In the BDSM world, limits refer to activities that a partner feels strongly about, and to which special attention must be paid.
Before a BDSM scene, it is common to perform a negotiation to outline what will and will not happen during the play session. During this time, all participants outline what they desire and what they will not tolerate. This is the time to discuss limits.
Both dominants and submissives can express limits. They can be spoken or written, and discussing them fully usually results in an improved experience for all involved.
Popular variants include:
- Hard Limit – something that must not be done. Violating a hard limit is often considered just cause for ending a scene or even a relationship. Examples include “scat is a hard limit for me” or “I have a back injury, so striking on the back is a hard limit”.
- Soft Limit – something that someone will do only in special circumstances or when highly aroused. Example - “I will only do anal sex with a very experienced partner”.
- "Must" limit – something that a person will not do the scene without. Examples include “lots of hair pulling is a must-limit for me” or “If you’re going to flog me, I’ll need lots of aftercare”.
- Time limit – an amount of time after which play ceases.
- No Limits – the dominant may do anything he or she cares to with the submissive. This is usually a sign of an inexperienced player who does not yet know what their limits are. In reality, even the most hardened and experienced players have limits. “No limits” play is more the stuff of porn and thriller movies than in actual, real-life BDSM. This is also sometimes used as a term for TPE or Total Power Exchange.
- Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame, and Jon Jacobs. Different Loving: An Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard Books, 1993. ISBN 0-679-40873-8.
- Philip Miller and Molly Devon, Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism. Mystic Rose Books, 1995. ISBN 0-9645960-0-8.