Negotiating Play

This week’s outstanding guest post comes from one of my favorite sex educators, Dawn Serra the co-host of Sex Gets Real, a twice monthly sex and relationship podcast. I have referred many of my sex positive and kinky clients to her blog and site.  She is currently writing a book on her sexual adventures in kink and navigating the wild world of hook-up sites. She will also be hosting From Curious to Kinky, a series of newbie workshops on exploring the naughtier side of sex, beginning Summer 2014.  Check out her site: or SexGetsReal on Facebook & Twitter

Maintaining eroticism and sexual interest in a relationship can be challenging. Some couples find that exploring fantasies and engaging in kinky play adds a great deal of excitement, freedom, and release to their intimate exchanges.

The foundation of edge play and kinky scenes is a safe space for both parties to be completely honest and accepted within which they can negotiate a hot, sexy scene.

Before we get into the how, let’s talk about a few important points that help lay the foundation for getting started.

Negotiating Play

First, negotiation should be open, supportive, loving, and judgment-free.

No wrinkled noses or using that information later in fights. Nothing is shared with outside parties. This is between you and your lover(s), and it’s an act of trust. Negotiation is a framework allowing tons of freedom inside of that frame for fun, adventurous, safe exploration.

Second, consent is mandatory for all sexual activity.

When lovers negotiate a scene, consent is part of that process. Coercion, intimidation, withheld approval, and disappointment should never enter into this safe space. All parties involved must be seen as equals. Even if power exchange is on the table, during the discussion, everyone has an equal say and an equal vote on the activities and outcomes.

Third, negotiation may sound terribly formal, but the process itself can be wonderfully sexy, erotic, and hot.

Also, it doesn’t have take more than a few minutes (unless you’re negotiating something complex, dangerous, or completely new – those negotiations can take place over the course of weeks or months).

The golden rule of negotiating a scene:

If someone rejects a fantasy during a negotiation, it is a rejection in that moment for that scene. It is not a rejection of you, and it is not a no-never-ever unless expressly framed that way.

So, how do you negotiate in a playful, healthy way?

Begin with using “I” statements.

You must take responsibility for what you want, even if that feels vulnerable or scary.

“I would like to be spanked today.”
“I want to get tied up and blindfolded.”
“I would like to explore rape play.”
“I need to have an orgasm tonight.”

When you fully own your desires and needs without putting any pressure or ownership on your partner, it means your partner doesn’t feel like a failure if they can’t, or don’t want to, do a particular activity that night.

Both (or all) parties must participate in the negotiation. It’s not a dictatorship; it’s a fun exchange.

How Negotiation Works

Next, everyone takes turns stating their needs and desires for that particular scene, followed by a sharing of hard and soft limits (or, things you absolutely will NOT do and things you aren’t comfortable with but may consider). Listen without speaking. After each person talks, do a little clarification before moving on.

Lover 1 – “I’d love to feel a hand on my throat tonight. And I need a lot of eye contact, I need it to be intense.”

Lover 2 – “Do you want to be choked, or do you just want a hand around your neck?”

Lover 1 – “A firm grip is fine, but I don’t want to struggle for air.”

Lover 2 – “Hmmmm. I can definitely do that. I would love to try some knife play. I really want to feel possessive and feral.”

Lover 1 – “Tell me what you mean by knife play. Will you hold a blade near me or are you thinking something more intense?”

Lover 2 – “It would be hot to lightly run it over your skin.”

Lover 1 – “I don’t want cutting or marks, and no pain.”

Lover 2 – “OK. But touching you with the knife is OK?”

Lover 1 – “Yes, as long as I’m not cut or marked. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the knife when we’re actually doing this, though. Also, no pain with choking.”

Lover 2 – “That’s OK. What word will you say if you get nervous and want me to slow down? And what word will you use if you want me to stop completely?”

Lover 1 – “Um. Let’s keep it simple. Yellow if I’m getting nervous or unsure. Red if I need things to stop so we can check in.”

Imagine sitting against your lover, feeling the heat grow, and the arousal set in as you build a sexy, intense scene together. From start to finish, the exchange can take less than 5 minutes, and both parties will have a pretty clear idea of what’s going to happen.

Negotiation skills take practice. It will be awkward at first, but after a few rounds, you’ll find that articulating needs, desires, and limits flows freely. You’ll find boundaries expand as trust is built and experience is developed.

It’s critical that you avoid the trap of thinking that a rejection of a desire or a need means it will never happen. Stay in the moment, be loving and supportive, and realize that limits do shift and change as time passes.

There’s no rush.

One final word of caution – never, ever re-negotiate in the middle of a scene. That is not only wildly dangerous and unfair, but confusing, especially if power is being exchanged.

Let’s say partners agree to a scene with no penetrative sex. Maybe they are playing with emotions or someone’s body is sore. Whatever the reason, that’s the agreement going in.

However during the scene, one partner is caught with emotion, or just really loves dirty talk. Right in the middle of being tickled or tied up, they call out, “I want you to fuck me” because it’s hot and sexy and it ramps things up. They still need to be safe in the knowledge that the limit set up prior to the scene will be honored.

Even if a person really does want to change the limit mid-scene, it’s better to stick to the pre-established rules.

That ensures that everyone is emotionally safe, and avoids feelings of regret, shame, or violation. It’s better to have a frustrated partner than a wounded one.

Remember, there is no rush.  You can always negotiate the fantasy you had mid-scene later.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little embarrassed or shy at first. Edge play is edgy. It’s risky – both physically and emotionally. But, if lovers can be vulnerable with each other, and explore those dark places, incredibly hot and exciting things can unfold.

Happy negotiating!

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

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