep deprivation, violence, public exposure, and other kinds of edgy, even dangerous activities play a part in many (if not most) relationships, BDSM or otherwise. There's a big difference between drinking a bottle of champagne and going on a five day coke binge, however; at the point that these things begin to compromise good judgement and the safety of the players, they cease to be "sane."

This sexuality is a part of people's lives, to differing degrees, but should always be recognized as a part of their lives and personalities. This requires "sanity" on the point of the observer as well as the participants. Further, all BDSM activities should be entirely one's own choice. This brings us to the next point.

Consensual: All BDSM is chosen by both partners. Any interaction, sexual or otherwise, which exploits one of the participants or uses them against their will is abuse, not BDSM. It's important to realize that while you may not like or enjoy the sexual behaviors favored by some within this lifestyle, no matter how the behavior looks from the outside it is a freely chosen consensual behavior enacted between two adults. As such, it deserves respect and tolerance.

Further, submissives always retain their ability to choose when entering into any BDSM relationship with a Dominant. Even in collared, long‑term real life relationships, perhaps the most "binding" commitment between two players, the submissive is always a person with rights who chooses the Dominant just as much as the Dom/me chooses the sub. Hard limits exist for a reason‑‑as a marker of the submissive's consent and its limits. Failure to respect those limits compromises not only the safety of the sub, but the foundational trust necessary to the relationship as a whole. The minute it fails to be consensual, it becomes abuse; when one player no longer wants to play, if it continues, it becomes rape.


Violent, passionate, aggressively heated sex is not the same thing as abuse specifically because both parties choose it, want it, desire it deeply. If they did not, they wouldn't be there. Once again, this is a relationship, which means it is built on trust, respect, emotional honesty, communication, and ultimately, love. Particularly because some BDSM activities carry the potential for injury and worse in the wrong hands, trust is a must, perhaps even more so than in most intimate relationships. The world is full of dangerous people, some of whom pass themselves off as BDSMers. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts, and be sure to protect yourself.

BDSM is a different kind of loving, but it's not about mistreatment or exploitation. If that's not the case in your relationship or one you witness, it is not BDSM. It is abuse, and should be treated accordingly.

If you have questions, insights, or anything else to share on the subject of BDSM, I invite you to join us here at Literotica in the BDSM Talk forum. It's over on the Bulletin Boards, and all polite participation is welcome. Until then, be well, be safe, and have *fun* with sex, and in all of life.

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