Negotiation for Play

What is negotiation?
Negotiation is a collaborative discussion that happens before play – think of it as the prologue. It is a chance to talk about what is going to happen, how it will happen, and also why (intent). It is important to find common ground to ensure all parties have a fun, safe time.

Regardless of the power dynamic or what your role is, do not be afraid to speak up and share your desires, needs, and concerns. Negotiation is not about dom/mes, masters, tops, and other roles on the left side of the slash telling submissives, slaves, bottoms and other roles on the right side of the slash what is going to happen – both parties must agree. This is not an an opportunity for those in a position of power to take advantage of or manipulate someone. Negotiation is an important step in discovering mutual interests, limits and boundaries, and is an essential skill that gets easier the more you do it.

Why do it:
-to set expectations
-to establish limits and boundaries
-to ensure safer play
-to communicate intent
-to obtain consent

Some people like to start negotiating well in advance, some do it on the spot. It can be a very long and detailed process or very quick and casual, dependant upon a few factors, such as how well the people know each other or the complexity of the play. For those exploring power exchange, negotiation is a good time to temporarily suspend any roles, rules or protocols that might affect or interfere with the process.

There are two main approaches to negotiation: inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive is when all parties state and agree on specifically what can happen, and anything that is not agreed to is off the table. Exclusive is the opposite – all parties state and agree to what can not happen, meaning that anything else is on the table. The drawback to exclusive negotiation is that it leaves too many things open to the imagination.

A negotiation will cover things like:
-what kind of play will happen and who will do what and when
-what kind of experience do you each want
-how do you want to feel
-how will the other person know you’re having a good time (non-verbal body cues)
-what toys will be used
-if sex is on the table, how do you each define sex
-are marks ok
-are there any existing medical conditions that may affect play
-what kind of aftercare is needed

Always negotiate in good faith (be honest and sincere!) and keep your expectations realistic and fair. And keep in mind that negotiation is not an obligation – if you do not feel safe, that you are being coerced, or that the play is not what you are looking for, say no.

If negotiation is the prologue, aftercare is the epilogue. This is a chance to come down from your play and make sure everyone is ok. The type and length of aftercare should be part of your negotiation. Some people need a lot, some people do not need any. Aftercare might include things like cuddling, cleaning up, sharing a treat, a massage, or just sitting quietly.

Follow-up (checking in with each other) may happen the same day, the next day, or ongoing for weeks later. Think of follow-up as a debriefing: it is an opportunity to discuss things like, did all parties have a good time? Does anyone have lingering physical issues? Is there anything that went amiss? Would you play together again?

BDSM Checklists
Play checklists are a good way to take inventory of your likes and dislikes, and possibly come across something new you would like to try. It is an easy way to share what you want and do not want to do. It may be a simple yes/no list, but others may ask:

-Have tried – liked
-Have tried – did not like
-Would like to try
-Do not want to try

Here are some examples of checklists:
A very thorough 200 question checklist:
Jay Wiseman’s form based on 16 ‘aspects’ of play:
This one was written specificially for those who identify as submissive, but the list can be filled out by anyone: