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Safewords can have differing levels of urgency - some may bring a scene to an outright stop, whereas others may indicate that a boundary is being approached.A safeword may be used by the Dominant as well as the Submissive if they feel things have gone too far and are uncomfortable continuing. It is usually a negotiated lifestyle, with people discussing their wishes, limits, and needs in order to find commonality.
In human sexuality, this has broadened to include mutual exploration of roles, emotions, and activities that would be difficult or impossible to act out without a willing partner taking an opposing role.
In a given scene, there is no requirement that the dominant also be the top, or that the submissive be the bottom, although this is often the case.