Category: My Work

Man umbrella

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.


Retrieved from

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.

Taking a step outside

At first glance, the song “Outside” by late singer, songwriter and prominent LGBT activist George Michael may seem as just a song about scandalous sex, but the song holds a lot more significance than it seems, not just to George Michael fans, but to the LGBT community and even the singer himself.

20 years ago in 1998, Michael was outed as gay after he was arrested in a public bathroom in Beverly Hills for “engaging in a lewd act” (Cornwell, 1998). According to the British social attitudes survey about views on homosexuality, during the year that Michael was arrested, only 23% of participants opted that homosexuality “was not wrong at all” (British Social Attitudes, 2013). Even during that period of time where being gay was largely seen as morally wrong, Michael did not let himself be consumed by shame. Although his arrest fuelled the bigoted views of homophobes, Michael took charge of the mistake he made, expressing remorse for his action, but not his sexuality.

He then wrote and performed the song “Outside”, the song and its music video unabashedly satirizing his arrest. Again, this was his way of acknowledging the events that happened while reclaiming his sexuality and letting others know that he felt no shame in being gay. It was this pride and defiance that defined him as a gay icon to many of the LGBT community, putting him in the same league as other gay icons such as Cher, Grace Jones and Freddie Mercury, all who deviated societal norms and expectations regarding gender and sexuality, as they mirrored the struggles that LGBT people faced in their daily lives.

To elaborate on why George Michael became a pivotal icon among the LGBT community: Coming out is a very personal and heterogenous experience for every person. Michael’s coming out provided support for many gay men, both of those who were already out, or those who had yet to come out, only being able to to internalise their fear and shame. Seeing the famous singer turn what would otherwise be crippling embarrassment into a moment of self discovery was empowering.

Michael’s coming out was a testament to the degree of self-acceptance that he’d achieved. Griffith and Hebl (2002) suggest that self-acceptance plays an important role in gay/lesbian individuals, as it provides for “better coping skills in dealing with prejudice”. This prejudice is in reference to to homophobia, imposed on by heteronormativity in a predominantly heterosexual culture. Herek, Cogan, Gillis and Glunt (1997) also observe that lesbians and gay men typically hold negative impressions about themselves when they begin to recognize their own homosexuality in any part of their lives. Such negative feelings are also known as internalized homophobia, and often undermine a person’s efforts to come to terms with their own deviance from the heteronormative standards that are more “commonplace”. Even worse, a person might even express their internalized homophobia as disapproval of other members of the LGBT community, besides themselves.

Even though current society is more accepting of the LGBT community than it was a decade ago, coming out is still a milestone on its own, and one would still be doing it at the mercy of a society that is still predominantly heterosexual. Parris (2013) explains the situation very aptly:

“…it’s society’s business to snoop, to root out, to shame publicly and to punish homosexuality, the forces of intolerance now realise they’ve lost that battle. But they haven’t stopped hating, and their new cry is this: “Why don’t you just shut up about it? Who asked what you get up to in bed, anyway? Your private life is your own affair but please stop ramming it down our throat [snigger, snigger] . . .” and so on.

Even if a gay person were out of the proverbial closet, he would be expected by society to sanitise his homosexuality. However, Michael’s refusal to “censor” his own sexuality put courage in the hearts of many who were like him, and made their lives all the more tolerable. George Michael was a gay man, and that was that.


British Social Attitudes (2013). Homosexuality. Retrieved March 3, 2018 from

ornwell, T. (1998). George Michael arrested over ‘lewd act’. Retrieved March 3, 2018 from

georgemichaelVEVO (2009). George Michael – Outside (Official Video). Retrieved March 3, 2018 from

Griffith, H.K., Hebl, M. (2003). The Disclosure Dilemma for Gay Men and Lesbians: Coming Out at Work. The Journal of applied psychology. 87. 1191-9. 10.1037/0021-9010.87.6.1191.

Herek, G.M., Cogan, J. C., Gillis, J.R., Glunt, E. K. (1997). Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. (2), 17–25.

Parris, M. (2013). ‘Tom Daley has found the courage to come out. I wish I had’ Retrieved March 3, 2018 from