Below are listed some negotiation questions I use as a top to better learn about my bottoms, their character, and their interest in play. It took me the better part of a year to figure out these questions, as some of my play partners might note that early negotiations with me consisted mostly of health questions, and awkward staring and silences. Charming, right? As a slightly more experienced top these days, I find that anytime there is great confusion or unknowns between a partner and me, asking questions and listening are the most effective ways for us to gain clarity and move forward with play plans.
If you have other means of achieving the end goals of
clear and agreed upon communication of intentions and emotions with your partner before, during and after your scene
avoiding catastrophic accidents, and
having a fun time together
then by all means, continue using your effective means of negotiations. Otherwise, here are a few questions I usually ask my bottoms, as a bondage top, to figure out how we might have a good time together:
- What do you like about (bdsm activity)?
The answer to this question is purely top seduction. If you’re my bottom, tell me how much you love the sensual hurt of an open hand smacking your ass. Or tell me how tightly you like bondage wrapped around your breasts. Tighter? Tighter? It can definitely be tighter.
Oh, and there’s sometimes information about how a bottom fantasizes about being played with during the agreed upon activities, which can help a top navigate the type of mood, energy, and play style(s) to deploy in a scene. But top seduction is definitely most important.
- How will I know that you are having fun? Alternately, how will I know you are not having fun?
A direct pilfer from Midori, and absolutely one you should not ignore during negotiations. Don’t know whether an “ouch!” or singing, or shouting, or clenched body language means that your bottom is having fun, or is bored, or wants out of the scene and can’t verbalize it? As a top, you need to be able to predict the idiosyncratic reactions to play that your bottom feeds you. The answer to this question should be able to help you adjust your play accordingly and confidently, without having to ask “are you okay?” constantly. Which, to me, can be a huge distraction from arousal while bottoming.
- What safewords, or verbal / physical signifiers should we use to communicate problematic issues during play?
Stoplight signals — I usually use “red” to end a scene, “yellow” to stop, slow down and check in — or non-verbal cues need to be agreed upon before proceeding with your scene. I’ve heard “mercy” as a safeword too, and I quite like that one. Do check in with your public dungeon’s safeword if you are playing there and are unsure of what it is.
Note: I’m particularly suspicious of people who top and cringe at having safewords in place. Sometimes I don’t mind if someone explains to me a context of a long-term relationship where partners use other signals besides safewords to indicate unintended distress, but… yeah. The purpose of safewords or distress signifiers are to offer absolute forms of clear communication in some very loaded scenes where emotions and words can take on far different forms and intentions in comparison to non-scene communications. I encourage you to check out Cowhideman’s writing “Do You Really Need Hard Limits and Safewords?” for another excellent perspective on the subject of safewords and limits.
I’m also suspicious of bottoms who have no limits or boundaries. If you’re so new that you don’t know your limits, a proper explanation to your top would sound something like “I don’t really know what I like as far as play goes, but I like you, and I’d like to discover new pleasures with you.” Leave the channels of communication and calibration open in these cases.
- What kind of aftercare do you need?
Common courtesy, and discussed often in kinky communities. Most of the time as a top, I don’t need more than a hug before and after a scene and a cup or two of water, but I won’t abandon my bottom’s needs. Neither should you.
- Do you have any health related, or other sensitivities that I should know about?
Let your bottom explain any and all things to be considerate about with this subject. Some further questions to better elicit useful responses for you, as a top:
When was the last time you went to the emergency room, and for what reason?
Have you ever had to stop a scene prematurely and why?
Are there some common unwanted or unintentional discomforts you find that you have in scene? Please explain.
If a health issue pops up during play that wasn’t noted by your bottom during negotiations, don’t be an asshole, and don’t ruin the people you play with, physically or emotionally. People are forgetful and unexpected things happen in scene, and you should be prepared to deal with those and your emotional reactions to them. Help your bottom. Stop the scene if necessary. Decide at a later point of calm reflection whether you feel like playing with that bottom is a good idea for you in the future.
As far as dealing with a bottom’s health sensitivities go, I have pretty reasonable ideas of non-suspension rope bottom safety protocols, but sometimes I receive responses to this question about a bottom’s health that I end up having no fucking clue how to address. For example, I’ll sometimes get bottoms who have back problems. Since I have no solid idea how to avoid various types of back pain in rope bondage floor work, I’ll ask my bottom what type of instances trigger the back pain, I’ll take a look at the Riggers and Rope Sluts group on Fet for possible solutions, maybe add some floor padding during tying, and I will monitor my bottom extra carefully during play. It won’t hurt to admit a lack of knowledge or certainty on a certain play subject, but being zealous in sensitive or unknown situations is a rather ignorant way to increase your risk of accidents or abuse during play.
In contrast to the aforementioned ignorant zealotry, many of the sophisticated tops I know of can tailor their play skills for a wide variety of bottoms of various sizes, shapes and physical strength / flexibility. I adore these people. They have all the fun with the cute bottoms.
- Touch, intimacy and comfort levels: let’s discuss it extensively.
Do we want friendly, arm’s length practice and exploration, or do we want other types of intimacy? Are there any body parts that are off limits during play? And are we okay with those limits? Might be a good time to ask about STI testing and history too, if you are intending to go that far.
Penetration of any kind should never be a gray area in negotiations. Genital or fluid play of any kind should never be a gray area in negotiations. You are increasing your risk for abusive play if you leave either of these subjects unspoken of during negotiations. And again, as a top, don’t be an asshole who dwells on what he can’t have, and makes his bottom feel bad for giving her honest opinion when asked for it. If your partner says no to any variant of these things, either find other things to do together, or find someone else to play with if you really don’t like the limit that person has.
Note: When I bottom and I say “no penetrative play”, I mean all of it. Not a needle, not a finger, not a tongue clamp, or anything in my mouth, or anything else penetrative anywhere on my body. I have never had this condition deliberately ignored by a top, and hopefully never will.
- Honorifics and Pejoratives: What shall we call each other?
Getting a little too analytical with these terms, this is another question that should help you learn about aural seduction and personal identifications of your play partner. Being fairly accurate about the nuances of your partner’s scene identities, rather than going off of general labels ascribed to, is a great way to show consideration and respect for the person you’re playing with.
- This is my general idea of what I’d like to do with you (describe scene idea). How do you feel about what I’ve just described?
Once you’ve got a good idea of what turns you and your bottom on, describing details for possible scenes should be fun. Definitely read your bottom’s reactions to your described scenes as well, and discuss finer points as necessary. Agreeing to a good time together is a huge consensual and anticipatory turn-on for me, and I hope it is for others as well.
- Is there anything else you would like me to know?
Anything not covered in negotiations? Anything just needs to be said? Say it.
- Do you have any questions for me?
Tops, if you haven’t answered any of the questions you’ve asked of your bottom, now is the time to address them, just so they know what they are getting into too.
- Since we’ve played together before, are there any new limits or changes for you that I should know about?
Always a good question to refresh your memory with those whom you are fortunate enough to play with more than once. It’s a good idea to repeat the fine points of your previous negotiations to show you remember and respect your partner.
Is it okay to take photos? Check with your play space as well on their policy on photos.
Are headshots okay? What about other body parts?
Can I take photos with my camera / phone? Any conditionals to this?
Can I take photos with your camera / phone? Any conditionals to this?
Photos are fun, ya’ll. They need to be negotiated seriously, though, because some people like me are real picky about who can take pictures of what when I’m involved.
Not everyone gives straight answers to the negotiation questions. Some give answers that are relative to their kink experiences, some simply don’t know the answers because this level of self-examination has never been asked of them by a play partner before. Others are simply difficult. :) I’d like to say honest, sober communication is the best way to get what you want out of play partners, but all of my communication skills come from studying empiricism, BioWare video game morality and romance systems, consistent inconsistencies in literary characters, and lots and lots of kinky negotiations.
Good luck everyone! And if you do happen to end up bottoming to me in the future, you will likely be asked to answer many of these questions during negotiations.