Negotiation is the process by which people plan an activity, commonly a Scene or relationship, and involves deciding what will and will not happen during the activity to establish specified Boundaries as well as obtaining everyone's Consent through use of assertive speech in order for those things to happen.
Tips to Help Negotiate
Some individuals, particularly s-types that have some form of difficulty communicating for some reasons, will not be able to negotiate very well for themselves, though these tools can be used by d-types as well as they also take on risk when entering a scene. In these events there are several tools that you can use to help better negotiate:
- Do a self check before negotiating and playing in a scene. Am I in a good mental state? Am I properly fed, hydrated and rested? Is my judgement impaired somehow?
- Vet your partner. Watch your potential partner play with someone else first. This will give you the opportunity to see how they play and if you are comfortable with that style. In many cases, if you see something they do that you don't want to experience you can simply negotiate not to have that as part of the scene. Ask others about this person's reptuation and level of skill. Ask the potential partner about their reputation and level of skill. Understand the anatomy of a scene and be sure your partner does as well.
- Use Assertive Speech when negotiating. Use statements such as “I want” and “I do not want” and don’t be afraid to speak up; experienced players in particular will frequently comment that they find honesty in negotiation far more valuable with a new partner than the partner trying to push past their own comfort zones when starting out as this can lead to inadvertent mishaps and poor communication that can ruin a scene or reputation. Do not agree to something you aren’t enthusiastic about doing.
- Write out your terms of negotiations and feelings in advance, so that you are better prepared to speak about them openly with your partner(s). Bear in mind it is critical that you be able to discuss sensitive topics openly and honestly, and if you cannot manage to have such a discussion, consider whether or not you are really ready (emotionally mature enough) to engage in these activities with this person if you are not even able to speak about it openly.
- Have a DM or other third party present to witness the negotiation. Having an experienced person or audience with in depth BDSM knowledge watching the scene might seem like an invasion of privacy but can also add a feeling of safety as anything unethical or dangerous is much less likely to occur if there are others watching that are devoted to the purpose of having a scene that falls within the bounds of SSC. For this purpose many will prefer to play in a public Dungeon. The person may not just be a DM, but could also be other members of the BDSM community, medical personnel, a trusted friend or protector, or something else. Regardless of their relations, having neutral parties to observe can greatly reduce the potential risk of accidents and abuse, especially for first time scenes with a new partner.
- If you are playing with someone for the first time, especially if they are new to exploring BDSM, use the long form best practices version of negotiations.
- Have a Protector or Mentor negotiate for you. The protector or mentor should be someone much more experienced than you with negotiations and BDSM as a whole, as well as be a very trusted friend who very thoroughly knows your intimate desires and boundaries and also has much experience with choosing good play partners. This method can help curb the negative effects of Frenzy and can also help limit exposure to predators for those who have difficulty appraising if others would do them harm.
- Start small and simple with your negotiations to ensure they can be properly followed and reinforced. Use clear, concise and assertive language to state Boundaries while negotiating. Leave little to interpretation at first and gradually negotiate for other things as they become appropriate for the dynamic. Specifically state you would like to do only the things that are negotiated the first time you play with someone and absolutely nothing else. There is no race and this first light and respectful scene will help build trust with additional communications over time.
- Consider using a consent form and/or getting everything in writing. This can help protect both tops and bottoms in the event there is any form of discrepancy. Consider having everyone put their terms in writing by their own hand and in their own words, that way there is no concern someone might have felt coerced.
- Always negotiate in good faith. When you consent to participate in simulated violence, humiliation, degradation, and other highly volatile, risk-oriented activities, there is a risk of your emotions bubbling over, and enthusiastic consent, while a great tool, is not one that works universally. Communications errors and triggers (both positive and negative) happen during these activities and that is absolutely normal, and you may not even recognize them during or even shortly after the session. That's par for the course and as an adult with your own agency, you have to be prepared to communicate with me about these hiccups and deal with your emotions responsibly. If you have bad feelings, talk about it with your partner, and realize they aren't a professional psychotherapist. After that, as an adult with your own personal agency, it is up to you to responsibly deal with your emotions and if you don't consent to that condition (to talk things out privately and honestly and with dignity and respect), don't consent to play.
- If you aren't comfortable and sure if you want to play with someone, don't play.
Negotiations inside a Scene
Negotiating in scene mixes negotiation with Play.
Best Practices indicate never to alter negotiations in scene as judgement may be impaired or even severely impaired from chemical reactions in the body and mind caused by the BDSM activities engaged in for both the top and the bottom (aka diminished capacity). Stick to the negotiations agreed upon before the scene.
If you have fun with your partner in your scene you can always negotiate another scene to follow up and negotiate the new terms of that scene to be in line with your newly found appetites while being confident that your both your partner and you respect the agreements that you have made prior to the scene, as well as each other. Using a different approach leads to a higher risk potential for consent violations.
Best Practices S&M Negotiations
During negotiation of a scene, the Top and bottom will be exchanging pertinent information. What is the mood of the scene going to be? What will the main action of the scene be? What is the setting of the scene, including space. Discuss the following points extrapolated from Jay Wiseman's work in SM 101 . Be sure to discuss all of these things when you are playing with someone new to help prevent consent violations, both intentional and unintentional.
- Be sure not to assume about what is OK and not to do with a partner. Discuss if you and your partner will be operating from a place of white lists or black lists. White list only indicates you will only perform activities that are explicitly negotiated as a "YES, please!". Black lists indicate that you will do anything that is reasonably safe and sane, and isn't indicated as an "I do not want to do this". It is very wise to start with people that are new to you, or new to BDSM in general as a white list only until you get to know them better over time, even if they tell you about their black list as well. This can help avoid unintended consequences from accidentally breaching a boundary that you or they may be entirely unaware of and may have no way of reasonably communicating.
- The people involved and relative experience levels. Who will take part? How much experience do they have with the activities proposed? Who, if anybody, will watch? Will there be other participants known or unknown? What is the stated intention of the scene for the bottom and top? What major disciplines will be engaged in (Impact/sensation, Bondage/suspension, Fire, Electricity, Medical/Blood/Sexual Fluids, Psychological/Verbal/Protocol/Mindfuck, Others)? As a responsible and competent top, it is important that you provide the opportunity for the bottom to understand any potential safety risks and hazards as well as how those things will be safeguarded against in the interest of informed consent, however, it is permissible that a bottom may intentionally and knowingly opt out of such knowledge as that may reduce their enjoyment of the activity.
- Media Policy. Will photos/video be permitted? If so, on what devices (for example, only on my cell phone)? Are face shots allowed? Explicit shots (such as penetration or spread open orifices)? Can these media items be shared, and if so, where, how will the media be appropriately credited(specific model, photographer, rigger names to be used, etc.)? Be sure to use a model release form if the media is intended for professional use. If you are at a venue such as a dungeon play party, be sure to find out what the photo policy is for the venue.
- Roles. Who will be the top, and who will be the bottom? Who will be Dominant (If anyone)? Who will be Submissive (If anyone)? Is there any chance of switching roles? Will the participants be acting out a particular fantasy roles such as teacher/schoolchild, pirate/captive, or owner/puppy? If there is a D/s dynamic, is there a clear agreement by the submissive to obey, within limits, the dominant's orders? Can the dominant "overpower" the submissive or use force to coerce them to do something? What about verbal resistance? Physical resistance? May the submissive try to "turn the tables" on the dominant? Will the submissive agree to wear a collar? Will they agree to address the dominant as "Master," "Mistress," or some similar term? Best Practices indicates the first few sessions until a strong rapport is built that it is best for the top to interpret any physical resistance on the part of the bottom as a strong yellow unless explicitly otherwise negotiated.
- Place. Where will the session occur? How will privacy be ensured?
- Time. When will the session begin? How long will it last? How will its beginning and end be signaled? Who will keep track of time? Best Practices: Unless deliberately built into the play, a clock visible to the submissive often detracts from the scene's energy.
- What to do in case of an accident. SM play is always somewhat unpredictable. No matter how carefully you negotiate and plan, accidents, misperceptions, miscommunications, and sometimes unintentional injuries and consent violations will occasionally happen; it is a question of when, not if. Therefore, it's a good idea to talk about these matters ahead of time, discussing how you will handle them and how you will treat each other if they do occur. It's important to agree that both parties are negotiating and playing in good faith, and that any mishaps will be promptly discussed in a constructive, non-blaming way. Best Practices indicate it is a good idea to exchange emergency contact information any time any sort of intense and heavy play or Edge play is to occur.
- Limits. This mainly involves the bottom's physical and emotional limits but can apply to a top as well. Do they have any relevant health problems such as a heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes, or epilepsy? Are they wearing glasses or, especially, contact lenses? How well do they see without them? Are they on any sort of strong medication of hormones? Do they have any physical limitations? Have they history of plastic surgery or medical implants?Any history of joint damage, joint surgery, or joint conditions such as arthritis, etc.? Any other range-of-motion limits?The bottom must be completely honest with their dominant about limits. Some bottoms conceal information because they may feel embarrassed or fear that revealing it may cause the top to decide not to play with them. This is a very bad mistake. While revealing the information may indeed cause a top to cancel a session, withholding it may cause a catastrophic disaster that can ruin and end lives. Be sure to discuss personal policies and house rules regarding photographic or video evidence to be taken and how it may and may not be used.
- Emotional limits: Are there any known phobias, triggers or other emotional hot spots? Any "real life" incidents in their past that might come up? Note: Both players should understand that SM play has a small but distinct chance of touching an unknown emotional hot spot in either player. Are there any Hot words and Cold words? Is there a preference for positive or negative reinforcement (Good girl or Bad girl?). Is there any specific language to avoid? Is Fear Play Acceptable? Do all parties intend to discuss any unexpected triggers or bad feelings that arise post scene, either together or with a third party arbiter?
- Sex. It's crucial to agree clearly and specifically, before beginning the session, about exactly what kind of conventional sexual contact, if any, is mutually acceptable. What about masturbation? Cunnilingus? Fellatio? Swallowing semen? Analingus? Vaginal intercourse? Anal intercourse? Condoms? Birth control precautions? Touching of the breasts and genitals? Does either person have herpes? Has either tested positive for the AIDS virus or other medical conditions? Keep in mind that not everybody agrees on the definition of "safer sex practices"; before you begin your session, make sure you are in agreement with informed consent around the table regarding which activities will involve a barrier and which will not. Best practices indicate it is best not to act shy or squeamish when negotiating sex in a scene. The negotiations on conventional sex absolutely must be clear and agreed upon before going further. Failure to make sure of this point, or going into the session "hoping for the best," can set the stage for a very upsetting situation during and afterward for all parties.
- Intoxicants. Don't play if either of you is seriously impaired. Particularly avoid drugs that make the bottom insensitive to pain or that impair the top's judgment or coordination. Introducing any intoxicant not previously agreed upon is serious misbehavior. If a partner pulls out a substance that is not previously negotiated, strongly consider to immediately call "red", get dressed, and leave for your own safety. Best Practices indicate not to use any sort of intoxicant or altering substance before or during play.
- Bondage. Who will be tied up? To what extent? What about blindfolds? Gags? Hoods? Does the bottom have a history of claustrophobia? Have they been bound, gagged, blindfolded, or hooded before? How did they react? Best practices indicate that a bottom should not agree to enter any sort of bondage the first time meeting with someone in a private setting as that poses a substantial risk to health and safety.
- Pain. How does the submissive feel about receiving pain? What tools will be used to inflict pain? Some bottoms cheerfully proclaim they are Pain sluts while others hate receiving pain, but will endure it if doing so pleases the top. Discuss how the bottom will manage pain processing; what does it look like for them?
- Marks. Will it cause the submissive problems if the session leaves marks? Are marks allowable in specific areas that might be covered by common clothing (ie, covered by t shirt and shorts), and if so, where (there is a big difference between a thong and bikini top or a long sleeve shirt and pair of pants)? Do they know from experience how easily they mark? Do they understand it might be difficult to tell whether a given activity is marking them? Do they care if an activity draws small amounts of blood? If it's crucial that the bottom not be marked, then it's probably best to avoid spanking, whipping, clamping, pinching, and so forth.Be Aware: Sometimes marks not normally visible can be "brought to the surface" by a hot shower. This can happen up to several days after the session.
- Humiliation. This can include a wide variety of things, see humiliation. Does the submissive have any experience in these areas? What was their reaction? Are they curious? Are these areas definite turn-offs? What about negative reinforcement? Best Practices indicate that playing with humiliation is playing with emotional dynamite for many. This area, therefore, is exceptionally important to negotiate. Never surprise a bottom with humiliation techniques. Their reaction could be immediate and extreme -- panic, intense shame, violent rage or some other undesirable effect. Remember, the less well you know someone, and the less experience you have with them, the more carefully you must proceed. This is especially true about humiliation.
- Safewords and Signals. Be sure everyone understands the universal yellow and red signals, as well as the two squeeze technique, and if a variant Safeword is used, that everyone is in agreement to the word and it's meaning. If the players will use a gag or hood, or in some other way obstruct the speech of the bottom they must agree upon non-verbal safe signals.
- Opportunities. Is there anything either person has wanted to try but not had a reasonable opportunity to experience? Is there anything they feel curious about? Does either have unique talents or skills to offer?
- Aftercare. Do both parties explicitly agree to honorably discuss with each other any misgivings about the scene in the aftermath with the utmost integrity? What arrangements are to be made for Aftercare immediately after the session? What about follow up contact the next day? A week later? If a crisis occurs?
- Anything Else? Is there anything else to discuss or negotiate about before beginning? Is it OK to "experiment" within the borders of stated boundaries and do things that aren't explicitly negotiated for and against or should the scene take place exactly as planned? Are there special privacy concerns or other external factors to consider? Is there something you haven't talked about but should? Make sure to state what you want and need explicitly to avoid potential communication mishaps.
Caution: Negotiate only when both of you are alert and in good spirits. If one or both of you feels tired, sleepy, sad, angry, fearful, hungry, or otherwise upset, negotiate (and play) later. Further, if you have a very difficult time agreeing on most of these points it may be best to assume that your potential partner is not compatible with your style of play and it may be a good idea to cancel.
Best Practices Relationship Dynamic Negotiations
Negotiating relationships is not something that can be done with any degree of specific template as all relationships are unique, however there is a basic principals that can help negotiate most relationships.
- Trust. Relationships are based on a foundation of trust. Do not give trust blindly, nor assume that trust will naturally develop over time. Instead use healthy communication and actions to build trust with your partner. Work consistently to improve trust.
- Know thyself. Without a key understanding of what your wants and needs are, as well as your Values System, and the ability to communicate them to others, how would you expect your partner to fulfill your needs and wants? Create a list of all your needs and another of all your wants out of a relationship dynamic, be honest with yourself when you do, there is no shame in wanting what you want in a particular relationship, and you will only be doing a disservice to you, your partner and your relationship if you can't be up front and honest about each others needs, wants and general expectations.
- Seek first to understand, then be understood. Ask question and genuinely listen to the answers from your partner. Seek to understand their genuine motivations and what gives them joy. Set clear boundaries, but within the confines of those boundaries, commit to seeking to reconcile what you want and need with what they want and need.
- Remember to start any new thing you are doing with low and slow integration method.
- Plan an Exit strategy.
- Plan to renegotiate as necessary, revisit negotiations at least once annually.
What to do in case of abuse
In a case where negotiations and Consent are clearly violated please review the resources section for resources that may help you best decide how to deal with the type of abuse that has occurred. Best Practices indicate to report any serious crimes to the local authorities whenever possible.
It is worth noting that many senior members of the kink community who have been running venues for 10+ years acknowledge that most consent violations are a result of poor communication rather than malicious intent.