How to Get What You Want From Scene Negotiation

Turn the kinky pre-discussion into a successful play session

By Tess Dagger • 9 min read • ENGLISH

We’ve all seen the scene on the big screen trailer. It’s 2015, and Dakota Johnson is sitting across from Jamie Dornan in a dimly lit room reviewing a contract. She cites articles and sections with things like fisting, butt plugs, and suspension, crossing things out, and adding addendums. There’s wine and dinner, and the table is unnecessarily long. The conversation is terse, probably in an attempt to show the sexual tension underneath the rather dry discussion of sex acts on the page.


Scene negotiation can be many things, but it should never, ever be boring. You’re discussing your wants with a play partner, and if other articles I’ve written are any indicator, communication is hot. So why is this scene so…not?

Let’s talk about what exactly we are attempting to do with scene negotiation.

1. We’re informing our play partner of any important limits we may have, whether they be medical, psychological, or just plain nuh-uh.

2. We’re learning about our partner’s limits, within all the same considerations.

3. We’re expressing what we would enjoy experiencing in play.

4. We’re learning what our partner would enjoy in play.

5. We’re making a plan in case things go wrong.

That’s it.

Whoa, whoa, that’s it? But there’s so much more to discuss than that!

Yes, and no. All the information that we need is in those five pieces of discussion. The nitty-gritty details can be included in this list, they’re simply contained in the framework of the criteria.

Jay Wiseman, a man who knows his way around negotiation, breaks this system down in a much longer form that, for him, is still self-described as needing only five to ten minutes. His system is still a 16 point checklist that requires an entire mnemonic to remember. There are guides all over the internet from experienced players on what to negotiate, and they are all worth a look. My personal favorite, written by Cross of Colorado CAL, breaks down negotiation topics with the much less verbose mnemonic; LIMITS — logistics, individual roles, marks/lasting effects, injuries/illness, triggers/psychological considerations, and safety/safewords.

Even though many guides are willing to tell you the what, we don’t often delve into the how, and that’s often where I find success in my scenes.

Be experience inclusive rather than experience exclusive

The number of times people have come to me to negotiate and started out the gate with, I don’t do blood or needles, has been jarring. A quick scan of my Fetlife profile will give an understandable reason why — most of my pictures are bloody or have something shoved into my skin somewhere. I enjoy it greatly, but it’s not the only way I play.

Already, the idea that we have to find out exactly what we must exclude from play feels like I’ll forever be treading on the eggshells of another’s hard limits. There are good reasons to cite hard limits — in the throes of something hot, one may accidentally do something they find sexy that triggers another person and shuts off the scene entirely. This has happened to me before, and others I know as well.

However, I’ve found that I’ve had a 100% success rate negotiating scenes where my partner and I have discussed the things we’re excited to try first, and find the intersections of our excitement before we listed the hard limits. The key was that we were both holding these intersections in our minds as we played, and we didn’t feel the need to stray outside of them. Why push the limits when we already knew what would make a streamlined scene between two people? We would become so engrossed in what we were doing, we didn’t feel the need to add anything on top of that. And that’s ok.

In the instances where we couldn’t hold all that information at once, we used a whiteboard system. Hard limits were written on the board under our names, and a glance was the only reminder we needed to make sure we weren’t about to cross a line.

Inclusivity also builds the idea that the play is sexy and wanted, rather than the feeling that you’re about to enter a precarious situation. Would you rather your partner be hot and bothered for what you’re about to do, or nervous about all the lines they could potentially cross with you?

I am not saying that you should not discuss hard limits or be concerned about crossing the limits of your partner. Of course, you should be discussing these things, but, the tone and emphasis can make a great deal of impact on howyou negotiate, and that can carry over into how you play.

Know the difference between ‘oops’ and ‘consent violation’

Ok, I know. This one’s hard.

Not only that, this is a highly difficult subject to discuss without treading on someone’s toes. When a person feels violated, that’s a horrible and awful feeling that can be all-encompassing. All too often, in a BDSM scenario, it can feel world-shattering. Nobody—and I mean nobody—deserves to feel that way.

However, in our most raw moments, we should consider what oops can mean and what a consent violation truly looks like.

An obvious oops could be something like a chip in a glass dildo (ouch!) or a mismanaged suspension line (happens to the best of us). There’s a clear disruption of flow in the play when these kinds of things happen, and once they’re addressed, they can be resolved in the scene. It can also look like the forgetting of a personal limit, but respecting the safeword once it’s become clear that they’ve strayed into the wrong territory and checking in afterward.

A clear consent violation is an ignoring of a safeword, blatant use of hard limits directly after discussing them, or a repeat offense after having addressed it before. Any person that does this is a danger to others. A fast way to drain my faith in somebody is to hear them defend an action that clearly hurt another person.

Unfortunately, not all play is so clear. We may stray into realms of non-negotiated play, or push through a moment of discomfort that walks the line of our limits. A moment of negligence may end up in a scene going badly, and the negligence can be borne of anything from absent-mindedness to ego. Consensual non-consent and edge play can directly utilize this discomfort, this toeing of the line. Sometimes the divide between a perfect scene and a disaster is razor-thin.

We are humans, we are messy, and we are far from perfect.

So where can we find the mental balance to accept oops and reject danger?

1. Be open-minded that people can be sloppy out of nervousness, forgetfulness, or newness, and know that communication is your best tool to counter that.

2. Mitigate uncertain scenarios by eliminating all edgeplay with newer partners, and utilize inclusive negotiations — stick with the things you know you want rather than what you may want!

3. Try the stoplight system — instead of just a safeword, have a yellow or slow-down-word as well to keep people from straying too far into play you’re not comfortable with.

4. Always do a post scene check-in, but go one step further — do a one-week-later check-in and see how both parties feel then.

5. Recognize the behavior of somebody who may not own up to mistakes — defensiveness, an overreaching of their skill in play, and a constant rotation of new play partners.

If something does go wrong, schedule a time to sit and talk about it in a safe space. A responsible play partner will always be grateful for an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and will genuinely care about your well-being in the process.

Let go of your expectations for your ‘perfect scene’

I’m guilty of this one, 1000%!

SO many times have I imagined a perfectly placed flesh-hook, a beautifully timed slap, a lovely lifting of the chin and staring in the eyes…it goes on and on. We are playing to our fantasies, and we want them fulfilled to whatever extent we can. Otherwise, why are we even here?

The truth is, some of the hottest play I’ve ever engaged in is when I dropped my perfect image of the scene I’d cooked up with my play partner and just let things flow, with zero expectations.

We’re prone to expectations, and while they can be good, there’s something wondrous about setting a playdate with somebody whom you know and having no idea what they’ll do to you—or being spontaneous in what you’ll do to them.

Further, this opens an experimental mindset; one where oops can become oooh! in no time flat. When I trust myself to assert my boundaries within a scene, it allows for spontaneity, and a good portion of the time I wind up discovering something new about myself.

But Tess, weren’t you just telling us not to play unnecessarily outside of our comfort zones? Isn’t that how you stay safe and have successful scenes?

As with most things, this falls into the realm of it depends. How well do you know and trust your play partner? What is your bandwidth for the unexpected today? Do you feel ready for something potentially new?

With each new play partner, we open an exciting door to a new dynamic. But with each existing partnership, we develop the potential for deeper and more intense exchange. Sometimes, in these cases, we find a new edge, a new boundary, or at the best of times, a new door.

Time changes things, and negotiations are no exception to that rule. My style of navigating pre-scene talks has changed almost as much as Kelly Osbourne’s hair. And in that time, I’ve found that each person has a negotiating style that works best for them.

Between mnemonics, checklists, pre-play jitters, and delightful anticipation, it’s a wonder that we communicate anything clearly at all. But here’s to hoping that, for all the how-to’s in the world, there’s one that works best for you. And, if you find the one that also brings the most enjoyment from your scenes, then that’s the best a kinkster can get.

As always, be safe, sane, and consensual. But most importantly, be yourself.


Tess Dagger | Writer for SPNKD

BDSM enthusiast and former sex worker

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