BDSM girl with collar chains and flogger

Why are safewords so important, not only in BDSM?

Safewords are one of the most well-known components of BDSM. Although many people may believe that safewords are only necessary if you’re deep within the BDSM community, it’s actually a recommended practice for anyone engaging in sex with a partner (or partners).

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about safewords, why they’re important and how you can start using them.

What is a safeword?

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a safeword, don’t worry, we’re going to break it down for you. Safewords are an incredibly important and critical aspect of BDSM. However, they can be useful even if you don’t engage in BDSM play.

While it’s easy to think that safewords might put a damper on sexual encounters, adding pressure and rules, it’s actually quite the opposite. Safewords exist to maintain a safe environment for all parties, and specifically to ensure the mental and physical safety of the submissive partner.

Dr Jess O’Reilly, host of the Sex With Dr Jess podcast told AskMen that a safeword is “a word you use to indicate that you’ve reached your limits and you want to stop play”. When you use a safeword, all parties involved should stop whatever acts are in play and check in.

Essentially, the purpose of a safeword is to give a clear and obvious message to all those involved, that the person who has given the word either no longer feels safe, is uncomfortable, or simply wants to stop.

Given the importance of ongoing consent, it’s critical to always honour the calling of a safeword, and that play does not continue until all parties have checked in with one another.

It should go without saying – although it always bears repeating – that if you haven’t agreed on a safeword, it’s important that participants pay attention to more obvious signs of discomfort, like “no” or “stop”, or changes in demeanour or vocalisations. This can always be aided by a continuous practice of checking in with your partner(s).


couple having sex

Why do we need safewords?

Safewords are critical to ensure the enjoyment of sex for all parties. Nothing is sexier than entering a sexual encounter with complete confidence and trust that you’ll be safe and respected. The security that safewords offer allows participants to unlock a whole new world of exciting and new sexual adventures.

Because much of BDSM involves pushing boundaries, it’s not uncommon for someone – most often the submissive partner – to say “no” or “stop” as a knee-jerk reaction, without actually wanting play to stop.

Consensual non-consent (CNC) is common in BDSM and kink communities, wherein you can safely explore pushing the boundaries of consent, while in reality being in a completely controlled and safe environment.

Having a safeword that is completely divorced from what we normally think of to mean “stop” can allow all parties to be fully engrossed in the scene, and also allows for there to be no confusion when and if the word is said.

When to use safewords?

While ideally, you’ll never need to use a safeword, it’s still important to know when you should feel empowered to use it if you need to.

Call out your safeword at any point that you feel physically unwell. You shouldn’t hesitate to use a safeword if you feel dizzy, queasy, or numb. It should also be considered if you get a headache, need to use the restroom, or feel that you’re being restrained or handled too roughly.

Furthermore, if it’s psychological boundaries that you’re pushing, use your safeword if you can no longer handle whatever it is that’s going on. When the play moves from thrilling and positive to upsetting and negative, you shouldn’t hesitate to call out your safeword.

BDSM is all about exploring your limits, and part of that is feeling confident and empowered enough to know when you’ve hit yours.

That being said, there’s no need to reserve safewords for solely BDSM settings. Although that’s where they’re most commonly used, it can be a healthy practice to implement them in all sexual activities. Not only can it help normalise safewords and bring a positive energy of consent to the encounter, but it also allows you to practice and get comfortable with them.

If you’re nervous about remembering your safeword or want to get comfortable with it so you can confidently use it, it may also be a good idea to practice using them outside of sexual situations.

In general, if you’re new to using safewords or are playing with a new partner, it’s a good idea to always check in before you begin any sexual activities. Just do a quick verbal check that you both know what the safeword is.

What if you can’t speak?

Now, you may find yourself in a situation where your ability to speak is obstructed, which would of course make it impossible for you to call out your safeword.

But don’t worry, there are plenty of creative ways that you can signal you want to stop, so you have a plan B should you be unable to speak for any reason.

Make sure to always choose something that makes sense for you and the situation. Non-verbal options can range from snapping your fingers, pinching or tapping your partner, and stomping your feet.

These non-verbal methods are especially crucial to discuss ahead of time. While safewords will sound out of place in the experience, thus triggering a stopping point, many gestures can seem somewhat natural depending on what’s happening. The dominant partner(s) should know exactly what the gesture is and be on the lookout for signs of discomfort.

How to choose a safeword

As we’ve pointed out, using what might feel like an obvious word (“stop” for example) isn’t the best idea when choosing a safeword. What you should aim for is a word that is easy to remember, but that wouldn’t normally find its way into the bedroom.

Stay away from anything that’s too complicated, like phrases that are more than one word, or a word that isn’t super common to you. Try to pick something basic, that will stick in your head easily but isn’t going to blend in with the encounter. Nouns are usually best for this; try sticking with people, places and things.

Popular options include colours, animals, food and celebrities.

Some experts suggest using something that would come off as revolting to participants, in order to ensure that play is halted immediately. If that sounds appealing to you consider choosing something political or off-putting.

The traffic light system

A very popular, tried-and-true safeword system within BDSM is the traffic light system. The traffic light system is a way to verbalise the different levels of engaged, kinky, or enthusiastic you’re feeling during sex. It’s an excellent way to monitor your partner’s interest and comfort throughout sex.

The traffic light system has three levels: green, yellow and red. The intricacies of each level may vary from partner to partner, depending on a range of personal preferences and experiences, but for the most part, the levels suggest this:

  • Green: I’m enjoying this, please keep going
  • Yellow: This is nearing my limits, continue with caution, this is okay but no further, etc.
  • Red: stop immediately

As you can see, the inclusion of a middle ground (yellow) leaves room for interpretation between partners. This should, of course, always be predefined before sex so there is absolutely no room for confusion. Feel free to make the system your own, that’s why it exists – to protect and enhance your sex life.

Another benefit to this system is the ability for the dominant party to take more initiative in proactively checking in with their partner. A common way of doing this is simply calling out “Give me a colour”, which can easily be incorporated into sex without taking you out of the moment. This can be useful as it takes a lot of pressure off of the submissive party to speak up, and instead invites them to share in a safe and non-judgmental way.

Popular safewords

The most popular safewords fall into a few categories: celebrities, colours, fruits, foods, animals and sports, to name a few. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a selection of the most popular options:

  • Donald Trump
  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Red
  • Pineapple
  • Banana
  • Oklahoma
  • Justin Bieber
  • Peach
  • Apple
  • Latte
  • Sushi
  • Poodle
  • Chicken
  • Tofu
  • Marmite
  • Unicorn
  • Tennis
  • Water Polo

No matter what you choose, make sure it makes sense to you and your partner.


couple about to kiss

Safewords and ground rules in BDSM

Establishing safewords can be a great opener to incorporating other ground rules for BDSM into your sex life. Much like every other aspect of a healthy relationship, communication is critical to maintaining a positive and trusting environment.

Any time you want to switch it up and try new things in the bedroom it will be key that you make space with your partner to have a conversation ahead of time. Make sure it’s a conversation where all participants feel like they have equal footing and are given a chance to voice their wants and concerns.

Remember, the rules you set may seem rigid in theory, but they actually allow for freedom in practice. There is nothing more important in BDSM than trusting your partner. Safewords are just the beginning of healthy ground rules for BDSM.

Safewords are important

If you’ve been curious about whether or not you should start using a safeword – let this be the sign you’ve been looking for. Safewords are beneficial for everyone and can be easily incorporated into your sex life no matter where you’re at in your exploration.

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