Alternative title: Why bondage masters shouldn’t act like Bangkok taxi drivers

I was talking with a sub recently who told me about a master who wanted him to do something that involved a level of risk that he wasn’t comfortable with. When he expressed reservations, the master said “What’s the matter – don’t you trust me?”.

I’m increasingly aware that many people tend to confuse trust with risk management. I thought it might be worth exploring this issue and hopefully prompt both subs and masters to discuss this issue more openly.

The term ‘trust’ is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. In a BDSM content it is about whether the sub has a belief that the master has both the state of mind and knowledge base to perform particular acts or a scene in a safe way.

The problem is that everything has risks. You take a chance getting out of bed in the morning, crossing the street or sticking your face in a fan.

Many BDSM activities come with an element of risk – even when performed by experts. It is entirely legitimate for a sub and a master to discuss risk and recognize that this isn’t a reflection of a master’s ability and certainly isn’t a reflection of trust.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is with a practical example – tandem skydiving. If you are considering being strapped to an instructor and being hurled out of a plane from altitude then there are two questions you are going to ask yourself – do I trust that the instructor has the skills and training for this activity, and am I comfortable with the risks associated with that activity? The second question isn’t about the competence of the instructor – it is about recognizing that certain activities have risk profiles that exist regardless of how well trained the participants are. Just because you think the sky diver is competent and well trained doesn’t mean that you want to accept the risks with skydiving.

You might meet a master who is really experienced with saline scrotal inflation. You might absolutely trust that he has the skills and experience in relation to that activity. There might be no one else in the planet who you would trust more to do that activity – the question is whether you want to accept the risks associated with that activity. Because there are risks – no matter how well it is performed. Things can go wrong.

So ultimately, risk minimization is about potential consequences. There are ways of having trust in someone without putting you in danger. If you trust someone to tie you up and spank you then you are trusting them not to go too far with the spanking. Having a safe word reduces the risks even more. Spanking is a relatively safe activity that is unlikely to have any long term consequences beyond a sore ass for a few days. It is very low risk.

The challenge is that we all perceive risk differently. An activity that a master may regard low risk may be regarded by the sub as having a higher risk. Very often a master may be more aware of the risks associated with a particular activity than a sub because they have more experience. In that instance, it is up to the master to be able to clearly articulate the risks and educate the sub – not to resort to “if you trusted me then you would”.

So how would I approach this if I was a sub? The challenge is to make it clear that trust and risk minimization are different. Assuming that you trust the master and have played before then it is useful to:
– Emphasize that it is the risks associated with the activity that you aren’t comfortable with and not the master’s level of skill or experience
– If you have played with the master before then remind them of other ways you have trusted them in the past
– If a master says an activity is low risk then say that you would like to research it to understand it better (after all, some more knowledge might cause you to review your position)

One of the problems is that people can take it personally because they might not perceive a situation to be risky at all.

One of the best examples of this concerns taxi drivers in Bangkok. The first thing I do when I get into a car is reach for the seat belt. There have been compulsory seat belt laws in Melbourne, Australia since 1970, so no one under forty remembers a time when it wasn’t compulsory. So it is an automatic reflex.

In Bangkok taxis the rear seat belt often hasn’t been used recently. It might be stuck under the seats, and there is then is a struggle to free it.Thai taxi drivers have two reactions to this which are expressed to varying degrees. The first is that they think I’m a wimp. The second is that I don’t trust them.

When I insist on wearing a seat belt, I’m not making a value judgement on their ability to drive. Rather, I’m recognizing that I can reduce the risk of harm by buckling up.

In Manila it is a little different. There are busy intersections where drivers cross themselves (it’s a catholic country) before they cross. It’s a good indication that they recognize that with all the skill in the world they also need a little luck.

So to all the subs out there, if a master wants you to do something dangerous and says that it is a question of trust then you should absolutely point out that there is a big difference between trust and risk. And to all those masters out there, remember that your risk assessment will be different to your subs. Educate, never intimidate, and let them make an informed choice.