it’s raining sex


I refer to the first question on sadomasochistic sexting and the possibility of which emoji being used as the safe emoji. Before I lay down my claim on that emoji, let’s first examine the context surrounding “safe emoji”.

The interpretation I have for a “safe emoji” is that it acts very much like a safe word during BDSM roleplay. In this case, both Julie and Mike play out their erotic desires of sadism (erotic desire to inflict pain) and masochism (erotic desire to receive pain) through a digital channel of texting instead of in person. Emojis in their texts to one another serve as a form of (para)linguistic tools which they can use to perform and act out their desires on/with each other.

A conventional BDSM role-play (that is, one in which both/all participants of the scene are physically present) is mediated through language. This is especially so when asserting dominance over a person and performing submission to the other, and thus also drastically devalues utterances like “No” or “Stop” – both signal and play up to the character of the Top as having complete control and power over the other person; the Top does not stop just because they are told “no”.

With these in mind, it becomes clear that the safe emoji has to be one which is incongruous with a sadomasochistic and/or sexual context – it stands out the moment it appears in their texts regardless of whatever they were acting out previously. Although Cameron & Kulick (2008) writes that “pickle” is a popular choice as a safe-word amongst practitioners of such BDSM scenes, I would personally discount the pickle emoji as a safe-word due to its ability to serve as a pictogram of a genital  (anything long and thin like ? ? ? ? can be used to refer to a penis – who’s to say ? ? ? ? can’t achieve the same thing?)

We already know that emojis which can reflect actual expressions and emotions are out of the question because it is through the usage of those that Julie and Mike signal their reactions to the context of the scene. The sovereignty of the Top would be severely challenged should the safe emoji be one that can appear as a commonplace response to what is presented among their sexts, and even more so if it refers to a prop which can be used in acting out such scenes.

Of course, we don’t have enough information to know about the speech, or rather, texting patterns of Julie and Mike, and it renders us clueless as to whether their sexts are carried out solely through the use of emojis (why not just text an actual word as the safe-word?) However, as it is, we are most likely looking at ? as a safe emoji – it is incongruous enough as something that one can hardly use as a sexual reference, and less so in articulating kinks and sexual desire. Additionally, the colours could also fulfil the function of a safe-word as signalling limits in a scene, similar to how some practitioners of BDSM role-play use the “traffic light” system.

In conclusion, in determining the emoji which could most likely be their safe emoji in sexting, we have to look at the functions a regular safe-word fulfils, and not just linguistically. At a linguistic level, sadomasochism play consciously exploits the performative aspect of utterances like “No” and “Stop” because the Bottom uses them as a form of expression to perform their role as a Bottom (Kulick, 2003). At the same time, since this has transcended the word level into emoji level, we have to investigate the linguistic roles emojis have when used in texting. As explained above, what may be contextually jarring (as in yelling “pickle”) in the middle of a face-to-face BDSM scene may no longer have the same perlocutionary effect when this is replaced by its pictorial equivalent, because emojis as a substitute for words do not occur one-to-one, and sometimes aren’t actual replacements of words at all.

Now let’s talk about sex-positivity. Based on the articles, we have seen that sex positivity boils down to

the idea that one’s sexual preferences are a matter of personal choice, and that within the confines of informed consent, those preferences should not be subject to the moral imposition of others.

Barry, 2014

We are looking at the embracement of sex (as in the actual action of fucking and being fucked) as a response to how sex is still seen as taboo in many cultures and promiscuity is seen as a vice. Sex-positivity allows anyone to have sex with anyone, in any way, anywhere, as long as it is carried out under mutual consent and responsibly (no STDs and unwanted pregnancies), and the outside world should not judge people for it. At its core, the sex-positive movement started out as a response to rape culture, slut-shaming and misogyny; it promotes self-love and bodily autonomy – what I choose to do with my body is not a social display for the rest of the world to comment on.

Sex-positivity brings about a dilemma, however, because for as long as we know, the way we perform sexuality (and in some ways, our gender because gender and sexuality are so intricately intertwined) also fulfils a social function of not wanting to desire after others or having others desire us, but to gain recognition and approval from our peers of our actions. In terms of sexuality, such as how in a heteronormative society a heterosexual man should be masculine to be attractive to a heterosexual woman, it is about the desire of performing our sexuality that gains us the respect we seek from the people around us. Sex-positivity, in a twisted way, encourages apathy because we are expected not to impose our own thoughts and values on others. How do we, as social beings, then carry out our social functions if we are not supposed to be critical and judgemental of others?

Linguistically, it becomes harder to communicate our sexual needs and wants with (potential) sexual partners. Say we subscribe to embracing sex as a basic desire for every human and engage in it without judging the other person no matter what their sexual preferences may be – it requires boundless open-mindedness and tolerance for all and any sexual preferences. What happens if a sexual partner’s preference is beyond one’s own sexual boundaries? Is it considered a form of judging if one has to reject acting out a fantasy because one cannot consent to it? In an ideal world perhaps this can be achieved, but we are also looking at a complete removal of sex as fulfilling any social function – we don’t have sex to increase intimacy or bonding, frat boys don’t share “fuck stories” as a way to fit in with their peers, women don’t see their bodies as sexual objects which may be considered taboo to learn or talk about. Yet, the truth is sex is not far enough removed as an action to assert our own gender and sexuality, at least not presently, and likely not ever. This also means that for as long as we see gender and sexuality as (by)products of identity performativity – we become our identity – sex will still be one of the facets upon which our selves are appraised.

Sex-positivity also doesn’t address the innate (albeit ridiculous) expectation that femininity is subservient to masculinity. Sex-positive gay men aren’t likely to be okay with having sex with gay men who aren’t stereotypically masculine (just think about “no fats no fem“) – you can’t force them, or anyone, for that matter, to have sexual attraction for people whom they cannot see themselves having sexual attraction for – just because they don’t judge other gay men for having sex with other fat or fem gay men. In the realm of identity politics, the sex-positive movement does little to address the discrimination people who identify as various genders/sexual orientations face – being okay with sex as an action still does not mean we are okay with each other as people.

And conversation about identity politics today is precisely about the latter.




Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2008). Language and Sexuality (Nachdr.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Kulick, D. (2003). No. Language & Communication, 23(2), 139–151.

Leave a Reply