In my time as a dom, I’ve accidentally caused emotional distress or excessive pain because:
- I spanked a girl with my hand instead of a hairbrush, and she thought that meant I was genuinely angry with her and not just playing. That made her emotionally desolate, and triggered some bad stuff that had happened between her and her mother, which she’d never told me about before;
- I used a riding crop on another girl’s inner thighs, because the week before she’d loved it when I used my belt there. But this time she was having her period and for her that meant her pain threshold was much lower. The intensity was the same, but this time she experienced it as excessive and a complete sexual turn-off;
- I had my cock in a girl’s throat, and she started to panic because she couldn’t breathe.
None of those submissive women used a safe word to communicate their distress. The first girl had floated into a bad psychological space, and couldn’t speak. The second couldn’t remember her safe word, and anyway the pain meant she stepped completely out of her submissive headspace. She didn’t care about safe words: she just wanted this to stop. The third girl couldn’t speak, but fortunately she was still keeping her eyes on mine, as I’d ordered, and so I saw submission change to panic.
I stopped, and didn’t start again till I’d found out the problem and dealt with it, the submissive was ok, and was ready to go on.
Each of those events was unpredictable. The girl who spun into a bad mental state because I’d hand spanked her hadn’t known that was going to be her reaction. There was no way I could reasonably have expected it either. It’s the mildest impact play that there is.
Each situation turned out ok and happy because I didn’t wait for a safeword. If I had insisted on the safeword, the first girl would have had a psychologically damaging experience, and lost her trust in me. The second girl would never have continued, or played with me again. The third girl could have have been asphyxiated.
One more safeword story. I valued the first girl’s trust, because it gave her a safe place to do bdsm. Never mind altruism, she was hot. One reason why she trusted me was that she’d last been with a dom who got a lot of his rules and practices from the internet rather than reality. He tended to dole out physical punishments that were tenuously justified and extremely severe, because he liked to give very severe pain. He’d tied her to a cross, and was whipping her when she broke up with him.
She told him to stop. He kept on whipping her. She told him they were through and she wasn’t taking any more. He kept on whipping her. She was bleeding. She started screaming, by now half angry and half terrified, for him to fucking well stop. But you haven’t safeworded me, he said. He’d sounded smug: that meant he was winning. All you have to do is safe word me. He kept on whipping her.
She couldn’t remember what her safeword was. He’d given it to her, which made it harder. It was Armadillo or Rumpelstilskin or something. She’d blanked on it. She was in an angry, fearful state and she couldn’t calmly ransack through her mind to find it.
Eventually he untied her and said her punishment was over, and to get on her knees and suck his cock.
She left without a word and never went back. I made her tell the story, with the guy’s name, to other submissives. Strictly speaking and technically, he could argue that he’d followed the rules. But he was a dangerous idiot, and a criminal from the instant she’d said they were through.
So in general I treat, “No”, “Stop” and “This isn’t working for me”, also certain kinds of non-responsiveness, as safewords even though they’re not the agreed safeword. Yes, there are rules in bdsm, but they should never get in the way of a submissive’s health and safety.
Sometimes, though, I will ignore “No, please stop” because it isn’t the safeword. But that’s only where the submissive and I are in a relationship that includes consensual non-consent, and where she (this applies to male and female submissives, but I’m saying “she” because my experience involves women submissives) has explicitly told me that sometimes she wants to be able to beg and shout and protest, and have me ignore that and continue.
I enjoy that, but that’s for when you know someone well, and you know you can read between the lines, and tell pleasure from real distress in her body language or her voice, or her silence. So that you know she’s safe and in a good mental state, even as you gleefully ignore her pleas for you to stop.
Even then, truth be told, if I believed that I detected real harm or distress I’d stop even without the safeword.
You can think you’ve worked out everything in advance, and that the rules you’ve agreed to will cover everything. But humans are unpredictable creatures, and emotionally driven and changeable, whether they acknowledge that or not.
Both parties have to be flexible enough to take that into account, and to respond to the person’s needs (and their own needs) in the moment, and not just stick to a set of rules.
Except one rule: the dom’s duty of care, to do no harm to a submissive, comes before everything else, including “I’ll stop if you safeword me but not otherwise”. Even when they’re not, “no” and “stop!” are still safewords, if the submissive really means it. Whatever the agreed protocol might be.