So someone asked about safewords on Twitter the other day and that got me thinking. The fact of the matter is, safewords are an incredibly complex and nuanced subject, not something that can be easily covered in a late-night tweetstorm.
First off, I wanna address a big issue. No, a safeword is not a magical spell that will make bad things stop happening. There is always going to be a chance that the person you're playing with will ignore the safeword if you use it. If and when it happens, it will be an awful experience and I sincerely hope no one ever has to go through something like that. It's always good to have backup plans in case something goes awry. Make sure your friends know what you're doing. Arrange a safety call. Ask around about your play partner. Don't assume that all you need is a safeword.
"Does a safeword imply a lack of trust between a dom, or in the scene itself?" Uh, duh? Of-fucking-course it does! This Thing That We Do™ is not safe by any stretch of the imagination. We're inviting people to do incredibly intimate things with us, often without knowing them as well as we maybe should. You bet your ass I don't trust 'em. Safewords and the pledging thereof to use them if necessary, helps establish that baseline trust that says "sure, I'd love for you to tie me down and do terrible things to me".
Now, if we look at safewords in the context of the greater kinky community (GKC) as a whole, they become even more crucial. It might be a bit of a stretch though, so bear with me:
When we play with someone, we naturally talk about it to our friends. We post about it on Tumblr/Twitter/FetLife. We show off the pictures from our scene. People see this. They see what happened, they see things they like, they think "Hey, if my friend played with this person, then they must be an ok person to play with." This is one way the GKC policies itself in a positive manner.
On the other hand, safewords are a tool that highlights negative things. If my friend reports that someone I'm curious about playing with ignored their safeword, I'll seriously reconsider playing with that person. Word about that sort of thing gets around.
Alright, back to more tangible lines of thought. "What if someone is using a safeword because they don't want to push themselves?" I see this pop up here and there and I want to address it head on:
Get the fuck over yourself. You're playing with human beings who may or may not be up to whatever you want to do on a given day. I hate this even more because of the implications behind it, but that's another post entirely (Titled: You are not god's gift to kink, get the fuck over yourself).
"My partner and I don't need safewords!" Hey, that's great! You're really fortunate to know your play partner's body language that well. Be sure to mention how long it took for you to get to that point with them. Also get the fuck over yourself.
"I don't play with safewords!" Then I sure as shit hope you're not playing with newbies because that is dangerous as fuck. Look, I know they're not sexy, or even all that fun to think about but for fuck's sake. The safety of the community's newbies is way more important than your boner.
In fact, giving our community tools that empower us to do this safely is so, so important. I cannot underscore that enough. Undermining the effectiveness of safewords is incredibly dangerous and I strongly encourage people to have those conversations out of the public eye, not on Twitter or Tumblr where someone might get the wrong ideas. Regardless of your perceived status, you need to be mindful of how your thoughts and actions are perceived by those who might not know any better just yet.
For yet another perspective, this was posted by someone in a discussion elsewhere. Consider the following:
I keep imagining this example, because people often seem to be like "I know from body language", etc. What if a bottom likes panicking, for limited amounts of time? What if they want to be driven to that point and then be brought back? And you know this and get used to it and arrange things and some day things just don't work right for that bottom. Whether it's brain chemistry or other things in their life or something seemingly unrelated that brought back a memory or what... today, that panic is not the desired panic, but actually horrible. Is it not better for the bottom to have a way to signal "no, no, no, normally this is okay and my body language although panicked would be no reason to stop, but today I need you to STOP RIGHT NOW".