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Eight Techniques for Maintaning Communication and Trust During a Scene

Jun 7, 2012

Reposted with the author's permission.

During an SM scene it is the top who guides the bottom through the ordeal, seducing their consent, then challenging their ability to endure through carefully modulated technique. How much is enough? How much is too much? To know, the top must be able to read the bottom’s reactions and assess how the scene is going for them. Is their confidence and strength soaring upwards,ready for more? Just hanging steady? Or is it plummeting like a stone? Are they ready for a hard push, or do they need to be pulled back from the edge? Is the scene moving too slowly? Too fast? And what about trust? Has something unnoticed by the top jeopardized the bottom’s confidence in the tops ability or intent? To sculpt the SM experience, mere technique is not enough. We must be able to look into what the bottom’s soul and know with some degree of accuracy, what they are feeling. Particularly when the action gets aggressive.

The key to the dance is staying in step with your partner. The top leads; the bottom follows - dancing backwards and on high heels - trusting the guidance of the lead. The lead dancer is certainly chief, and director of the action. But it takes two. It’s not merely the skill of the lead, but the synergy between both dancers, that can make a scene pure physical poetry, or an embarrassing botch. When I hear tops complaining about having to use safewords, or worse still, boasting about ignoring them, I always think of a lead dancer who performs his own part brilliantly, oblivious to his partner stumbling gracelessly all over the floor. Ignoring the question of whether your bottom is in trouble, or pretending not to notice, is not the attitude of an experienced dominant, but the hallmark of the self-infatuated rookie top.

If we always knew what our partner is thinking and feeling, safewords, pre scene negotiations would never be necessary. For the rest of us, however, we must master the protocols of how the scene is going from our partners point of view. The remainder of this paper will outline nine techniques for making better communication possible while the scene is underway.

1. Safewords

Since we are already talking of safewords, lets address them first. Traditionally, “Yellow” or “mercy” is a plea to slow down, that the bottoms endurance is being challenged. “Red” “limit” or “safeword” means the bottom’s endurance has been exhausted, possibly trust too, which is far more serious, and demands a full stop for renewed negotiation. In one form or another, most players incorporate safewords into their negotiations as a safety precaution, whether or not they are used. While everyone is different, I think it gives the bottom extra security, and buys a little more trust, deepening, not cheapening the scene. Safewords are especially useful for nervous bottoms who may take great comfort in knowing that breathing room is available at the drop of a word. It can really kill the scene if the bottom gets locked onto some distraction like numb hands, a panic attack, a cramp, vertigo, nausea, or incontinence. The bottom may feel that a negotiated limit is being infringed on, fear they are being marked when they absolutely must not be, or be aware of some other issue requiring the tops attention. The ritual space of the scene can be difficult to restore, once the mood has been broken. Ideally, safewords permit the top to rescue the scene before it breaks, allowing the scene to continue once the issue is resolved

Admittedly it can go too far. Some tops are driven to distraction by bottoms that get real picky about how they want to be “done”. I don’t believe that bottoms should abuse the privilege of being able to push “pause” and in my experience they generally do not. Most bottoms want only a break pedal, not a ripcord. The purpose of “yellow” is not for the bottom to flag mistakes. Nor is the goal of a “red” to fire the top. Safewords should be thought of as tools for sustaining the magic of the scene by alerting the top before he steers the bottom smack into an iceberg. With this in mind, the bottom should strive for both strength and honesty about how they are handling the sensation load.

Some tops, mercifully a small (though loud) minority have fixated on the idea that cherishing consent is a threat to their dominance- refusing safewords, limits, negotiation, playing a high stakes game of all or nothing. But ignoring the bottoms reaction is a bad habit to get into. It lazy on the tops part, and frankly makes for a wimpy dom, although the intent of this posturing is quite the opposite. A top who cannot work with the constraints of maintaining a bottom’s consent throughout a scene is either inept, having a bad day, or insecure to a point where I would question their fitness to lead. Another possibility is that they are really not very interested in playing with you and are unconcerned whether the two of you play or not.

A responsible hot top will want to know how the scene is going for their bottom partner. And a responsible top will be ready to throttle back and wait if their partner gets flustered or lost in a way that hurts the scene (In fairness some bottoms love feeling flustered and lost. Some bottoms hate feeling that way but love pleasing their partner so much that they are willing to endure it. To each their own)

2. Wait Signals

This technique was first committed to print by leatherman extraordinaire Guy Baldwin. It was aimed at impact play but can be adapted for a wide variety of scenes. It involves the coordination of protocol between top and bottom without the use of spoken safewords. During the scene the bottom keeps the top appraised of their readiness through the use of a prearranged nonverbal “wait” cue such as clenched fists, or a foot tipped forward on its toe. This signal is recognized by the top as a request for time before throwing the next blow, next needle, or next flood of sensation. It works like this: First the bottom provides a “ready” cue, a signal that they are ready to be hit. Next comes the stroke, and while the bottom is absorbing the blow they give the “wait cue”, clenching fists, tipping their foot or whatever they’ve agreed on. When the bottom is ready for more they withdraw the wait cue, and the top continues.

I know a couple in New York that use this approach. Their playroom has a chain that hangs diagonally from one corner of the living room to the other. Grabbing the overhead chain for balance, the bottom stands on a short bench. While he is up there, his top can have at him, and cascades of stinging blows cover his body like rain. On the bench, the bottom moves with fantastic, slow grace; it looks like Tai Chi, or ballet slowed way down. His “wait signal” is stepping off the bench. When the sensations build to overload and he needs a break, he just steps down and the blows halt instantly. He stands next to his master recovering his breath and when he’s ready he hoists himself up and the action continues. It’s some of the most beautiful SM I’ve ever watched.

3. Try it in Teaspoons

A basic tidbit of SM motherhood, is to start slow, build slow. Don’t go charging in with the battle axe. A good way to ruin the mood of a scene, is to tee off with play that is uncomfortably intense, before you really know how much your partner in SM can take. Seduce consent. Go slowly, even when the ultimate intent is a heavy scene. When I’m doing a single tail scene I always start out gently (Sometimes when playing with an anxious newbie I will stop after a four or five feather delicate caresses, say we’re done and that she can tell everyone she was single tailed by me). Not only does starting off slowly acclimate the bottom to the sensations being administered as they grow from mild to wild, but it also lets the top observe first hand where the bottom’s limits are, where “ooh” turns to “ouch!”. Furthermore, by varying the intensity just below the bottom’s limits the top can actually seduce the trust and comfort that permit the bottom to move beyond those limits allowing hotter and more intense scenes. So with each new technique, try it in teaspoons, instead of a fire hydrant blast. You can always pump up the action later.

4. Honor Bondage

Honor bondage essentially dispenses with physical bondage from the SM scene. Instead of using cuffs or rope, the bottom is requested to hold a fixed position through their own force of will. Honor Bondage isnot a communication technique so much as it is a way to: 1) let a bottom experience SM without the added intimidation of bondage: or 2) to entrust some responsibility to the bottom. In theory, this allows the bottom the option of leaving if they loose faith in the scene. Some bottoms may find honor bondage preferable when playing with tops they don’t know well. This is not universally great advice. Bondage can provide both support and prevent the bottom from suddenly lurching into harms way, so I don’t recommend this for heavy play where the bottom’s motor control may be compromised but for beginners it can make a scary scene more palatable.

5. Gauging the play

A useful trick. Ask the bottom to verbally gauge the intensity (of a whipstroke, electrical play, or tight bondage) on a scale of one to ten. If they answer “nine and a half”, you know you are nearing their present limits. If the answer is “one” you can ramp up the action. Its not a bad idea to sprinkle gauging requests throughout the scene, to keep communications clear and strong.

6. Check-ins

Check ins are periodic breaks in the action where the top does a spot examination of the bottoms condition. Basically move in close and ask “How are you doing?” Check-ins are a good habit to form, and should probably be done in some form every fifteen minutes or so. Stay in character, when you do so it doesn’t come across as a jolt.: Soft voice, some touching, perhaps some encouraging, nasty words on how good they look all tied up. You can also do check-ins that are nonverbal: check breathing, squeezing the hands to see if they feel cool, offer a sip of water. You don’t need to overdo it; check to see if there is a problem, so you can fix it if you need to.

7. Count downs, and time outs

Another way to maintain contact between partners is to build scenes from discrete time blocks, either using a timer, spoken count downs, or a stated number of blows before a break. Birthday spankings fall in this category. Corporal punishment, often administered six blows at a time, also qualifies. Tickling someone mercilessly until the second hand circles the dial gives the bottom the promise of eventual relief at a fixed point in time. A nice technique is to ask the bottom for a number to use as the basis for a count down or a time limit. This allows the bottom some measure of control in how long they must wait until the next break. Short counts are best for beginners or people you haven’t played with before. As the scene progresses the top may repeat the counts making them incrementally longer.

For a more aggressive scene these boundaries can be advisory, and not binding. The top may choose to ignore the clock, set the secondhand back, or continue ministrations past the end of a time limit. The top may multiply the count given by the bottom, begin again for some made up offense, repeat numbers, or start counting in fractions to prolong the bottoms ordeal.

8. Cultivate Play relationships

Of all the techniques we’ve discussed, the best way to read your partner is to know them extremely well. Experience will show you how to read your partner, know where they are, where they are headed, how hard to push, when to ease off, and how to rejuvenate their courage, consent and will to continue. Over the course of many scenes, you learn your partners limits, idiosyncrasies, responses, tastes, share their fantasies, and learn the nuance and sensitivity that separates the greatest SM from the run of the mill. Scenefolk who have played together for years often develop a near psychic ability to read and anticipate their partner’s responses.

Knowing someone and becoming known by them, also forms a natural basis for trust, which makes more challenging dungeon work possible. It can even result in the necessary trust to dispense with safewords and to turn responsibility for the scene entirely to the tops shoulders. This entirely up to the people in charge but such a decision must be reached jointly.

9. You fill in the blank.

Using a technique we haven’t discussed? Shoot me an message here and I’ll add it to the list. The more ideas we have on preserving the link between top and bottom, the hotter our scenes will be.

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