For many of those who live on the Dominant side of the fence, limits have a bad reputation. Limits are, of course, activities that one or the other partner in a BDSM relationship (and frankly, in a vanilla relationship as well) are not comfortable with, fear, or just plain will not do or participate in. Limits can exist around almost any situation or activity, but for illustration purposes a few, potential BDSM-related examples might include:
- no sharp objects (edgeplay) or activities that draw blood
- no latex (perhaps due to an allergy)
- no polyamorous activity (threesomes, swinging, etc.)
While Dominants can and do have limits, because they are the ones to steer the course of a relationship and decide the activities that the two partners engage in together, they can relatively easily avoid transgressing their own limits. The limits of the submissive partner, however, often come between a Dominant and a desired act or situation.
One can easily understand how this might cause frustration. “I want to do this, dammit!” the Dominant might think, “But that limit is in the way!” Because of this, some Dominants disdain limits and regard them as nothing more than an obstacle. “If only my partner didn’t have these limits,” they tell themselves, “then how much fun we could have!” This, however, is precisely the wrong attitude to take. There is nothing that promises more opportunity for fun and excitement within your relationship than discovering a limit within your partner. Limits are where the fun is.
I know perfectly well how counter-intuitive that statement sounds. However, it is true nonetheless. Let’s think about the topic of limits, and I’ll do my best to explain why I believe this to be so.
To begin, consider the statement above: “If only my partner didn’t have these limits, then how much fun we could have!” One way to test the validity of an idea is to take it to an extreme and decide if it remains true. In this case, consider the extreme case of a partner with literally no limits. What would a relationship with that partner be like?
Well, the most obvious thing is that the Dominant could do whatever they wanted to with their partner, and the submissive would willingly participate. Sounds great, right? But what would happen? Well, for one thing, the Dominant would very likely go straight to the places they want to go, skipping all the intermediate steps to get more quickly to their destination. If they were excited by the idea of pony play, for instance, there would be no reason not to go immediately into full regalia, with bit, bridle, tail, harness and a cart to pull all in place the very first time. After all, with no limits, why waste time on half measures? But once this fantasy has been enacted a time or two with no resistance encountered, it begins to lose it’s lustre. It starts to feel a bit “been there, done that”. When that happens, what do you do? Move on to the next fantasy, of course! But eventually, in a few months, perhaps, you and your compliant partner have covered all your fantasies, fully and completely. And at that point, boredom sets in.
You know what though? In our hypothetical scenario, boredom actually arrives much more quickly than that. Why? Because the excitement in a BDSM relationship does not spring so much from the activities that the two partners engage in together as it does from the feeling of Dominance and submission that exists between them. Dominance and submission are what makes the relationship electric! And in the example where the submissive partner has no limits, where exactly can the submission come from? To Dominate someone, one must compel them to do what you want, rather than what they want. In the circumstance where the submissive partner has no limits, then they are fine with whatever. Trying to Dominate them feels kinda like this:
Dom: “Slave, tonight I’m going to give you to the single-tail whip. Pray that it does not devour you with its fire!”
Sub: “Okay, sounds good.”
Dom: “How many lashes do you think you deserve? A dozen? Two dozen? How many do you think you can withstand?!?”
Sub: “Ummm…well, why don’t you just go until your arm gets tired and we’ll see how many that is?”
Obviously this is exaggerated, but hopefully it illustrates the point that Domination isn’t really possible without some sort of resistance, and submission isn’t really possible unless there’s something that the sub is afraid of, or intimidated by, or doesn’t believe they can handle…in other words, unless the submissive has a limit. With all limits removed, the submissive provides no resistance, and the D/s dynamic no longer exists.
When examined from the extreme perspective of a partner with no limits, the statement “If only my partner didn’t have these limits, then how much fun we could have!” proves to be false. In fact, it becomes apparent that the existence of limits underlies all D/s relationships and contributes greatly to the fun and excitement within them. It does so by providing a foundation against which to Dominate the submissive, and by slowing down the progress along the various paths of BDSM so that the couple can appreciate each individual step, rather than rushing headlong down the path to its end.
There are two additional contributions that limits provide, however. First, as they are approached, they trigger a heightened excitement that can release adrenaline within the submissive’s body, greatly increasing the impact of the adventure they are engaged in. The greatest state of arousal one can experience comes when taken just beyond one’s zone of comfort, and it is the limit that establishes the edge of that comfort zone.
Second, because limits mark the far boundaries of the submissive’s comfort zone, they act as signposts to direct the Dominant toward the types of activities that have the highest potential to thrill. A smart Dominant makes note of the limits their submissive partner reveals and then uses them as foils around which to design their scenes and adventures. It is never a good idea to charge headfirst down the path towards a limit, crashing into it at full force. That’s guaranteed to cause casualties. However, it is often a wonderful idea to sidle towards a limit sideways, or move gradually towards it, or circle around it and come up from behind. By doing so, a wise and careful Dominant can leverage the power the limit holds within it to enhance an adventure for both themselves and their submissive partner. And with patience, persistence, and a firm-but-gentle touch, sometimes the limit may be moved…or even overcome.
If you’re interested in reading more about limits, I wrote a series of posts about working with them awhile back. In the meantime, appreciate the limits that exist within your partner. As I said above, they are where the fun is…for both of you.