The Importance of a Shared Kink Language: A Conversation About Negotiation

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Mimsy: On our first date, you mentioned the importance of having a “shared language” to talk about BDSM. Although I had some experience doing kinky things and had researched terminology, I didn’t quite grasp what you were getting at until later—namely that a shared language helps provide a framework for play and ensures that everyone who’s involved understands how negotiation should work.

Vagabond: I would go one step further and say that someone who doesn’t speak the language has the potential to be dangerous. An inexperienced submissive-leaning person might say, “Do whatever you want to me” during a first negotiation. This is perhaps the most basic and common kinky fantasy, but it’s essentially not negotiating at all. When this happened to me (while I was inexperienced as well), it made for less satisfying scenes, because I didn’t know the scope of “playspace.” I didn’t know what the limits were, and couldn’t feel free to take any chances.

Mimsy: Hard limits vary so much from person to person. It’s not realistic to expect a Dom to be a mind reader or throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Vagabond: Right. I’ve encountered people with limits that I could never have guessed, such as being grabbed by the neck, hair pulling, and light degradation. If someone isn’t communicating their fantasies, I become paralyzed and end up creating a boring scene.

Mimsy: When I was first dipping a toe into BDSM, I did a lot of research, but wasn’t exactly “fluent” in the language yet, and, on top of that, I was primarily playing with someone who had no experience—a guy who was into the idea of being dominant but didn’t self-identify as kinky, let alone speak the language. I tried to communicate and negotiate with him, but it was more or less a one-way conversation.

Vagabond: This reminds me of an Internet date I had with a woman who was fairly experienced in kinky sex, but didn’t speak the BSDM language either. During our negotiation, when I asked what she was into, she said, “Oh, I don’t know, the usual.” It did not turn out to be the scene of either of our dreams. I imagine it would be far worse with an uncommunicative dominant, though.

Mimsy: In a way, I had a similar experience to what you described. At the time, I was fixated on the idea of doing a consensual nonconsent scene and did some reading about what to consider during a negotiation. After giving it a lot of thought, I laid everything out in an email—my fantasy, limits, safewords, aftercare needs, etc.—and sent it to that guy. I asked him to read it over carefully and respond with comments and questions. Instead, he replied with the equivalent of “sounds good.” Time went by and nothing was happening, so I asked him if he was still into the idea. He said he was, but then one night he confessed that “only a sociopath would do something like that.” So, his inability to speak the language and truly partake in the negotiation caused him to initially agree to something he didn’t want to do.

Vagabond: Fuck! A side effect of his general ignorance about BDSM was that he subsequently shamed you for wanting to enact a fantasy!

Mimsy: That’s why a shared language is so important! Everyone needs to be able to communicate their desires, limits, and needs within an established, nonjudgmental framework.

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