Emotional Safety: Negotiating

So, I usually don’t write. Maybe because I feel not insightful or important enough. Maybe because I don’t feel like I am very good at it. Either way, I want to make this exception because it is a topic that is very dear to me.

As a rope space facilitator, people often ask me about the risks of nerve damage. This is all fine and well and yet it often feels strange to me. Because nobody ever asks me about consent, negotiation or other emotional safety aspects. So, I answer all their questions and feel like I lied to them, because I only told them half the truth.

What good is it to know about the risks of nerve damage (something that, in my experience, rarely occurs outside of suspension or metal bondage) when people are meeting strangers from the internet at the same time? I am looking at you, Tinder, FetLife, etc…
The stories of somebody experiencing nerve damage are few and spectacular while stories of something “not feeling right”, feeling really down, confused, heartbroken, etc. after a session or somebody just being creepy seem to be a constant noise level that is considered normal.

I know, emotions are messy and negotiation is an imperfect science, but maybe someday emotional trouble and injuries will be a rare occurrence just like injured nerves.

I want to introduce five concepts to you, that seem to have developed in my mind:
(They have highly scientific names and are totally not made up on the spot…)

  1. Four areas of negotiation
  2. Three phases of negotiation
  3. Abstraction layers
  4. Tagesverfassung or Daily Mood
  5. PDCA (not mine, still useful)

I have not done explicit literary search. I am a practitioner, not a sex educator or scholar, so sorry if it feels stolen/redundant/old.
Use and adapt as you like.

Four areas of negotiation

So, there are four areas I like to cover during my negotiations:

  1. Emotional
    This covers any emotional needs and desires.
    Why do you want to play? What do you want to feel? What are your kernel kinks? How are you feeling today? What do you need for aftercare? What are your likes/dislikes, etc.
  2. Corporal
    Anything to do with the body.
    Are there any injuries or illnesses? Where do you want to be and don’t want to be touched? Are you into pain? How much?
  3. Psychological
    This covers the personality, mental health and relationships.
    Is there anything that you are afraid of or that might make you panic? Do or did you ever have trouble using a safe word? What do you need to feel safe? What are your expectations for us? Do you have other partners? Is jealousy an issue?
  4. Sexual
    By now you should have a pretty clear picture and are ready for sexual questions. (Don’t start with these, you creep…)
    What are your desires? How sexual do you want this to become? How do you want to deal with horniness?

These are just some examples of questions one could ask. Which questions to ask actually depends on a lot of different factors like your own experiences, how well you know the other person already, etc.
But having these four areas in mind helps me getting a well-rounded picture instead of going down a rabbit hole.

Three phases of negotiation

Similarly, there are three times for negotiating:

  1. Before
    Classic. We talk about what we want to do and then we do what we agree on.
  2. During
    Now this is a tough one (and would deserve a whole text on its own). Some people don’t want to renegotiate during play, because once they are horny, they want ALL THE THINGS. Other people want the flexibility of adapting to the mood and desires that arise during play. Please find out what works best for you. What should always be possible is to exclude things during play, because they do not feel right/desired.
  3. After
    For many, a normal part of any good aftercare (which is a process and can last minutes, hours or days), this is the perfect opportunity to talk about how things went, what felt great and what didn’t and what to change in the future, if future sessions can be expected. If you had a bad session, you can’t change that, but you can change how you deal with it and what to learn from it. Talking about bad experiences and making your partner feel heard and understood goes a long way in making a bad experience less bad.

Abstraction layers

Some people like talking. For some people, that means they want to talk about everything any anything that might happen, how to deal with it, etc.
Some people like feeling. They want to be live in the moment or even be surprised by what might happen.
Usually this does not match well. I had partners who were turned off after all the negotiating and I had partners who loved the diligence and safety of long negotiations.
I believe that both ways are fine and equally valid, so please talk about how detailed you want to negotiate (Maybe this should be the first item on the list…). This could range from agreeing on touching/kissing/biting/using which toys exactly where and exactly how to saying “Let’s just do bondage and wing it”. It is up to you. If you both agree to leave some things open, something good or bad might happen (as always), but at least there was a common understanding and risk acceptance.

Daily mood

I usually call it the Tagesverfassung or daily mood.
Maybe you had a bad day and want something different than usually, maybe not.
Similar to hard and soft limits, some of our needs and desires are quite permanent, while others are temporary. If I have a recent injury, some things might be off-limits that are usually not. If I had a bad day, I might need a different level of intensity, etc.
One of my first negotiation questions is “How was your day?” … this usually sets the mood pretty quickly. Sometimes I start the negotiating days in advance (or as mentioned above already during the aftercare of the session before). This is all fine and well, but don’t expect things to be the same from when you talked about that one fantasy two weeks ago. Asking for them right before play is usually the most accurate for temporary needs and desires, while asking for them regularly and with some time for reflection is a good way to learn about more permanent needs and desires.


Anybody who knows a little about management knows the Deming circle. (Don’t worry, I will not bring up the OODA-loop. This time.)
The idea is simple: First we PLAN, then we DO, then we CHECK the results and then we ADJUST. (Actually, called Act, but I like Adjust better as it is less ambiguous).

It is similar to the three phases of negotiation, but I like it because it highlights the adjustment step very well.
So during play, especially when doing something for the first time, you ask your partner how they like it and adjust accordingly.
It gives you permission to be imperfect and to improve. Because some eggs will be broken and some milk will be spilled until we know ourselves and each other well enough. And even then…

We barely scratched the surface but I hope there was at least one interesting idea for you in here and that it helps you to spill less eggs and break less milk on your journey. Because mistakes happen and what counts is how we deal with them and that we keep trying to do our best 🙂

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