Unasked Questions: Limits

Continuing with my series on questions that newbies often have and are afraid to ask, I present the question(s): What are limits and why should I care?

I was going to post my rant on safewords today, but I realized that some people may require a bit more background before my arguments will make sense and one of the areas that needs explanation is around limits.

So – what are limits, why are there different types, what do they mean, and why should I care?

Remember how I was talking about negotiation a couple of days ago, and how everything in a BDSM context is negotiated?  Well, limits are one of those criteria that are negotiated.

Oftentimes when meeting a new sub I will ask her to fill out a form detailing her experience level, to rate her levels of desire for certain activities, and to set hard and soft limits.  The limits discussion is the most important of those pieces, but each of the others are also illuminating and will most often shape how our play begins, culminates, and ends.

I’ve used various different online resources for these lists before, but it doesn’t really matter too much what list you use, as each is merely but a beginning to a negotiation.

As an example of what this might look like, here is my limits document: Lord Rant’s Limits

This is from the very excellent Columbia Erotic Power Exchange website.  The original (not-filled-out-with-Lord-Rant’s-preferences-version) can be found here.

Quite recently I was ‘caught with my pants down’ in this area, so to speak.  I was given the opportunity to play with someone well before we’d had the opportunity to exchange lists like this.  Fortunately, she’s quite well grounded and we had discussed things informally a great deal, but I made certain that we did discuss limits, and things worked out pretty well.   However, in retrospect, I realize that things could have been much better if I had had more information at my disposal before we began.  I think I’ll make sure that we exchange lists prior to our next meeting, and hopefully anyone else that I might play with will find this document and short-circuit my ability get ahead of myself in the same way again.

Okay – back to definitions…

There are usually two limits that we talk about in the BDSM context, soft limits and hard limits.  Like most things in BDSM meanings of these terms are somewhat open to interpretation, but only somewhat.  I have known subs who claim to have ‘no limits’ and quite honestly, they scare me.  I have known Doms who refuse to play with subs that have any limits, and they scare me even more.  I think that both of these groups are mentally unstable or lazy or both.

A lazy sub might say that he has ‘no limits’ in an effort to avoid thinking about the problem, trying to appear brave, or trying to ingratiate himself with a particular Domme or Dommes.  In this case, the sub in questions is relying on ‘common courtesy’ or ‘human decency’ or something like that to rule the actions of the Domme and acts in the hopes that she will not act to permanently injure him.  This is a very dangerous practice and I tend to find such people to be either mentally unstable or unsuitable due to lack of attention or personal responsibility.  As a Dom, I need to know where your limits are.  This is both so that I can push your soft limits or your areas of discomfort in an effort to improve your experience and also to that I can avoid your hard limits and creating an experience that would be be detrimental to the health of one or both of us.

It is unfortunately quite common for Doms to fail to share their own limits.  I think there is a misconception among some people that this is not a useful way to spend time since a good Dom is in control of every aspect of a scene and therefore able to automatically adjust things to his preference, and while this might be true, it does not provide the sub with a valuable set of information.  It is the sub’s duty and privilege to understand, anticipate, and fulfil the needs and desires of the Dom.  Without complete information on the Dom’s desires and limits, this is a needlessly arduous task that will involve a lot of missteps on the part of both of you.  I’ve known Doms that use this as an excuse to enact punishment and enjoy watching their subs flail about in trying to determine how to best serve.  If that’s your cup of tea, then I won’t fault you for that, but if it were me, I’d at least let my sub know that this was my expectation.  Personally, I prefer obedience and service.  I reserve punishment for correcting bad behavior, bratty attitudes, or to enforce my Will, not as a game to be played to watch her squirm.  I prefer to watch her squirm for another reason…

These definitions are mine, you may have a different opinion or run across differing ideas, but that’s why communication is important in this lifestyle.

A hard limit is not something that can be negotiated; it’s a wall.  It may shift at some later date, but it’s not something that you should test, whether you are a Dom trying to provide a challenging experience or a sub trying to test your Dom’s boundaries, the hard limit is something you should leave alone.  You should talk about it, you should understand the nuances, but you should not fuck with it.  A personal example – I have a lot of hard limits around ass play – my ass, not yours.. this is not because I am homophobic, and this is not because I’m grossed out by it, I’ll gladly play with your ass if it is something you enjoy, but that brings back memories for me – memories that would make it impossible for me to enjoy myself.  This is not a negotiable thing, and there is a good reason for it.

A soft limit is something that can be pushed.  According to some people, this is something that _should_ be pushed.  I’m not sure I agree with that, but whether you do or not, by designating it as a soft limit, your partner is telling you, “this is something that I am very uncomfortable with, and you will have to use extra caution around this, but it is something that I might be willing to entertain.”  Soft limits are things that evoke a response, they’re things that go well beyond grossing you out or turning you off, but they’re not things that are going to cause you physical or mental anguish to entertain.  I don’t have many soft limits, one example for me would be rape fantasies.  A lot of women (and men too) have them, and as long as everything is properly negotiated in advance, these can be accommodated in a very safe, sane, and consensual way.  Intellectually, I have no problem with them at all, but they evoke in me an emotional response.  It would require some serious self restraint to take part in one and even more self restraint to see one and not intervene.  This is something that I could do, but not something that I would feel good about.  It’s possible that I could use this as a form of taboo deconstruction and push my soft limit until I was able to engage in this behavior without issue, but I don’t really want to.

Take a look at my list.  It may be more illustrative than I’ve managed to be in my descriptions here.

Let me know if you have questions, I’m happy to answer.

This was meant to educate, I hope you find it useful.

This was not a rant, but I am still Rant.

Rant off.

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