Physical Safety vs. Psychological Safety
By and large the most painful wounds in BDSM are psychological. Body wounds can heal fairly quickly (aside from lacerations and broken bones), and most physical BDSM activities will not leave a permanent scar when done with any sort of knowledge or skill. However, the scars from a psychological mishap or emotional misunderstanding can last years. And years. It’s not only painful for a sub – the guilt a conscientious Dom/me feels after compromising the safety of a scene is, in itself, an excruciating punishment for that person.
Before you engage in any edge play, psychological play, or emotional manipulation in a D/s capacity, you should be very familiar with the likely risks and outcomes for that particular partner with those particular activities. Read my blogs on Psychological Edge Play, Part 1 and Part 2. If you know that someone has a history of psychological instability, it’s not a good idea to play with them intensely at first, or possibly even at all. There are times when a sub will present themselves as stable or “game” for what you offer in a scene, but if your sub does not have a steady constitution at the time, you may inadvertently trigger issues that can be damaging for both of you. You also need to be able to also read a sub’s face and body to quickly detect signs of trouble, since things can go from “great” to “red alert” in three seconds or less.
If your submissive expresses hurt before, during or after a scene that you sense to be a kind of “meta” hurt, i.e. not something you intended to create but relating to your abilities or intentions as a dominant in general, you must adopt radical maturity and do your best to alleviate their pain. Do not take a person’s emotional landscape lightly, but at the same time try to piece apart what is factual from what is emotional. Sometimes a sub can project past pain onto a Dom/me, which can be very confusing for both parties. Although it is very complicated at times, both Dom/me and sub must both do the best they can to decipher what is the Dom/me’s intention and responsibility in the scene, and what baggage or damage were created by someone else before the scene ever began. Mutual respect and giving the other party the benefit of the doubt is important, and in the absence of a sound resolution you can sometimes rely on prior reputation or history in order to ascertain that person’s views and reactions.
THEY HAPPEN. You will fuck up. You will misjudge. You will drop, break, and lose things over the years, including relationships. That’s the nature of BDSM – where there is risk, there is reward. We didn’t get into the scene for predictability. Remember your first romantic relationship, back in middle school or high school (or elementary school if you’re me)? Did you make mistakes then? You were learning about love, and this is learning about BDSM – just as dangerous, if not more so. The key difference being that we are adults now, and should, in general, be better suited to avoiding failure than we were as children and teenagers.
Still, it’s important to keep a sense of levity and grace about your own mistakes, which will in turn help you forgive the mistakes of others. Your subs will fuck up, and you need to be able to both provide structure to correct them and forgiveness when they apologize. They will, in turn, forgive you, provided they are not too traumatized by whatever it is you’ve done!
It IS the job of a dominant to ensure that he or she makes as few mistakes as possible, however, and to understand the stakes of their failures when and if they happen. There are many activities within BDSM that can kill someone, or at the very least send him or her to the hospital. A great, highly technical or risky scene can feel like this sometimes, but it’s worth it to feel like this at the end.
Good Dom/mes can do bad things. It doesn’t make them bad. The real dangers, i.e. “bad Dom/mes,” are those who are consistently incompetent, unaware of their own power, inconsiderate of others’ limitations, or interested in nonconsent with submissives that have not agreed to a nonconsensual dynamic. All of the above are considered reckless. Reckless Dom/mes will, eventually, face consequences, as they cannot operate continuously in the structure of any local “scene” and not eventually develop a reputation as such. Dom/mes need submissives to exist, otherwise they are just fantasists; most Dominants will eventually find themselves in need of a new play partner, and this will put them back in the scene and searching for a new, willing sub.
Even if a Dom/me becomes well known as being reckless, it does not mean he or she is a bad person. Still, you should always do your homework before playing with a new Dom/me. Does he or she have references? Do your friends know him or her well? Can you ask some basic questions (as equals) to assess BDSM skill level, compassion, listening and intelligence? Do they provide aftercare, if you need it?
A dominant should go into a scene knowing pretty accurately how anything they are even considering doing to you will affect you physically and psychologically. Again – mistakes happen, and it’s not always easy to be accurate about projected outcomes, but at least if your Dom/me has thought about the effects of the activities on you, you know they care about your wellbeing. There is a huge difference between someone who misjudges a scene, and someone who does not care what a scene does to the submissive emotionally or physically. It is your job as a submissive to assess what kind of person your prospective dominant is, decide whether it is healthy for you to play with them, and, if you do, be as transparent as possible before, during and after the scene about your experience and limitations. Otherwise the recklessness is yours.
Playing in the BDSM scene is as complex and potentially dangerous as playing with a weapon, so you should do your utmost to understand the risks before you dive in. That being said, once you understand the rules and safety mechanisms, you can have more fun then you ever thought possible. Try to be a considerate and conscientious Dom/me, and you will win the affection and loyalty of your submissive(s) wherever you go.