When we first begin to explore BDSM and kink, it is important that we discuss with our partner, or potential partners, our expectations and limits. What things do we want from a relationship or a scene and what are the things that we just will not do.
Problem: when you are new to BDSM, how do you know what your limits are?
For some things, you will know. If you are the kind of person, for example, who hates shots, always gets nervous at your yearly gynecologist visit, and will drink water before taking your temperature just to keep yourself from showing a fever and having to go to the doctor … medical play is probably not going to be your thing.
Other things, however, are not so easy for us to figure out. You want your partner to flog you, but you are not sure how hard. Your partner wants you to command her and “make her” give you pleasure, but neither of you is sure just how far that can go without one of you becoming uncomfortable with the scene.
Being unsure of a limit does not mean that you don’t have a limit for that activity. It just means that you don’t yet have the experience to know it. Even if you do have experience in a scene, the limits you had with one partner may not be the same with the next. Likewise, if you have a set limit, but want to slowly push past it, you need a way to communicate with your partner in a scene quickly and easily when things are good with that push, when they are getting intense, and when it is still too much.
Traffic Light Safe Words
Whether you are trying to figure out your limits or you and your partner are pushing through a limit together, the Traffic Light Safe Words are a clear way to communicate how you are doing in a scene. They create an intuitive system that helps the Top/Dominant partner know and understand when you are fully engaged in the scene, when the intensity has risen to a point where they should be more cautious, and when you have found your new limit.
The Top/Dominant can call for a check during the scene. Simply saying “Check” or “Safety Light” or any other simple word or phrase will suffice. The bottom/submissive responds with a traffic light color depending on how they are doing in the scene (Green, Yellow, Red).
A quick note:
Traffic Light Safe Words are good for discovering and working through limits. You should have a normal safe word, however, different from Red, that you use to stop or pause the scene immediately. We will explore how your normal Safe Word and the Traffic Light Safe Words can work together.
Green means that everything is good. You are completely comfortable in the scene, can take more of whatever your partner is dishing out, and are able, willing, and ready for your partner to increase the intensity of the scene.
Yellow means that things are good, but it is getting intense. You have not reached your limit, but you are getting close. You are at a good level of pain or humiliation and are enjoying the level of control your partner is displaying over you.
Red means that you have reached or found that limit. Once you call red, your partner should pull back and lessen the intensity of the scene. Once you are back to the caution level of intensity, you can call yellow. If you need to stop or pause the scene, then use your normal Safe Word to indicate that scene should pause.
Working through Yellow to Red
Once you reach Yellow, the scene should continue at this intensity level. The Top/Dominant can bring the intensity down to relax their partner. Increasing intensity should only be done with care. Monitor your partner carefully, checking in regularly. Once your partner responds with or calls “Red” pull back the intensity until you are back into the Yellow level of play. Be aware of your partner’s emotional and physical state as you continue. If you think your partner needs a break or they use their normal Safe Word, stop the scene. If both of you are ready after a small break, you can pick up the scene again, building up to that Yellow zone.
If you are establishing limits with your partner, once you reach Red, talk about the experience. Is your partner confident in the limit that the two of you found together? If they are, then you should note that limit. When you have a similar scene in the future together, the two of you can continue to use the Traffic Light Safe Words until both of you are comfortable or move on to only using your normal Safe Word. If your partner is not sure about the limit yet, try the scene again another time, using the Traffic Light System. After about two or three sessions reaching Red at the same point in the scene, your partner should be sure of the new limit.
If you are helping your partner break through a limit, gradually increase intensity until they call Red again, then pull back. If necessary, take a break. When you begin again (this will take multiple sessions together to successfully push through a limit), gradually bring your partner up until they call Red again. You will do this each time until they no longer call Red at the same point in the scene (the check-in response should be a firm and confident Yellow).