What’s That You Say? Reading Body Language in Play – By Rev
You’ve heard it said (and if you haven’t, it’s about time you did) that Dominants aren’t mind readers. It’s said for a reason. “Dominant-as-mind-reader” is one of those persistent stereotypes that’s hard to kill and can really cause problems for new and/or isolated Dominants and those that play with them. It’s a problem because it’s not true- we can’t read minds and if we haven’t been disabused of that myth and think we’re supposed to if we’re “doing it right” then we substantially increase the risk of crossing lines, hurting someone else or incurring consequences ourselves that might be easily avoided if we just know that it’s essential to communicate. “Use your words” is really important in BDSM, particularly if we’re new to kink, to a play partner, or a particular activity. Talking good. Ugg.
Now, maybe you’ve witnessed a scene- one of those scenes that seemed to flow like a dance. You can feel the intimacy, almost see the connection, and hardly a word is exchanged. If you don’t know that the “Dominant-as-mind-reader” stereotype is crap, you might be impressed and think, “Seeeeee? That’s the D/s voodoo I’m talkin’ about. That’s how it’s done”. But it’s probably not what it seems from where you’re standing. A couple of weeks ago, I put up a post about some of what it takes to make that work, that illusion of “not needing to check in a lot”. It’s also one way that it can appear that players don’t need safe words. For a peek behind the curtain, check it out here.
One of the things that humans rely on a lot for communication cues is body language. It’s called a “language” for a reason- it’s a HUGE part of how we communicate with each other, though we aren’t typically very conscious of it. In BDSM play, we can use body language to help us determine how our submissive is reacting to what’s happening and make decisions based on that information that can take the scene where we want it to go.
It’s important that we realize that everyone’s body language is different and it takes time to learn someone’s particular way of “speaking” before we can use it reliably to determine what they’re experiencing. It IS a lot like dancing in a way- the longer two people dance together, the more they start to appear almost as one organism, moving fluidly through a process that maybe completely spontaneous, but it’s so seamless, so organic that it looks like they must have rehearsed that particular routine for months. Some bands that have been playing together for years develop a way of “reading” each other that makes their performances look almost magical. In both of these cases, the long term familiarity can make it look like the players are indeed reading each others minds, but it just ain’t so. It takes time and initially, a lot of communication that takes more overt forms. Talking good. Ugg.
In other words, it takes a lot of good ole fashioned talking and experience with each other to get the point where it’s not so necessary. Lots of talking initially eventually leads to less talking needed. Make sense? Like dream language and even words, everyone’s is unique to them. The only way to learn someones body language is to check in. “What does it mean when you do that?” can be a great question to ask, during or after a scene.
For example, don’t assume that if someone leans into you or your hand that it means they like the sensation you’re dishing out. For some people, it’s how they attempt to “push away” from you, or escape sensation that’s too intense. For some people, if sensation is too intense, they’ll actually move away. Some people close their eyes when they’re enjoying something, some when they want to de-intensify things. Some people wiggle around a lot when they’re having a hard time, some get very still. Others move a lot when they’re enjoying themselves. Some people shake their heads to help them process- it can look a lot like they or their body is saying “no”. Some people are fine, even good with crying, for others it’s a sign of deep distress and maybe the equivalent of “yellow”. I really varies.
Sometimes a person has played enough that they know their own body language pretty well and can give you some of the “keys to the kingdom”. I once played with a woman who knew that when she liked what was happening, her feet would make little circles. When her feet got really still, it meant she was being challenged a lot more. It was a cool piece of information to get pre-scene, but it’s actually fairly rare that someone will give me info like that. Mostly, I’ve had to learn on my own. Of course, if I’m service Topping or doing pick up play, then I only play with that person once and I don’t have the opportunity or reason to learn much about their body language, but in the ideal, I get to play with someone in an ongoing way and it really helps to learn their body speak.
It works like this (for me and mine): First time we play, we use the “stoplight system” of safe words. LINK. That can help me learn some things- if they yellow or red, then I get to ask them what’s going on. I’ll make note of what their body’s doing right before and then can associate that with the feedback they give me when we check in. I also use a 1-10 scale to get feedback. Read more about that here.
If I notice something unusual, I’ll pause and ask them how they’re doing. That’s mostly an intuitive thing if I’m playing with someone new. Basically, if my gut says, “errp! Something may be up here…”, then I check in. I need to trust someone to speak up, use safe words, communicate clearly with me. If I don’t know someone, then it takes me time to grow that trust. Period.
So I always tell people I don’t know at all that I’m going to be checking in more than usual when we first play. I remind them I’m not a mind reader and that I need to do that to feel comfortable playing with them, to keep them safe. Most people are reassured by that. If they have a problem with it, then they probably need to play with someone else.
If I get to play with someone over time, I get better and better at telling when they’re having a hard time, when they like what I’m doing (“like” being a funny term to use sometimes when it’s “suffering” that someone likes…you know what I’m talking about… heh), when they’re getting close to the end of their capacity. I like it best when a scene ends when I’m ready for it to end, not because I’ve unintentionally brought them to their max point. Learning to read someone’s body language can really help me manage all of that, with minimal use of words.
But even when I know someone pretty well, things happen. Even when I consider myself fluent in my sub’s body language, surprises can happen. We’re not mind readers and we’re not always perfect body language readers either. Words are important and we need them for a safety net, even if we never need to actually use them.
Talking good. Ugg.