Hello pups (and others)!
I’m Buceph, one of the writers for The Guiding Paw. I’m a kink researcher, educator, and artist who’s been out and about in the London scene for just over a decade. I identify as a pony / pup service switch, with a taste for anything submissive and masochistic. That’s a wide net of expertise, so if there’s anything you’d like specific insight on, give me a shout. I’m here to share.
So my first post is about trust. For me, being able to trust my play partners is the most important part of having a fun and fulfilling time. It’s right up there with consent. If I don’t trust the people I’m playing with, I can’t consent to what’s going on.
That said, it’s not always clear how to build up that trust to make play safe and fun for everyone involved. When I started in the kink scene I was very naive, and I made a lot of mistakes about who I played with and why. With that in mind, here are three things I’ve learned to do to build trust before and during play.
Trust your instincts
Trust starts with how you feel. You know the signs that something is wrong: the sinking feeling in your stomach, the hairs on your arms rising. We’ve evolved such senses to spot danger, and it’s important not to dismiss them. Remember: no means no. If your body is telling you not to do something, you should listen.
If a prospective play partner makes you feel uncomfortable - even if you can’t work out why - don’t play with them. If a potential activity makes you feel frightened (in a bad way), don’t do it. Even if you’re the most pleasure-starved pup in Vanillaville, play is not worth putting yourself in danger for.
The same applies during scenes. If the scene stops being enjoyable, ask to slow things down, or use your safe-word. If your play partner is responsible, they won’t mind. If they do, it’s time to find someone else to play with.
Before you start playing with someone, talk to them about what you’d like to have happen during your play. Tell them what your limits are. Is there anything that will make you feel uncomfortable? Any body areas you don’t want touched? Any sensations you like or dislike?
Be open and honest, and never assume anything is implied. If you know you don’t want to do something, you need to tell your partner. Likewise, if you’re new to something, or want to try something out, let your partner know! The more you and your partner share with each other, the better you can respond to each other’s needs, and the safer you’ll be.
It’s important to discuss these things before any play, even if you play with your partner a lot. People change all the time: since you saw your partner last they may have developed a health issue that will impact play, so may need you to take things slowly, or avoid a particular activity. They might have discovered a new limit, or have a new idea they want to try out.
Negotiating also gives you an insight into how experienced a potential partner is, and whether you can trust them. If the person you’re playing with doesn’t negotiate before play, they may not be aware that it’s an important part of communication. If, however, they refuse to negotiate - for example, saying it’s not needed - that’s a signal to run in the opposite direction.
This is also the time to share your safe-words (I.e. a word that, if said, tells your partner you want to slow down or stop). You should also agree safe signals, in case you or your partner are unable to talk during the scene. A pup’s safe signal might be to lie completely flat, or to go to a designate ‘safe area’. Be clear, consistent, and respectful with your safe-words or signals, and remember to check these with your partner before every session of play.
Check-in during play
Even if a safe-word isn’t called, you still need to check in with your partner regularly during play. Play puts unusual stresses on our bodies and minds, and it’s not always easy to tell how your partner is doing just by looking at them. Likewise, your partner may not be able to let you know directly - for example, if they’re super into headspace.
Every so often, pause what you’re doing and check that your partner is okay and wants to continue. They may decide that they want to do something else, or take things slower. Something might be uncomfortable in a way they cannot cope with. Or they may want to play harder!
Checking in regularly is especially important if you’re playing with someone new. Everyone’s bodies and minds work differently, and checking in helps you assess the impact your actions are having. It’ll help develop trust too: checking in tells your play partner that you care about their safety and well-being beyond the immediate pleasure of the game.
Everyone involved in a scene should feel comfortable to check in with each other as needed. Sometimes, however, one person is in a better position to check on the others. In S/m play, for example, submissives may be physically or mentally less able to check in on dominants than vice versa.
It’s a good idea, therefore, to discuss how you’ll check in before starting to play. If it’s appropriate in context to speak to your partner, and they can understand words, do so. Alternatively, you might ask your partner to squeeze your hand if they want to continue, or put their paw on your knee. In this way you can tailor checking in so as not to break up the scene.
If your partner doesn’t respond to a request to check in, it’s time to take a break. It’s often innocent: it can take a while for a person to get out of headspace far enough to respond to you. However, if a person cannot (or will not) respond to the question of whether they are okay to continue, you can’t know if they consent. Stop the game, do some after-care, and find out what happened when your partner is ready.
Have fun folks. Play well! - and stay safe.