Out of the Shadows: Negotiation Ideas

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What Should a Negotiation Cover?
by Non-Famous Lauren

The following questions are very basic kinds of information that tops/doms often ask for during negotiations with bottoms/subs. Sometimes these "negotiations" are spread out over many months and just crop up naturally in ordinary conversation or flirtations. Other times the top conducts a negotiation interview covering these topics shortly before playing.

Sample Activity Questionnaire
(Some tops also include an activity questionnaire in such interviews.) It is also common for the bottom to initiate the conversation by bringing up these questions.

Negotiation does not necessarily mean: "Ok, I will do this for you if you will do that for me." It is a general term covering all manner of topics that the prospective partners typically want to clear up in advance of getting started in a scene so that they don't have to disrupt their play with conversation that is not quite in the mood of the scene. Of course, that doesn't mean that the bottom and top cannot communicate about such things during the scene---and doing so is quite common! But most people find it works best to get some things straight in advance.

Many people find engaging in negotiations to be very hot preliminaries before play. Often the bottom really enjoys being invited to talk so intimately, and the top often enjoys listening and getting ideas. Further discussion usually ensues. Negotiation is most often a form of flirtation and verbal foreplay, although the result of it is an agreement that also serves as a formal contract between the partners.

I ask whatever subset of these questions I think might apply to whatever I am considering doing. If I skip something that suddenly becomes a possibility mid-scene, I either don't do it or I ask about it quietly and unobtrusively. Often an experienced bottom will offer the answers without my asking. How and when these things get discussed is not important so long as they are discussed. Re-discussing interesting parts of the negotiated terms during aftercare and sometimes for a week or months after a scene is also common, in my experience; as is changing the terms of the negotiation---things that are originally off limits often become tempting to the bottom as the relationship deepens or just as the partners change over time.

There are lots of other good negotiation questions, I am sure, and this is off the top of my head, so chances are I am leaving something out.

  1. Do you have any medical conditions I should know about? (Asthma: good to keep the medicine nearby; knee conditions: not good to tie the bottom for long periods standing up; jaw dislocations: no face-slapping or only with extra care; problems with nerves in wrists: extra care/support in binding wrists, or maybe no wrist bondage at all; STDs: extra safe-sex precautions; etc.)
    • Do you have any particular places where you should not be hit or flogged: any particular areas on you that are extra-sensitive, bad pain, or unhealed injuries?
    • Do you have any piercings I should be aware of? Are they healed?
    • I usually don't ask this unless it becomes necessary to clean up a spot of broken skin, but if you were doing a cutting or piercing you would certainly ask it in advance: Do you have any allergies to iodine (because many antibiotics like Betadine have iodine)?
  2. Do you have any emotional reactions or conditions that I should know about, including a history of incest, rape, or abuse, flashbacks to traumatic episodes, multiple personalities, or manic depression? Do you have any emotional reactions to being hit with hands, belts, hairbrushes, or other items possibly associated with punishment, with any traumatic experience, or with anything else that is not someplace you want to be remembering or reacting to in scene?
  3. What do you use as a safeword? What do the safewords you use mean to you? (Especially "yellow" has variable meanings to different people) Do you use any words like "No" or "Stop" to mean "Please do go on"? Have you ever had an experience of losing your ability to safeword in a situation that was not good for you?
  4. Is there anything you would like to tell me that is specifically off limits? And, because tops have limits, too: if I think someone is desperately expecting or hoping for me to do something that I will not do for whatever reason, be it in general or with that person or at that time, I try to clear that up before the scene.
  5. Are marks (black-and-blue marks, hickies, etc.) ok? Do marks need to be below clothing lines?
  6. Is sexual touching ok?
    • What safe sex considerations are we to take into account? (In many communities, condoms are assumed not only for vaginal and anal penetration, but also for oral sex. In some communities, latex gloves are used for any sexual touching where fluids are involved, and certainly if there are breaks in the top's finger skin they are common. It is a good idea to ask rather than assume because customs vary.) What exposures to STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) does each partner represent?
    • What constitutes sexual touching for you: breasts, nipples? external touching of the genitals or anus? penetration? Is being naked ok?
  7. Do you have any negative emotional reactions to particular toys or activities that you know of? (If I am thinking of exploring some particular thing I know to occasionally upset people, I usually name it here. Examples of things people occasionally react negatively to include: knives, needles, ass-play, tickling, blindfolds, single-tail whips.... If I forget to ask about something like this but then want to use it in scene, I often let the bottom catch sight of it in scene before using it in case it is not ok with the bottom.) How do you feel about exploring controversial activities such as breath control or being beaten about the breasts?
  8. And my favorite questions, which really are the ones I ask first, since unless there is a match here we never get as far as questions 1-7: What kinds of feelings and activities do you actively enjoy in scene? Do you enjoy pain, service, bondage, spanking, punishment, humiliation, fear or terror, resistance or overpowerment, fighting back, mindfucks, verbal abuse, particular kinds of role-play imagery like interrogations, being at school, age play, etc.? Is physical play part of a power exchange experience for you, or is it a sensual experience between equals with no exchange of power? What kind of experiences are exciting or hot in your fantasy life or in play for you? Is play typically a sexual experience for you or is it something else?

Also important to clear up are:

  1. Questions about both partners' experience levels, the kinds of play they have done before, and discussion of the risks involved with playing in whatever ways might come up. Negotiations with novices typically cover many things that the top would not need to explain to experienced players. (Similarly if it is the top that is a novice!) If I am going to try something new for me as a top that is risky, I make sure the bottom knows it is a new experience for me. In fact, for any activity I am thinking of doing that is risky, I make sure the bottom understands whatever risks I believe are present, even if they are unlikely to happen. I do not consider consent to be given unless it is informed consent, and that means understanding that there are risks and what they are.
  2. Questions about the person's other partners if they exist, and how those partners feel about the person playing with someone else. I usually talk with any primary partner or SO in advance of playing just to touch base---it's a standard top's courtesy, and a damn good idea, to boot.
  3. Do either of the partners drink or do drugs? (Most players I know do not ever mix alcohol and play because it dulls the senses and slows reactions times; same for most, if not all, drugs, though a few specific kinds of drugs are used occasionally in some play circles.) I personally will not play with anyone, top or bottom, who is under the influence of any substance at the time we are playing---I consider it too dangerous, not to mention not the point.
  4. I often play in public at playparties with private or semi-private space, so I might ask if the person has a preference, if the person has not volunteered that information already. Often, though, where the play is to occur is dictated by the nature of the scene itself or by when and where the bottom and I are getting together.
  5. It is not a bad idea for a bottom to ask specifically about what the top typically offers in terms of aftercare and followup discussions, including time and energy commitments. As a top, I usually make my potential time commitments known in advance; though also, I know that any time I play there is a risk that I could have to do more aftercare and followup than I anticipate. But there is a limit on the demands any individual partner can make on me because I have prior commitments in my life, and I consider it important for that to be cleared up if there is any potential of expectations being out of synch.
  6. In my play circles, tops typically volunteer references of other playpartners in advance, or the bottom asks for such references and permission to inquire about the top before playing. Bottoming or subbing to an unknown and unvouched-for top or dom is done cautiously, and it is common for negotiations in such circumstances to include discussions of how to increase the bottom's sense of safety (such as playing in public or with a friend in a nearby room or at minimum with a friend expecting a phone call from the bottom at a pre-specified time). Getting references is the norm! This is one of the most astonishing surprises for those who have not previously encountered the Scene Community---it is not common in the vanilla world to go talk to a former lover of someone you want to make love to, after all. But BDSM is not vanilla sex---it is physically and emotionally risky stuff, and the customs differ for good reasons.
© 1997 non-famous Lauren

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