Situational awareness is perceiving, understanding, and predicting the situation you are currently facing. While traditionally used in fields such as aviation and emergency response, most of its principles are easily adapted to the special needs of a BDSM session as well.
First Part: Pay Attention
The human sense system, while adaptive and quite resilient, is also fairly limited. Especially in stressful situations, our focus becomes narrower and concentrated on the most threatening thing we observe. While this evolutionary trait is useful in the jungle, it can be dangerous in a complex situation requiring rational action.
Maintaining attention of your surroundings is hard work, which is why most of us drift through routine without thought. This is dangerous in BDSM, as a lot of scenes have a potential to turn lethal fairly quickly. While we are unable to see everything all the time, some key thoughts should be going through your mind on a repetitive cycle:
- Is my sub alive? Is he breathing? Is he moving?
- Has anything changed in my sub’s behavior seemingly without reason?
- Has anything changed in my environment, even slightly? Do I smell smoke? What is that noise outside?
- How long have we been playing? What’s my energy level right now? Am I losing concentration?
- Am I affected by feelings? Am I pissed off about something that has nothing to do with my sub?
Perceiving is not just using your five senses. It’s also using your intuition from past experience. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it isn’t.
Second Part: Understand What You See
Seeing is nothing without understanding. Once you notice something unusual, you must interpret what you see and judge it in the context of a session. You must use your experience and rational thought to pick out the important from the noise. Some examples of this are:
- Did my sub stop moving because he fell asleep, or because he stopped breathing?
- Is that sling creaking normally, or is it about to break?
- Am I so pissed off about work that I can’t concentrate on my sub?
- Is my sub making all that noise because he loves it, or because something is wrong?
Third Part: Predict And Act
As a top in a BDSM scene, you have ultimate control and usually no-one to negotiate with. This also means that you are obligated to act decisively based on your understanding of what is about to happen. These decisions can be for example:
- Something is not right with my sub. I’ll untie him and we’ll figure out then what’s going on.
- I feel I can’t concentrate on this session, so we will take a break right now, regardless of what my sub thinks.
- That sling sounds like it might break. I need to stop fucking and get my sub out of it.
- I don’t know where this smoke is coming from, but it’s getting hard to see my sub. I’ll untie him.
Playing with multiple people at the same time
Situational awareness becomes a lot more difficult when there are more people in the scene, regardless if they are dominants or submissives. This also applies when you play in social situations, such as parties. You must maintain a clear picture of everything that is happening around you, including what other dominants are doing.
To maintain control of a situation, there should never be more than one person in charge of a sub at any given time. While multiple people can of course handle a sub simultaneously, only one person is in charge of the scene and safety. This is not usually automatically clear, so it should be pointed out explicitly while having a scene.
Case Study: Interrupting another top’s scene
While attending a fetish room party in a group of about 20 people, I noticed a sub, immobilized and gagged, seemingly dominated by multiple people on the hotel room bed. As the party went on, and people came and went, several times I noticed I was the only person in the room along with the sub. As it was not my scene, I inconspicuously monitored him while people were coming and going.
Eventually, as I was having a chat with another unrelated person, I noticed the sub making gagged pleading noises. As there was no top in the room, I went to the sub, removed the gag and asked if everything was alright. He said it wasn’t, and he wanted out. I proceeded to untie him, and finally found the top in another hotel room, unaware of his sub’s plight. The top was under the assumption that someone else was in charge of the sub, which clearly wasn’t the case.
Leaving a person unattended while gagged is always potentially lethal. This was highly unprofessional of the top.