Hey tops/D-types/left-slashes/etc- IMHO, it’s not OK to leave scars on a bright & shiny newbie bottom.
Sounds kinda simple, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down:
I want to set aside for the moment the (very serious, but more unpredictable and individual) risks of emotional scars and limit this discussion to physical-marks-left-on-your-body-for-the-rest-of-your-life types of scars. As a starting point- any type of play that breaks the skin has the potential to leave scars. The likelihood that a given break in the skin will scar depends on lots of things- how deep it is, whether it gets infected, the location, the person’s overall health, medications, wound care, etc. For example, branding will pretty much inevitably leave a scar. Cutting may be inevitable or unlikely to scar depending on the technique used. Singletails or canes can certainly leave scars. The list goes on. If you as a top don’t have some insight into what makes a given type of play you’re doing more or less likely to leave a permanent mark on your bottom, I can only suggest that you get more education.
I consider there to be two broad categories of scarring in BDSM play- intentional and incidental. There is overlap between these. Intentional scars happen when at least part of the point of the scene was to leave lasting marks. Incidental scars happen where the point of the scene wasn’t to leave long-term marks. Often (but certainly not always) scars from impact play are left incidentally. Overlap happens with things like a cutting, where the point might be the sensation of the play, with the scarring taken on as an acceptable risk (scarring would then be mostly incidental), or the point might be the scar, with the sensation being a means to an end (scarring would then be “purely” intentional). I personally find scars that were at least partly intentional to be much more acceptable than those left incidentally. This is partly because there is often a lack of risk aware consent with incidental scars (see below), and partly just a personal bias. I do not consider either type appropriate for newbie bottoms.
Related but not directly overlapping- scars can be left with or without risk aware consent being given on the part of the bottom. What does it mean for a bottom to give risk aware consent to a scene that will possibly or likely leave scars? It means that the top had a conversation with them that went something like this: “We’ve talked about doing a hook pull scene. If I shove large gauge needles through your skin and then we yank them around, you’re very likely to have puncture mark scars for the rest of your life. You OK with that?” Ideally these conversations should happen with experienced bottoms as well. Even if a bright & shiny newbie bottom agrees that scars are totally cool, I still think a responsible top will pick a different type of play… which brings me to:
“Bright & shiny newbie bottom”
What makes a given bottom a “bright & shiny newbie”? Who decides when a bottom “levels up” and becomes an “experienced” bottom? Is it after 6 months in the scene? After 20 playdates at the local dungeon? After being placed in collar by Steve, who we all know is a heaps bad-ass Twue Dominant Master? After 300 hours of reading posts like this on FetLife? For me, parsing out this question is the most difficult part of this post.
I think there are cases where most members of our community would look at a given person and go, that person there, that is a bright & shiny newbie. The one who just read “50 Shades of Grey” and with wide eyes comes to a munch for the first time. The one who just got out of a long-term vanilla relationship and is ecstatic with exploring all their repressed desires. Do you remember being a bright & shiny newbie? I remember it- I was so eager to explore and to please my tops that I’d jump into pretty much anything. For me personally, it took over a year before I developed enough ability to negotiate and look out for myself to perhaps start to consider myself “experienced”- but I also came into the scene young (age 20) and having not developed any ability to set limits in my other relationships. Your mileage may vary. The bottom who is asked about their limits and says “I don’t really have any”—that is not an experienced bottom.
I’ve made a sweeping statement that scarring a newbie bottom is NOT OK! So, what am I gonna do about it? String tops who scar bottoms I consider newbies up by their toes and, I don’t know, tar and feather them until they beg for mercy?
If I see marks that are likely going to scar on a bottom I consider a newbie, I think one of the following things must have happened:
1) Their top made a mistake. That cane hit was too hard, it wrapped, it opened the skin and now it could scar. We all make mistakes. It is not a lack of ever making mistakes ever that defines a “good” top- it is how they handle mistakes.
2) The top in question is uncaring, unsafe, and/or uneducated. They’re more concerned with what is hot for them than looking out for the bottom in the long term, or they didn’t know the play they were doing could scar their bottom, i.e. “I just put out my cigar on her ass, I didn’t think it would scar!” Also under this category are tops who specifically seek out and exploit newbie bottoms. If you’re thinking to yourself that this post makes me a funsucker killjoy because you can’t think of any way to play with a newbie bottom that doesn’t carry significant risk of scarring them, you likely fit in this category.
3) The top’s assessment is different from my own- they don’t consider the bottom a “bright & shiny newbie,” or even if so, they decided the bottom was able to give risk aware consent to the possibility of scars, educated the bottom adequately, etc. Even if I don’t agree with the call made in a particular situation, there are certainly cases where reasonable and intelligent people disagree. I tend to be very risk adverse. Just because I wouldn’t put scars on a given bottom, doesn’t mean it definitely was wrong.
As an event host, I’m primarily concerned with people in that second category. Sometimes education and mentoring might be the answer. Sometimes… that’s not an adequate response.
Let’s talk about personal responsibility for just a moment. Am I relieving the “newbie” bottom of any responsibility to get educated, to negotiate, to set limits, to use their safewords, etc? Surely not. These are excellent skills and we as a community need to do even more to teach/promote them. But many of us don’t come right out of the vanilla “box” with these skills in place. I certainly didn’t. Taking care of our newbie bottoms mean that they’ll eventually turn into experienced bottoms, who we can have all SORTS of even dirtier fun with… but part of getting them there is looking out for them, and part of that is to not leave them with scars.