Ask any kinkster and they're likely to agree, negotiation is vital to setting up consensual kink play and even an important basis for dominant/submissive relationships.
Before we get into different styles, what is negotiation?
Most often "negotiate" is a word we see when it comes to business deals in the non-kink world which means "to obtain or bring about by discussion." In the kink world negotiating is the discussion we have before play, forming relationships, or other related activity to make sure that all sides involved are able to get what they want out of a situation. This is where we obtain consent for things to come.
How negotiating things to come depends greatly on the negotiation style used, the main two being "Inclusive" and "Exclusive."
At a glance: Exclusive Negotiating is where you list the things you're not interested in and everything else is fair game.
What is it? Why use it? Exclusive Negotiation, as shown above, is a more open-ended form of negotiation where you set the discussion up with the play, rules, and so on that you don't want included, leaving everything else as fair game. For a while this was the main negotiating style for many within BDSM and kink communities because so much emphasis in negotiation was put on making sure to name all of your hard-limits from the start.
Some other things that may have played a part in why Exclusive Negotiation was so popular for so long are: public play wasn't as common, the same being said for having multiple casual play partners; there was more emphasis on the idea that submissives should inherently trust dominants to know what's best; and it could even be argued that play has gotten more complex over time since we now have access to more education and play styles thanks to conventions.
Currently Exclusive Negotiation can still be a viable style, but it does seem to be done more by established partnerships rather than casual pick-up play.
Non-Kink Example: Dave is having a hard time deciding what he'd like for dinner so he checks with his partner to see what sounds good. Being in a similar mindset his partner Bo says that they're open to just about anything except pizza or salad.
While it may not have resulted in an exact decision, the use of excluding those two food options helped give Dave information about Bo's preferences. From there they can continue to exclude more options that don't sound good until they find common-ground or find a restaurant that serves multiple options other than those two. This could have also been useful for food allergies or similar intolerances.
Kink Example: Jasmine and Amanda are trying to decide what to do while at the local dungeon. Amanda suggests they do impact play which causes Jasmine to perk up responding "so long as you don't use that whip today!"
In this example Exclusive Negotiation works well for a couple that seems to have known each other for a length of time and have trust built up between them already. The assumption is made that Amanda will use any of the impact play related toys/skills, but not the whip as Jasmine has requested.
While many who engage in this type of negotiation nowadays are those who know each other well, it's not to say that you can't successfully use this type of negotiation in more casual situations, it simply may require listing a whole lot more of the "off limit" options depending on your play style and comfort.
At a glance: Inclusive Negotiating is where you list the things you're interested in and anything not listed is off limits.
What is it? Why use it?: As stated above Inclusive Negotiation is a form of negotiation where you include the play, rules, what-ifs, and so on into the discussion before anything starts; anything that doesn't get stated (again play types, rules, etc.) is left off limits and not part of the negotiations. This doesn't mean that things can't be asked about while still negotiating for clarification, but it does help steer the conversation in a direction rather than leaving everything out in the open.
The idea of using Inclusive Negotiation seems to be a fairly recent method in the kink world that is gaining popularity as the conversation of consent becomes more present in people's minds. This has happened because it puts more emphasis on making sure that each play type/style is accounted for BEFORE play happens rather than leaving things up to interpretation mid-scene based on a whim, whereas Exclusive Negotiation does not.
Non-Kink Example: Sue is about to have a medical procedure so her doctor tells her that she can eat jello or clear broth only for 12 hours beforehand.
In this case the purpose of the inclusive style prevents the doctor from having to list the thousands of food possibilities that Sue is not allowed to eat in exchange for the ease of stating the 2 things she's allowed instead. It's a faster and more all encompassing method of communicating her new limited diet.
Kink Example: Steph decides they want to offer their skills as a bootblack for the local charity auction at the leather conference. When they fill out the form they list "non-erotic bootblacking and leathercare" as the skill available and turn the form back in.
While some may try to ridicule Steph for not filling out the hard-limits section and poke fun that they're leaving themselves open to anything, Steph points out that the agreed upon exchange was non-erotic bootblacking and leathercare; anything outside those parameters would be a violation of the negotiations.
This is another example of where inclusive negotiation is used to help curtail what could end up being a long list to include all of the things someone is not allowed to do. While some clarification can still be done to ensure that everyone is on the same page, it rules out someone randomly breaking out a rope and bondage gear as being "part of bootblacking."
How do I choose which method to use?
When trying to decide which method works best for you and your partner(s) it would be a good idea to sit and look at how you currently communicate and whether or not that method is effective. If what you're currently using has worked and created positive results, then it's suggested that you maintain that method.
If you analyze your current, or previous, communication methods and see that there is room for improvement then take some time and test out some more deliberate negotiations. Often times when there's an issue in our negotiation it's because we aren't intentionally taking the time to detail things out as much as we need.
As far as deciding which is best for you, take time to list out your hard limits vs the regular play styles that you participate in (if possible), or compared to the play type you're interested in engaging in at the moment. If the hard limits out number the things you're interested in, it may be worth using Inclusive Negotiation so that only the things you're interested in doing are done. If you're open to most things being done, then Exclusive Negotiations may work instead.
As with all things kink related, take time to make sure you're happy and comfortable with what's going on before proceeding. Your safety and comfort always come first.
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Ignixia is an international kink and alternative sexuality educator. The following blog entries range from educational information and resources from her classes to daily musings had on things occurring in the world.