Tuesday, December 20, 2011

is it soft or is it hard?

Part of my mission in becoming a BDSM blogger was education.  As a 48 year old dominant who's been actively playing bondage and BDSM games for more than 30 years, I've already had more than my share of experience.  I haven't seen everything, frankly anyone who tells you they have seen and done it all is a liar, but I've seen enough to be able to provide solid information and advice to individuals interested in the BDSM lifestyle.

And, I may be old enough, not just to be a "Daddy" for some of the folk reading this blog, but to be their actual Father.  So, I know where the title is probably leading folks with dirty minds, they find themselves going into a realm with names like Cialis, Viagra & Levitra.

Thank goodness, that's not where this essay's headed.  Instead I'm talking today about the "soft" and "hard" that matter most for folks into BDSM, Soft Limits and Hard Limits.

You see, I wrote a short essay yesterday over on Tumbl.  The piece, about limits in BDSM, was really just a brainstorm that I expanded, polished a little, and turned into the post named sac·ro·sanct.  The essay was inspired by a lovely blog - bigirlfantasy.tumblr.com - created by, I think it's safe to assume, an equally lovely lady.

That afternoon, upon returning from my work day, I found a few different notes from a couple of other followers asking for more information about limits.  Readers wanted more details about Hard Limits, to better understand Soft Limits, to have complete definitions of both words, etc.  Limits are such a critical concept to the safe practice of BDSM, that I decided not to put off writing this post.

So, here goes . . .

Imagine the BDSM world as being like a transportation grid, picture it as being like the roads most of us drive each day.  In this analogy, limits are like your basic road signals and traffic signs.  From a most simplistic viewpoint, limits in BDSM are almost perfectly represented by the classic stoplight, showing red, yellow, and green indicators.

Bringing us to the point where I need to provide a definition.  According to the ubiquitous Wikipedia:
In BDSM, limits refer to those activities that participants in a BDSM scene feels strongly about, and to which special attention must be paid.
The road signal and sign analogy really does hold up well, they serve the same role as limits in BDSM.  When traffic engineers need to alert motorists to a hazard, get them to stop or slow down, or even let them know it's safe to speed up and get traffic moving, they use traffic signs and signals.  Limits provide similar direction to participants going down the BDSM road.

A Hard Limit is very much like a red light or stop sign.  Perhaps an even better analogy might be the kind of huge barriers that are sometimes put into place where a major highway completely ends.  A hard limit not only means - STOP - it literally means END OF THE ROAD.  There's no path at all on the other side of a hard limit barrier, and off-roading here is a capitol offense.
Hard Limit – something that must not be done. Violating a hard limit is often considered just cause for ending a scene or even a relationship. Examples include “scat is a hard limit for me” or “I have a back injury, so striking on the back is a hard limit”.
Yesterday's post was titled sac·ro·sanct to help indicate their inviolable nature.  Hard limits are sacred ground, the holiest of holy.  In my eyes, violating a hard limit is essentially a form of rape.  Ignoring a limit is a terrible violation, it is a criminal offense in my world.  It should be a capitol offense for a relationship, it's like the death penalty, no appeal.

The top things on a list of my personal hard limits are issues of consent.  There are truly extreme fetishes like necrophilia and pedophilia that turn my stomach, they are absolutely revolting.  Extreme racism and sexism are also a hard limits, perhaps they are personal rather than sexual.  If you really believe another race (or sex) is inferior and deserves to be enslaved, I'm not likely to hang out, even with clothes on.

If you want to have sexual activity with children or dead people, I'm calling the police.  If those are interests of yours, you'll lose my interest, you'll lose my friendship too, I'll have nothing to do with you.  If you believe in White Supremacy, or Black Supremacy, or that all women should be slaves, we have nothing to discuss and there are better places for me to be, thank you very much.

Funny though, I have no problem with Daddy/girl play or similar age role playing, as long as it's done between consenting adults.  If somebody wants to don an SS uniform and role play a scene, it doesn't bother me, the Nazi's may have been evil, but I won't deny their uniforms are powerful imagery.  The difference in every case is the ability to provide informed consent.

I have other similar hard limits.  Anything that causes lasting injury, physical or emotional, is obviously out of the question.  I'm personally not into scat, so if you want to do a scene that includes a Cleveland Steamer, I'm on the first train out of town.  Clearly, for health reasons, any close contact or form of unprotected sex with an individual who hasn't tested negative for serious transmittable disease, sexual or not, isn't going to happen.

While being true hard limits, the last examples don't lead to as extreme a feeling, they aren't such a hard limit as to require that I remove you from my Rolodex, cell phone, and email contact lists.  Hey, if you and your partner want to play with each other's shit, I probably won't have supper at your home, but we can chat.  I have compassion and sympathy for my fellow humans who have contracted disease of all kinds, I've been a caregiver for many.  I'll gladly help where I can with friendship, rides, home cooked meals, I'm just not having sex with sick folks.

Even in the extreme case where an individual might have a fetish for such an extreme body modification as to be beyond my ability to comprehend, a castration fetish is the one that comes to mind here, while being a hard limit of mine, isn't so extreme as to deserve my intolerance.  Hey if that's your fetish, and it is a real one folks, I've met at least one individual that went down that road an became a eunuch, we can still talk.  I can tell ya though, you won't be getting any where near my "junk."

So even within the category of hard limits there is some kind of gradient, from the abhorrent to the unthinkable to the undoable.  Just know that here a hard limit is like the old date rape adage - no really means no!  To use modern vernacular, hard limits are a no fly zone.  Dare to fly here and you'll be shot down, you'll crash in flames.

Obviously then, moving on to Soft Limits, we've moving further still upon the BDSM gradient of: Eeewww - Absolutely Not - Nope - I Don't Think So - I'll Think About It - Not Tonight - Maybe Later - OK - Sure - Yes - Oh Yes - Oh God - Fuck Yes!

As before, I'll use the Wikipedia definition as a basis for discussing this term:
Soft Limit – something that someone will do only in special circumstances or when highly aroused. Example - “I will only do anal sex with a very experienced partner”.
Another good example of a soft limit would be a scenario where a submissive might allow some light play at a party with an individual they don't know too well, knowing that with others around, and hopefully the presence of a responsible dungeon monitor, they are safe, but never consider going home with that individual until knowing them much longer and deeply.  That's just a form of common sense too.

Moving along that trust gradient, another somewhat less restrictive soft limit might be illustrated by considering a submissive that does go home with a dominant to play, but says they have a soft limit of no bondage when they are alone the first few times.  Again, this is common sense at work.  You may trust a dominant enough to spend time alone with them, but not quite enough that you wish to be restrained and made physically helpless.

Further still would be a soft limit regarding gags.  It's one thing to be bound and helpless but still able to cry out for help if the situation warranted it, it's another to be bound, helpless and mute, unable to cry out or even ask for mercy.  Once again here's that gradient, that slope, at work.  It makes sense to have soft limits while a BDSM relationship is built, just the same as with any other form of dating, or getting to know a potential partner.

Serafina is my slave/wife.  We live 24/7  in an almost total power exchange.  But she will not submit to anyone else.  In fact, if we ever play with others, I'm quite positive she'll be dominant to them, all the while forever more serving as my slave.  From my perspective, this is another form of soft limit.  I don't want to go too far with this particular analogy, because here we are entering into the realm of the "switch", and that's a topic best reserved for a post of it's own.

Obviously then, I also see soft limits as an appropriate way to define things I'll do with one partner, but no one else.  As a Master, I'm willing to consider playing with or training a special submissive, or even a couple.  But I do have a some soft limits, I reserve actual sexual intercourse for my slave/wife.  Oh there'd be plenty of sexual activity and orgasms, oral sex isn't out of the question, but there are a pair of activities I reserve only for my betrothed 

Another soft limit I'd impose upon such a relationship, is that any individual interested in serving here would need to serve my slave/wife too (there would be a hierarchy) - anyone not willing to serve and submit to us both simply wouldn't fit with my desires and my vision.

I have some devious fantasies to live out in this domain.  But, if that individual wanted to be fucked, they would need to beg me to direct my slave wife to screw them with a strap on.  If they needed the real thing, it might be negotiated, likely under my direction, but not me.

So in that sense, at least from my perspective, a very specific requirement for service by a dominant could be considered a soft limit.

Hard limits and soft limits are the most important concepts to take away from this post, but there are a couple of other "limit" type terms you might encounter.  I'll attempt to cover them very briefly.

"Must" limit – something that a person will not do the scene without. Examples include “lots of hair pulling is a must-limit for me” or “If you’re going to flog me, I’ll need lots of aftercare”.
Time limit – an amount of time after which play ceases.
No Limits – the dominant may do anything he or she cares to with the submissive. This is usually a sign of an inexperienced player who does not yet know what their limits are. In reality, even the most hardened and experienced players have limits. “No limits” play is more the stuff of porn and thriller movies than in actual, real-life BDSM. This is also sometimes used as a term for TPE or Total Power Exchange.
A must limit is essentially a very strong desire.  At it's most extreme, this enters the world of a serious fetish, where an individual is only capable of arousal if certain specific elements are present.  This is the realm of the so called "philia" - once considered to be a form of illness by the medical community.  Some consider BDSM itself to be a form of ritualized philia, and BDSM elements such as leather, latex, bondage, and discipline all originate from fetish behaviors.

Time Limits are common enough with all other things in life, that little further explanation is necessary here.  "You can play with me for an hour but then I have to get ready for work," or, "Ill go away with you this weekend but have to be back on Monday" are limits just as familiar to the vanilla world as to mine.

As stated over at wiki, "No Limits" play isn't real.  Someone might have an extreme fantasy of being flayed alive (flaying is another term for skinning) but where I come from fulfilling that request is called murder.  For some folks, it's fun to pretend there are no limits, but in the harsh cold reality of our lives, that is not real.

It's actually incorrect in my eyes to classify Total Power Exchange with the concept of no limits.  Total Power Exchange, TPE as it's called by some, isn't the total absence of limits.  The reality here is more along the lines of the submissive saying to the dominant - "I'll live within your limits," much more than it is saying that as partners they have no limits.

If you've been reading along, you've probably already realized that to be the case, because you know that sane dominants have limits too.  TPE may be living fully under the dominants direction 24/7, but because any rational dominant has things they won't do, there are always some limits.

Serafina and I consider ourselves to be a 24/7 TPE couple .  Some might quibble with that designation because Serafina has a safe-word, and in the eyes of more extreme power exchange advocates that's not real slavery.  Obviously, I disagree.

A safeword is simply a communication tool.  Safewords allow my slave/wife to communicate her physical and mental states to me, which is equally important to me whether the label submissive or slave is used to describe my wife.  As my slave/wife, Serafina is my most prized possession, and I always wish to provide well for her physical and mental well being.  Safewords help assure she's safe, even if we are exploring soft limits.

Safewords are similar to a global navigation device.  They can help me navigate the roads more smoothly, avoid detours, and prevent me from slamming into barriers.  As such, they will be the subject of a future post here at SpiritualBDSM.com.

Michael Samadhi

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