In relationships, knowing your partner’s limits and boundaries is essential. If you don’t know what they are then you can’t observe them. Neither can you push them. In a D/s relationship this is even more important. Observing limits and boundaries is part of building trust in the other person. So is communicating around your own limits and boundaries so that they can be pushed. We all hold back at times and in D/s we use communication to know when to push and when to hold back. This allows for safety as well as growth and means that the individuals within the relationship can flourish.
What are Limits?
We tend to divide limits into those which are hard and must be observed at all times and those which are soft, and might be something which would be dependent on circumstances and situational factors. Both types of limits have boundaries but you have to approach them differently. Often people who are going to play with someone else will complete a Limits List, which is a list of the things that you would or would not want to do. Many of the lists you can find online ask you to rate each kink or activity and from this, you are able to see where the hard and soft limits lie.
Hard limits are the things that you will not ever do. These are not up for discussion. While you may want to explain your reasons because you feel for your partner to have an understanding will help, you should never be put under any pressure to justify your hard limits and why you have them. Usually people will have a safeword system. This means that if something is a hard limit for you, you can communicate this using your safeword and play will stop. Often safewords are also used because a pain threshold (either physical or emotional) is nearing or has been reached.
While is it likely that you will have discussed pain and tolerance levels, it is hard to gauge in a comparative way. Thresholds for some activities are difficult to pinpoint and so often people will choose to play right up to their limits. This can be the case particularly with pain play when the endorphins produced can create a natural high known as subspace. Although partners in long-term relationships will often be able to read the signs of approaching a limit, this won’t always be the case which is why having a safeword for this sort of play is always recommended.
Soft limits are often the things that you might do, but only up to a certain point, or only in a certain set of circumstances. This is where regular discussion and check ins are vital. If you are engaging in a type of play or kink which is one of your soft limits then you need to be talking about it. You need to make sure that you have provided a full explanation and understanding of what it is which would be ok and what it is which would be too far. This can be really tricky and it is often difficult to do at the time so make sure that you are careful.
From experience, I would say that soft limits change all of the time. Sometimes they can change because of your own mood or external factors. If you are in a long term relationship then this will probably be easier because you know each other well, but for this who don’t you need to remember to share the way that you are feeling, even if this changes plans which have been made. It is better to be cautious and safe than to be hurt on an emotional level because you ended up doing something that you didn’t want to do.
This will be upsetting for both parties as D/s is based on trust that the power is exchanged from one to the other. You have a duty to use a safeword if play is not working out for you, as much as the other partner has a duty to keep you safe by observing it. Safewords can be used by both the D or or the s if this is the case. Often couples will have a safeword which indicates that they need things to slow down or stop as a limit is being approached and this can be a good way of managing things.
Boundaries really are the areas where the limits sit. You can have a boundary at the start of this are, or a boundary at its edge. This can make things challenging and it is why the communication is so important. People can find it exciting to push past the boundaries they have set. It can be exhilarating and consuming which is why so many people enjoy it. The boundaries around soft limits are quite a grey area so you may play in that grey area for a while. Sometimes it isn’t about moving in a forward direction, but also about adding breadth and depth.
Adding breadth and depth is a good way of pushing the boundaries that have been set and can allows for a slow and gentle approach to change. It can allow you to try different things and find out what works and what doesn’t. It feels like a more controlled and more managed way of pushing things forward, but often that is where this sort of approach will lead. It also has the advantage of discussion after each point so that can be really fruitful in terms of where to go next.