The following questions are very basic kinds of information that tops/doms
often ask for during negotiations with bottoms/subs. Sometimes these
"negotiations" are spread out over many months and just crop up naturally
in ordinary conversation or flirtations. Other times the top conducts a
negotiation interview covering these topics shortly before playing.
(Some tops also include an activity questionnaire in such interviews.) It is
also common for the bottom to initiate the conversation by bringing up these questions.
Negotiation does not necessarily mean: "Ok, I will do this for you if
you will do that for me." It is a general term covering all manner of
topics that the prospective partners typically want to clear up in
advance of getting started in a scene so that they don't have to disrupt
their play with conversation that is not quite in the mood of the
scene. Of course, that doesn't mean that the bottom and top cannot
communicate about such things during the scene---and doing so is quite
common! But most people find it works best to get some things straight in
Many people find engaging in negotiations to be very hot preliminaries
before play. Often the bottom really enjoys being invited to talk so
intimately, and the top often enjoys listening and getting ideas.
Further discussion usually ensues. Negotiation is most often a form of flirtation and verbal foreplay, although the result of it is an agreement that also serves as a formal contract between the partners.
I ask whatever subset of these questions I think might apply to whatever I
am considering doing. If I skip something that suddenly becomes a
possibility mid-scene, I either don't do it or I ask about it quietly and
unobtrusively. Often an experienced bottom will offer the
answers without my asking. How and when these things get discussed is not
important so long as they are discussed. Re-discussing interesting parts of
the negotiated terms during aftercare and sometimes for a week or
months after a scene is also common, in my experience; as is changing the
terms of the negotiation---things that are originally off limits often
become tempting to the bottom as the relationship deepens or just as
the partners change over time.
There are lots of other good negotiation questions, I am sure, and this is
off the top of my head, so chances are I am leaving something out.
- Do you have any medical conditions I should know about? (Asthma: good
to keep the medicine nearby; knee conditions: not good to tie the bottom
for long periods standing up; jaw dislocations: no face-slapping or only
with extra care; problems with nerves in wrists: extra care/support in
binding wrists, or maybe no wrist bondage at all; STDs: extra safe-sex
- Do you have any particular places where you should not be hit or
flogged: any particular areas on you that are extra-sensitive, bad
pain, or unhealed injuries?
- Do you have any piercings I should be aware of? Are they healed?
- I usually don't ask this unless it becomes necessary to clean up a
spot of broken skin, but if you were doing a cutting or piercing you
would certainly ask it in advance: Do you have any allergies to
iodine (because many antibiotics like Betadine have iodine)?
- Do you have any emotional reactions or conditions that I should know
about, including a history of incest, rape, or abuse, flashbacks to
traumatic episodes, multiple personalities, or manic depression? Do you
have any emotional reactions to being hit with hands, belts, hairbrushes,
or other items possibly associated with punishment, with any traumatic
experience, or with anything else that is not someplace you want to be
remembering or reacting to in scene?
- What do you use as a safeword? What do the safewords you use mean to
you? (Especially "yellow" has variable meanings to different people) Do
you use any words like "No" or "Stop" to mean "Please do go on"? Have you
ever had an experience of losing your ability to safeword in a situation
that was not good for you?
- Is there anything you would like to tell me that is specifically off
limits? And, because tops have limits, too: if I think someone is
desperately expecting or hoping for me to do something that I will not do
for whatever reason, be it in general or with that person or at that time, I
try to clear that up before the scene.
- Are marks (black-and-blue marks, hickies, etc.) ok? Do marks need to
be below clothing lines?
- Is sexual touching ok?
- What safe sex considerations are we to take into account? (In many
communities, condoms are assumed not only for vaginal and anal
penetration, but also for oral sex. In some communities, latex
gloves are used for any sexual touching where fluids are involved,
and certainly if there are breaks in the top's finger skin they are
common. It is a good idea to ask rather than assume because customs
vary.) What exposures to STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) does
each partner represent?
- What constitutes sexual touching for you: breasts, nipples? external
touching of the genitals or anus? penetration? Is being naked ok?
- Do you have any negative emotional reactions to particular toys or
activities that you know of? (If I am thinking of exploring some
particular thing I know to occasionally upset people, I usually
name it here. Examples of things people occasionally react negatively to
include: knives, needles, ass-play, tickling, blindfolds, single-tail
whips.... If I forget to ask about something like this but then want to use
it in scene, I often let the bottom catch sight of it in scene before using it
in case it is not ok with the bottom.) How do you feel about exploring
controversial activities such as breath control or being beaten about the
- And my favorite questions, which really are the ones I ask first,
since unless there is a match here we never get as far as questions 1-7: What kinds of feelings and activities do you actively enjoy in
scene? Do you enjoy pain, service, bondage, spanking, punishment,
humiliation, fear or terror, resistance or overpowerment, fighting back,
mindfucks, verbal abuse, particular kinds of role-play imagery like
interrogations, being at school, age play, etc.? Is physical play part of a
power exchange experience for you, or is it a sensual experience between
equals with no exchange of power? What kind of experiences are exciting or
hot in your fantasy life or in play for you? Is play typically a sexual
experience for you or is it something else?
Also important to clear up are:
© 1997 non-famous Lauren
- Questions about both partners' experience levels, the kinds of play they
have done before, and discussion of the risks involved with playing in
whatever ways might come up. Negotiations with novices typically cover many
things that the top would not need to explain to experienced players.
(Similarly if it is the top that is a novice!) If I am going to try
something new for me as a top that is risky, I make sure the bottom knows it
is a new experience for me. In fact, for any activity I am thinking of
doing that is risky, I make sure the bottom understands whatever risks I
believe are present, even if they are unlikely to happen. I do not consider
consent to be given unless it is informed consent, and that means
understanding that there are risks and what they are.
- Questions about the person's other partners if they exist, and how those
partners feel about the person playing with someone else. I usually talk
with any primary partner or SO in advance of playing just to touch
base---it's a standard top's courtesy, and a damn good idea, to boot.
- Do either of the partners drink or do drugs? (Most players I know do
not ever mix alcohol and play because it dulls the senses and slows
reactions times; same for most, if not all, drugs, though a few specific kinds
of drugs are used occasionally in some play circles.) I personally will not
play with anyone, top or bottom, who is under the influence of any substance
at the time we are playing---I consider it too dangerous, not to mention not
- I often play in public at playparties with private or semi-private
space, so I might ask if the person has a preference, if the person has not
volunteered that information already. Often, though, where the play is to
occur is dictated by the nature of the scene itself or by when and where
the bottom and I are getting together.
- It is not a bad idea for a bottom to ask specifically about what the
top typically offers in terms of aftercare and followup discussions,
including time and energy commitments. As a top, I usually make my
potential time commitments known in advance; though also, I know that any
time I play there is a risk that I could have to do more aftercare and
followup than I anticipate. But there is a limit on the demands any
individual partner can make on me because I have prior commitments in my
life, and I consider it important for that to be cleared up if there is any
potential of expectations being out of synch.
- In my play circles, tops typically volunteer references of other
playpartners in advance, or the bottom asks for such references and
permission to inquire about the top before playing. Bottoming or subbing
to an unknown and unvouched-for top or dom is done cautiously, and it is
common for negotiations in such circumstances to include discussions of how
to increase the bottom's sense of safety (such as playing in public or with
a friend in a nearby room or at minimum with a friend expecting a phone
call from the bottom at a pre-specified time). Getting references is the
norm! This is one of the most astonishing surprises for those who
have not previously encountered the Scene Community---it is not common in
the vanilla world to go talk to a former lover of someone you want to make
love to, after all. But BDSM is not vanilla sex---it is physically and
emotionally risky stuff, and the customs differ for good reasons.