Hello pups (and others)!
So my first blog for The Guiding Paw was about the importance of trust in play, and how trust can be developed between players. In the same safety-basics vein, this post is about limits: what they are, how to find your limits, and some of the different sorts of limits you might encounter.
What are limits?
Everyone has boundaries that they don’t want to cross, or activities they don’t want to do. In BDSM / role-play parlance, these boundaries are known as limits.
Limits come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re unsure about your limits, ask yourself the following questions to get a sense of them. What are you nervous about trying? What don’t you ever want to do? Do you have any anxieties or phobias? How experienced are you with different activities?
You also have physical limits. Human bodies are hugely varied in terms of how we move, and how we react to sensations. It’s important to be aware of how your body works, because pushing it too far can cause injury and health problems. Again, the following questions can guide your understanding of your limits. Do you have any existing injuries that need to be avoided? Are there any places on your body you don’t want to be touched? Any sensations you prefer or cannot stand?
You should always share your limits and needs ahead of play: you risk accidentally crossing your partner’s boundaries if you don’t know where they are. Breaking limits is often upsetting, can be dangerous, and is typically seen as a breach of consent. Equally, sharing your limits with your play partner/s will allow you to establish consent and trust, and support your communication during the scene.
Remember: although everyone’s limits are different, all limits are valid and should be respected. If you’re open and honest about your limits you’ll get more out of play than if you stay quiet and hope for the best.
What sort of limits are there?
The main terms you’ll come across in BDSM / role-play are hard and soft limits. Not all limits are absolutes, so these terms give us a bit of flexibility in how we communicate our limits to others.
A hard limit is something that must not be done under any circumstances. It’s a line that cannot be crossed. Hard limits tend to be activities considered more extreme (for example, activities involving bodily fluids), but can be anything you really, really don’t want to do.
‘One of my hard limits is CBT. Please do not do CBT under any circumstances.’
‘I’m claustrophobic, so being caged is a hard limit.’
Knowingly violating someone’s hard limits is a serious breach of consent. If this happens to you, end the scene immediately, and seriously consider playing with someone else in future. Knowingly violating hard limits is dangerous, disrespectful, and stupid, and perpetrators often find themselves blacklisted and banned from events.
A soft limit is something that a person might consent to, but only under certain conditions. Soft limits might be activities people find appealing but are nervous about, or know they may find uncomfortable but are willing to try if the right approach is taken.
‘I’m happy to be spanked but I need you to go slowly.’
‘I’m not sure I’m comfortable with hot wax, so please let me know what you’re going to do before you do it.’
Soft limits are useful when approaching new activities, as they allow you to build an idea of your hard limits from a position of safety. Given the risks involved in BDSM / roleplay activities, a cautious approach of testing boundaries will give you a safer and more enjoyable experience than otherwise.
Which sets up the last question quite nicely:
What if I don’t know my limits?
New players often charge into scenes with little idea about what it’s actually like to do the things they’ve been fantasising about. and why not? It's exciting to be a beginner. But reality can be very different to fantasy, and you may find you’re less comfortable doing things in real life that you thought you’d love. For example, you might have a fantasy about corporal punishment, but find the reality more physically or emotionally draining than you can handle.
So go slowly until you find out what works for you - and what doesn’t. Start gently and work your way up. Go for the light flogging until you feel ready to be whipped. Take a rope class before you agree to be suspended. You might find you need to change how you approach play in order to feel comfortable. For example, when I started doing pony play outside I wanted to be completely naked except for my harness. I soon learned that being freezing cold was a hard physical limit: in order to play safely in British weather I needed to wear more layers.
When you hit a limit, tell the person you’re playing with. You may need to stop the scene and take a breather. And that’s perfectly reasonable: you should never feel pressured to carry on if you don’t want to. Likewise, you might not know something is a hard limit until you try it. If you find something is too much to handle, stop the scene, check in, renegotiate, and only continue if you feel safe enough to do so. Remember that when it comes to your limits, you are the expert about you. It’s not up to anybody else to tell you what you’re interested in, or what your body is capable of.
As you get more experience in the scene and try new things, you might find your limits become more flexible. You might be certain that you don’t want to do something but eventually decide to try it. You might also find new limits: things you thought were amazing might suddenly become unbearable. For example, you might be able to withstand different levels of pain on different days. It’s okay for your limits to change: this is a natural part of learning and growing as a person. As ever, trust your instincts and listen to your body - it’s a good judge of what’s best for you.
Have fun folks. Play well! - and stay safe.