Sex & Relationships

These Are The Most Popular Safe Words People Use During Sex

From “vanilla” to “red.”

Originally Published: 
A survey found the most popular safe words when engaging in BDSM and role-play.
Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis/Getty Images

When it comes to choosing a safe word with your partner before engaging in rougher sex, BDSM, or other kinds of kink, there are a lot of different routes you can go. But the one you may want to skip: Stop, don’t, or no. That’s because, in the moment in certain BDSM situations, these words can sometimes be part of the scene.

A survey from Lovehoney, a leading adult toy retailer, asked 1,280 people around the world about their go-to safe word. “People are incredibly creative when coming up with safe words,” says Lovehoney’s expert Coco Cameron. “Some words or phrases are ones we never would have thought of, but every couple has their preference and the more unique, the better!”

Since it’s a good idea to talk safe words before you get hot and heavy, here’s some inspiration to draw from. You don’t necessarily need to create an entire BDSM contract (although you can!), but you should have a conversation before things get intense, and have it before every play session. Here, some safe word inspiration.



Using the name of a celebrity can be a quick way to halt the action — as long as the celeb you name-check isn’t part of your role play. It may be easiest to use a celebrity name you both remember but doesn’t have any relevance in your life. “‘Donald Trump’ was definitely one of the most shocking,” Cameron tells Bustle. Kelly Clarkson also came up, likely due to a scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carrell’s character yells the name while getting his chest hair waxed.



In the survey, “red” topped out as number one. “Red” is the safe word used in the Fifty Shades of Grey series, but it also plays into the “traffic light system” — a common categorization method used in BDSM play. Again, it’s important to talk through what these colors mean to you before you engage in play. Some people’s “yellow” means “go more slowly,” while other people’s yellow means, “I don’t hate this but need time to process, so let’s switch gears.”



Pineapple was a popular pick in the survey, followed by banana, apple, and peach, but any easy-to-pronounce fruit should do. Again, choose a word that’s easy to remember and easy to say. “When you choose a more unique word or phrase such as ‘mashed potato’ or ‘steam engine,’ it ensures there is no mistake between you and your partner about when it should be used and what it means,” Cameron says.



Vanilla landed on the list, likely because it’s shorthand for low-key, no-surprises, opposite-of-kinky sex. But vanilla is also one of those words that can mean different things to different people. Talk through the meaning prior to playing, and if your definitions of vanilla are very different, it may be best to stick to a less loaded word.


Food And Drinks

From lattes to sushi, food and drinks provide a broad range of safe words. Choose one that’s neutral for both of you.



From poodle to chicken, look to the animal kingdom for some smart safe word suggestions. As with any safe word, don’t use a word that could be somehow used in bed or is commonly used in sexual situations. In other words, leave tiger off the table.



Hockey. Tennis. Ping-pong. Water polo. Whatever the sport is, chances are you’re not talking about it between the sheets. These words are neutral, random, and will stop everything — exactly the point of a smart safe word.

Experts say it can be a good idea to keep your safe word consistent throughout your relationship, so you’re not changing things up every time you get down and dirty — and that both of you know “tennis” is shorthand for, “Let’s stop everything and regroup.” You may have the same safe word your whole life, or you may change it with each partner.


Favorite Pop-Culture Words

From hippogriff to Cool Runnings, plenty of phrases are locked in your memory and on the tip of your tongue, no matter what may be going on around you. These phrases can be good safe words because they’re unlikely to be part of your dirty talk repertoire, so it’s easy for both of you to pay attention when the phrase is uttered.


Complicated Words

In the survey, some challenging words landed on the list, including trabeculectomy, filibuster, glottis, and of course, chupacubra, the mythical goat’s bloodsucking creature. These words definitely don’t come up on the regular during a sex session, but a word of caution when choosing a word you don’t typically use in conversation: They can be tough to remember in the heat of the moment, so it may be safer to stick to common words or phrases both of you will be able to recall, regardless of how intense the atmosphere gets.


Magical Creatures

Unicorn! Narwhal! Mermaid! Magical creatures can be good safe words because they likely don’t have any negative or intense connotations the way celebs or Harry Potter may have for either of you. While a safe word means stop, it’s up to you and your partner to determine what the stop means: It may mean to reset and restart, for example, or it may mean to stop entirely. Nothing is wrong — it all depends on your comfort level and communication. “If your partner gets upset or angry when you use your safe word, do not play with them,” says Elle Stanger, certified sex educator.


Safe Actions Are Important, Too

It’s not just about safe words — there are other aspects of safe play you need to consider. “In addition to a safe word, many couples should agree on a safe action that you can do anytime, say, if you’ve got a ball gag in your mouth and you’re unable to verbalize,” Cameron says. “For such instances, give yourself access to a jingling cat toy or a tennis ball. The bright colors and sounds will instantly alert your partner to how you’re feeling.”

Give each other plenty of room if the safe word is employed. Remember, the safe word isn’t “bad” or a sign that a partner did anything wrong — it’s just a signal that you both need to get back on the same page.

And go slow. “Don't try to do all of your kink stuff in one session, take your time. After the session is over, take plenty of time to unwind — take a bath together, cuddle, eat something, whatever helps you feel even closer with your trusted, beloved partner,” says Stanger.

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