Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Safe Word Is "No"

I've been mulling over writing this blog for a couple months. Yes, months. For some reason, as much as I wanted to touch on this subject, I was hesitant to write it. Maybe I simply needed to get my thoughts in order. Or perhaps I hesitated because I don't want to come off as judgemental or preachy, because I honestly do not care what goes on in people's bedrooms. Well, as long as it doesn't involve animals, children or people who cannot speak for themselves. But I think that's a given. None of us should stand by while an innocent is exploited in that abominable fashion.

But, I digress.

I understand people like to play. In the playground, at work, at the water-park, and even in the bedroom. Playing is great. I one hundred and twenty percent support playing. And there are all different ways to play, especially in the sack, and I highly encourage people to experiment. Not only to spice things up, but in order to figure out what you like and what you don't like. It's kind of a natural thing, exploring one's sexuality.

The truth is, I don't judge other people's sexual proclivities or fantasies, even if they make my throat close up in fear when I think about them. But I worry about how people's desires can affect others. And I'm not talking about the fallout of your boyfriend wearing women's underwear or your intense desire to attend a furry convention. No, I'm talking about something far more simpler than those things.

I mean the word 'no'. And the decline of its power. 

Here's where I get personal...

Once upon a time, I was getting some heavy petting in a room half-lit with black lights and a red lava lamp. I wasn't feeling well. Simply put, I wasn't in the mood for any form of action. So, I said the magical word. No. Except, for some reason it didn't pack a punch for the guy I was with. He kept going, like the word wasn't said at all, and, rather horrifically, I found myself feeling guilty for even saying it. Why? Because when you're in a relationship, which I was with this dude, you tend to think there are things you should always do.

There are no shoulds in relationships. But we live in this world that pressures us to have sex and be sexual all the time. Like we're these sexy bots with only one goal in mind. The idea of a woman in a relationship saying 'no' to her husband or boyfriend is considered a faux pas. And the idea of a man turning sex down from a woman is unheard of. But it does happen. And if a wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't want to get down and dirty, he/she doesn't have to. They have the right to say 'no'. Except, in relationships, it's almost like that word doesn't exist.

I'd love to say the red lava lamp moment was my only instance of the word 'no' falling on deaf years. It wasn't. Since then, I've been in three other situations where my 'no' simply wasn't good enough. Or where I was told that my 'no' clearly meant 'yes'. Thankfully, I'm not as young as I once was. Luckily, I've been able to stop the situations before I'm forced to murder the other person.You see, jail really wouldn't work for me. I'm too pretty for prison.

All jokes aside, it wasn't until the most recent incident that I realized how much the mighty 'no' has fallen. Not only is it disregarded, but the excuses as to why it was are overflowing. I don't want to get into details, because most of you have probably already eaten and this really isn't a story to be told when stomachs are full. Actually, it's a story that probably shouldn't be told at all. All that needs to be known is that I removed myself from the situation, something I wouldn't have done when I was nineteen. Chances are I would have let my guilt, shame or fear be my guide and would have just toughed it out.

Here's the thing. I understand that situations can cartwheel out of control. Boys might get the wrong signal or misinterpret body language. Girls might think they want something only to realize minutes later they don't. Our likes and dislikes vary. Some of us bite, spank, pull hair, and even choke one another. Others won't participate in such activities. Everyone is different. And, just like we all enjoy different kinds of snacks, we all like different sorts of foreplay, during play and after play.

The truth of the matter is, even when we 'like' an activity it can rub us the wrong way. (No pun intended)  A subtle look, or touch can alter an entire situation. And it's surprising how fast okay can change to not-so-okay. Enter the word 'no'.

I'm a firm believer that 'no' is the equivalent to slamming on the brakes. When uttered, everything should screech to a halt. There should be a role call and the question, "Is everything okay?" should be asked. Regardless of the situation, no matter if the word is said by boy or girl, I abide by 'no', mostly because I don't want to force someone to do something they don't want to do, but also because I know what it's like to   not be heard.

The line isn't so clear for other people. Men and women alike can have fantasies that are rough, that revolve around domination and submission, or even degradation. People role play. They tie each other up and paddle arses until they're red and swollen. And, honestly, I don't have a problem with that. I'm not as vanilla as this halo may have you believe. Except, the thought of someone choking me makes my skin crawl and I really don't find anything attractive about rape, even though I recognize these are two things a lot of people fantasize over.

You see, I'm not a 'no means yes girl'. 

Which means, I don't say no when I mean yes. First, I think it's a dangerous game that sends mixed messages. How are partners supposed to know when no means yes and when it actually means no? See, it's confusing already, and we aren't even having sex. Secondly, there are other ways to play hard to get and tease. Not to mention the plethora of other words out there for us to utilize and toss about in the throes of passion. And last, but certainly not least, this 'no means yes' game makes it harder for people. Once a man or woman, has a 'no means yes' partner, they might not listen when their new partner says this small but very important word.

The last time I was in one of these horrible situations, the guy later said to me, "See, I told you we needed a safe word." I sat there for a few minutes as the awkward feeling of 'what did I do wrong' crept up on me. But then I realized, I didn't do anything wrong. And then I said, "Actually, the safe word is no."

Dan Savage once wrote that it shouldn't be a matter of 'no', but a matter of 'yes'. That we should have to hear a 'yes' before all systems go. It's an interesting idea, but 'yes' isn't always uttered. To some degree, it would take the spontaneity out of things. Middle of the night sex where you don't even talk would cease to exist. And let's be honest, that's some of the best kind. Besides, we are still afforded the luxury of changing our minds. Even if we shout yes from the rooftop, we can still revoke it and say 'no' later.

I haven't got it all figured out, because I have no idea what someone wearing a ball gag would do in these situations. All I know is that the word 'no' should be respected, by men and women alike. It's important. Not only for our general safety and well-being, but so that the lines aren't so skewed. Until further notice, the safe word is not pineapple or Farrah Fawcett. It is 'no'. Okay?


This blog is not about BDSM. For those who engage in these sorts of activities, I understand the need for a safe word. Also, I would like to stress the importance of the two (or three) people involved to communicate their thoughts and expectations before they indulge in this sort of play. With the ever-growing popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, interest in BDSM and sex contracts has been on the rise, which is a little worrisome, as I fear some of these happy, horny housewives don't fully understand what it is they are fantasizing/eager to try.

That said, people who do participate in testing the limits of pain and pleasure usually don't jump into it without thought. Regardless, they do have the right to say 'no' whether it is using that word or their safe word. Since I myself do not engage in this type of play in an extreme form, I do not need a safe word, therefore mine will always be 'no'. The title to this blog is a flippant response to something said to me. At the time we were not in a situation that warranted a safe word and so my 'no' should have been sufficient.


Heather said...

Well said. We absolutely need to put the power back into the word NO. It's frightening that it has lost it's impact.

Jasmine Walt said...

Absolutely. I've never had trouble with the 'no' word myself (at least not in the bedroom) but there are plenty of other areas in life too where people just don't take it seriously. I think it might even start as early as childhood, when parents say no and then don't really enforce it when their kids try to get away with it anyway.

Not trying to get all psychological or anything. But I think this kind of thing starts early on. Great post. :)

Evie said...

I think you are possibly confusing two different things here - if not in your own mind then in the eyes of your readers. I hope I can explain myself properly without sounding like an advocate for rapists.

In a "normal" situation, No clearly means No. Though I am a firm believer in saying more. Stop. Get your hands off me. Fuck off. Et cetera. If your partner doesn't hear or act on your refusal, we all know what that is.

The use of "obligation" and some kind of "date or relationship blackmail" to achieve consent is despicable. If there is no consent, it's rape.

Safe words are something very different and belong in a completely different kind of encounter. And I worry that this piece may encourage people to confuse that sort of consensual encounter with the far more prevalent "date rape" scenarios.

Simplistically, if you and your partner(s) are playing 50 Shades Of Grey at home and you decide you need a formal safe word, don't make it No. Unless, oddly, someone is going to be gagged. Then "No" accompanied by vigorous headshaking works very well.

Otherwise, No and all the other words of refusal clearly and unarguably mean No.

Tyson said...

I don't think I'm confusing anything, really. But when you're playing rough and you say 'no' often isn't meant as no. And when it is followed with stop and owe. I'd think it would be a clear indicator, but from my experience. Isn't necessarily.

That said, people have a hard time even saying no in relationships. I'm a firm believer that people aren't as stupid as they look, but some like to play that they are if they think they can 'get away' with something.

And trying to convince someone after they've said, no. Even more wrong. In my opi.

Tyson said...

@Thanks Heather, Jasmine and Evie for your comments.

Katie O'Rourke said...

i agree. if you haven't consented to an S&M sort of arrangement, there's no need for any other word.
i feel so strongly that this sets a precedent for future relationships that once i've said no, i stick to it even if i warm to the idea later in order to prevent the confusion of mixed messages.
'no' does not translate into: 'try to change my mind.' there's no negotiation. 'no' is the end of the conversation.

Tyson said...

Yes, exactly, Katie. And the title to this blog and the touching on the safe word being 'no' is just a flippant kind of tie in to what was said to me.

For the record, because I kind of have been getting mixed responses about this, my blog isn't about BDSM. People who engage in that sort of play are about testing the limits of pain and pleasure. They might need a safe word other than "no" and if this is a prearranged situation then it does shift the scenario a bit. That doesn't mean someone engaging in this activity doesn't have the right to say "NO" whether that is by saying the word 'no' or using their safe word.

In regards to what I was saying, I am talking about when 'no' is simply not enough for standard sexual play. Biting, spanking, hair tugging, even choking...those are fairly common activities. When no isn't enough for those things. Or for anal sex, or regular sex, even oral sex. These are not situations where you NEED a safe word and so the safe word is NO.

Hope that's clear.

Maybe I need a follow up blog post. :D

Mockingbird said...

I've played on the wild side. But I only play with men who understand what the score is, and don't take liberties. No means no. I would not trust anyone who did not clearly understand that.