Negotiation is the backbone of consensual BDSM practices. In fact, negotiation and consent are the primary way BDSM is distinguished from abuse. They are essential elements of kink play. Even so, negotiation is often glossed over, or sped through, even by experienced players. It’s a shame. Not only is negotiation one of the most valuable ways to keep yourself and your partner safe, when done correctly, it’s also part of the fun.

When you begin negotiation, you and your partner are building a fantasy together. You’re talking about what each of you desire and how to build an optimal experience. This sort of communication is the best way for the parties to get their needs met. It can be very sexy, too. Whether you start the conversation in person, by email, or text, it can be akin to flirting and dirty talk. You’re sorting through a whole world of possibilities and deciding what you’d like to do together. That’s exciting stuff!

Negotiate in Advance When Possible

It’s best to negotiate in advance when possible. Once you’re already naked and in bed (or in the dungeon), there’s too much pressure to rush through the process. Rushing is when important information gets missed. Also, it’s well documented that arousal can cloud your judgment. Set some time aside before you play and get your negotiation done right. You can allow the anticipation to build as part of foreplay.

Focus on the Connection

When you’re planning kink play, it can be easy to get lost in the details involved. First and foremost, remember to focus on the connection between you and your partner. Allow the kink play to act as a tool to facilitate intimacy rather than as the main event.

What Tone Do You Want to Set?

Think about the tone you want to set for your scene. Make sure that you’re both on the same page. If one person is looking for something sweet, with a little bondage and spanking to add a little spice, and the other is looking for an intense discipline scene, one or both people are going to be surprised and disappointed - and maybe even angry and hurt.

Set-Up a Kink Inventory List

When you’re talking about the specifics of what you’re going to do, a yes/no/maybe list or other kink inventory can be helpful. Lists like these can give you ideas you may not have had on your own. You may even become aware of kinks that you didn’t know existed.

While you’re thinking about what you want to do, make sure that you also think about what you don’t want to do. Your boundaries (sometimes called 'hard limits') are as essential to negotiate as the things you do want.

Many people have limits their partner might not expect (such as not touching feet or not using certain words) and nothing derails play faster than someone having a negative emotional response. Be sure to not only get these limits expressly stated, but discuss what to do if an unexpected emotional land-mine is hit. BDSM can tap into extreme vulnerability and sometimes people have a strong response. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but be sure you know if your partner wants to be comforted or left alone if something does come up.

Limits aren’t only about things you don’t want to happen. They might also revolve around how intense the play becomes. Not everyone wants pain with their kink. There are plenty of ways to engage in BDSM that don’t involve physical pain. If you are playing hard, make sure that you discuss marks and bruises, especially in areas that will be visible to others. Some people have a personal or professional life that isn’t compatible with visible bruises.

Establish a Safeword

Because some people engage in role play that might involve saying no or stop, it’s a good idea to establish a safeword. The traffic signal system is very common: green for yes, more please; yellow for slow down or check in; red for stop right away. You can think up something clever if you want. Just make sure it’s something you’ll both remember if/when the time comes.

Are You Going All the Way?

When engaging in BDSM, sexual touch or activity is not a given. Make sure that you explicitly negotiate whether this will be an aspect of the scene. If the answer is yes, then you need to define just how far it will go. Don’t forget to negotiate safer sex agreements while you’re at it. It’s never safe to assume that other people are on the same page as you when it comes to barrier use or any other aspect of safety.

Talk about Safety and Special Concerns

Speaking of safety, there are some special considerations when engaging in BDSM. You need to know if the person you’re playing with has any medical issues that could crop up during play. Asthma and diabetes are two common examples, but they’re far from the only ones. Find out what you need to do if the person you’re playing with has an issue during the scene. If they need something like an inhaler, make sure it’s within arm's reach when you play. Also take into consideration any injuries or stamina issues that may impact forms or duration of play. For example, if someone has a bad back, you might not want to put them in a strenuous hogtie.

Discuss Aftercare

Don’t forget to negotiate aftercare. For some people this is as simple as a glass of water, a piece of chocolate, and a warm blanket with a five minute snuggle. For others, they may take a couple hours or even all night to come down from an intense scene. Aftercare can continue for several days or more in some situations. Make sure to articulate if one or both people want check-ins by phone, email, or text in the coming days or even if they want to get together for a cup of coffee. Mismatched aftercare needs can be a deal-breaker if one person wants a lot of contact and the other isn’t willing to make that commitment.

This might seem like a lot to consider at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll see that it becomes second nature. Not only that, but when you get in the habit of negotiating BDSM play, those communication skills will carry over into other sexual and non-sexual situations. Which means that everyone is more likely to ask for, and even get, what they want.