Hi there. It’s me, the bad bottom your DomlyDom mentor warned you about. I won’t use safewords, and I don’t have a limits list. I don’t play with people who want them. I don’t get what I need from kink when those things are on the table.
First of all: yes.
And also: a totally legitimate way to play.
Safewords and limit lists can help play stay in your comfort zone, but there are many valid reasons someone might not want them: if they’re like me and need a certain kind of power exchange; if they’re unlikely to actually use a safeword, rendering it useless; if their sadists are creative and likely to think of things they never imagined—not to mention that not all people use the same implements in the same ways and a hard limit with one could be a “yes, please!” with another.
So, what do you do if you’re like me, or playing with someone like me?
Enter the risk profile: a method of determining what can’t happen in play that I believe is simultaneously more comprehensive and more permissive than traditional limits and safewords.
WHAT IS A RISK PROFILE?
I hear the term used a lot, as in, “that’s outside of my risk profile.” But it’s rarely, if ever, defined. For me, a risk profile is a set of parameters that defines the end results in one’s life that—should they occur—would cost more than the opportunity play provides. In other words, risk profiles are about the consequences, not the in-play experience. For example, my own risk profile includes that I am not willing to risk my writing career, so I’ll use that to better explain how risk profiles work throughout this post.
WHY IS IT BETTER THAN THE TOOLS WE ALREADY HAVE?
Safewords and limits are useful, but a risk profile does a few things the other fail-safes don’t.
- It covers things someone didn’t consider. “I won’t risk not being able to write” gives my top more information than “no bending fingers back.” From my risk profile, a top can also determine that needles under my fingernails would be an issue, even if I hadn’t thought to say that.
- It guides bottoms in how to educate themselves and vet tops. With my risk profile, I can ignore potentially irrelevant information, such as who my top learned from, and instead ask questions like, “Can you tell me which nerves connect to the wrist?” which ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to avoid those undesirable results. Likewise, my risk profile informs what I educate myself about as a bottom. I have neither the time nor the resources to learn about every possible way play could harm me, but I can devote some time to learning about the risks to my hands, in particular, so that I never have to be wrong in trusting someone who says, “this is safe.”
- It prioritizes first aid. It is impossible to plan for every emergency, but I can tell my top an injury to my hand should receive medical attention before a cut on my face. (Of course, life-threatening incidents, such as lengthy unconsciousness or drops on the head must always come first.)
- It helps determine when a scene must end. For those of us who can’t use safewords, it clarifies what an actual emergency is. If I feel like vomiting, I don’t actually want a scene to stop but might say otherwise in the moment. I do want it to stop if I can’t move my fingers.
- It can guide surprises and CNC scenes. The risk profile allows a top to plan without asking leading questions. Since children would be a hindrance to my career right now, any long scene must not impede my ability to take daily birth control. This is an example of one of those things most people wouldn’t think to include in hard limits.
HOW DO I DEVELOP MY RISK PROFILE?
This is fairly simple, in theory. There are four major steps.
- Determine the things in your life that, if lost, would cost more than what play provides.
Consider your body, jobs, hobbies, values, and relationships, to start.
- Determine what specifically you need in order to maintain those things.
I need to be able to type, meet deadlines, and think and create. That’s fairly straightforward, but when I flesh it out, I start to realize everything that covers: time sensitivity, rest, the ability to sit and work at my desk.
A singer’s risk profile might include avoiding things that induce screaming so as not to damage vocal cords. Someone with kids might have more of a need to avoid visible marks. Someone with particular mental health needs might be concerned about having access to medication, not having food restricted, sleeping comfortably.
And I should say here that tops can have their own risk profiles too! My Owner generally won’t risk exacerbating neck pain I have, even though I’d be okay with it in many cases.
- Acquire whatever concrete knowledge is necessary to identify and avoid worst-case scenarios.
As noted earlier, I must know how to recognize nerve damage in my wrists (and therefore how to evaluate if a top knows this). I need to know what to do if that damage happens. I don’t need to know in any great depth how to treat facial swelling, since that isn’t outside my risk profile. I can focus learning time where it counts.
- Codify and communicate your risk profile and emergency plans in whatever way is helpful to you.
Just as you would in any other negotiation, whether written or in-person, this must be communicated to those you intend to play with.
And . . . that’s it. That’s how I keep myself safe(r) without a safeword or hard limits. I avoid ending up in situations I can’t live with (and I know how to handle it if we start to approach them), and I don’t have to compromise on my sexuality.
The risk profile is not perfect or comprehensive. It’s a way to be more comprehensive. It doesn’t account for things you can live with but don’t like, but you certainly can still have a safeword or limits list. It doesn’t cover all that could go wrong, but it does ensure that the most important things have contingency plans. And it won’t stop consent violators—but your limits and safeword weren’t going to do that, either.
And for those of us who want to play not knowing what our tops are going to do, maybe a risk profile gives them the information they need so we both get what we want. Maybe it helps us up our own medical and play knowledge and narrow down who we play with. Maybe it helps us determine what’s an important “no,” and what’s just “I’m scared.” Maybe it helps us, even a little bit, mitigate our risk.
vahavta began her kink journey in St. Louis in 2013 and has been grateful for opportunities to teach, play, and learn in North Carolina, Chicago, and Israel along the way. Today, she serves her husband in a 24/7 Total Power Exchange and is often found sporting large bruises, writing, enjoying a good beer, or having wonderful conversations with new friends on Fetlife. In all aspects of her life—be that in her relationship, her pain tolerance, her athletic pursuits, or her service—she strives to be a work in progress.