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Negotiation in its broadest sense can include almost any process by which two or more people work out the terms on which they will deal with each other. This article deals with the negotiation between a pair of people, especially a Dominant and a submissive or a top and a bottom, over aspects of either their lifestyle or of a specific scene. The SSC approach to BDSM more or less requires that negotiation take place explicitly. Negotiation is, more often than not, an ongoing process between two partners that often changes and adapts to circumstances.

Every relationship has its terms, and part of consensuality is that those terms be made explicit. This is particularly important in BDSM relationships.

Most obviously, negotiation is how a Dominant/top can learn the limits of a submissive/bottom, but it also can cover a lot of other ground. For starters, tops have limits, too, whether it be "Yes I'm glad to whip you, but no, I will not dress you up in women's clothing first" or "Don't ever mention either of our mothers during a scene". Also, negotiation can be about positive needs as well as limits: "Please, I really like to be hand-spanked, if you can do that every night when I come home from the office, I'm yours" or "I like it when you call me your little pussy".

There are a lot of ways to negotiate. Normally, it is done through conversation, but people who play with a lot of different partners have been known to create erotic resumés for themselves and questionnaires for their partners.

And then there is negotiating in scene. This works especially well when a more experienced Dom is playing with a less experienced sub. In physical play, one can slowly move toward more intense forms of an activity, checking in continually to see if you are approaching limits. Or, especially for D/s, negotiation itself can be made into a scene. For example, a Dom can start out by giving the new sub a safeword, and then negotiate by interrogation.


The negotiation of limits between partners is most important, especially before entertaining the idea of a contract.

Points to negotiate

Jay Wiseman suggests the following list in his book SM 101.

  • The people involved: Whow will take part.
  • Roles: Who is the dominant, who the sub, will they switch, is there any roleplay.
  • Place: Where will the scene take place.
  • Time: When and for how long will it last.
  • What could go wrong: Discuss the risks and safety.
  • Limits: What are the submissives hard limits, what can be pushed, any medical problems
  • Sex: Will sex take place, if so can it be masturbation, oral sex, or Sexual intercourse.
  • Intoxicants: can any party use drugs of any sort, if so then how much.
  • Bondage: Any issues with bondage. Can the sub take gags or hoods.
  • Pain: Can the sub take pain, are they OK with being beaten, whipped, clamped, or have electrics used on them.
  • Marks: Can the top mark the sub (e.g. cane marks).
  • Humiliation: Is the sub OK with verbal humiliation, is it a turn on or turn off, what about watersports and more extreme humiliation.
  • Safewords: what to use, agree any non-verbal communication.
  • Opportunities: Anything either person has always wanted to try, or considers themself good at and might interest the other.
  • Follow-up: Agree time to unwind after the scene. Does either person want to meet up at a later date. what happens if someone has emotional difficulties later.
  • Anything else: AOB!

See Also

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