Negotiating Part 2 – Why do we even negotiate?

Hi! Thomas, one of founders here 🙂

At a workshop I attended recently there was a discussion concerning negotiating and especially how much and when to negotiate without killing the mood. I listened to all the arguments and a plan for this blogpost started forming. So here it is!

Why should we even negotiate? This might sound like a silly question to some, but there are a couple of reasons I would like to highlight:

  • Developing trust in each other
  • Risk Management (main topic of this post)
  • Having the “best possible” session

Developing trust

An experienced BDSM practitioner will learn a lot about their potential play partner from negotiating alone. Not only by listening to the things being said, but also by the way they negotiate.
Is the person’s train of thought well structured or spontaneous? How prepared are they for this negotiation? Is there an emphasis on certain areas or topics? Are they very sure in their statements or are they often unsure? Do they keep or avoid eye contact? What is happening in their face when they talk about certain things? Are they hectic, impatient, slow or relaxed?

This all helps with developing an understanding of the other persons journey and the maturity of their risk management approach.

Risk Management

This is an important and big one. As this is part of my professional background I will get a little technical again. We will only scratch the surface though, so if you would like to learn more just ask. If there is enough interest I might even develop a workshop.

In essence risk management is how we deal with risk. Risk is the combination of an Impact (“something bad happening”) and the Probability of it happening.

In the beginning we have to Identify Risk and Evaluate Risk. This is an important part that everybody should and has do by themselves.
Identifying Risk: This includes researching the activities you want to do and learning how you feel about it. While we also learn a lot from doing, this process should be as thorough as possible! If you want to do e.g. suspension bondage or breath play without understanding the risks involved in it, you might assess the activity incorrectly and have a bad time.
Assess Risk: This is where you figure out how you feel about something happening. This will usually be different for everybody and it has to be like that to some degree. While the rope bottom might be physically injured, the rope top might receive damage to their reputation and both might be emotionally or (even psychologically (!)) affected.

Once we have identified and assessed risk we can start handling it.

There are basically four ways to handle/treat risk:

  • Reduction
    We can reduce a risk by reducing the probability or the impact. This includes preparing for it happening. This is why we bring safety scissors and talk about aftercare. This is why we continuously learn and talk to other practitioners.
    Joining one of our jams is another way to reduce risk. You will (usually) find people that are willing to watch over you (especially when tying alone) and some of us are well capable of providing physical and/or psychological first aid.
    Also it makes tying with somebody for the first time feel much saver.
  • Transfer
    We can transfer the risk to somebody else. Classical examples include taking out an insurance policy or outsourcing.
    I am unsure if this is ethically possible in the context of BDSM.
  • Avoidance
    We can avoid risk. This is as simple as not doing risky things.
  • Acceptance
    We can accept the risk and say “This is fine. If it happens it happens.”

In professional Risk Management we would appoint people to specific roles and duties, create Monte Carlo simulations, evaluate our risks regularly, improve upon it and document everything along the way. In personal Risk Management this mostly happens in our heads.

Residual Risk

Residual Risk is the risk that remains once we have handled risk. It can, by definition, not be handled! Think of it as things that can always happen e.g. somebody having a heart attack, the house you are in coming down, an asteroid striking earth, etc.
I must stress this: Risk you Accept is NOT Residual Risk. That is just Accepted Risk.
Residual Risk is risk you HAVE TO “accept” because there is no way to dealing with it.

Risk Appetite

Risk Appetite is the amount of risk, a person (or organisation) is willing to accept. A hedge fund might be less risk averse than a family business handed down for generations.
Same goes for people. Some like “living on the edge” while others like “playing it safe”.
Try to find somebody that fits your risk appetite.

Problems in Risk Management

As you can see, there are many decisions to be made. And this is where many problems arise. Somebody might be inexperienced and not know about all the risks involved. They might have been lucky and always had good experiences. They might be very resilient and able to deal really well with bad sessions etc. Some people might want to negotiate more or less than others because they are more or less risk averse or are more or less resilient.
Also often there is no empirical data available to ground our decisions and humans are notoriously bad at risk management in general. A classic example: People are scared of flying but not of driving when it is proven that driving is more dangerous. So there is not only a lot of subjectivity, but also a lot of irrationality in Risk Management. Trying to reduce those two is part of our quest.

Risk Communities

Often you hear somebody say “I would never go to this or that club”. This is correct and perfectly fine.

I often say that BDSM happens in three scopes:

  • The persons involved
  • The community they associate with
  • Society

Risk assessment, risk treatment, risk appetite, etc. will differ in those scopes.
Bad things happen when somebody from a more risk averse community enters a less risk averse community (e.g. “that one club”) and vice versa.
A community of experienced breath players might be able to identify, assess and handle risk better than is palatable to other communities.

Also societies influence us in our Risk Management. In my personal perception (please don’t hang me for this) Nordic societies are more risk averse and focused on safety than ex-soviet societies. Be aware of this when travelling!

Having the “best possible” session

Princess Kali talks about this at length in her book Authentic Kink. You should really read it.
In essence she says that there is a problem with how we learn kink. We learn by watching porn, movies or play parties. While this tells us a lot about how to do things, it does not tell us why.
So we miss out on the different motivations and emotional benefits (she calls it kernel kinks) of engaging in kinky activities while at the same time picking up unwritten rules that are not really rules (e.g. some actions or positions being inherently dominant or submissive), that might not allow for the play we would enjoy the most.


In conclusion: Risk Management is one of the most important but also most complex parts of negotiating.
Risk Management depends on experience, people involved and context.
Risk Management is a personal responsibility that can not be delegated. (This is why I am a big fan of PRICK (Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink))
Find people that fit your own Risk Management and don’t shame others for theirs (unless it is of legally punishable negligence).