Sex Ed
Sex Ed

What is a Safeword?

And Why Use One?

What is a Safeword?

Have you ever heard the term safeword? It’s a common term in kinky and BDSM circles. It’s a way to communicate consent in ways other than using terms like, “no” or “stop”. The safeword system is a word or set of words that are agreed upon before engaging in sexual activity or entering the kink play scene. These words are used to signal that the scene is getting too intense or unwanted harm is likely to happen. It can be a great way to quickly check-in with your partner and make sure everything is still going well for them.

A safeword may be a single word or a set of words to indicate different intensity levels. For example, a number of people will use the Stoplight system. When a scene gets too intense and someone needs the activities to stop immediately, “Red” is the safeword used. If a person is enjoying what is happening but doesn’t want things to become more intense or wants to alert their partner to a potential growing discomfort without stopping the activities, “Yellow” could be used. “Green” would be the word indicated a full go ahead with no concerns.

Why Use Safewords?

For those of you who are new to this concept, you may be wondering why a person may not just say “Stop” or “That hurts, please stop I don’t like it”. There are some people that this would work perfectly well for. Safewords are intended to be used as a reality check when the people want words like “no” to take on a different meaning; to say “no” and let their partner know that they do not really want the what’s happening to stop. As is often quoted by many kinky people, protestation may be part of the game. Safewords have the advantage of being an indisputably clear and undeniable request for an activity to stop. It is how BDSM players can signal an irrefutable withdrawal of consent. Many people feel comfortable with the Stoplight system but you can choose what works for you.

But what if you’re not kinky? You can still use safewords if you want to. It’s another tool for your communication toolbox! Some people enjoy playing hard to get. This can be a fun game but it can also be really confusing because sometimes people don’t know if you’re really playing or seriously refusing consent. Having a safeword set up with your partner gives you the freedom to play hard to get without concern! If it is a serious refusal of consent, simply give the safeword and then consent is clearly understood.

Safewords give players the freedom to explore new ground in a way that establishes a clear communication, diminishing discomfort or anxiety about trying new activities. Even experienced partners familiar with playing with each other may have need of safewords. A change of lifestyle, stress, health, or medication can all change a person’s frame of mind and therefore their endurance or desire for the intensity of a particular activity. Remember, consent is an ongoing process! No session is the same and a high level of intensity that was amazing two weeks ago could be too intense for today.

Finding the Right Words

Aside from choosing what your safeword should communicate to your partner, selecting the word itself can be important.

A good signifier of safety is also one that unlikely to be used in a normal play scene. There should be no confusion as to if the safeword is being used or if it is normal conversation occurring within the scene. Words that are too long or complicated can be hard to remember, especially in the heat of the moment. The word should also be distinct sounding; homonyms (such as “bare” and “bear”) that could be confused should be avoided. In a play scenario where endorphins are high and everyone may not be thinking clearly, anything that can be confused is likely to be.

Your choice should also be one that both participants feel comfortable with remembering. If you do find yourself in a position where you cannot remember what was picked, using “Safeword” can always be a good fall back.

Nonverbal Ways to Communicate Safety

It is important to consider your safety if you and your partner are exploring scenarios that may impair or completely inhibit the bottom’s ability to speak. Non-verbal safewords are an excellent solution and can have a multitude of advantages. Aptly chosen visual or audio signals can be extremely effective in drawing attention and a creative non-verbal signal can add some artistic flair to your time together which can help draw in both participants and add to the tone of a scene.

If you are playing in a scene where there is a danger of any loss of consciousness, a well-placed non-verbal sign can be the difference in time that averts danger. Asphyxiation, or strangling, is the number one cause of death during sex! If you and your partner are interested in exploring something like that, it’s important to take precautions! An example could be to have the person experiencing the asphyxiation to be holding something somewhat heavy. If they lose consciousness or wish to stop, they will drop the item which will make an audible sound. It’s a visual and audible non-verbal sign to stop.

Good non-verbal safewords are ones that are appropriate to the type of scene you are doing. A visual cue will not be helpful in a scene where the person performing the activity focused on an area of the other person that the safe cue would not be in their line of sight, likewise an audio safeword would be ineffective if the bottom loses consciousness and unable to enact any motion the audio signifier may require (such as tapping or moving a noisemaker). Be smart and choose something appropriate for the activity.

Keep Safewords in Your Sexy Conversations Toolbox

Depending on your interests and the types of activities you share with your partner, you may never have need of a safeword and that’s perfectly ok! It’s still a good thing to know about and another excellent tool to keep in your conversational toolbox. Safewords help many people navigate and negotiate consent conversations for a variety of activities from sexual to kinky. It is another way we can feel comfortable advocating for our sexual desires and help create safe and supportive spaces with our partners.

sexual wellness
Teela Hudak
Teela Hudak
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Teela Hudak

Teela is a Vancouver-based Sex Educator & Relationship Expert. Learn more at:

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