Why Red?

“Red Stops Rape” is a campaign to institute a national safe word. A safe word is a single word that, when said, demands that all action stop immediately. It originated in the kink/BDSM community as a way to stop a scene or sexual activity without any confusion, discussion or negotiation. “Red” is the default safe word used my many kinksters.

Why “red?” Kinky people use red for several good reasons. First, it is concise. It is a single syllable. It is a word just about everybody knows. It is a word that most stutterers do not have a hard time saying. It is short, simple and sweet. Second, red is unlikely to come up in most sexual encounters. Words like “ouch” or “stop” or “don’t” come up in many sexual scenes in many context. People do not always use these words to indicate they actually want to totally stop what is happening. Third, culturally American’s associate red with “stop.” It is the color of our stop signs and stoplights. Fourth, it does not have the same baggage attached to it as asking your partner to stop what they are doing does.

Many people have or will have a time in their life when they are engaged in some sort of sexual activity they want to stop immediately. This may be the classic image of a rape with a stranger dragging you into a dark alley. It may happen on a date. It may happen at work. It may happen with your spouse. Obviously being raped by a stranger in a dark alley is pretty clear cut why people would want that to stop. Other situations may actually not be rape. Sometimes you start touching someone and an emotional trigger is set off and you need to stop. Sometimes you start making out with a spouse and then you simply cannot bring yourself to have sex but communicating this need is hard. Sometimes a date thinks your desire to kiss on the couch means you want to have sex but you do not. All are legitimate reasons for stopping an intimate encounter.

Communicating the need to stop an encounter is difficult at times. You may be with a date and making out and ask to stop. The date presses on in an attempt to get you to change your mind. You may not want to hurt the person’s feelings, but you need to stop now. A safe word allows a single word to communicate that you need to stop, no questions asked, no more negotiating. With a safe word there is no need to justify why you want to stop. There is no need to make up an excuse that the other party may try and counter. There is no need to come up with a lie. Use a safe word and the expectation is that everything stops there.

Kinksters also use red as a default word because it is not a popular word in conversation. At a party or social gathering, most people are unlikely to say the word red. At any social function the words “don’t” and “stop” and “no” are used in so many contexts and so frequently very few people outside individuals engaged in the specific conversation using the words, hear them. Think about it. The last time you went to a party, did you ever notice someone having a conversation you were not in and you specifically picked up on the words “no” or “don’t”? My guess is no. Red is unusual enough that is someone utters slightly louder than conversation level, many people in the room would notice. This makes it an effective safe word.

For kinksters, when someone uses a safe word, we stop immediately. There is no, “C’mon honey, just a little more.” There is no, “I am almost there. Just another minute.” There is no, “What’s wrong? What can I do to keep this going?” The only questions generally asked are, “What do you need?” and “Are you okay (now that we have stopped)?” When someone uses a safe word, all attention immediately shifts to the needs of the person using the safe word and making sure they receive the physical and emotional help they need at the moment.

Kinksters take safe words very seriously. People who violate safe words are labeled dangerous. People who violate safe words in public spaces can be banned from the space and people will actively avoid them as potential partners. If someone is actually involved in the kink community (rather than just engaging in kink in the privacy of their own home and never engaging in any social function) and that person violates a safe word, their reputation can be permanently damaged.

We need to implement “red” as a national safe word. Every sex education class in grades 6 -12 need to teach kids that if someone says “red” they have to stop what they are doing, no questions asked. Every college campus in the United States needs a policy that says if any student utters “red” everything stops. It needs to be in every college orientation. We need a national PSA campaign to teach everyone that the word “red” means they have to stop now, no questions asked.

The implementation of a national safe word is not overly difficult. We need the political will to support the adoption of red as a safe word. We need to recognize that everyone has the right to stop someone else from touching them for any reason. We need to make it easy to communicate that we are not okay with what is happening and we need to stop now. We need “red.”

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