Limits are a fact of life. Every submissive has them. So does every dominant. In this post, let’s talk a little bit about what limits are, and then discuss what to do when you encounter them. In a subsequent post, I plan to cover some ideas for how to work with limits, either to make progress around them, to push them out, or even possibly to overcome them.

It’s probably easiest to describe limits via a metaphor, so let’s start with that. BDSM behavior usually falls into defined “tracks”. Each track has a starting point, where the behavior is moderate. The track then extends out from there, with the behavior getting more severe the farther out you go. An example track might be bondage, for instance, with the near end anchored in cute blindfolds and a silk scarf tying one partner’s hands behind their back. In the distance along that same track, you can see suspension, then full immobilization, mummification, etc. And in between the two extremes lies the whole spectrum of bondage-related activities, arranged in order of severity from least to most.

Side tracks branch off from the main track at various points, and each side track then extends out into the distance as well. So, in our example above, somewhere fairly close to the starting point a side track for rope bondage branches off, and a little farther out another side track for gagging shoots out. Side tracks may cross each other, rejoin the main track, or even intersect with an entirely different track at some point, making the whole vista of BDSM activity look sort of like a giant web.

Using this metaphor, a limit may be defined as a point on a track beyond which one partner or the other will not go, or beyond which the activity crosses over from thrilling to scary. If we look at the bondage track described above, an example might be as follows:

  • Joanne has discovered she enjoys being bound. Her partner, Stan, would like to introduce a gag into their play sessions. However, when he shows Joanne the ball gag he has purchased for her, she reacts very negatively, adamantly refuses to let him use it, and in fact, bursts into tears as they speak.

Joanne has a limit around gags and Stan has just run right into it. Unfortunately, it’s relatively common (especially for beginners) to encounter limits unexpectedly like this. Stan probably didn’t know that Joanne felt this way, and was therefore surprised by her reaction. It’s even possible that Joanne didn’t herself know about the limit!

Why does Joanne have this limit? Perhaps she’s read that people can choke while wearing a gag. Perhaps she had a previous bad experience involving one. Maybe she has a touch of claustrophobia, and the thought of a gag triggers it. Or maybe she’s worried that if she can’t talk, she won’t be able to use her safe word to stop a scene she doesn’t like. Let’s leave our “why” question for now (we’ll return to it in part two), and for the moment, just acknowledge the fact that the limit exists.

When a limit is set (either by encountering it as happened to Stan and Joanne or because it is stated or otherwise discovered in advance), it is important to recognize it and react appropriately. If you have encountered it unexpectedly mid-adventure, the first thing to do is back away! In our example, Stan needs to realize that Joanne has serious concerns about gags. He needs to put the gag away, let Joanne know he didn’t understand she felt like this, and assure her that he won’t use it in their adventure. With luck, they’ll be able to get back on course and enjoy themselves for the remainder of their session. And Stan should make a mental note about gags so that he can think about what to do with them in the future.

Once a limit is known, the partners must decide how to deal with it. It’s much more common for the limit to be encountered within the submissive partner, but even if it’s within the dominant partner, the decision must be made, and the process is essentially the same.

The easiest course of action is simply to recognize the limit, allow it to exist, and stay away from it. Perhaps Stan just thought trying a gag would be fun, and he has no great attachment to the idea. In this case, he could simply put the gag away in a drawer and forget about it. Going back to our metaphor, this would mean that the gag track is closed to Stan and Joanne, and they’ve agreed that this is okay. And realistically, there are so many other tracks available that closing one off isn’t really very restrictive. Recall that gags is a branch off the main bondage track, and it’s easily possible to continue to make progress down that main track and ignore the closed side road.

There are several reasons, however, why Stan (and whether she realizes it or not, Joanne) may prefer not to take this easy route. Those reasons are:

  1. Limits may sometimes be set because activity is perceived to be “taboo” or out of the norm. In this case, exploring the limit may be highly fruitful for both parties! For instance, many women perceive anal sex to be taboo, but if they allow themselves to try it, discover they enjoy it very much.
  2. Limits may be set out of misperception or inaccurate information. Again, exploration may prove fruitful for both parties. For example, Joanne may have a fear that the gag will make her choke. If she tries it out and finds that it does not, she may be able to overcome her fear.
  3. Approaching close to a limit, but not actually running up against it, can be immensely thrilling as there is a sense of perceived risk and adrenaline starts to flow. Leveraging this effect requires a delicate balance, as one needs to come close enough to the limit to heighten excitement, but not so close as to trigger fear. If one partner has a limit around spanking, for instance, the other might caress them with a paddle, but never actually use it to spank them.
  4. The engine that lends BDSM its power is dominance and submission. Dominance and submission involve a voluntary exchange of power from submissive partner to dominant partner. When one partner (eventually) surrenders to the other and allows themselves to be taken up to or past a limit, it greatly reinforces the dominant and submissive aspects of the relationship and provides a great burst of excitement and energy. Sex can be extraordinarily good when one partner willingly accedes to accompanying the other past their limit.
  5. So what do Stan and Joanne do if they decide to forego the easy route? They decide to work with the limit, and the process to do that will be laid out in the next post…

    Enjoy Yourself!

    Jake

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