A lot of this is the output of an email conversation I've been having with Milady which was ostensibly about arranging a time for training (sadly looking unlikely, beyond an adhoc arrangement, given time, work and travel requirements) and then spiralled into a philosophical and theoretical exchange on what was meant, in practical terms, by "limits" and "safewords". She's a smart lady and, like me, has very clear ideas on what she does and doesn't want so I think that there's a lot of things we might have to agree to disagree on. We started off on opposite sides of the hypothetical fence: she coming from the school of "I don't use limits or safewords" and me "I don't play without them" which, given that I think (I hope) we are both interested in playing together, turned into a conversation about what we each meant. I don't think that Milady and I have quite bottomed out each other's point of view on the whole thing, but I'm hoping that we can at least stay friends through the conversation and perhaps meet up to discuss more.
I get uncomfortable around phrases like "no limits" because I don't believe in such stark finalities. I am extremely doubtful that anyone, anywhere actually has no limits, there is always something that someone doesn't want to do, or doesn't want to do yet, or doesn't want to do at that time with that person. Additionally, in my experience it is a phrase bandied about by male doms who want to tie you up and have rough anal sex without condoms. Not that I have anything against anal sex, I'm quite fond of it, but not without protection, and probably not with people who I've only just met. So for me, it's a phrase with bad connotations, which is unfortunate, as there is an alternative way of understanding it, which Milady was presenting to me.
No limits could mean a universe without limitation, whereby there was total control, total command and total offering up. An utopic vision of dominance and submission, with utter trust and utter care. A place where the tools and methods of pleasure and pain where entirely out of my hands and at the whim of someone who knew me, through and through, and had the strength to take me on a fantastic exploration of my body and mind. This is a very attractive fantasy, but I think I have a bit of hard-headed (mundane?) practicality to me that naturally resists such a thing. What if there was a problem? What if there were complications? How does it work in reality? And how it works, for me at least, is that there is a discussion of limits.
To take another example, a more positive spin on limits, which I think can be a bit maligned. My limits are the negative space around which my desire flows, in the large and expanding gaps around my limits, anything goes, but they are rocks in the stream, worn smooth and perhaps dislodged with time. But there for the moment. And that's how I view them, a snapshot of my current status, my kinky outlook. Why poke at stones when you could play in the water? I like my limits, they are part of me.
No safewords, I can understand a little better, especially when you are at a point where you know the other person very well and can tell if they are in actual trouble, but for those that I don't know well, or who, to be more precise, don't know me or my body well, there are safewords. Her concern, which I can empathise with, was about when people misuse limits or safewords, using them to top from the bottom or control the scene in some other way. For me, that's got less to do with the concept of limits and safewords as I understand them, and more to do with people messing around. Milady used a great phrase, which was the negative wish-list, and I think that's a really good way of describing it. Wish lists are about desire, often pie-in-the-sky desire at that, things we would like in an ideal world, when we have the time and the space to acquire them. Which is fantasy BDSM all over - something we can perhaps never truly grasp at, but are working towards, and something which exists, majoritively, in our minds.
I actively want to be controlled by the top within the scene. I want to let go and put myself in their hands. However, in order to feel safe doing that, I need to know that I am safe, that they won't hurt me beyond how I've agreed to be hurt. This obviously applies more stringently to new people than to those I've played with a few times before,.The Photographer and I for example, tend not to go through list of limits on a nightly basis. Although we do often discuss things that we haven't done, or are a bit scared of doing and then line them up as an activity.
Which is also the fun thing about limits, and I do view them as a necessary and important component to enjoying BDSM, to making the enjoyment better. I like to use them to frame discussions and negotiations, to be able to say "well, I sometimes find this difficult, but I want to try" is part of my submission - to be able to give something up, to offer it to the dominant, to let them know about my fear, my worry and to show them I trust them with it and to be careful with that knowledge.
5 weeks ago