One of my favourite stories about consent, limits, and communication sums up some of my general feelings about the problem with ‘limits’ sometimes.
The story goes.
A shibari specialist was offering play and doing demos involving a queue of volunteers.
If you are good at rope, there’s rarely a shortage of people wanting to try or play.
Some people just wanted to be tied and suspended. Some also wanted a little play. If you are suspended then any form of sensation play can be fun – wax play particularly.
But, in this story, there was a lady who was adamant that he could do “anything” to her.
He asked about what she wanted, what her limits were and she just kept repeating “do anything”.
So. He tied her. Suspended her. Was still at a loss as of what he wanted to do with her – so – picked up the safety scissors, grabbed her by the hair and with a simple cut, hacked off a great length.
She was upset and devastated.
For me. This story gives a big insight to some of my points about communication, negotiation and limits.
The thing was, when she said “do anything” she probably had an excitement in not knowing what would happen and there are probably a number of scenarios she hoped might happen. The thought he would cut her hair never crossed her mind.
This is one of the problems many subs have when they say they would “do anything” or “have no limits”
They probably have things in mind they hope might happen, and are possibly excited about the not knowing. While they may have trust the Dominant isn’t going to do something stupid like hack their arm off, or wrap barbed wire round a dildo and fuck them… there are so many scenarios they simply haven’t thought of.
BUT WHAT IF SHE HAD ANSWERED?
Had the sub in the above scenario actually answered the limit question. Would she have said “don’t cut my hair?”
I mean, it feels like the default answer to questions about limits are “scat and nothing illegal” (though, a lot of what we do in kink isn’t always as legal as it seems).
Him cutting her hair is neither.
If she’d gone on to say no pain, no blood, don’t stick your cock in me, whatever – cutting her hair is still not covered.
This to me is one of the often problems with limits as a starting point.
LIMITS ARE NON EXHAUSTIVE
There are a lot of limits that I have. This isn’t because I am a wuss, but because I can think of a lot of limits.
Even outside of common sense.
Most people are actually going to be the same.
If nothing else via the limit of how much pain they can take, the size of strap on they can take, how much money they could spend or anything they are physically unable or unskilled to do.
Especially when people are new to playing together it is easier to work from a whitelist.
What do you like? What do you want to try?
If you are a bit “try anything” – then what are your priorities?
Of course this can, and should, be a two way conversation.
TALK GOES TWO WAYS
A submissive might say they want to do foot fetish, impact play, CBT, whatever.
A Dominant can ask their prior experience. If they have preference in whether they like clean feet, stockings, footwear. Stingy or thuddy for impact. Whether there’s any form of verbal they like or don’t like. If things like nipple play or face slapping is OK.
One of the reasons this is important is, of course, that this gives chances to talk about limits the sub might have not even thought about.
It also gives a good opportunity to make sure there is good communication. The easier two people can talk about likes and dislikes the more confidence you have someone will speak up if something isn’t right, rather than feeling they have to do something.
Especially important if it’s pain, say, due to a trapped nerve in rope or restraints.
Once the framework is established, a good Dominant can make this feel like more than “going through motions”
But even if a first or early play time *is* going through the motions, see it more as a getting to know each other and your likes.
The more time spent together the easier it is of course for you to each learn about the others likes and dislikes and what is and isn’t things the other would do.
SCENARIOS TO AVOID
There are always scenarios to be avoided.
If we go back to the first scenario – while having her hair cut didn’t physically harm her, once it was done – it cannot be undone.
While she could have been clearer with her wants and limits, the rigger could have elected not to played with her or at least checked before taking the scissors to her hair (mind, if she was suspended this may have triggered subspace which can also impair judgement).
But even if she had reeled off limits, she might not have mentioned “don’t cut my hair”, particularly if not something she would have expected to happen.
Of course, this does ask the question on how to respond if someone specifically asks for your limits.
I would probably respond by saying that mine are not exhaustive but, based on what we are likely to do, x, y and z are stuff we should avoid. And that I’m happy to speak up if something is potentially a limit.
Especially, remember, even if you are into something – on a particular day you really might not be feeling it.
That’s valid also.