Practical Negotiation

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Once you and a prospective play partner have determined what you'd like to do together in a BDSM scene, negotiation enters the picture. This is where you set the terms and conditions, the boundaries and limits of what you're going to do together.

Actual consent plays a big part of this because what you're really negotiating is the conditions under which you both consent to play together. There are three main areas you need to discuss:

  1. Health,
  2. Limits, and
  3. Safewords.

Remember that at this point you should already have determined which specific BDSM activities you're going to be doing with each other. Your negotiation is going to be in this context; it's going to be about health issues, limits and safewords which are relevant or applicable to the activity or activities.

Health and medical

Discussing each other's health and medical condition is something which is often neglected, but particularly in the case of the bottom or submissive it's important that the top or dominant is aware of any medical condition or health issue which may effect the submissive's or bottom's ability to tolerate, endure, absorb, or enjoy what is about to be done to them.


There are a number of common or not so common medical conditions which can influence which BDSM activities can safely be performed.

  • Haemophilia is a limited ability of the body to stop bleeding. This can be significant where the skin or blood vessels under the skin are broken. This can occur in such activities as flogging, caning, cutting or piercing. In fact, anything which abrades or cuts the skin, or which causes bruising, can be problematic for people suffering from haemophilia because once they start bleeding their blood typically won't clot to stop the bleeding. It may require hospitalisation and can eventually be fatal.
  • Asthma affects the lungs and causes difficulty in breathing and a characteristic wheezing. It can be triggered by excitement, allergies or exertion. Anything which may constrict the chest (such as rope bondage) or limit breathing (such as gags or hoods) can make asthma worse. Asthma can also be fatal. It is usually treated by direct application of steroids to the lungs via some form of inhaler. Most asthmatics who are prone to attacks will likely carry one of these with them all the time.
  • Allergies can trigger asthma attacks, can cause a nose block, or cause various types of inflammation. This is particularly problematical during breath play. An allergy may also cause sneezing and runny eyes. It is likely to take the fun out of anything you're doing. Animal fur, house dust and pollen are common culprits.
  • Blood pressure can be high or low. Very high blood pressure can be made worse by the excitement of a BDSM scan and can lead to a stroke. Very low blood pressure will predispose the person to fainting at the drop of a hat, or by having to stay vertical for long periods such as during some types of bondage.
  • Any current illness, such as cold or flu, can cause fevers (which can be made worse by activities like mummification), headaches, blocked noses and a variety of other symptoms which can be made worse during BDSM.
  • Heart conditions can be of concern because the excitement involved in many BDSM scenes can be very demanding. Someone wearing a pacemaker or who is taking medication for a heart problem should be carefully questioned to find out exactly what can be done and what can't.
  • Some skin conditions can limit what sorts of bondage can be done or what sort of materials may be rubbed up against or dripped on the skin. Eczema and other afflictions, for example, can make the skin itchy and sensitive (in a bad way). Wax play may be right out, and all bondage may be impossible or may only be possible with particular types of rope (e.g., cotton).

The above list is only a starting point. While it might cover the majority of medical conditions you'll come across which can affect BDSM play, you shouldn't just provide your prospective partner with a tick-box list with only the above. Be sure to ask something like, "Are there any other conditions or issues I should know about which would affect or limit what we do together in this scene?"

Muscular or skeletal problems

Some BDSM activities, particularly ones like suspension or predicament bondage, interrogation, or submission or service involving kneeling, can place a significant burden on muscles or joints. Some BDSM folk also tense their muscles during scenes such as cutting or piercing. Any or all of these may be problematic when the submissive or bottom has any muscular or skeletal ailments.

These can include:

  • Arthritis, which has to do with joint damage. Perhaps most commonly it appears with age and can be an autoimmune issue, but it can appear in a number of forms, for a number of reasons, and most anywhere on the body. The usual symptoms involve swelling or inflammation of the joints and pain. It can be made worse by muscle strain.
  • Torn muscles, of course, need time to heal and many forms of bondage place a lot of stress on muscles. Pain (and orgasms), too, can cause a lot of writhing and twisting which can make torn muscles worse rather than better.
  • Joints predisposed to dislocating can become an issue in some forms of bondage where the submissive or bottom is held in an awkward or twisted position.
  • Back, shoulder or knee injuries are often indicators against some types of BDSM play. Ligament damage, or bruised or strained muscles need time and rest to heal.
  • Problems staying in the one position for long periods, such as kneeling or standing, can occur as a result of previous injury. These can be permanent conditions, or just temporary after an injury has healed but hasn't regained full strength yet.

Many muscular or skeletal problems rule out some of the more vigorous forms of BDSM---such as heavy flogging or impact play, some forms of suspension bondage, and some of the more "exciting" activities where a submissive or bottom can get particularly worked up. There are other BDSM activities which are more sedate---such as psychological activities, or mummification, or perhaps piercing, cutting or sensory deprivation---which are more suitable in these situations.

Communicable diseases

For BDSM folk who aren't regular play or sex partners who share bodily fluids, knowing if there are any communicable diseases which may go from top or dominant to submissive or bottom, or vice versa, is important. While it's probably a good idea from a safety point of view anyway to use latex gloves, condoms, and to disinfect body parts with some degree of attention, knowing if extra care should be taken to avoid a clear infection threat is vital.

The sorts of infection you should discuss include:

  • HIV and AIDS
  • Hepatitis (all flavours)
  • Ebola (unlikely, but very bad if you catch it)

Again, the above aren't the only infections which should be of interest. Make sure to ask something like, "Do you have any other diseases or infections I should know about?"


Many people have hard or soft limits which need to be respected. Some areas worth discussing include:

  • Markings - either temporary or permanent. These can include rope marks, abrasions, welts, burns, scars, bruises and cuts. Many people either don't want these at all, or don't want them on particular parts of their body. For example, they may be into BDSM without their usual partner or spouse being aware and don't want any markings left behind which might reveal their secret. Similarly, some people might work in an environment where involvement BDSM would not seen posotively and marks on the more public areas of their body might not go down well. Also, some people---such as models---might use their body as part of their job and body marks can lead to a loss of income.
  • Being pierced can be an issue for some people. Fear of hypodermics is quite common, for example.
  • Sexual contact, sexual intercourse or sexual use are common limits. Be quite clear when discussing this. Some folk have a much wider view of what constitutes "sex" than others. What one considers intimate and offensive sexual contact could be light play for another. Make sure that you talk about particular body parts by name, when and how they're going to be touched or penetrated, and with what implements, fingers, tongue or other body parts of yours.
  • Blood or bleeding is a strong limit for some people. Obvious activities which can lead to bleeding are piercing and cutting, but even light flogging can abrade the skin enough for bleeding to occur.
  • Bruises are a common consequence of much BDSM play---such as impact play and bondage. For some people these are not OK or are only OK on certain parts of the body---such as the butt.
  • Role play can raise problems. While some use role play to help them get in the mood, some forms of role play can quickly get people out of the mood and you need to talk about these. For example: simulated rape play, age play or animal play.


There are many different ways of using safewords, and there are a variety of different ways your partner may respond when you use one. It pays, therefore, to nail down exactly which safewords you'll be using, and what happens when you do.

Ask your prospective partner if they know what a safeword is and if they have one or more which they regularly use. Find out which safeword or safewords they use and what they expect to happen when they use them.

For example, a common safeword is "red", but what happens when someone uses it? Do you stop completely, pack up and end the scene? Or do you pause and ask your partner what the problem is while retaining the option to continue once the problem is cleared up?

Agree on the safewords or safe actions which you'll recognise during the scene and what will happen when they get used.

Give them a summary

When you've finished your discussion or negotiation with this new partner, put it all together in a quick summary and get them to agree to it. It can be as short as:

Have I got this correct: your safe word is "red" and it stops the action immediately. You don't want any marks left tomorrow which would show when you're wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Fucking is OK but use of a condom is a must. Your left shoulder is still healing from a sports injury and you have an allergy to latex. You have slightly low blood pressure and standing vertical for any length of time will lead to you passing out. Have I got everything?

The dominant side

While it's common for the negotiation to centre on the submissive or bottom, any negotiation should also include considerations of the dominant and require their consent as well. This is important because the dominant will also have their own limits and conditions which they need respected.

For example, some dominants may not want sexual intercourse as part of play and if the submissive or bottom they are playing with gets hot and horny and starts begging for sex then this can become awkward and can lead to a souring of the mood unless it has all been discussed beforehand.

Tops and dominants can also be put off by blood or if role play heads off in a direction with which they aren't comfortable. It can be the easiest course for a dominant to bring a scene to an end when this happens. This can be unsatisfying, but if everything had been discussed beforehand then this premature termination would not be necessary.

No renegotiation during play

In the heat of the moment it might seem like a good idea to change limits or other aspects of what has been agreed upon during play. This is a very bad idea. Passion and hormones can be very convincing, but the next day one or both of you might decide that it wasn't a very good idea to change the terms and conditions during play. In the worst case it can be viewed as assault or rape.

It's particularly worth noting that a bottom or submissive in any altered state of mind (such as subspace or while operating under the influence or endorphins) probably can't make any sort of reasoned judgement and therefore cannot consent while they're in that state.

The role of roles in negotiation

As we've seen, negotiation is the process by which two people agree on the terms under which their scene or relationship will operate. The form it takes varies dramatically between masters and slaves, dominants and submissives, & tops and bottoms, but it usually does spell out what each person can and can't do, and what each will and will not get out of their engagement.

Top and bottoms

Because bottoms generally hand over little or no authority to their tops, tops and bottoms commonly negotiate about matters of execution of their scenes, such as safewords, length of scene, implements used, sex or no sex, what can and can't be done, etc.

Dominants and submissives

It is commonly the case that a dominant and a submissive will pre-agree on terms for what goes on between them during the course of their ongoing relationship. Thus, for example, a submissive may agree to being ordered to perform various tasks by her dominant at agreed times and within agreed limits. This is on the understanding that the agreement can be modified or withdrawn by the submissive at any time for any reason.

The ongoing-ness of this hand-over of authority is one of the defining characteristics of dominance/submission (as opposed to topping/bottoming and mastery/slavery), and thus the negotiation of terms reflects the fact that agreement is reached with the expectation of each person being that it will shape the relationship in the longer term.

Masters and slaves

A master/slave relationship generally involves an extensive hand-over of authority when the partners formally become master and slave. This involves the agreement of the extent of the authority, and may involve the agreement being written down, sometimes in the form of a contract. Such agreements are intended to be binding for some length of time---days, weeks, or months---after which they are reviewed and possibly terminated.

A master usually acquires the authority to direct their slave when and how they see fit within the negotiated limits of the contract. This is very different from the sort of negotiation which occurs between, say, a top and a bottom where at least the rough shape of every single engagement must be agreed on beforehand.