Limits from the top

Today in ‘Things I can’t believe I haven’t already ranted about”: tops have limits too. We tend to talk a lot more about how bottoms have the right to set limits, which makes perfect sense when bottoms are the ones more likely to be physically or psychologically harmed when someone crosses their limits, but I think it’s worth talking about tops’ limits too.

First of all, there are plenty of things I just don’t have the physical skills to do. For example, I can’t throw a long (over 2 feet) whip without hitting myself on the ear, let alone being able to aim for any particular spot. I don’t feel particularly limited by that one since I don’t particularly want to be out of arms reach of my partner while we’re playing, but it is a thing I can’t do. Needles, on the other hand, I would like to try someday, but I don’t have the skills to do a needle scene on my own yet. I’d feel comfortable putting a few needles in someone if I had an experienced needle top spotting me, but I wouldn’t want to go jabbing someone all on my own. And of course my endurance is limited. If you want an hour long flogging scene where you go deep into subspace and just stay there, you’re going to need to find someone whose shoulder is up to it 🙂

There are also things I can’t do and feel good about it afterward. With verbal humiliation, I can tell someone they’re being such a good little slut, but I can’t tell them that they’re stupid, worthless, pathetic, or anything like that. I don’t mean to imply that people who enjoy being called stupid and worthless are doing kink wrong, but it’s just not something I have to offer.

I also have a hangup about no-win situations. While I can intellectually understand how giving someone an impossible task to carry out, then punishing them when they inevitably fail can be a fun way to play with power, I would feel like an asshole if I did that. The idea of putting someone in a no-win situation just reminds me too much of times I’ve been stuck in a situation like that (for example, an ex of mine always used to complain that I wouldn’t open up and talk to him, but every goddamn time I tried to talk with him about anything, everything I had to say was always stupid and wrong), which fills me with rage and is the opposite of fun for me.

Speaking of anger, I am not at all comfortable with the idea of playing while angry, or using play, no matter how well negotiated, to vent anger about anything. Unlike verbal humiliation and impossible tasks, I would advise other people not to do this either. Even if you don’t have the hangups I do around anger, it’s just too easy for a scene based on anger to get out of control. For myself in particular, I have a vicious temper (right here people who really know me are nodding along, and people who only know me a little bit are going “Aw, that’s cute that she thinks she has a temper”) which means I can’t ethically put anyone in a position where I could really hurt them if I lose my temper. I also firmly believe that if I’m going to hit someone in anger, I need to have a much better reason than “I was angry and they were there.” My kinky rule of thumb is that I do things joyfully or not at all.

Finally, I don’t play very hard with people I don’t know well. If I’ve just met someone at a party I’m willing to give them a relatively light flogging, but I’m not going to do anything that leaves much of any bruising. Once I have a better idea of  how much someone can take and how clearly they can communicate mid-scene, I’m willing to go harder, but that always takes a little while.

The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that it’s normal for tops to have limits too. We are not in fact all knowing, all powerful beings who never feel uncertain or squicked out by a certain activity, and it’s unfair to expect us to be. Especially if you’re new to topping, there are going to be all kinds of things you’re just freaked out by, or are interested in but not ready for, or are waiting for just the right person to explore that particular kink with. You get to have limits too, so don’t forget to discuss them too when you’re asking about your bottom’s limits.

6 thoughts on “Limits from the top

  1. Agree on verbal humiliation and no-win scenarios. I do like head fuckery, and depending on what exactly the task is and what the results of failure are, I *might* be okay with the no-win thing…but it’s the kind of thing that can flip in a half-second from fun to practically triggering (for me, never mind for them) so I suspect I wouldn’t want to do it in a scene.

    There are just some things that no amount of aftercare will make the drop afterward okay for me, and some things I just won’t enjoy at the time, and some things I’m just not into. And everybody gets to say that for themselves, whether it’s for some srs bsns psychological or physical reason, or just because they’re not really into that. There’s no race to be The Most Kinkiest Of All…or there shouldn’t be.

  2. As somebody who was in the military, where no-win situations are basically the entire basic training experience, I’d like to offer up a different perspective. Let me also say that I don’t care much about doing them one way or the other, so we generally don’t, but I think they can be valuable.

    Think about what you do know (both of you) ‒ he can’t win, and he will be punished eventually. The one thing that is still in your control is when you punish him. The best no-win situations are ongoing. They give you a valid excuse to punish him anytime you want ‒ without warning. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t “win”. You just have to move the goal posts. The reason they use these in the military is to ensure that you are giving 100% effort at all times, because eventually, you may be put in a life and death scenario where you are expected to act as a team, and they can’t have people who aren’t disciplined.

    Instead of punishing him for failing an un-completable task, you punish him for showing a decline in effort. I think this matters more for dominance and submission than it does for kink. No-win scenarios are a way for you to exert your control and keep him in a submissive position at all times. If you set the bar high enough, and he tries hard enough, then he will always meet the mark you actually wanted to set for him. I hope that makes sense.

    • Ah, but this is where Stabbity’s point about limits comes in. Your description there of no-win as a kink scenario practically gives me hives. Makes it way less attractive to me, actually! 🙂 (Because of non-consensual scenarios I’ve been in like that. Believe me, do that to a child for fifteen years and they will develop one hell of an anxiety complex.) So I know that, for myself, I do not want to be involved in that dynamic whether as a sub or a dom. It is bad headspace for me. Although clearly for you that isn’t the case.

      Which just goes back to Stabbity’s point, that what works for one person and is super hot for them can be a big fat no for someone else. Including doms, for as many varying reasons as for subs.

      (Here’s hoping you find someone who’s compatible regarding this kink, though, if it does it for you.)

      • I don’t want you to misunderstand. I’m not trying to suggest that she do it, mearly that there is more than one way to look at it. I am happily married to a dominant woman. Neither of are particularly fond of no-win scenarios, so we don’t do them. Thank you for your kind words though.

    • They give you a valid excuse to punish him anytime you want ‒ without warning.

      I know some people like playing like that, but needing an excuse to play just doesn’t do it for me. I’d much rather just tell someone ‘come over, I feel like beating you” than feel like I have to make up some kind of excuse to justify wanting to get my sadist on.

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