Pushing limits gets talked about a lot as part of a d/s relationship. It’s not unusual to hear people say that pushing limits is necessary or that it’s a dom’s job. That’s bullshit, but we need a little background so I can explain why.
First of all, not all limits are created equal. I’ve seen plenty of discussions of pushing limits that didn’t clarify what kind of limits they were talking about, which is kind of an important detail. Hard limits are things you are not willing to do anywhere, anyhow, with anyone, ever. Soft limits, on the other hand, are things you might be willing to do once you’ve gotten to know your partner (play or otherwise) better, or once you’ve seen them do a similar scene with someone else, or once the two of you have worked up to it.
Obviously it’s not okay to push hard limits. If someone tells you that needles are a hard limit for them, you goddamn well listen to that and respect it. Asking questions to clarify things that might or might not be okay is totally cool, but pushing or rules lawyering douchebaggery is absolutely not. For example, if one of your sub’s hard limits is needles, you can and should ask whether it’s just needles that aren’t okay or whether other pointy things like Wartenberg wheels or knives are also out or whether breaking the skin in general is out. What would be total assholery would be to hassle your sub about trying needles if it turns out they’re okay with knives and you think they should be okay with needles if they’re willing to play with knives.
Soft limits can be a little more complicated. The bottom line is still simple, though. You do not pressure people to do anything they don’t want to do. Doms are not special and we are not entitled to badger our partners to like what we want them to like.
While I’m at it, subs are not entitled to badger their partners either. It doesn’t get talked about quite as often or using the exact words “pushing limits,” but I’ve seen discussions started by s-types asking for advice to basically harass their partners into playing as hard as the s-type wants them to without showing any respect for how the partner is comfortable playing. That’s not magically okay just because the sub is the one doing the pushing. Tops have limits too, dammit.
What can be harder to explain to people who are wrong about limits and whether it’s okay to pressure people to do things they don’t want to do is that soft limits naturally expand as the relationship grows. That is, it’s really common to have a soft limit of having your hands tied behind your back until you’ve gotten to trust your top but if you never get to the point where you trust them enough to let them do that, you’re in the wrong relationship. From either side, I think it would be totally fair to say it’s not working and break it off.
Of course, some people do like having their limits pushed and seeing if they can do things they didn’t think they could. I don’t mean to come down on people who enjoy having their limits pushed and would be totally bored if their dom didn’t want to challenge them, I just want people to know that if their partner says it’s okay for doms to pressure their subs then their partner is being an asshole. Maybe they can be educated and maybe not, but it’s really important to know that the only person who gets to decide if the sub has their limits pushed is the sub.
If you want to push limits, for fucks sake just find someone who likes that. It’s not that goddamn hard to put that in your profile or bring it up early in the getting to know you process. It’s still totally uncool and counterproductive to lead with your kink (if you pull that shit you don’t deserve to play), but it’s really important to talk in general terms about your needs. If you’re looking for a romantic partner, say that! If you’re interested in d/s, say that! If you only want to get your kink on in the bedroom, say that! Just don’t fucking ask me if I’m willing to spank and then peg you as if you’re placing an order at a restaurant.
Pushing limits is not necessary (and never ethical if you’re talking about hard limits), nor is it the dom’s “job.” You can have plenty of fun without doing stuff that one partner doesn’t want to try and calling yourself a dom doesn’t magically make pressuring someone to do things they don’t want to not abusive. If you want to find someone who will push your limits, more power to you, but don’t feel that you ever need to accept someone else deciding that your limits should be pushed.