The Yes/No/Maybe list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of sexual, or sensual, acts and experiences and an indication that you will, will not, or might do that freaky shit. Yes, it’s just like those “did you ever” lists from junior high. I’m pretty sure, though, that the list you saw at Ronald Reagan J.H. didn’t include the words cock, ball, and bondage all in a row. I saw my first Y/N/M list about a year ago. Now I think everyone should have one.
From what I’ve been told, they’ve been used for a long time in the BDSM scene. Kinksters usually play with partners or close friends, and some play with acquaintances, or, in some cases, all-but-anonymous people.* In any consensual BDSM hook-up like that, the negotiation is everything. A negotiation might look like a short chat on the players’ limits, likes, and dislikes, or it might be an extended conversation over weeks. Anyway, it helps to have a handy starting point for conversation. Enter the Y/N/M list.
The list can be a shock for the first-timer. It will be frank. It will be graphic. “Fellatio” may be followed by “foursome,” and “cross-dressing” may follow “caning.” It could put names to acts that you would not think needed names, except “aahhh!” Repeat after me: “I don’t have do it just because it’s on the list.” I’m hardly a vestal, but my cut at the list won’t win any awards for depravity. That’s not the point.
Everyone should do a Y/N/M list. Why? First, any decent list is going to give you ideas. If there’s anything The Safe Word wants to promote, it’s giving people ideas. Look, if you’re reading this column, you think your sex life could be better. If you don’t think your sex life could be better, check your pulse. Immediately.
I like to think of the Y/N/M list as a menu for fantasies. Too much of our sex diet gets pulled off the short order menu. It’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s greasy, and later you need a Tums. One of the beauties of the Y/N/M list is this: It puts sexy subjects on the table that a lot of people can’t otherwise find a way to talk about. Let’s agree that some fantasies should never come true – they’re better left as fantasies (see Rule #9 here), but there’s a full-course meal waiting for people willing to try new things.
You don’t have to be a kinkster to do a Y/N/M list. Maybe you’ve been married for 20 years. Maybe you have a booty call with an eye for fetish. Maybe you have a high threshold for putting your proclivities out on the first date. In any case, the Y/N/M can start some awesomely unpredictable conversations. If you don’t share it, fine. Think of it as a to-do list, a diary of your changing tastes and growing experience.
Things to keep in mind: The Y/N/M isn’t your MySpace profile. You’re not Facebooking your childhood obsession with Bettie Page, right? Keep this stuff close and keep it safe. Finally – and here’s the toughest thing – be honest. Tell the truth about the freaky stuff you’ve done and the freaky stuff you want to try. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t. If you’re a lying ass, the Y/N/M isn’t just a waste of time, it’s dangerous. If you don’t know what something is, ask somebody. If you can’t ask somebody, Google it. If you can’t Google it, ask me. Here’s a way to ruin your night: discover what watersports are at the last minute.
Whether you use the list to get saran wrapped like a human sausage, get spanked, or just get more massages from your PE boyfriend, the poor sap, the goal of the Y/N/M isn’t good reading, it’s communication. You live in the Calvinist States of America. Nobody taught you how to talk good sex – before, during, or after – unless you are very lucky. Use the Yes/No/Maybe list to start, and to keep on, talking.
* BDSM play is a high-risk activity, emotionally and physically. No responsible member of that community would play with a partner that was completely unknown to them, not vouched by another member of the community, or hadn’t negotiated the limits of a scene.