Essays and writings 

The hidden risks of learning suspension too fast

By Noble Manqué  Copyright 2013

Preface

I’ve had it pointed out to me that I say it over and over that I think new rope tops rush into suspension too quickly. Apparently I’ve begun to sound like a broken record. And from postings I’ve read recently, it seems there are people who strongly disagree with me. They believe that it is quite reasonable for beginning riggers to move to suspension ties in something less than the expected months and months of training and experience with rope that some people think is appropriate (as if several months of patience and diligence was completely unreasonable to ask of someone learning a craft that entails putting their partner in danger). There are yet others who advocate taking years to work up to suspension bondage. I think there could even be a reasonable argument that it shouldn’t be done at all.

Since the debates on the issue seem so endless and fruitless, and I felt like I was becoming tedious with my responses, I decided that I would quit preaching about it. But after having one friend say he thought some riggers might benefit from my haranguing, and having another friend ask me to clarify my position on this, I thought I should publicly voice some of my thoughts in one place, especially since some of my reasoning isn’t brought up very often in the ongoing discussions posted elsewhere.

Before I do, though, I feel like I need to make sure it’s understood that I sincerely believe there are different valid approaches to rope and rope education than the ways that I presently advocate. Everyone has their own path. No one way is the only correct way. All have drawbacks and pitfalls. That said, I do think some approaches are better than others, at least for me. But people must always judge things for themselves. Keeping that in mind, the following are some of my opinions on the subject.

The hidden risks of learning suspension too fast

In my opinion most riggers tend to jump into tying suspension bondage too soon after they start learning rope. People are drawn to the excitement of suspension bondage, and, understandably, the new riggers want to attain the skills to do rope suspensions as soon as they can. However, in most cases I think newbie riggers are attempting these advanced ties before they have the adequate skills, knowledge, and experience for facing the challenges of safe and gratifying suspension. Moreover, I think their eagerness to get into suspension actually retards and possibly even limits their growth and potential as a rigger.

I am not the only person who has voiced concerns about safety. You hear it from experienced riggers and instructors all the time. Still, despite the repeated warnings, most new riggers continue to want to rush ahead to suspension at break neck speed. That’s pretty much the rule. I see very few exceptions. I do know of one accomplished rigger in my local scene who first honed his skills thoroughly on the ground and in partial suspensions, and then mastered simple suspension work before getting into more difficult aerial work. It’s paid off marvelously for him. He is now considered one of the very best riggers in the area. But few, if any, of the people who admire his skills follow his example.

Most of the multitude of tops who are drawn to rope seem to wish they could go straight from being shown the basics to doing gnarly suspensions a week or two later. The very few who actually seek formal instruction will often even tell me outright that their purpose in taking lessons is to learn suspension as quickly as possible. I’ve even had prospective students tell me that they didn’t want to bother learning anything about rope that wouldn’t be of direct use to them in getting to their ultimate goal of suspension bondage. One guy hadn’t even attended a beginner’s workshop on rope bondage, and he was asking me about how to install a hardpoint in his apartment. In his mind the lack of an adequate suspension point seemed to be the only obstacle to his driving desire to get someone airborne. And he seemed proud of the fact that he realized there was such a thing as an improper hardpoint. In his mind he wasn’t anything like those other people who rush ahead without knowing the difference. Everyone thinks they’re the exception.

For some reason floor-based bondage and partial suspensions are considered blasé or mere stepping stones rather than incredibly satisfying and exciting experiences to be sought out and enjoyed for their own merits. The problem as I see it is that suspension is somehow being seen as some kind of end-all or holy grail to be attained as soon as is feasible. It isn’t. It shouldn’t be. And I have some good reasons for believing that.

But let’s face it: suspension bondage is showy. It does look exciting. Those who see it want that excitement for themselves and they also want to be seen as being able to do it. There is ego involved. But there is so much more to rope bondage than suspension work. Suspension bondage is great, don’t get me wrong. But showiness and exhibitionism are not the right reasons, in my opinion, to be learning rope bondage. I sincerely believe that rushing to tying suspensions too soon is not only risky for the bottom’s safety but it can also curtail the top and bottom’s enjoyment of the most compelling reasons I find to tie – intimate connection and joy.

Most bondage instructors try to get their students to take it slow, while novices in the forums keep asking why it should take so long to teach some basic rope techniques so new riggers can just learn to do some simple suspensions. Indeed, why should it take so long? It’s a legitimate question. My answer is that if you just want to mechanically tie suspensions moderately safely in one or two positions, then by all means, a skilled instructor could put an apt student on a fast track to becoming a “suspension rigger” in a few jam packed lessons. That’s assuming the student could retain that kind of volume of information taught that fast. But I think if they do take that course that they are also on a fast track to becoming a robotic rigger who is more concerned with engineering and mechanics (and ego and showing off) than with what this kinky stuff is supposed to really be about – getting deeply into our hearts and desires and connecting with the hearts and desires of others. Sure, arguably you could teach new students how to do some text book suspensions in a weekend, but after that most of them wouldn’t be able to safely do anything else that isn't cookbook or even recreate those recipes with any soul. There is more to cooking than just bringing together a list of ingredients. Great chefs extensively train in the basics before stepping into creating delectable delights. You have to know your knife work before you master sauces.

As in the culinary arts, martial artists well know that students are expected to train in the basics solidly before advancing. In Eastern-style teaching of the martial arts, students often aren’t even told why they are mimicking certain movements – they’re supposed to eventually grok the reasons on their own when they’re ready for the knowledge. The core idea is to learn the basics thoroughly until you can do them without thinking about it, then move to the harder stuff in small increments. The basics are the foundation that you build your later skills on. Likewise in music you have to learn your scales before you can improvise. You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them and riff, otherwise you’re just making noise. I don’t think rope bondage is so different, except nobody is permanently injured when you hit a sour note on your sax.

I’ve noticed that some people who leap ahead too fast in learning rope bondage sometimes never get the basics down adequately. I’ve seen riggers who’ve been doing suspensions for over a year who can’t seem to tie a decent single-column tie. Their technique looks sloppy to me. But worse – because they rushed through the basics and didn’t do the hard work of mastering them at the beginning, they never reached the stage of having all those critical movements and methods retained in muscle memory; so they never attained the fluidity that comes from not having to concentrate on the rope while they’re tying. Acquiring that feeling of flow creates a space where the rigger can sense a greater connection with the person they’re tying. But the person who never gets the basics into muscle memory and insists on tackling more and more difficult ties before mastering the last one is always exceeding their skill set and the limits of their knowledge. They never get to experience the calm and joy of having the tying become effortless and mindless for them. They never have a sound foundation to build upon, and so the reasons behind the more elaborate hand movements and rope placements they are supposed to be gradually groking never actually sink in.

And so, many fast track riggers seem to end up tying like robots to me – no joy, no deep connection, no real intimacy. And because they’re so concerned about appearance and what people think of the difficulty of their ropework, they seldom even seem to take pleasure in the technically successful ties they do manage because they’re always wanting to surpass some other rigger’s tie or a previous accomplishment of their own. They don’t tie in the moment. They tie to be seen. They tie for the hope of future accolades.

If bondage becomes a competition in the rigger's mind, they are losing sight of the reason they were drawn to kink in the first place. And the bottoms who are seeking connection through rope suffer for it by not getting the intimate attention they seek and also by being put at risk in the hands of riggers who don’t have the experience to efficiently handle something when it goes wrong during a difficult suspension.

And shit does go wrong during bondage, especially when gravity is playing a major role. I try to convince my students that they have to get their suspension skills sharpened during partial suspensions and experience how to handle all of the kinds of mishaps that can and do occur before they can conscientiously move into full suspension. You do not want to be handling a new kind of problem for the first time when you’ve got someone suspended. You don’t want to encounter a jammed rope for the first time when you’re in the middle of a suspension and the bottom suddenly has a severe shoulder problem that requires getting them down immediately. By working through all these things on the ground or during partial suspensions and learning how to deal with them efficiently when they inevitably occur, the risk of having them occur at all during full suspension drops dramatically. Those students have learned to anticipate and avoid them through experience. Experience, by definition, requires time. But time seems to be what so many eager new riggers don’t want to invest in learning how to safely engage in this amazing art form.

This is the tedious broken record I play over and over again. But hardly anyone seems to listen. So, I’m starting to feel like I should just shut up and try to set a quiet example instead, silently showing in my small way that wonderful rope is about connection and intensity, not complicated rope work and engineering. Yet when people see me perform on stage, I suspect it’s the flair and intensity of the aerial work that prompts the new riggers in the audience to want to leap into learning suspension.

The riggers who rush into doing suspensions are also unwittingly depriving themselves of the rewards of going slowly and learning things like flow, rhythm, pacing, responsiveness, communication, and energy exchange, (not to mention hoist line management, balance, assessing the bottom, reading the bottom, dealing with physical limitations, knowing the nuances of different ties and tensions for different positions, etc, etc.) all the things that could eventually make them truly great riggers, not just technically proficient ones. And those things can not be taught in a few short lessons or by just watching other riggers tie. And once they’ve rushed through the basics and acquired the skills to do modest suspensions and feel like they’re at the top of their game (and hopefully got lucky and worked through the inevitable mishaps without actually hurting someone severely), they have no idea what they have missed or how they’ve hamstrung their development as a rigger. And even if they do eventually realize what they’ve missed, it is very hard to go back and learn those other subtle things once their egos have gotten them to this place they think they’ve successfully arrived. To make it worse, once they’ve rushed ahead it is harder to start over from the beginning because of all the bad habits that they acquired during the process.

I often watch riggers doing suspensions who are just, by necessity, having to concentrate solely on the rope itself, or the wrap placements, or the tie-off knots, or struggling with the physics, or focused on all the other mechanical and engineering concerns they rightly have to deal with. They’ve taught themselves to tie with this narrow focus by repeatedly practicing their basic skills in the frantic environment of having their bottom in the air, not the languid and forgiving intimate space of being on the ground. They have programmed themselves to tie mechanically and methodically as if at the knife point of gravity even when they aren’t doing suspensions. That’s operant conditioning. It’s Pavlovian. When they tie they fall into the same mental state they were in when the techniques were ingrained and then practiced. They can’t help but have it happen. It’s human nature.

By ignoring floorwork and rushing into suspensions they’ve conditioned themselves to tie this way, without heart, because they wanted this exterior emblem of accomplishment that would say they’d arrived as a rigger. But by taking that path they’ve denied themselves the ability to get to that endpoint with the ability to open their focus to include the bottom and their wonderful “good” responses to what they are doing (instead of only being able to react to the “bad” responses and frantically going into damage control mode when necessary).

Part of the drive to not take your time learning the basics is that people have a strong desire to excel in the eyes of others. But, again, that is ego talking. Zen, enlightenment, and the Eastern martial arts are about letting go of ego. In my opinion excessive ego hurts good tying, as well.

I believe that the people who are drawn to my style of rope are drawn to it because they sense that I try to tie with “heart.” After they see me tie someone up during an intimate scene, hardly anybody ever comes up to me and mentions something about my technical skill. They almost always comment on the connection they could see between me and my rope partner.

The irony is that because people can sense that, some bottoms who like that kind of stuff are drawn to being in my rope. But my goal isn’t getting people to want to be in my rope. My goal is connection with the person in my rope at that moment and the magic of letting go of ego during a tie. Having people drawn to that is only a side effect - a result that isn’t often accomplished any other way.

If you’re an intermediate rigger and are feeling stifled or lacking creativity in your rope bondage, you might be seeing some of the pitfalls of having jumped ahead in your learning curve too quickly. I’ve recently heard two riggers who routinely do suspensions say that if they had it all to do over again they wouldn’t have rushed into suspension so quickly. One of them says that he's now advising beginning riggers to slow down. But I doubt his warnings will be any more effective than my broken record was. Newbies who are excited about rigging want to learn as fast as they can. And they’ll jump ahead without hesitation when they see all the other intermediate and even beginning riggers doing suspensions all around them. It’s hard to convince them of the merits of taking it slow when the apparent rewards of rushing forward are so immediate and exciting. And most riggers already think they’re taking it plenty slow. Slower than they think they should have to.

On a rope bondage forum lately one person has repeatedly asked why it should take months and months to learn how to do a boxtie that's safe for suspension.

Well, in my opinion, it wouldn’t necessarily take months and months. But from what I’ve seen of most students it does take that long or longer because even most “dedicated” students only get instruction once a week or once a month at best. And in my experience you can’t learn to tie a consistent boxtie in one lesson or even three. There are too many nuances. And most students don’t practice every day, either because they don't have the time or they don’t have a place to practice or a person to practice with. Most of the people I see at monthly peer rope meetings have forgotten most of what they learned at the last meeting. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re having fun. And it’s just human nature to lose what you don’t practice. But to then think they’re ready for suspension after a couple of months of “study” is simply outrageous.

Even the students who are serious and seek out one-on-one instruction don’t always advance quickly. They have other things that necessarily require more of their attention than learning rope bondage. They can take months and months and longer to hone their skills to the point of being ready to even consider suspension bondage. Imagine then the people who are just willy nilly picking up their knowledge and skill base off of the internet or from books or copying what they saw someone else do once in a scene they watched at a play party or in performance. People do that. They unabashedly tell me they do that. They really don’t see anything wrong with it. And I believe those people comprise the vast majority of people who are doing suspensions today.

Most of those people are going to somehow manage to do rope suspensions without hurting someone permanently. But because of the lack of experience and knowledge in all the new people getting into suspension because it is so popular, the incidence rate of accidents and injuries is going to increase. That’s a no-brainer. That means that this phenomena of rushing into suspension too quickly is hurting people – even if it doesn’t hurt you individually or someone you suspended. Just like not using seat-belts doesn’t hurt the vast majority of people because they never get into a serious accident. But having everyone wear seat-belts prevents a whole lot of injuries in the population as a whole. Not wearing a seat-belt contributes to the problem even if you never have an accident – you’ve personally increased the pool of people who are at risk.

Some people do learn faster than others. Some people are more dedicated. Some people have a knack for it. You see this in the martial arts, too. Some students have an aptitude and dedication and advance faster than others. But no conscientious instructor would ever have them skip belts. There is a progression. There is a reason for it. That system works. The students who progress through the belt system are more accomplished at the end because of it. And part of that system is designed to break misconceptions and hammer in the fundamentals as a foundation while simultaneously diminishing ego.

So, if you’re a rigger and you personally are feeling like you’ve become a one-trick pony with your suspensions or that your floorwork or partial suspensions have stagnated, then I would suggest that perhaps you should think about whether or not you might have inadvertently skipped some belts along the way to where you are. Perhaps you advanced too quickly for your own good. I fully understand the motivation to do this. The bottoms want to be in fancy rope ties. And us riggers want to give the bottoms great experiences and be seen as accomplished at what we do.

But in terms of a rigger’s ultimate enjoyment of rope, I think rushing through the basics can backfire terribly. However, I doubt that my argument here is going to change that tendency in people new to rope. I need to accept that it’s just human nature to rush headlong into something so enticing. To each his own. But it still bothers me because as a kink educator I want people to be aware of the risks they need to accept when they engage in consensual bondage. And one risk people might not be seeing so clearly is that rushing to suspension may be an unnecessary detriment to learning how to play with rope in a way that can eventually transcend ego and be deeply gratifying for both parties in ways they’ve only imagined.

AN APPROACH TO SCENE NEGOTIATIONS


Noble Manqué 2010


(Please do not re-post without permission)

When two or more people are considering engaging in any kind of BDSM activity together, it’s usually a good idea to establish at least some shared vision of the acceptable levels of intimacy and the limits on severity of the imminent scene before beginning the kinky play. The idea is to talk honestly about personal boundaries and make sure everyone is on the same page before the fun begins so that the scene can flow unimpeded by such concerns once playtime is underway. People in the kink community often call such pre-play discussions “scene negotiation.” By helping prevent mismatched expectations this kind of clear and open communication is intended to ultimately result in more powerful and mutually satisfying scenes for everyone involved.

Most kinksters recognize that some sort of negotiation is a necessary component of creating consensual BDSM scenes; but all too often, valuable aspects of pre-play talk tend to get glossed over. Anything beyond cursory negotiation often just seems too awkward and cumbersome for many people when they’re eager to get on with the main event. And talking about things ahead of time can feel like it could stifle the spontaneity some people find so exciting as a scene progresses. BDSM, for many, after all, is about letting go. But, for those willing to give negotiations just a little time and thought, the pre-play talk itself can be a rewarding aspect of scening that shouldn’t be missed; and clearly communicating where the boundaries are actually allows for less guarded play during the scene that follows.

Pre-play negotiations don’t have to be overly elaborate. For couples who play together frequently, negotiations can sometimes be as quick as exchanging a knowing glance to establish tacit consent with the understanding that all the previously negotiated boundaries are still in place. Other negotiations can be as informal as agreeing on what kind of implement is going to used in some impact play – if you’ve played together a lot before, the rest is often assumed to be understood. But, when you anticipate pushing boundaries or playing with someone new, negotiations can be as involved as setting very precise limits and discussing pertinent medical histories. Every scene is different and requires a different level of pre-play talk.

Explicit scene negotiation can seem difficult and awkward, especially for timid bottoms who are seeking to relinquish control to another person. When you’re seeking to be Dominated in a BDSM scene, it can seem counter-productive to display the assertiveness needed to state exactly what you want or need. But, besides helping to avoid misunderstandings, and not really taking very much time, the necessary talking needed to bring desires out in the open during negotiations can actually be a fun and exciting part of interactions between Tops and bottoms. And if a bottom seems hesitant to be forthcoming during negotiations, I think part of the Top’s job is to make sure that the process is as enjoyable as possible for the bottom. This is exciting stuff, like foreplay for the mind – and I encourage beginners to try to savor the anticipation during the process.

Most of the ideas I’m bringing up here have been presented elsewhere by others in different forms. However, for the sake of further elaboration for those new to the concept of scene negotiation, I thought I’d try to bring together in one place some things I’ve found helpful to think about when I talk with a prospective play partner. I’ve somewhat arbitrarily created acronyms to organize the ideas and make them easier to remember. In practice I actually only use one of these mnemonic devices with any consistency when I negotiate a scene with someone. But, I present all of them here for others to consider.

Any attempt at a fairly comprehensive list like this, especially with items forced into a rather artificial scheme of this kind, will necessarily be both incomplete and too exhaustive for many people. I merely offer the material here as a stepping-off point for others to consider how they want to develop their own ways of thinking about scene negotiations.

Pre-negotiations – deciding if you really want to take the step to enter negotiations

This is something that I rarely see discussed in detail. But before you decide that you want to accept someone’s proposal to scene with you or you approach someone with the idea of negotiating a scene, the following criteria can help you consider if you really want to make that step.

“E-M-P-A-T-H-Y”

Experience – What is their experience level? Are they known as a safe player? Do they know what they’re doing? Can someone vouch for their reputation? Everyone has to start somewhere, but it’s usually better if one of you has some experience with the type of scene you’re contemplating.

Mental State - Are they unimpaired? Upbeat? Responsive? In the right headspace? Does their demeanor match what you’re looking for at the moment?

Physical State – Are they physically up to the task right now? Fresh? Exhausted? Have they played too hard already?

Able – Are they capable? Do they have the required abilities and skills? Are they available (emotionally and relationship-wise; do they have adequate time?)

Trust – Do you trust this person in the context of the scene, and can you trust them with the knowledge of what transpires during the scene?

Health Risks – Is doing a scene with this person an acceptable risk?

Yes? - Do they want to scene with you, too?

If you have a desire to scene with this person and can accept the above criteria, and they seem interested in interacting with you, then ask the same set of questions about yourself. If you still come to “Yes,” it’s time to negotiate what’s going to happen next. If the answer is “no,” politely decline, or suggest you’d like to consider it again at another time.

Making sure your expectations of what’s going to happen align sufficiently

There’s a wide variety of facets to scening. Some people like receiving pain but don’t consider themselves submissive. Some people want to be Dominated, but don’t want their submission to be overtly sexual. One person may desire to be man-handled while another wants to be directed verbally or handled gently. Making sure you both understand the desired degrees of certain aspects of the scene will help keep divergent expectations from derailing the scene.

At the very least I recommend determining the desired levels of these parameters:

“D-E-P-T-H”

Dominance/submission
Eroticism
Pain
Touch
Humiliation

When I play with someone, especially for the first time, as a minimum I like to cover these few salient points during the negotiations to make sure boundaries and expectations are understood between both parties. While some of the other acronyms I’m proposing here are simply presented as ways to think about the potential scope of scene negotiations, during actual impromptu negotiations I often use D-E-P-T-H as an outline prior to playing to help me establish the flavor of a session. Each of these facets are things that an individual may or may not be seeking to have explored during play. For instance, I like rope bondage, but I can’t tie someone up without having at least a hint of some of these things coming into play (bondage positions are inherently uncomfortable, and being restrained in provocative positions has some unavoidable elements of sexual exposure and humiliation) – but it can be helpful to know just how much someone is actually hoping to experience along each of these lines.

So, prior to play I often ask a bottom to rate what they are seeking in each of these arenas (on a scale of one to ten, with the unattainable zero being none, and 10 being extreme levels):

Dominance/submission: how much do you want to feel like you’re being Dominated? How much control do you wish to relinquish? 1 = “hey, we’re equals on a mutual journey here.” 5 = “I’d like you to take charge, but don’t take us too far off course without consulting me.” 10 = “I’m completely yours, do with me as you please.”

Eroticism: For some people scening is only about non-sexual sensation or relinquishing control; for others it is inherently sexual and arousing. Play partners need to be on the same page on this aspect. So, note well: touching erogenous zones or the genitals or touch intended to sexually arouse someone or penetration of any kind requires explicit permission before play begins [see the paragraph below on "Touch"]. On the general sexiness front, to get the conversation started, at the very least ask: How erotic an experience are you seeking? 1 = “Don’t even think about me as a sexual being.” 5 = “I like being aroused, but that’s not my primary goal here.” 8 = “Make me want it, badly, and leave me still wanting it badly” 10 = “Fuck me, please, FUCK ME!”

Pain: Some bottoms enjoy and seek pain for the endorphins and pride of endurance or to satisfy their partner's sadistic pleasure; some enjoy seeking the intensity of testing their pain limits; others prefer a scene to be as pain-free as possible so that other elements are more intensified; others seek something in between or different levels during different sessions. 1 = “pain really pulls me away from where I want to go.” 5 = “I enjoy some pain, but I don’t want to push my limits.” 9 = “is that all you got?” 10 = “I want to see a light at the end of a tunnel.”

Touch: Some people like to be handled roughly, others more gingerly or gently. Touch can be sexual or simply sensual. Any overtly sexual touching during a scene needs to be agreed to by both parties before play starts. The Top also needs to know if there are any areas of the body that should be avoided and about any no-touch zones. Again, touching with the intent of sexually arousing someone or penetration of any kind requires explicit permission. If you want to touch someone's genitals or use a vibrator on them you must ask them before play begins and get a reply of, "yes, that's welcome." How rough do you like to be handled?: 1= “please keep it as gentle as possible.” 5 = “definitely be assertive, but nothing too abrupt.” 10 = “you won’t really get my attention unless I lose equilibrium.” Touching Zones: 1= “touch me only the minimum necessary to conduct the scene; if you need me to move, just tell me.” 5 = “I like personal contact, but avoid lingering on these specified places and please don’t touch me here at all.” 9 = “touch me anywhere you want to, but no penetration, please.” 10 = "You can touch me any damn place you like - inside and out - please, please, please."

Humiliation: some bottoms thrill at having a component of verbal or physical humiliation during BDSM interactions with some people; others recoil at the mere thought of such a thing with others. How much does the possibility of feeling humiliated figure into your desire to scene with this person? 1 = “Just don’t go there.” For the innocent, 5 = “this is embarrassing, but I kinda like the attention.” For the guilty, 5 = “I’ve been a little naughty, and I kinda like being reminded of it at times.” For the innocent, 10 = “how could someone so angelic like me ever deserve to be put into such a completely devilish and deliriously delightful degradation.” For the guilty, 10 = “I admit it, I’m a dirty little slut and the world should be made aware of it at my expense.”

There are no right or wrong answers to the above questions. Everyone is different. This is just a way of thinking about what kinds of scenes and play partners will be gratifying for you. And all of these things are fluid; desires can change, even within a session. While every session is different and most Tops don’t seek to create an experience for a bottom like some order off a menu, knowing how someone feels about the above facets of BDSM can help avoid mismatched expectations – neither party is going to come away with a satisfactory experience when a masochistic bottom hoping to be tied up, humiliated, and slapped around gets gently woven into some beautiful decorative bondage by someone looking for a canvas for their exquisite rope art. Neither is the woman hoping to be the centerpiece of some sensual and serene contemplative experience who finds herself in the hands of a sadistic sex fiend who thinks a brutal caning is merely a prologue that should culminate in him ravaging her – in consensual kink he’s not going to find the interaction very satisfying either when she abruptly calls a horrified halt to the scene just when he thinks he’s delivering just what he thought she wanted.

This approach to negotiation is just a way for people to see how their sensibilities about a possible scene line up. This kind of directness in addressing these things may not be for everyone; but I would suggest that this isn’t a bad place to start thinking when you talk with anyone you contemplate playing with. And getting someone thinking about this stuff in advance is a great way to get the mental juices flowing. Enjoy the anticipation while you work out the necessary boundaries.

Establishing the above level of understanding between two prospective play partners is often enough for most people for many BDSM activities to cautiously begin. But, I think that even if it isn’t formally negotiated, there are other factors to be kept in mind for truly Risk Aware Consensual Kink. For old hands at BDSM play, these things are so ingrained in their minds that they probably don’t always need to address them formally, especially when playing with someone they’ve played with before. But, for people new to scening or interacting with new play partners, I like to make sure I’ve included some other things in my negotiations if there’s a possibility that the play could become intense. I don’t think that memorizing acronyms or carrying a check-off list is necessary; but in keeping with the discussion on D-E-P-T-H, I’ll present similar acronyms for parameters that can be important to consider before starting a scene.

Work out a few more critical limits and parameters

“M-I-N-D”

Marking – is it ok to leave marks? Where? How severe?

Intensity – do you want to be pushing limits? Or, Is this a trial run?

Nakedness – how much clothing can/will be shed.

Duration – how long a scene are you anticipating? How will it wind down?

A few more important details before you proceed

These things often go unspoken or get brushed over quickly, but they’re important aspects of scening that should be made clear between the parties before play starts.

“W-I-S-E A-S-S”

Where – establish the location of the scene; whose place? Which play station?

Implements – is it okay to use this device on you? Plus it helps to know what hardware you’re going to use and need.

Safety / sanitation – barriers, sanitizers, precautions – think ahead of time about playing safe.

Emergency – have a plan – exits, first aid, keys, neighbors, interruptions, safe calls, etc.

Afterwards - before you start, think about Aftercare / Recovery / Cleanup / Contact info for following up later.

Safewords – don’t assume you’re both using the locally accepted jargon.

Signals - it’s a good idea to have some non-verbal communication in place, too.

Assessing the individual’s physical limitations

Especially for extreme scenes or bondage, it’s a good idea to assess the physical condition of the bottom. Everyone has limitations. Learning how to address and accommodate personal limitations is a continual learning process. I offer these acronyms only as a brief outline of the kinds of things that need to be considered. If you’re a bottom, it’s a good idea to point out potential problems to the Top ahead of time.

“B-I-S-H-O-P”

Body-type: build and posture all need to be taken into consideration.

Injuries: old wounds, and recent bruises.

Spine alignment and back problems.

Hydration and food – make sure blood sugar and fluids are adequate to play.

Other concerns (a catch-all for things like pertinent medical history, meds, STD’s, fainting, vertigo, veganism, etc.)

Piercings, jewelry, eyewear – things that can get in the way, get caught on things, or lost.

“S-A-F-E - T-Y”

Skin type and blemishes: are they prone to marking or bleeding or scarring.

Allergies (e.g., Hemp, Latex).

Flexibility.

Energy level and Emotional / Mental Health concerns.

[and if everything up to now has gone well, and we have a mutual understanding…]

Test Touch – make contact at a modest level and watch closely for their reaction.

Yoga – move them, test their range of motion, and guide them into a practice position.

Even if I’ve only quickly gone over most of the things on these lists in my head, before I actually start a scene with someone I usually try to do the last two things on this list – touch the person to establish a connection, whether it’s simply to put my hand on their arm or grasp the hair on their neck; and then have them do something for me, like stretch, or present their arms for restraint, or assume a position to initiate the scene and allow me to assess how they’re responding.

If negotiations have gone well, then the scene is essentially already underway. From there on out it’s merely a matter of continuing those two things over and over up to the limits that have been negotiated – make contact, make demands of them, and take in how they respond. Repeat until satisfied, until you run out of time, or you’re too tired to continue. But, do try to reserve a little time and energy for some of that pre-negotiated aftercare.