Negotiating for better BDsM

A lot of people get their hackles up when you mention the word “negotiation” in relation to bedroom activities. There’s a misconception that sex and play should be spontaneous, that each party should automatically know their role and be able to magically divine what the other person needs and wants. This fantasy is not only untrue, but it gets in the way of having truly fulfilling, exciting and safe BDsM scenes and relationships.

Communication is one of the cornerstones of BDsM. Whether you’re playing with someone for the very first time, or enjoying a scene with a long-term partner, it’s so important to be able to express your needs and wants, to work together to build a scene that you’ll both enjoy. Good communication allows you to bring your fantasies to the fore, to tell your partner what you’re hoping to experience. It also helps to set boundaries, so that play continues to be fun and doesn’t violate the consent of either party.

Negotiation is a skill that takes time to develop, and it’s not something that most of us are taught how to do. In the context of BDsM, negotiation might take place to establish the plan for a single scene. It may also have a much broader purpose, such as to establish a code of conduct for a submissive, or to define the scope of a particular relationship. I want to offer a few tips to help your negotiations run more smoothly, and to assist you to walk away from your negotiations feeling satisfied and safe.

Know what you want before you begin

You cannot begin to express your desires and boundaries if you don’t know what they are. There’s nothing more frustrating than asking your partner what they’re interested in trying and having them say “I dunno, I’m up for anything” with a shrug.

If you’re brand-new to BDsM and you don’t yet know what you’re into, take the time to think about what you might be interested in trying. Making a “Yes, No, Maybe” list can be a great starting point to generate ideas about the specific types of play you might be interested in, as well as anything that you definitely don’t want to do.

If you’re more experienced, give some thought to any special skills or equipment that your partner has that you might like to try. It definitely pays to come to the table with a wishlist, because it gives you a great starting point to find out where your interests and skills overlap.

Work collaboratively, not combatively

For many of us, the word “negotiation” brings up images of suited men shouting over a boardroom table, of hard-line tactics and rigid finger-pointing. For this reason, a lot of us go into a negotiation with a combative attitude, seeing the other party as our opponent rather than our partner. While this type of approach might be beneficial in a business setting, when it comes to negotiating your relationship or play, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Think of your negotiations as a collaborative process rather than a battle. You’re working together to create something that you both want. It’s in your best interests to listen to one another, to be flexible and open-minded. This isn’t a situation where one person has to lose so the other can win, it’s about working towards a win-win solution that everyone feels comfortable with.

It might help to use a word other than “negotiation” if that feels too aggressive to you. Set up your discussions in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable and relaxed. Make sure you have ample time, share something to eat and drink and work together on your plans. You also don’t have to do it in a single sitting. If you’re getting tired or heated, put a pin in your discussion and return to it another time.

Try opt-in rather than op-out styles of negotiation

Changing your negotiation style to “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” can be a game-changer. This is particularly true if you’re playing with a new partner, or if either of you is relatively inexperienced. An opt-in negotiation is where you’re planning a scene and you create a definitive list of what that scene will entail. An opt-in scene might be “I’m going to put your wrists and ankles in bondage with cuffs, you will be blindfolded and I will tickle the soles of your feet with my fingernails”. On the flipside, an “opt-out” negotiation is where you say everything that you don’t want to do, but anything else is fair game. For example “I have a hard limit around knives, but you can do anything else you want to me”.

Opt-out negotiations are problematic because they don’t create a clear framework to work within. There’s a lot of leeway for boundaries to be crossed and consent isn’t clearly set down. It’s also really overwhelming to plan a scene where practically anything is on the table. Conversely, when you have an opt-in negotiation, it’s much easier to plan the scene. Everyone goes into the scene feeling confident and safe and there are no nasty surprises. Opt-in also allows you to build up your skills and test limits by adding just one new thing each time you play.

Keep a record

Depending on what you’re negotiating, it can be very useful to keep a record of what you agree upon. If you’re setting up a code of conduct, or a set of rules for a submissive to follow, then it’s beneficial to have a written record of the rules to refer back to. There are also a number of apps that have been developed for BDsM negotiations that allow you to keep a record of your scene plans. Keeping a record can provide greater clarity and security. It can also be a great tool for planning follow-up scenes, to allow you to review what worked, what you want to do again and areas that could be improved upon.

Revisit and revise

It’s important to note that the end result of your negotiation isn’t set in stone. Unlike legal negotiations or drawing up a contract, you aren’t locked into the rules or plans that you create. You are well within your rights to speak up if you no longer feel comfortable with the agreed-upon plan the day before play, while your getting ready for the scene, or even while the scene is happening.

If you’re negotiating a set of rules for a submissive, or the boundaries of a relationship, then it’s smart to revisit those negotiations from time to time. Be flexible and honest when discussing what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to revise the rules if anyone involved feels overwhelmed or unhappy. Circumstances change, people’s desires shift and sometimes things don’t play out the way we imagined they would. Regularly revisiting and renegotiating is a great way to ensure that everyone is getting what they want out of the arrangement.

Negotiating a BDsM scene may feel intimidating at first, but if you strip away the idea that it’s an aggressive, rigid practice then it becomes much easier to manage. Negotiation is important to make sure that everyone is getting their needs met and nobody feels pressured or overwhelmed. Good negotiation is the first step to building strong dynamics and really hot scenes, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.

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