Should I put my red flag away now? You will hear “I wanna push your limits” from some Dom at some stage, so I think it’s worthwhile talking about what that really means.
LET’S TALK ABOUT CONSENT
Consent flows both ways and both parties have to retain both responsibility and consent. A bottom can’t say “just go ahead and do whatever you want, and I’ll let you know later if you went too far, when I call the cops”, and a Top can’t say “once we start there’s nothing you can say to stop Me, and I’ll go as far as I want”.
In Consensual Non-Consent (CNC) groups you’ll hear people bragging about how they have no limits and no power, because they have given it all to their Dom. It’s misleading and I don’t buy it.
Nearly always, what they’re really saying is that they have total trust in their partner and over time they’ve built up a kind of telepathic awareness in the relationship, so verbal communication isn’t as necessary anymore.
You never hear CNC people saying “I feel totally unsafe with my partner and that’s hot”. They always feel safe, and the reason for that is that they trust that there is communication and it is being respected.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re communicating with negotiated safe words, normal conversation, body language or telepathy, if you trust that communication is effective and you are safe with your partner, then there is responsibility and consent.
LIMITS – HARD AND SOFT
Limits and consent are basically the same thing. You don’t need to sit down and draft out some kind of written agreement on limits, but everyone has the right to refuse to consent to anything, and stating that something is a limit is basically a shorthand way of refusing that consent upfront.
Hard Limits (or Off Limits) are those things that a person will not do under any circumstances. They exist for things that will change that person’s self perception negatively (such as evoking shame or disgust), cause emotional pain or bring about consequences they couldn’t live with.
Common hard limits are children, animals, scat, blood and drugs, but every person has the right to set their own limits, to state and enforce them, and to have them respected.
Soft Limits (or Conditional Limits) are limits that we might agree to adjust, modify or re-negotiate with the right person, at the right time, in the right place or in the right circumstances.
Anal sex and photography are common soft limits. In the right circumstances they might be hot, but not with someone you don’t have a significant level of trust and intimacy with.
BENDING THE BOUNDARIES
Regardless of how hard, soft, rubbery, elastic or otherwise limits are, it’s up to the person who set it to determine when, with whom or whether they want to “push it”. If someone says they are not willing or interested in a certain thing, it’s the responsibility of a Top to respect that.
Sometimes, limits are not clear. For example, a bottom may love the idea of being whipped, but not know how far they can go in that scene. That’s a form of soft limit, and again it comes down to responsibility and consent. Consent for a whipping scene is conditional on (verbal or non-verbal) communication within the scene and trust that when the limit becomes clearer and is communicated it will be respected.
PERMISSION TO PUSH
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force
– Newton’s First Law of Motion
Everyone’s relationship is unique, and the deeper the trust and respect you have for another person, who has taken the time to get to understand you, the more power or authority you may wish to give them. This can include “stretching” or “pushing” your limits.
Giving someone authority to push your limits is seldom about a superficial power trip. It can foster greater vulnerability, growth, knowledge and intimacy between two people who trust each other.
BDSM is often a tool to break Newton’s Law. Sometimes, people desire an external force to help them create change in their lives.
Consent doesn’t disappear in these situations. The bottom wants, and consents to, having their limits “acted upon by an outside force”. They consent to the initiation of change.
HOW A TOP CAN DEAL WITH LIMITS
As a Top, you do not have the right to say “you are not allowed to have any limits”. Both parties have the right to say that there are some things that they simply won’t do.
However, you do have the right to say “for us to have a relationship, this particular thing cannot be a hard limit for you”.
What’s the difference? There are two situations where this can work:
I Wish To Keep This on the Negotiating Table
You can reserve the right to keep asking about something, if you feel that at some time in the future the bottom’s limits may change. In this case you are keeping a “hard limit” soft. You can keep asking about it, and if it’s refused then as a responsible Top you must continue to honour the limit.
The Limit Makes or Breaks the Relationship
Negotiations flow both ways. It’s fine to say “I really get off on flogging and for us to be in a relationship it wouldn’t work for me if you have a hard limit for that”. This is upfront, clear and (hopefully) doesn’t involve any emotional blackmail. If the bottom really has a limit on flogging, then the relationship can’t go any further. You’re not a match.
KEEPING AN OPEN MIND
Limits change over time for everyone. The things that scared us when we first discovered BDSM don’t scare us anymore. We taste something we think we won’t like and realise that we want more.
Change is natural, and it’s always worthwhile being introspective once in a while. Thinking through what makes you hot and hard once in a while might surprise you and help you understand how life’s experiences are changing you.
Be clear in your mind what you will do and what you absolutely won’t, and don’t ever hesitate to communicate your limits and boundaries or insist that they are respected.
• Our BDSM Play Partner Checklist is a good place to start in identifying limits
• Kink Abuse – The Seductive Art of Negotiation
• Master Dale – 10 Golden Rules for BDSM Negotiation
• Wikipedia – Limits (BDSM)
• The BDSM Training Academy – Hard Limits vs Soft Limits
• Chicago NOW – Kinky BDSM: What Are Limits and Why You Need Them