Sunday 10 July 2016

Reader Questions - Limits in BDSM

So, one of the readers of my books asked me :

Hi Asmi, 

I read your articles, your books and I have a question. What are the limits ? As in, how do you know that you are not hurting the partner and are in your limits when it comes to giving her pleasure ?



Hi AP,

Thank you for the question. It is a very significant and insightful question and I appreciate your focus on keeping your partner safe. I will answer your question in two parts - one is about what do we commonly mean when we use the word 'limits'. The other part will address how to ensure that you are within your limits while in a session with a partner.

Limits are a way of defining what is acceptable for a person in a session and what is not. A non-sexual parallel would be someone saying, "I'm a vegetarian". The very basic understanding this gives me is that if I'm choosing what to order, I shouldn't order meat or eggs or sea food for them.

They are usually issues about which at least one of the participants feels very strongly about. The feeling could be due to socio-cultural conditioning (ex. incest play is a taboo for a lot of people), or due to personal issues from one's past. The limits could be put forward during the 'negotiation' of a scene by either the Dominant or the submissive and maybe negotiated in as much or as little detail as desired.

I'll elaborate with the same non-sexual analogy.

  • I'm a vegan.
  • I'm a vegetarian.
  • I'm a lacto-ova-vegetarian.
  • I'm a vegetarian who will not share a plate with a non-vegetarian.
  • I'm a vegetarian who will not even share a table with a non-vegetarian.
  • I'm a lacto-ova-vegetarian who will share a table but will not cook, serve, eat or buy non-vegetarian food for my partner.

All these are the expressions that state someone's limits with food. However, I'm sure, you can obviously make out how their friends' or partner's behaviour towards their preferences will change. Specially if it's a deal breaker.

Allow me to now share a sexual example -

  • I'm into pain (could be emotional pain, or impact, clamps, needles and a lot more)
  • I'm into physical pain but not mental or emotional misery (emotional pain is out now)
  • I'm more into impact play (hitting - spanking, face slapping, punching, crop, cane, flogger, paddle etc.)
  • I'm only into physical, impact play based pain, which does not make me feel degraded, break my skin, draw out blood or damage my body (face slapping, needles, extreme impact, punching, etc. all go out of the door)
This is what defining limits does to you. You actually end up identifying what will and will not work for you and your partner.

So, how does one define limits? Well there are a lot of worksheets available for various kinks, fetishes, activities, props and scenarios. Most of them work on a scale that asks you if you're averse to, curious about, interested in, have tried, or are keen on a certain activity. Based on any such detailed questionnaire you and your partner can figure out what your hard limits, soft limits or kinks are. is one such free tool. Remember though, such tools and sheets are not fool proof. You can game the system and get the scores as a Dominant, submissive etc. as per your desire. The key however is honesty to your self :)

Now the second part of your question :

As in, how do you know that you are not hurting the partner and are in your limits when it comes to giving her pleasure ?

I must compliment you on your desire to keep the experience pleasurable and safe for both of you. I appreciate that sense of responsibility which is easy to overlook in the heat of moment. Well, the first step is to talk. I have always emphasized on communication and honesty. This means that both of you will need to work on a sample worksheet of the type I mentioned, without discussing first.

Once you've both completed your sheets, you will then need to discuss, identify areas of compatibility and incompatibility. This will also help you identify things that will be hard limits.

If you're wondering, why both people should do the activity, well even Dominants and Sadists have limits. I know sadists that will never hit someone with a crop or cane and yet are perfectly capable of giving a lot of pain by pinching. Crops, canes are their hard limits. The point is everyone has limits and it's important to respect the limits of all people involved in a situation.

So, once you know your limits, the next stage is identifying a safe word or a set of safe words. This will ensure the communication within the session. If the submissive utters the safe word, the session must STOP. Right then. This is one part of the agreement that's meant to be sacrosanct unless you're at a very advanced stage where you practice consensual non-consent or Total Power Exchange (TPE).

A set of Safe words  gives both people more control on the thresholds of discomfort and leads to more judicious use of the safe word. For example, red / amber could stand for the ultimatum to stop the session, orange to stop the activity, yellow to indicate increasing level of discomfort and green to indicate everything is still pleasurable.

In case your submissive is gagged and cannot speak, then there will be a need to  set up a safe gesture which will be a substitute to the safe word. It could be dropping a handkerchief or a ball as an indication for physical distress.

Slowly and gradually, both partners develop an understanding of the body language and a lot of Dominants are seasoned enough to identify when to stop. However, most seasoned practitioners do NOT take a chance and still set the safe word.

Most importantly, err on the side of caution! This is the most important way to stay safe. If you err on the side of caution, your partner may at times feel like they got less intensity than they expected or wanted. There's always a next time. Right ? Not hurrying and talking out things between yourselves and accordingly titrating the intensity of your play is the key.

AP, I will summarize by saying that soul-searching, honest communication and constant observation and feedback sharing before, during and after the session is to ensure that your partner and you are safe, pleased and able to enjoy BDSM activities in a safe, sane and consensual manner.

Be well and play safe,

© Asmi Uniqus 2016