The Limits of Hard Limits
The Deviant Nerd
Brought to you by Arrested Restraints; with prices that won’t hold you back on the things that hold you down.
So I just had a BDSM scene with a new top that went wrong and don’t know what to do about it. Before we began, when we were talking about limits, I told him that I was fine with being spanked, flogged, and beaten, but I didn’t want to break skin. I hate blood—just the sight of it makes me sick—and I’m paranoid about anyone at my job or normal life seeing marks or scars, which is why breaking skin is a hard-no for me.
But, during the scene, while the top was beating me with a knotted flogger, everything was great until he broke skin. The second I felt blood on my upper shoulder, I told him to stop. He did and apologized, but I was still pissed that he broke skin on my shoulder—a place where I’ll have to wear high-backed shirts to cover it until it heals—after I specifically asked him not to.
He keeps trying to call me, asking me why I won’t talk to him, which just makes me madder. It’s like the kinky equivalent of a hickey! It’s infuriating that I have to worry about hiding the marks just because he couldn’t be more careful.
I want to call him and yell at him, but I don’t know what to tell him. What should I say?
– Hard-No Means No
Pip: Hey Hard-No,
Honestly, Hard-No, if I were you, I’d call him back, thank him, and apologize. Here’s why.
First off, massive props and enthusiastic back-pats for you and the top for negotiating limits beforehand. It’s always a good idea to get to know where each other’s limits are before the toy bag is ever brought out.
Because everyone’s got ’em. And well they should. Limits are good things to have. As humans, we work well with limits and boundaries.
But, here’s the thing, we all have to choose our limits wisely.
Hard limits are limits that are non-negotiable. These are things that end scenes and relationships. Which means they have to be controllable.
In BDSM, you can have the hard limit of no water sports fairly easily. Don’t piss on me. It’s hard to go through the normal course of a scene and—Opps!—pee on someone. Same thing goes for penetrative sex (Opps! I spanked your ass a little too hard with my cock?). Cutting (Opps! I picked up my knife thinking it was a flogger?). Spanking (Opps! That’s not rope.). Rope and restraints (Opps! That’s not spanking.). Kink is a wide and varied world and you can avoid a lot of things very easily.
Breaking skin on the other hand...
Breaking skin is usually not the goal in kink, but it’s a reasonable risk you run, especially if you’re into heavy sensation play like flogging and beating. And, from your description, it doesn’t sound like there was a lot of damage and he stopped when you asked him to. There’s actually not a whole lot more a top can do than that.
And, I get it, you made a point that to tell him that you didn’t want marks that broke skin but, as the bottom, it was your responsibility—more than anyone’s—to make sure that your limits were respected. It’s an admirable trait and the ultimate goal for a top to be able to read their bottoms perfectly, but that’s something that comes with time, experience, and lots of joint play together as partners. It’s not something that anyone has the right to expect in their first scene together.
As the bottom, you know the type of play you like, you know what your body can and cannot take, and only you know when something happening in the scene feels good and when it doesn’t, so you have to be the one with your foot on the BDSM break. You have to be your own advocate because it’s a bad idea to expect someone else to be because, even under the best circumstances, no one can read you better than you can.
And, if breaking skin and leaving marks is a hard limit for you, that means you should never have been playing with a knotted flogger or asking to be beaten. A hard limit like that is going to drastically change your style of play. In order, to fully, 100% guarantee that no kind of injury is caused, you have to agree to keeping it really light. Which is doable and common; the likelihood of drawing blood from light BDSM play is really slim.
But, with light play, chances are good you won’t be playing with toys capable of drawing blood. Chances are also really good that you won’t be engaging in play that involves hitting, striking, whipping, flogging, or anything that has the chance of drawing blood. Your play will look completely different than the kind of play that accepts breaking skin and drawing some amount of blood as an expectable risk.
Like you, I’m not a fan of blood—I don’t even like to see it in the movies—so, yeah, purposefully intending to draw blood is a hard limit for me. I don’t do blood play. I don’t do knife play. I’m good about gauging exactly where my limits are so, I'll stop or pause scenes if I think skin might have broken.
But I’ve had skin break. I’ve had blood drawn. It happens. It is a risk that I accept in order to do the intense sensation play that I love.
To act as if one can enjoy kink without risk is a little ridiculous. Part of what makes kink fun—what makes it kink—is that it carries some amount of risk. That’s part of its charge. If all risk is erased, if you’ve controlled and sanitized it to the point of complete safety, you’ve taken kink to a place past vanilla. Because if I’m asking to be beaten but I can’t accept even the possibility of blood, one has to wonder, do I know the meaning of the word “beaten?”
You can’t actually have both. Can’t be beaten—can’t enjoy the experience of it—without also accepting at least the possibility of damage. You can mitigate how much. You can put in place safety nets and fail safes to minimize risk. And everyone really should; it’s why we play by SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual) and RAC (Risk-Aware, Consensual) rules. But, in order to completely eliminate the possibility of your hard limit about breaking skin, you have to accept that “being beaten” has become a default hard limit.
And to set such a limit but still engage consensually in play that involves that risk and then blame the other person involved when that risk is realized, that’s irresponsible, illogical, and mean. You consented. You accepted your hard limit as an acceptable risk by consenting. When an expectable risk happens, you are now partially to blame. You actually hold most of the blame. Because it was your limit, it was your risk, and you still—with full-knowledge and fully informed-consent—went through with it.
How is this all someone else’s fault?
Let’s take my favorite example. A week before my friend’s wedding, I went to Donovan’s “Flights of Fancy” play party. I hadn’t intended to play much that night. I was mostly there for atmosphere and social time. But there was a hot, completely drool-worthy Dom there who liked to play rough. So I played. I’d told him that I didn’t want marks because I was about to go to wedding in a strapless dress (hard limit established). But, as we played, we both got really into it and lost our heads (mitigating event). So the play got rougher and rougher and in places where marks would be seen (hard limit broken). And at no time did I stop him (missed window). In fact, I encouraged it (my fault). Which meant I ended up with bruises and marks all over my body (screwed). I remember him apologizing to me afterward, saying that he got caught up in the moment (takes on blame) and I told him I got caught up too (also takes blame) and that it was fine, that I’d figure out some way to work it out. So bought a new dress, made plans to play with the hot Dom again sometime when I didn’t have a wedding to go to a week later, and thought the whole experience well worth the additional cost.
– Pip, Your Resident Deviant Nerd
* If you have a sex, kink, love, or life question for The Deviant Nerd, email Pip at PipJones.DeviantNerd@gmail.com.
And read more about Pip’s story in Brought to You By.