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  • Writer's pictureAshley Floyd

Hard and Soft Limits

Ashley Floyd, LMFT

The idea of hard and soft limits comes from the world of BDSM, where experiences must be negotiated in order to be consensual, safe, and enjoyable. Though this concept originated in BDSM, it is important for everyone engaging in sexual activity to know their limits, whether you are submissive, dominant, switchy, or vanilla. Keep reading to learn about hard limits, soft limits, requirement limits, and how to identify your own limits.

Quick Note on Terminology

Throughout this article, I use the word “play”. In this context, play means anything we engage in to invoke feelings of pleasure. This may include sex, but it can also be non-sexual power exchange, physical intimacy that doesn’t involve sex, or any form of pleasurable interaction with others that would benefit from overt conversations about limits. Now back to your scheduled reading!

Hard Limits

Hard limits are things that you will not do. Something may be a hard limit for you due to past trauma, disliking certain acts, or general feelings of discomfort. You do not need to justify your hard limits.

When you’ve set something as a hard limit, it should be respected. If a hard limit of yours is not respected, the person you are playing with cannot be trusted.

Soft Limits

Soft limits are conceptually a bit more complicated. Something may be a soft limit for several reasons: if you are interested in something but you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to engage in it, if you want to engage in something but it needs to be done slowly and with caution, if you only want to engage in something when you have an established, trusting relationship with the person you are playing with, or if you want to engage in something but feel scared to. All of these reasons, and many others, are valid for placing something as a soft limit.

It is up to you and your partner(s) to determine if, how, and when to push soft limits. This is a personal decision as some people enjoy pushing their soft limits and others do not. There is no one right way to deal with soft limits. There is, however, a wrong way, which would be pushing past your soft limits with no prior negotiation or consent.

Requirement Limits

Requirement limits are not often discussed, but they are just as important. You can think of requirement limits as “musts”. For example, you might require extra aftercare time if your partner uses a flogger, or you might require cuddle time before being intimate, or you might require that you wear socks during sex. Or maybe that last one is just me.

How to Identify Your Limits

If you’ve never thought about what your limits are, it might be difficult to know where to start. I encourage you to sit down with a journal or a trusted person and write/discuss what your limits might be. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Blowjobs

  • Fingering

  • Anal sex

  • Choking

  • Spanking

  • Blindfolds

  • Restraints

  • Lights on/lights off

  • Multiple partners

  • Wax play

  • Electro play

  • Cold/Hot sensations

  • Tickling

You don’t need to consider every type of play there is when identifying your limits. Just identify those things that give you a noticeable reaction. This reaction might be disgust, aversion, intrigue, fear, or curiosity. Note these reactions to determine if something is a hard or soft limit for you.

It is okay, and likely, for your limits to change over time. Soft limits may become part of your regular play, hard limits may become soft limits, you may add a limit as you discover that you don’t like something, etc. Discovering your limits is an ever-changing process.

Think about what you need for play to feel pleasurable and safe for you. Are there any requirements you could establish that would allow you to fully embrace the moment more?

Once you’ve identified your limits, have a conversation with anyone that you are playing with. Tell them your limits and invite them to share theirs. Discuss how/if you want to push your soft limits and what that might look like. Check back in with your partner(s) every so often as limits are likely to change.

If you are curious to dive into more self-exploration regarding kink, BDSM, or limits, you can schedule a free consultation with me to decide if you would like to pursue that exploration through therapy together.

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