Negotiation is a Method of Communication | 30 Days of D/s
BDSM negotiation sounds so formal, doesn’t it? And it can be, if that’s your thing. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you picture a boardroom table, people in suits, and a lot of, “Take it or leave it!” and “Accept the offer or we walk!” then you’re not picturing the kind of negotiation we’re talking about. Although, as a role play idea, it might not be so bad.
Negotiation is just another word for communication, and communication occurs in many ways. Here’s what negotiations could look like for you as you develop your power exchange, your next kinky scene, or both.
We’ve discussed BDSM checklists before (here and here) and we offer our own checklist when you subscribe to our newsletter (here). So…yeah, we see the value in BDSM checklists. If you’re not sure where negotiations should start, try a list. It shouldn’t be the sum total of your conversation, but it’s a great starter.
Go through the list on your own and identify what you’ve tried, what you haven’t, what you’d be willing to try, what don’t want to try, and anything you’re unsure of.
Next talk through items on the list together. Depending on the length of your list, you might need this conversation to take place in parts instead of trying to do it all at once.
The main point of using a BDSM checklist is to figure out where you have common ground in what you enjoy or want to try, where your limits and boundaries are, and what else you want to (or need to) learn about. You don’t have to try, like, or want everything on the list, and you don’t have to do everything all at once. The checklist is a starting point and a reference guide.
Making Yourself Understood
Clearly we’re advocates of talking things out, but sometimes it’s hard to keep your thoughts straight or say the hard thing out loud. The point is to make your wants and needs known and understood. The method means a lot less than effectively communicating your thoughts.
Back in the day, I used to write down what I didn’t feel like I could say out loud. Texting, DMs, emails, and pen and paper were my friend. You might be able to say something, but not while you’re looking your partner in the eye. Use voice messaging instead.
What matters most is that you share the information in a way your partner can take it in, not necessarily how you share that information.
Negotiation is Ongoing
A lot of people think that they negotiate their power exchange or their kink scene once, and then they’re done with that whole negotiation thing. Think again. Even if you use a BDSM checklist and pour your heart and soul out into an email, you’re only scratching the surface of your negotiations.
Because negotiation is essentially “communication,” it’s something you’ll do a lot. Some people make it a very formal thing with a set time and agenda. Others, like us, are in constant communication and bring up any concerns, issues, questions, ideas, etc as we have them. Although sometimes one of us (usually John Brownstone) may ask to have the full conversation later to give a topic more time and attention.
The reason negotiation isn’t a one and done is because nothing about BDSM is a one and done. In every encounter, you’re going to learn more about yourself, your partner, and the kinky thing you want to do. To keep your BDSM life consensual and keep you and your partner as safe as possible, it’s important to discuss what you discover and find out.
- “I really like it when you use that flogger but…”
- “You were gorgeous when I shoved my fingers down your throat. Next time, I’d love to…”
- “When you tell me what to do, it feels good, but sometimes…”
These are all conversations that can lead to (re)negotiating some aspect of your kinky experience. We don’t always think of them in that way, but when you share your experience and then discuss what you wish were different or how you would like it to happen in the future, that’s a form of negotiation. And it should happen as often as it needs to, and definitely more than once.
Submissives Get to Negotiate Too
Unfortunately, too many people think that Dominants declare what they want, submissives agree or disagree, and that’s negotiation. NOPE. Not even close. BDSM negotiations have one thing in common with the boardroom stereotype: both sides get to say what they want and don’t want.
Submissives have a responsibility for their own pleasure, fulfillment, and safety, so it’s imperative you speak up (or write it down or record a voice message). You also have a right to your own pleasure. A Dominant partner who can’t or won’t give you what you need in the power exchange isn’t the right partner for you. You’re not topping from the bottom when you share hard limits, request changes, or simply declare your kinks.
Anyone who tells a submissive they don’t get a say in negotiations or can’t re-negotiate later is wrong, wrong, wrong. And they’re potentially dangerous as a partner. How you negotiate and re-negotiate may be determined by the power exchange dynamic, assuming you consent to it. But that you can negotiate and communicate your needs is automatic. Run from the person who tells you otherwise.
BDSM Contracts Can Be Part of Negotiations, Too
Well, writing down what you’ve both agreed to can help clarify the details. It’s also a great way to catch any misunderstandings, especially if you go over it line by line before signing it (something we definitely recommend). You’ve talked about it, and now you’re putting it into writing so there should be no question about who’s agreed to do what.
In some instances (though definitely not all), they can be good tools for accountability. If a partner doesn’t do what they promised, it’s easier to point to the contract as a reminder of what was agreed to. This is only as good as that person’s sense of integrity.
To be clear, a BDSM contract isn’t binding — legally or morally. But it can be a way to remind yourself or your partner of what was previously negotiated.
As a reminder, you can absolutely re-negotiate a contract after the fact, too. And re-negotiate it as often as you both need to.
There’s a lot more to be said about negotiations because it’s a big part of the BDSM experience. We’ve said a few things in the past (here and here). If you want to think more about this topic, alone or with a partner, as well as other parts of power exchange, you can sign up for 30 Days of D/s, a free email program designed to help you think through power exchange and find the best path forward for you and your partner.