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How To Negotiate A Scene
Issue 44, 1993

Negotiation is always part of SM play, our communication to prospective partners about what we are seeking and are willing to give. It is the clothes we wear, the signs that adorn us, our manners, our questions, and our responses.

There are many ways and places to begin "negotiating". Wherever two people communicate, it's possible that a sexual encounter will occur. Of course not all possibilities turn into realities. What may be less apparent is that turning a possibility into a reality takes negotiation.

For discussionís sake, negotiation can be broken into six stages: early signals, discovery, initial agreement, fine tuning, commitment, and on-going communication.

The intensity of the final "commitment" determines the degree to which negotiation is necessary as well as how detailed it needs be. Quickies have been "negotiated" without words in a matter of seconds. Arriving at agreement on a long-term relationship may take months, if not years, and long-term lovers will tell you, is never really over. EARLY SIGNALS

First impressions can be overcome but, truthfully, to do so can be difficult. We tell books by their cover. We interpret signs, gestures, and words in the context in which we encounter them.

Early signals establish a framework for future negotiation. They set broad guidelines and the basis for a relationship. I use the word "relationship" to mean the way two people relate, or treat each other.

Early on, the two of you are going to have to decide who's top, who's bottom. Are we switchable, undecided, available? That communication, of course, doesn't all have to be verbal, or even in person.

Three different guys once wrote to me in the hope that I'd become their master. The first said something like "I hope you're not offended if I say I'd like to be your slave". The second left only vague clues about his intentions but made it very clear that he was an experienced submissive without a master and that he'd like to talk to me about his (very hot) experiences with his last master.

The third gentleman was quite forthright; "But ultimately, my goal is to give myself up to YOU as a total gift."

All three included phone numbers, therefore the negotiation, complete with early signals of where they wanted to go, had begun. I had sent early signals in a column on slavery and so the stage was set for the next level of discussion. DISCOVERY

This stage entails the discovery of general parameters, such as willingness, availability, and experience level. It is a simple matter of fact finding. What is important is that you find the facts necessary to make an informed decision.

Is she single, or at least available? Interested? When? Now, later, never? What are his interests, his fetishes, his turn-ons and turn-offs? Is she new to the scene, or an old pro?

Discovery is simply a time to get to know each other as individuals. If you take time to do that, you'll help avoid serious misunderstandings later.

Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of quick, anonymous sex, but treating your perspective partner as a person, getting to know him as he really is, will make any later activity more pleasurable.

Don't rush discovery. Sure you may want to get your rocks off right now, but better go home alone, or wait another day for the right person, than find yourself in a situation you'll regret. Issues of health and safety are important enough to take priority over fast testicular or clitoral relief.

There's nothing wrong with giving the person your phone number and continuing the discovery in a less rushed, less frantic time. On the other hand, if you both feel you know enough to go on to "Go" then do so. INITIAL AGREEMENT

If you've gotten this far, it's because you've found common grounds of agreement throughout the time of discovery. By now you ought to feel that you are right for each other. The time and extent of initial agreement, like the rest of the process, is determined by the expected outcome. For short term relationships ("Quickies") initial agreement may include saying yes to "doing it", (whatever it is in this discussion), right now.

On the other hand, you may find yourself in somewhat of a loop between discovery and initial agreement, getting small "yeses", learning more information, and then getting more approval. There comes a point, of course, when there's been enough talk, enough writing, enough cruising. It may be that it's never going to work out, or that the conclusion is so obvious that you might as well get naked right now!

Just because the person you're negotiating with says no doesn't make you any less of a person. Saying no doesn't mean you are putting him down or rejecting her worth.

You may want to find out, if possible, why the answer is no, especially if you find the no disheartening or surprising. But the no may just be what is more real and most honest for both of you. Move on to other opportunities, letting this one simply teach you what it might and then letting go of it.

If, on the other hand, the world, and the gal you're negotiating with, are saying yes to you, then go on to the next step. You're almost ready to get laid. FINE TUNING

"Almost", I said. "Almost".

Some of the obvious details may have been worked out by now. You may even know a great deal about when and where and what with whom. Fine tuning is meant to fill in the spaces, especially those concerning safety, health, and limits.

Like the rest of negotiating, the depth and breadth of fine tuning depends upon the intensity, duration, and kind of scene that is going (you hope) to take place. Whether your scene lasts ten minutes or ten years, you need to fine tune the information about health issues. Regardless of your state of health, it is important that both of you are clear as to safe sex and that you are both responsible to insure that safe sex occurs. Neither top nor bottom can shrug this responsibility on to the other. Be informed. Fine tune the details before you find yourself in a position where you wish you had known sooner. COMMITMENT

Having followed, in a natural, easy-going, and honestly open way, the preceding steps, the rest of the negotiation is a snap. You both know what, when, and whom you're getting. It's time to just do it.

That is, it's time to just do if it is a reasonably and emotionally sound decision. Listen to the red flags your inner self sends up, if there are any. Be sure that what you're up to is safe, sane, and consensual. Recognize that you're an adult making an adult decision, arrived at soberly, carefully, and respectfully of self and others, and then do it.

Getting the commitment may be as easy as asking "My place or yours?" or much more formal. It may be as dominant as "On your knees, boy", or as submissive as dropping to your knees. How clear cut it needs to be depends on what has transpired to this point. Fact is, though, if you've gotten this far, then you're home free. It's just a matter of knowing whether it's his home or yours. ON-GOING COMMUNICATION

One might think that getting bedded, bound, laid, sucked, served, or any of the other variations two people might come up with would be the end of the negotiating process. But it's not.

Relationships are viable entities in themselves. You will continue to discover new facts and facets of your partner. There will be a need for further fine tuning, for clearing up misinformation, for sharing new fantasies. New facts will continuously alter your possibilities and so negotiation, to keep both of you where each of you wants to be, will need to continue.

Don't be afraid to re-negotiate. If the red flags fly in your face, respond to them. Listen to your inner self, however it may try to break into your hearing.

That doesn't mean that all new information is negative or new feelings foreboding. You may find, as many have, that what began as that quick encounter evolves into the love of your life. Make all your relationships work by being open, honest, reasonable, and emotionally sound.

Remember to have fun, the only reason to be negotiating in the first place.

Copyright 1993 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay in any form, contact

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