A photo of a safety construction sign with yellow arrows.
'Green', 'orange', and 'red' can take your sex life to the next level.

Traffic light safe words mean less 'awkward', more action

Georgie Wolf
Georgie Wolf

Have you ever been in one of those awkward sex situations where you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing?

You know, that time you were going down on someone and they made a noise but you couldn’t work out if it was an, ‘I’m about to cum’ noise or a ‘that really hurts’ noise? Have you ever suddenly had that anxious mid-sex thought ‘but what if they’re not really enjoying this? What if I’m not doing it properly?’

In my experience, worrying about your performance in bed is the number-one mood killer. Because everyone is different in what they enjoy, it can be tricky figuring out how to please a new partner. This makes for some very tense moments!

Consent is a big deal too – how do you make sure you’re not doing anything your playmate hates? Sex workers are often very good at speaking up and giving directions, but it's not guaranteed. If you're the kind of guy who wants to leave knowing his partner had an amazing time too, knowing how to ask (rather than guess) is an absolute must.

Luckily, there’s a great way to handle both these problems: traffic light safe words.

“What are safe words?”

Safe words are code words that can be used at any time during an encounter (sexual or otherwise). They are most often used in kinky sex situations (for BDSM, D/S and S&M) but are gradually being used more and more in everyday sexy situations. And that’s a good thing, because safe words are a quick and easy way to find out whether your partner is having a good time.

The traffic light system uses three safe words:

  • Green means ‘I’m enjoying this’, ‘I’m ok with this’, ‘keep going’, etc. Hearing ‘green’ is a sign that you’re doing the right thing.
  • Orange means ‘the specific thing we are doing right now needs to stop,’ ‘I’m approaching a limit,’ or ‘we need to adjust something.’ Orange doesn’t mean stopping everything, it just requires stopping or changing that specific activity.
  • Red means ‘stop everything!’ When a red is called, all activity must stop.

These words might seem a little unfamiliar, but they work. Having a one-syllable word for 'Yes, this is good, please keep doing that' means less talking in the bedroom - instead of stopping to have a long conversation every time you're not sure about something, you can simply check in, then move on.

How to use safe words

The first rule of safe words is that everyone needs to agree on what they actually mean. Whenever I introduce traffic lights to a new play partner, I give them a quick run-down and check that they understand. (If you’re shy about explaining, why not show them this blog post?)

Then, before we start making out or getting sexy, I say, ‘Are we green?’ And I don't do anything until they've replied.

Then I keep asking ‘Are we green?’ every few minutes throughout the session, until the novelty has well and truly worn off and it's just another word we use to communicate. If my playmate says 'orange' at any time, I ask what needs to change: "Should we try something else? Or just a bit slower?"

And of course if I hear a ‘red’ then I'll halt play completely and make sure they're okay. But, honestly, this rarely happens. Because we're putting so much effort into checking in with each other, it's unusual for either of us to get to a place where we feel everything needs to stop.

Regardless, it's nice to know that there's a safety switch. If my date suddenly feels sick, has alarming chest pains or remembers they've left the stove on, it's reassuring to know they'll be able to communicate quickly, so we can take care of it.

Using safe words isn't a one-way exercise. It's everyone's job to say, ‘Are we green?’ from time to time.

Want better sex? Safe words are a great place to start.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be psychic, it’s pretty much impossible to work out exactly how to please your partner. Humans are all different, and what they want will be different from moment to moment. The only way to know is to ask … and who wants to have a huge, detailed discussion right in the middle of sex?

Traffic light safe words are a way of finding out what pleases your partner. As you’re trying something, keep asking ‘are we green?’ Hearing ‘green’ will let you know that you’re doing the right thing. If there’s some aspect of your technique that needs to be adjusted, hearing ‘orange’ will alert you to that so that you can get more specific instruction from your partner. And if for any reason your partner needs to stop or take a break, ‘red’ will let you know immediately.

Knowing instead of guessing means that you’ll be able to give your partner exactly what they need.

“But…isn’t it awkward?”

A lot of people worry that using safe words during sex will make things awkward. It’s true that doing things a new way might feel a bit weird at first. But it’s amazing how quickly it starts to feel normal, if you give it a chance.

The best thing about ‘green’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ is that they get straight to the point. Needing to stop sex and have a long conversation to explain that something has gone wrong can be disruptive. Using a safe word is faster … once you understand each other, you can spend more time concentrating on what you’re doing instead of stopping and starting.

Taking the guesswork out of sex makes for a much better experience. Give it a go…and let me know what you think.