Can BDSM Play and Psychological Triggers Still Equal Safe, Sane, and Consensual? 13 comments


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Can BDSM Play and Psychological Triggers
Still Equal Safe, Sane, and Consensual?

@Jack_of_hearts7

Triggers during a BDSM scene are something we should be talking about, because when they happen, consent can become muddled and those involved on either side of the scene can feel helpless. The following interview was done with a friend who suffers from PTSD. It is one that everyone should read whether they play in their local kink dungeons or in the privacy of their own home. It is one that should be read if you are interested in BDSM and have psychological issues, have a partner who does, or could someday meet someone who deals with triggers on a day to day basis. So basically that means just about everyone, because no one knows what the future will bring. This article isn’t meant to scare anyone away, it is meant to educate so you are prepared, and can cope with your own issues should they ever arise.

Most of those with even minimal knowledge of BDSM have heard about play being safe, sane, and consensual, and have heard of the term safeword, but we are going to do more than scratch the surface here. Can the two go hand in hand with trauma, and how can everyone involved find common ground? How do you play with someone who has any kind of stress disorder? How can you be careful to avoid these minefields while still doing fun, kinky scenes? What should you do during negotiations before a scene begins, and what do you do if the person you are playing with suddenly shows signs of slipping into a place where neither of you wanted to go? What if everything is going great and suddenly your partner is incapacitated and can’t even say their safe word, and what if you aren’t even aware? You can say “No way that wouldn’t happen, I always make sure my bottom is okay.”, but it could. It happened to me and I am about as safe and careful as they come.

Now let’s get down to business and get to the interview my friend Jack was gracious enough to do even though he has to cope with things that might make others runaway. Jack has PTSD. Jack likes kinky play. Jack needs to be very careful that when he plays so his partner doesn’t trigger his traumatic stress disorder and send him spiraling out of control into a massive anxiety attack. Jack knows what his triggers are for the most part, but there are things that can slip in and cause a reaction that neither his top nor he expected.

  1. People always seem to want to know how a person identifies or want to know what category a person falls into in kink. I want my readers to be able to identify with you. What are your thoughts, and if pressed would you be able to define yourself with any of the so-called labels?

While I believe that labels cannot tell you everything about a person and can be sort of restrictive, they can also be useful tools for communicating important information in sort of a shorthand manner. I tend to more so use labels as “umbrella terms” rather than strict definitions. I identify as a masochistic bottom. This conveys a lot of information about me, but not everything. It tells people that I prefer to be on the “receiving end” when it comes to kinky play and that I enjoy pain. These labels may not contain other important information like my partner preference (I mostly prefer to play with women, but not always.) or that I am not looking for a power exchange dynamic or that I occasionally service top for people that I am involved with. Labels can be useful, but sometimes longer discussions are needed to make sure people are on the same page. 

  1. I came to BDSM because it was sexually stimulating and I am sadistic. I stayed because the relationships I have are by far 100% more fulfilling than any vanilla relationship I had. How did you find kink, and what attracts you to the BDSM community?

It’s funny because I don’t really think I found kink so much as it found me. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but when I went through a somewhat promiscuous period during college after coming to terms with my sexuality, the vast majority of my partners were kinky in some manner or another. I suppose it was just something that was always there. I never really divided up my relationships into “kinky” and “vanilla”, it was always a more a matter of “compatible” and “not compatible.” I have had romantic partners who were also kinky where kink is not a part of our relationship, but am still able to find those relationships fulfilling. As far as what attracts me to the community, it’s probably the sense of belonging and fellowship. There are assholes to be found in every group of people for sure, and the kink community really is no exception, but on the whole I feel like I encounter a lot less negative judgement and feel less like an “odd man out” when I am with the friends that I have made in the kink scene.  

  1. Can you explain what a trigger is?

In the simplest terms, a trigger is external stimuli that serves as a reminder of a previous incident that resulted in psychological trauma. It can be anything, a sound, a word, a smell. The response is much greater than “I don’t like this thing” or “This thing makes me uncomfortable.” Encountering a trigger can cause intense flashbacks and can create an extremely panicked response in the person who has been traumatized. 

  1. I am one to always preach about safe sane play and making sure there is a negotiation. I recently realized that I haven’t included the importance of discussing triggers, and worse, I don’t always ask someone if they have them. Do you bring up triggers every time you negotiate with a new partner?

Every single time? No. Most times? Yes. It largely depends on what the person I am negotiating and I plan on doing with one another and how well I know them. There are certain types of play that have an extremely low probability of triggering me, like ropes and rigging. It has always been a very comforting and occasionally relaxing form of play for me.  A fair number of friends that I play with on a regular basis know that I do have certain triggers and are aware of what they are. If we are negotiating a very specific type of play, for example, a flogging scene, I may only bring up the verbal triggers that I have because those are the only ones they may inadvertently stumble upon within the parameters of that scene. Honestly it’s a judgement call. 

  1. Is the person who has triggers the one who is ultimately responsible for discussing them?

In my opinion? Absolutely. I believe strongly in determining one’s own boundaries and in the context of a scene letting one’s partner know where those boundary lines are.  A parallel situation is that I am allergic to coconut, someone I plan on doing a rope scene with isn’t going to know NOT to use coconut rope on me unless I say something. Just like if hypothetically wooden paddles were a trigger for me (they aren’t, this is just an example), someone planning on spanking me isn’t going to know that particular object is not to be used unless I say something. If they use it anyway, they’re kind of an asshole. 

  1. Do you bring them up no matter the type of play, even if what is planned is far removed from the type of play that is expected to occur?

As I said earlier, this is a judgement call. I tend to negotiate very specific forms of play and if what I am negotiating is extremely far removed from where my triggers lie, it may not even come up at all. I used to bring it up in some fashion every single time because I used to have a thing about people putting their hands anywhere near my neck.  I’m only comfortable discussing this now because it is no longer an issue. I used to have a trigger that centered around choking, A fairly common thing that would happen was that people would put their hand on my neck or occasionally give it a gentle squeeze just to get my attention mid-scene, and it didn’t particularly matter what type of scene it was. I think it was because my neck is so very tiny and a lot of times it was a convenient place to grab. So during every single negotiation I’d say “Hey, don’t touch my neck, at all.” Now perhaps the most common things I bring up almost every time are as I mentioned earlier, my verbal triggers. Some tops/D-type people are “talkers” who like to say things to their bottoms during scenes. There are a few things that might be whispered into my ear during the heat of the moment, so I make sure to let them know which ones are off limits. 

  1. What happens to you when your trigger is tripped. I mean what does it physically look like?

Many of my triggers have very different responses. The most common response greatly resembles an anxiety attack. My heart speeds up, I start shaking, I start to sweat, it gets hard to catch my breath and I feel like, for some inexplicable reason, that I might die. There may or may not be crying involved. Once, during a flashback I did have a violent reaction where I physically hit my partner. To this day I feel really bad about that. Generally I’m pretty loud and vocal during play, to the point where some Tops have had to make several inquiries as to whether or not I’m okay with what’s happening. If something is wrong or a triggery area has been stumbled into, I tend to get extremely quiet before the panic sets in. 

  1. Is it possible to trip someone’s trigger emotionally and have your partner not even know? Do you safe word then? Are you always able to safeword?

I haven’t actually been triggered before during a scene in a kink related context, I know what most of my triggers are and do my very best to avoid them during play. It is certainly possible to unwittingly stumble into a triggery area, especially if someone doesn’t yet know what their triggers are. Once with my spouse there was an incident that triggered a flashback. We weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary for us at the time and I had no idea that this particular thing would trigger me as I’d done it several times before, both with him and other partners. We immediately stopped what we were doing. It did kind of serve as a reminder that even though I am aware of MOST of my triggers, sometimes they can sneak up on you.

  1. What is the best response to help someone who is experiencing physical and mental distress? I assume this varies by person but are there any general things that should be done?

You’re correct, it is largely individual. Some people find it comforting to be held, others may find that physical contact increases the stress. Personally, I engage in a combination of mindfulness and grounding techniques. The purpose of these is to serve as a reminder of the present moment. Because a flashback is not just a reminder of a previous traumatic incident, it can be a dissociative experience that can be essentially reliving the trauma. One of my most reliable grounding techniques is to take a mental inventory of my surroundings. Things that I see. Colors. Sounds that I hear. Counting the number of objects in the room (ceiling tiles, pieces of furniture, people I know if it’s a public place). It keeps me aware, focused and “grounded” in the present. 

  1. When I was fairly new and in a D/s relationship, I triggered a bad memory of child abuse in my girlfriend while spanking her much lighter than her limit. It was the implement I used. She went from zero to red so very fast and cried and shook for the longest time. I felt pretty helpless and horrid because my actions caused her severe distress. Comments?

That is one of my single greatest fears. That something will occur that will trigger me when I’m with a friend or a partner who has done absolutely nothing wrong. That specific fear kept me from engaging in kinky play for quite a long time. To this day, I am hesitant to play with people I don’t know extremely well or to play more often than I do currently or in unfamiliar environments. The important thing that I try to remind my spouse and a few of the people that I play with on a more regular basis is that if something like the situation you describe were to happen to me, whatever it is I am going through has nothing to do with them. They didn’t do anything “wrong” if they unwittingly stumbled onto a trigger. But having also been in a relationship with someone else who has issues similar to my own, I have also experienced those horrid, helpless feelings when your partner is having a flashback. It’s like they are on fire and all you want to do is put it out.

  1. How do you protect yourself and best avoid your triggers?

Probably the greatest protection I have is the various tools I acquired in therapy. That is where I gained deeper insight into my trauma and a greater feeling of control over my life. Not every therapeutic technique works for everyone, but actually spending time in therapy and putting the work in despite my initial skepticism about it has been extremely valuable to me in understanding and controlling my triggers. As far as avoiding my triggers goes, I have placed many triggering activities on my hard limits list. I mostly engage in scenes where sex isn’t necessarily involved. Many of my triggers are closely tied to sexual acts so I only engage in those acts with people I am either involved in a relationship with or have grown to trust over time. I also try to not let myself become too overwhelmed in social situations and look after my physical health. I find that I am much more vulnerable when I am tired or unwell. If I need a break or feel emotionally overwhelmed, I take a break. Even if it means not being able to do something I really want to do.

  1. Any final words or thoughts?

Just that while having PTSD is a very serious condition, like many other disorders it is completely and totally manageable in many cases. Dealing with my condition is my responsibility and while I was determined for a long time to handle it on my own, I eventually reached a point where I realized that I needed help to do so and there is no shame in that.  I acknowledge the fact that I am very fortunate to have a wonderful support system in place and it has made dealing with this infinitely easier. I thought that some of the things that had happened to me would be the end of my kink life as I know it, but even though it took a lot of effort and difficult, extremely painful work, I have realized that this is not the case. I am still able to do most things that I want to do and have extremely fulfilling experiences and relationships.

I want to thank Jack for opening up on a potentially sensitive topic in order to shed some light on something we SHOULD be talking about. People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can safely engage in kinky play as long as there is communication. People who are tops/dominants/masters don’t need to steer clear of those who suffer from PTSD, depression, or other types of psychological disorders as long as there is open communication between those involved and safety measures are in place. BDSM is NOT a kind of therapy. We don’t cure people through D/s relationships and play. This article isn’t about that, it’s about being kinky and managing your PTSD at the same time, not managing your PTSD or other issues with kink. There is a difference.

Comments are welcomed. Jack has agreed to have a link to his Fetlife profile included in this interview, but I encourage those with questions to put them here. You may not be the only person wondering about something. He has said that he is open to providing answers if he can.

 Jack

Tamed/Jack’s profile on Fetlife   


About JolynnRaymond

Writer of historical paranormal romance, kinky historical romance, and BDSM Mistress and Sex Blogger. I hold the position of being one of Kinkly's Top 100 Sex Bloggers. Two of my books, Taken in Hand A Guide to Domestic Discipline and His Lordship's Wayward Wife, have been nominated as best BDSM Non Fiction and Best BDSM Historical books of the year. The awards ceremony will take place at the BDSM Writers Con in New York City this August.


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13 thoughts on “Can BDSM Play and Psychological Triggers Still Equal Safe, Sane, and Consensual?

  • laurellasky

    Very thoughtful and well done post. I have PTSD and I can watch a movie and a few times it hit a trigger and I had an anxiety attack. You never know what will set you off. I’m still in therapy and that help a lot.

  • Jolynn Raymond

    Great point Teresa. I hadn’t thought about the flip side of the coin. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a top with PTSD, or if I have, they haven’t spoken of it. This could be because I have never negotiated a scene with a top. Thank you for your comment. If anyone who is a dominant or a top reads this and would be willing to share, it would be very welcome.

  • Teresa Noelle Roberts

    What a wonderful post, compassionately written on your end and bravely revealed on Jack’s part. Thank you both.

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned specifically was that people who chose a dominant role may also have past traumas and triggers…which can be a freaky thing for someone in a submissive headspace to deal with. Not that I do a lot of negotiating anymore (play only with my husband these days) but I wouldn’t necessarily think to ask a dom about their potential triggers. But I’ve seen it happen.

    • Tamed

      That’s true, I actually have a close friend who is Dominant who deals with PTSD as well. The only reason I didn’t mention it was because I cannot speak as to what that is like from my perspective. Like me they are usually very tight lipped about the subject.

  • Jolynn Raymond

    I’m so happy at the overwhelmingly positive response this has received here and in the other places it has made its way to. Jack, you were great sharing such a personal subject. @Cabin Goddess, thank you for sharing as well. There are just so many misconceptions people have in their heads.

  • Cabin Goddess

    THIS is such an amazingly important post. As a submissive/pain slut and someone with PTSD due to rape/abuse this is a huge factor. I actually had a Mistress who decided to try to FIX me by doing a group scene with me blind folded which caused such damage I ended up checking myself into the psych ward.

    I will no longer participate in parties, I went from being someone who did educational demos all over to never trusting anyone like that again. Thankfully I found a sadistic dom who knows just what to do and not to do.

    • Tamed

      That sounds horrific, Cabin Goddess. I’m very sorry you had to go through that. I, fortunately have never come across anyone who has tried to use kink to “fix” me against my wishes.

    • Jolynn Raymond

      Thank you Megan. I was afraid of offending Jack when I first approached him with such personal interview, but he agreed and I’m so happy people are finding it helpful and informative.