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Seattle, WA – A couple weeks ago, an incident happened at the Grabbys. Chi Chi LeRue called me out on stage stating she was ready for her "blood scene." Upon arriving on stage she asked me for a safeword. I replied, on the mic, in front of the press and an audience of hundreds, "Safewords are for retarded tops." This was immediately picked up by theSword.com, twittered and posted to thousands. By the time I got back to our table, I could clearly hear the voice of my late Daddy, Dave Lewis in my head. As I've mentioned before, Daddy Dave was a teacher and he was instructing me to write a five-paragraph essay explaining what I meant by that. Well, this is it...
A safeword is a communication tool generally employed in the execution of a BDSM scene. Simply put, a safeword can be used by a participant in a scene to indicate a 'Hard Stop' to the play. Safewords come in a variety of forms including vocalizations, gradient scaled indications and physical signals. Safewords are also employed in a variety of ways within a scene ranging from novice explorers using it as a means to avoid going too far, to more experienced players that use it as a means for the submissive to indicate that they have been pushed past their limit. There are several excellent articles and posts available about safewords that provide far more detailed information regarding the application of safewords than I can offer here in this blog. I recommend the Safeword article on Wikipedia and What is a Safeword from the Bondage FAQ, by Rob Jellinghaus for more information.
In actuality, I don't generally play with safewords. Most of the truly heavy scenes I engage in are with partners whom I have already developed a deep connection. We know each other and have experience together. I can use subtle visual, auditory and kinesthetic clues to understand their physical and psychological state. I read their body language, listen to what they say in addition to how they say it and carefully watch how they react to my stimulus. By using these observations to adjust my approach, I can create a pattern of positive experiences that build trust and propel a scene to a level of extreme intensity. I can take these partners to the edge of their limits, throw them over the cliff, catch them at the bottom and bring them back again all while using plain English to communicate. The key here is to remain present in the moment and actually engage with your partners. When I teach, I often use the line "Safewords are for retarded tops" to emphasize this concept with a bit of hyperbole.
In truth, I highly recommend the use of safewords and even use them myself in many situations and forms of play. For novice players and those who are unfamiliar with their own limits or their partners, safewords provide a proverbial safety-net. When I play with someone new and unfamiliar, I'll employ a safeword if we intend to take the scene to the edge as I did with Will Parker for our scene together in Folsom Flesh. In these situations I tend to prefer the signal application of green, yellow and red. I can request a 'signal' or simply receive a clear communication of their status if I'm not able to read it myself. I will also, on occasion, participate in a scene where the intention is to drive the submissive to safeword out.
I'm just as likely, however, to meet someone, maybe like sexy Jean-Philippe (pictured right), and never use a safeword for our play, preferring to simply talk our way through each scene and slowly build the intensity as our trust and experience together grows. This is an approach I have developed over twenty years as a bondage player. In practice, 'yellow' doesn't tell a rigger what's at issue, but if the submissive says, "I'm losing feeling in my right hand," immediate action can be taken. This plain speak approach to play works in even the most intense and edgy scenes. Not too long ago, for example, I was introducing a friend to an advanced piercing scene. After running several rows of needles in strategic places on his body then using them as anchor points to bind him to the table with heavy string, his breathing changed and I heard, "Um, can we stop a minute?" "Sure," I say and ask, "what's up?" "I just realized that I'm truly fucked," he says referring to the fact he couldn't get away if he wanted. After taking a few minutes to let him process the situation, our scene continued to a bloody and satisfying end.
Safewords are useful communication tools. They have an important role in many scenes for both novice and experienced players alike. Not everyone plays with safewords all the time, however. This, among several other riskier activities, is characterized as edgeplay by many in the fetish/Sm scene. Responsible players can, in many situations, use their experience, ability to read their partner and practical skills to safely negotiate a scene without the use of safewords. I'm certain, should Chi Chi and I ever engage in a blood scene together, there would be no need for a safeword. I doubt she would have any problem communicating her status and I am confident we could simply talk our way through the scene.