Safe words are an essential part of the (consensual) BDSM (Bondage/Domination/Sado-Masochism) lifestyle, wherein sexual fantasies of physical pain or humiliation are all too common. In sexual contexts such as these, SM practitioners have come up with a safety system using one or more ‘safe words’, in a bid to prevent any unexpected mishaps. A safe word is an utterance by one party that will cause the other individual to completely stop whatever they are doing.

In Julie and Mike’s case, their ‘safe emoji’ is most likely the toilet emoji. Of course, the pickle may seem to be an obvious choice; according to Cameron and Kulick (2003), ‘pickle’ seems to be a popular safe word in the BDSM community, mostly since it is easy to remember and completely unrelated or neutral to the sexual context, thus making it an appropriate safe word. However, Mike and Julie are sexting, not partaking in an SM scene in real life. The pickle emoji is similar in shape to the eggplant emoji, which is popularly used in text messaging and social media nowadays as a metaphor for a penis, thanks to its phallic shape. Considering the close similarities the pickle emoji has to the eggplant, seeing it as an emoji in a text message is very different from simply saying ‘pickle’ out of the blue in real life. Other safe words used in real life SM scenes include ‘radish’ (Henki, 2007) and ‘apple’ (Robyn, 2009), also based on their neutrality to the SM scene taking place.


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Therefore, the toilet (and perhaps in extension, the microphone emoji) would mostly likely be Mike and Julie’s safe words as it is the most neutral term in the sexual context. It could even symbolise wanting a toilet break!

At first glance, the pill might work because of the traffic light theory wherein yellow means ‘be careful’ while red means ‘stop’. However, the pill being half yellow and red might send mixed signals and just confuse the other person, as there is a distinct difference between ‘slow down’ and ‘stop immediately’.

The hand sign for ‘stop’ simply would not work, as a popular concept of BDSM is “consensual non-consent”. Cameron and Kulick also point out that using the typical words of refusal that non-SM participants would, such as ‘stop’ or ‘no’, simply renders null the origin of the sexual fantasy. To elaborate: the dominant one (or just ‘dom’) fantasizing of being refused or told by the submissive one (‘sub’) to stop, receiving sexual pleasure from doing as they wish despite protests from the sub. Of course, the sub can also hold the fantasy of saying ‘stop’, but have the dom continue, or simply just be open to fulfilling the dom’s sexual desires. So, using the hand sign for ‘stop’ would simply contribute to the power dynamic, standing to encourage other party to carry on what they are saying or even escalate it, instead of stopping them. The same goes for all the facial expressions (including the monkey), which can be interpreted to be gratifying refusal or enjoyment. The chains are also not appropriate as a safe word because chains are a very popular prop used in SM scenes.

Cameron, D., Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Henkin, W. A. (2007). Counselling bisexuals on BDSM lifestyle issues. Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan. 358.


Multiple sources describe ‘sex-positivity’ as a form of sexual liberation: being open to multiple sex partners who are also aware of and consenting of the person leading such a lifestyle. This concept seems popular in the feminist community and appeal mostly to women, who are all too familiar with being labelled ‘sluts’ or being slut-shamed for being sexually provocative or having more than one sex partner, especially because heterosexual men tend not to receive the same backlash when they have multiple sex partners.

One of the most popular efforts of reclaiming the derogatory term “slut” and representations of sex-positivity in identity politics is the SlutWalk, pioneered by Amber Rose, aiming to liberate women from the toxicity of rape culture, as well as policing of their choices of clothes and sexual lifestyle. However, the SlutWalk itself poses as a problem to a fair share of women, who do not want to be associated with the word ‘slut”, partly because the term is already so deeply rooted in patriarchal society as one of the worst words to brand any women with. Some critics argue that women should find other avenues to express their sexual positivity and validity other than “male defined words like slut”.

Furthermore, Cameron and Kulick (2003) observed that identity politics tends to place emphasis on the ‘authentic’ expression of one’s self. It is exactly for this reason that some women do not agree with what they think is excessive attention being paid to the word “slut”: is the authenticity of a woman truly dependent on her sexuality? Surely different women have many other aspects of their own self and distinct lifestyle that they feel is what makes them authentic, other than sex.

Others proffer that while the concept of sex-positivity is, well, positive on paper, it might give others the wrong idea; for example, making people think you are open to any form of sexual encounter and potentially further perpetuating the already-rampant rape culture in society.

Another source also points out that sex-positivity may hinder the visibility of other people, namely people on the asexual spectrum, aromantic people, and trauma survivors. Some believers of sex-positivity may invalidate these people who do not want to be associated with sex or romance, potentially labelling them as rejects. This goes against the fundamental belief of sex-positivity: to embrace the fluidity of sexuality and density of human desire, or lack thereof.