Reader QnA: How does a sub say no?

How does a sub say no at all. I read you blog entry on what to do if your sub says no but a harder question for a sub is how do you say no. Numerous times I have had very bad experiences because I didn’t feel I could deny my partner.

Recently My Lady put me through a scene that was several hours long. It was something I knew I would not enjoy but I felt I could not say no. Negotiation can not cover every possibility, I had simply never thought of this kind of play before. Now a few days later I am literally feeling traumatised. When it is time to visit my lady I have always felt excited. Now there is some dread, and not the exciting kinky kind.

I don’t want to kill my Lady’s feelings of dominance, I want to encourage them. We have had a wonderful relationship and I don’t want it to end but I don’t know how to talk about this with her.

Can’t say no.

Hello ‘Can’t say no’,

I’m so sorry that you are going through this, AND that you have had bad experiences in the past, truly. And you are right, that IS a hard question, and you aren’t alone in struggling with it.

I want to be very clear that the post you are referring to (When your submissive says no) is about a submissive not living up to their end of the relationship agreement because they ‘don’t feel like it’. It is NOT about making your submissive do things that they have not agreed to or that they have legitimate reasons not to do.

I have so many things to say about this, and of course it’s complex. But the bottom line is this:
If you can’t communicate with each other clearly and honestly, you are going to run into problems.
It’s not an ‘if’, it’s a ‘when’. So you both need to talk about how you do that. Which is the first challenge if you already struggle with communication (and also why the generic advice of ‘communicate!’ is often not actually very helpful: If everyone knew how to do that, and was capable of doing it, they would presumably be doing it already).

In my experience, most submissives want to please, and they hate to disappoint their dominant, so many find it really difficult to say ‘no’ to anything, even when it’s to their detriment. “I don’t know how to talk about this…” is really common because it’s just hard to bring up difficult things (I’d add that that’s true for everyone, not just submissives).

I have no idea what kind of relationship you have, but I’m going to assume a personal one where you know each other well, are close friends, and that there are good intentions on both sides. So for the purposes of this answer, I’m going to assume that you didn’t communicate your discomfort at the time, and that as it stands now, she actually doesn’t KNOW that you are struggling with it, and are feeling traumatised by it (if you expressed distress during your last scene and she ignored it, that’s a whole other issue).

I suggest you ask her for a time to talk. No play, no kink, just talking in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Tell her that you are having a hard time with the play you had last time you were together and that you need to talk it through. Explain what it was that caused the issues (too much pain? you were scared? you felt emotionally hurt? etc) and how you have been feeling in the aftermath. Then if you haven’t already, talk about your difficulty in saying ‘no’ in general.

If that sounds really hard (and it is!), consider writing down some notes for yourself that cover the points you want to make. You can even say that you are really nervous about the chat and that you have some notes to remind you what you wanted to say, and use them. If a face to face chat really is more than you can handle, then consider writing her a letter, but even then, I really would encourage you to give it to her in person so that you can both deal with it while being physically close, reading each other’s body language etc.

I would expect and hope that because she cares about you, she will be horrified to find out that you are struggling with it, very keen to understand what happened, learn how she misread the situation, and be eager to avoid it happening again. IF all that is true then the conversation should naturally lead to ‘what can I do differently?’ and a plan of action for the future.

Some ideas that might help:

  • Take any new forms of play being off the table until you get back into your comfort zone with each other, and scale back all play to things that you know you both enjoy a lot. This is to get back on track, and regain your footing.
  • If you don’t usually discuss scenes beforehand (e.g. if the activities are ones you have done before), you might want to start doing that to get into the habit of having that negotiation.
  • Also maybe role play saying ‘no’. I know it sounds silly, but it’s worth a try: For example, agree that she will tell you what she is planning and you *have* to say ‘no’ to one of the things she is intending to do. She will say ‘Okay, fine’, and off you both go. It can help to normalise that interaction for both of you so that it’s no longer such a big deal.
  • If you have trouble saying no *during* play (for example, it’s too much for whatever reason), then maybe you can discuss a system where you have to say ‘yes’ for the play to continue. This doesn’t at all have to ‘spoil the mood’. I ask for ‘yes’ all the time:
    “Do you like this, baby?”
    “Do you want more of that, boy?”
    If you don’t say ‘yes’ happily (that is, you stay silent, or say ‘no’), then she stops.
  • Alternatively, to get used to communicating during play, you could have scenes where you have to continually ask for what you want before she will do it. Again, it doesn’t have to be a mood killer, it can be lots of fun.
    “What do you want now? Ask me for it.”

If she is new (implied by you talking about ‘killing her feelings of dominance’), then this will probably be hard for her to hear, and it might be a blow to her confidence (that is, she is essentially learning that she blew it and that’s never easy), but she needs to hear it or she will continue to think everything is fine up to and past the moment when you leave her due to the trauma and fear.

The communication practice is on both sides. You need to learn how to communicate your concerns and feelings, and how to say ‘no’, and she needs to learn how to create a safe space in which you can do that without negative consequences.

I wish you the very best of luck with it.


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  1. I absolutely love the advice given in this response. I especially like the idea of asking

    “Do you like this, baby?”
    “Do you want more of that, boy?”

    I have seen this very often in your play and I always find it fascinating. Mostly, I find this fascinating because I think it really helps provoke that headspace for him and you and also it does help both of you to make sure that everything is going good. It is like a dance and I love reading it because you portray it so well.

    Great advice!


    1. *smile* Thanks.

      I know I said that this stuff is complex (because *people* are complex), but I want to add in here *specifically* that a submissive’s answers to questions like these can be compromised (because they are in a certain headspace, because they are no longer feeling pain, because they are deep in a mindset where saying ‘no’ is unthinkable… any or all of those). A ‘yes’ doesn’t magically absolve the dominant of the responsibility of using their own observation, monitoring, judgement, and knowledge of their submissive to make a call on whether to continue or not.


  2. Hi Ferns:

    This was a fascinating read. I found myself thinking how hard it can be to give helpful advice to someone when you don’t know all the facts. Was it physical pain or some emotional/ psychological hot button that caused this sub a problem?

    Either way your diagnoses and prescription are 100% correct. Open honest communication is crucial for the success of any relationship but doubly so for a D/s relationship which is by definition more complex. As you observed nurturing effective communication is sometimes easier said than done so just telling folks to “communicate more” is not always helpful. We need to know what kind of communication problems the couple are having so we can narrow our advice down a bit and target it more effectively.

    I think it helps if we don’t always think in terms of absolutes. I don’t think it is necessarily the case that the desires of the dominant always drive a D/s relationship. In fact it is often quite the reverse. For a sub to believe his needs and desires are subordinate in the relationship because he plays a submissive role shows a sort of orthodox thinking that is a bit too literal and inflexible IMHO.

    In truth D/s relationships usually involve some sort of negotiation. A sub should learn how to negotiate effectively from his subordinate position. Easier said than done I know. If fact its something of an art. I do believe I may have hit on a topic for another blog post! ;-)

    I agree that it can be helpful for a Dominant to verbally check in on her sub during play in addition to watching for physical distress cues. When Mistress does that her sub should take her seriously and answer honestly not just continue to accept what is happening in the scene because he believes that is what is expected. Yes it may throw a wet blanket on the scene to say “I REALLY don’t like this!” but better that than to endure a traumatic experience. Lessons learned from scenes that were not successful can be put to good use next time.

    Great post Ferns! All the best! :-)


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, hmp.

      You are spot-on about how hard it is to give useful advice when you don’t have all the information. I tend to make a bunch of assumptions, state them, and go from there (I do pretty much the same in discussion forums because otherwise they just go nowhere). I figure if I miss the mark, the asker will just eyeroll and move on.

      “If fact its something of an art. I do believe I may have hit on a topic for another blog post!”

      It is, yes, and exponentially harder for those who are inexperienced and/or in a new relationship where everything is still raw and exposed and sensitive. I look forward to your post.

      “Yes it may throw a wet blanket on the scene to say “I REALLY don’t like this!” but better that than to endure a traumatic experience.”

      True. Doesn’t make it any easier though.

      There is also the complexity of “I REALLY don’t like this, but please don’t stop” which can often be confusing for both parties (because where IS that line?). Again, I think experience and comfort level in the relationship can get you past that.

      “Lessons learned from scenes that were not successful can be put to good use next time.”

      *smile* It’s true of course, and it sounds so easy! But when you mix in emotions and vulnerability and ego and the intensely personal nature of it all, even navigating THIS can become something difficult.

      In theory, all these things work and are fabulous. In practice, man, it’s just hard stuff!


    1. I think that’s a great idea to get around a direct ‘no’, not just for you, but for someone who finds it difficult to say outright.

      Now that you have mentioned it, I know quite a few couples who have some alternative way of saying ‘no’ that makes them both feel more comfortable.


  3. *raises an eyebrow* What is this say No you are talking about? You can’t tell me a sub is entitled to an opinion surely?

    *sniggers evilly*

      1. Spread lots of polythene sheeting around and always change hacksaw blades halfway through the cut……..

        Umm so I heard

        From a guy down the pub

        or something

        Not like I’ve you know done actual hacking off as it were so to speak

        kind of thing that is

        Look puppies—————–>


  4. Thank you fern.
    When I asked the question how do you say no I was in a very bad place and kind of misinterpreted your older post to mean ” subs never should”. I have come to release that in sub space it is almost impossible for me to say no. Me and my lady have a wonderful relationship and I love how I never know what she is going to do next. She keeps me guessing. This one time it backfired. It was hours of humiliation. I can take a lot of pain and love to be submissive to her. She extended this to mean humiliation was something I could tolerate too. We have since discussed it and she knows that I have a very small limit for humiliation. She still does not know how much it affected me. That the emotional hurt went on for days. I have however recovered my trust of her and once again look forward to seeing her. She has only been a domme for about a year and we have only been together for a few months. I am chalking this up to growing pains of the relationship.

    Thank you for the wonderful answer to my question. It really did help. I was hurt, depressed and feeling hopeless when I posted my question and just your answer that your earlier post was just about subs not living up to their side of the agreement made me feel better. The rest of your post was helpful and well thought out. It also made me realise the whole “can’t say no in sub space” is a bad thing but something we will have to work around. Vanilla discussion ahead of time seems to be the key for us. In the mean time my Lady has given me strict orders to use a colour coded safe word system. I am hoping that our relationship will grow to a living together ,deep relationship rather than a meet once a week for kink thing. We have discussed this too and we are of a like mind. So thank you for helping me stay together and quite possibly attaining my dream relationship. You are my hero.

    Can’t say no.

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