Communication in BDSM: 5 Things to Remember When Negotiating Kinky Play by Betty Butch

Negotiation in BDSM is the act of discussing and planning a play scene with a partner. These kinds of conversations can be difficult if you’re not sure what you need to cover, so hopefully this list will provide some insight!


It’s important to note that this kind of conversation can’t be sprung on an unsuspecting, uneducated party. Effective negotiation requires play partners who are on equal footing; if one participant knows less about – or is substantially less comfortable with – kink, they’re at a disadvantage.

Some aspects of this do list pertain to introducing BDSM to a partner, but the list itself was written to contextualize some important aspects of negotiation to already cursorily informed readers. If you’re thinking about asking a partner about kink for the first time, the resources and discussion relating to communication, collaboration, and consent will be of particular importance to you!

Understand the things you’re asking for and what it entails.  

If you’re considering asking your partner to participate in a kinky activity with you, you probably already have a thing or two in mind. But how much do you actually know about your desired types of play? What are the potential risks, and the best ways to mitigate them? And if you get to explore these kinks, what are you actually wanting out of the experience?

There are plenty of BDSM educators and educational resources a mere googling away. Local munches (“vanilla” gatherings of kinky people for the purpose of socializing) and workshops. Comprehensive educational sites like Kink Academy. Kink bloggers like The Black Pomegranate, Sugarbutch, Kate Sloan, and Kayla Lords. Authors like Tristan Taormino. There’s even BDSM educators on Youtube, like Watts the Safeword, Evie Lupine, and Milkwebs.

Educating yourself isn’t just about knowing the best practices and safety tips for your desired play. It’s also about hearing from other kinksters, whose introspection and musings can enlighten and inspire you on your kinky journey. Not sure why you want to be tied up, or what being tied up might feel like emotionally and physically? BDSM educators usually have firsthand experience. Their experiences can help you contextualize your own.

Having an informed vision of where your interests lie will help you explain your desires to your partner… and be flexible about their implementation.

Remember that this is a collaborative experience.

In the throes of fantasy, your pleasure and your desires are paramount, because it’s just you and your imagination. But the domme of your daydreams and the person you’re dating may be two very different people. You can’t just give your partner a grocery list of kinks and expect them to replicate your fantasies. You have to recognize and prioritize your partner’s agency in every step of the negotiation process, because their interests, preferences, and comfort zone are just as important as your own.

A great way to do this is by broaching the topic of BDSM in general rather than starting off with a specific idea. Books like 365 Days of Kink: A Journal of Self-Discovery, games like Ready, Kink, Go!, and Yes/No/Maybe Lists like this one by Bex Caputo, are effective because they start the vulnerable conversations necessary to discover what you’re each curious about – and finding common ground therein. This is essential for newbies and first timers, but it’s also important for those who have been “in the scene” for years to do regular check-ins about changing interests and limits.

Contextualize your scene, and seek compromise.

Before you get to the dirty details – like what flogger you’re going to use – you need to suss out the foundation of your play session. What do you both want? What feelings and physical experiences are you and your partner each hoping to achieve when you play today? What are you willing – or not willing – to compromise on so your partner is as comfortable and enthusiastic as you are?

Perhaps you want a spanking, but your partner isn’t interested in getting that physically involved (today or ever.) Consider why you want a spanking – was it because you wanted to feel punished and humiliated? There are non-physical ways to pursue that feeling. Perhaps your partner would prefer dirty talking about what a naughty puppy you are, or instructing you to stand in the corner instead. Or maybe your partner isn’t comfortable punishing you at all, and it’s a limit they’re not interested exploring. What are other submissive feelings you’re interested in? Maybe servitude strikes your fancy – would your partner enjoy you fixing them a snack while in nothing but a collar?

Don’t just negotiate the “sexy” parts. Acknowledge risk, safety and aftercare.

Discussing what kinky shenanigans you’re going to get up to tonight shouldn’t start and end with the juicy stuff. Don’t get so caught up in picking out your butt plug and bondage cuffs that you don’t also go over safety precautions and aftercare (that is, post-scene activities chosen to help participants “come down” from the emotional/headspace high of playing.)

All kink involves some kind of risk, including dirty talk! Even if you thoroughly discuss words to avoid, there’s the possibility of saying something that causes your partner discomfort they didn’t want. That discomfort might just be getting turned off or falling out of character, but it could also be more serious, like triggering a flashback of a traumatic experience.

As you will learn when you begin researching specific kinds of play (like rope bondage or impact play), informed play is safer play. But just as there’s no such thing as “safe sex,” just safer sex, there is no such thing as completely safe kink. It’s important that both you and your partner understand and agree to the risks involved in the activities you choose to engage in, and that you have plans for dealing with the associated dangers.

Where will you set your safety shears? How would you handle your roommate accidentally interrupting your interrogation role play? What will you do if you lose your handcuff keys? Are you okay with accidental bruises? Do you accept the possibility of injury?

What will aftercare look like for you? Do you need to hear reassurance that your partner enjoyed themselves? Will you want a snack or a nap? Who will be responsible for cleaning up afterwards? Do you want to cuddle or do you prefer not to be touched – and if you both feel differently about this, how can you compromise?  

Continuously put informed consent at the forefront.

Informed consent is agreement that is built on a clear, educated understanding of something. A partner who is being shamed, guilted, or harassed into discussing or participating in kink is not consenting. A partner who doesn’t understand the risks of breath play can’t fully consent to being choked, because they’re agreeing to a false scenario. Informed consent isn’t a one-off exchange, either; it must be continuously reestablished, as people’s feelings and comfort levels will change over the course of a conversation and subsequent scene.

Prioritizing consent also means making sure that negotiations occur at a time that is comfortable for everyone involved. Participants should be equally educated on the topic before anything concrete is agreed on, and the discussion should happen at a time and place where you have the energy, self-awareness, and enthusiasm to make choices. Spontaneously asking an unsuspecting partner if they’ll put your collar on in public is manipulative and robs them of the ability to carefully consider the implications and risks.

You also have to collectively determine the best way to continue communicating during the kink session itself. If your partner’s normal communication method is restricted (such as by being gagged or having their hands restrained), you need alternative means of signaling distress or reestablishing consent. Maybe they’ll hold a bell (ringing means yes, dropped means stop), or give a pattern of blinks, or tap their fingers. Even if a partner is not restricted, it’s important to maintain communication. You can incorporate regular check-ins without breaking the mood, such as by asking “is my good girl still comfortable?”, “is Mxtress ready to give me another spanking?”, etc. (Because yes – even tops need check-ins!)



Betty Butch is a queer, sex-positive blogger who reviews pleasure products and writes about identity and kink at bettybutch.com. You can find her on Twitter via @betty_butch.


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