My Safe Word Is Porcupine

My safe word, by the way, is porcupine. I’m kidding. I mean, I’m not kidding, because my safe word is porcupine. I’m kidding in that I’m telling you my safe word right now. A bit premature, I know, as we just met, but kill me, I thought I’d break the ice. I’m not sure how many dates you go on before you share your safe word for real—and by “you,” I mean you in general, like anybody, not you you. But like I said, sharing a safe word isn’t a first-date topic. I’m aware of that. Thanks for not leaving.

In all seriousness, though, my safe word is porcupine.

What would be really funny is if porcupine turned out to be a bad choice in safe words. Like, what if “porcupine” was a really strange and/or awful sexual maneuver that you knew and I didn’t? We’d be together, in the throes of passion, and suddenly, you’d whip it out, the old porcupine, and the next thing we’d know, instead of you stopping and stopping immediately when I yelled, “Porcupine!” you’d think I was cheering you on, as in “Porcupine! Yeah! Do it! More porcupine! I love that shit!” Considering the nature of the word, porcupine, it probably would be pretty terrible, this maneuver, whatever it was you were doing that I wanted to stop. The opposite of safe, ironically, that particular scenario.

Yet, my safe word remains porcupine.

I’ve thought about changing it, sure. Maybe something less intrusive. Like my dad used to say, a safe word isn’t like your email password or your bike lock combination: Once you pick a safe word, it’s your safe word for life. His, he confided, was helicopter, though he claimed he never had to use it. He was married to my mom for forty-two years. Then he died. At some point, they just knew each other well enough to not need their safe words. How awesome is that?

I know. Most people don’t like to picture their parents having sex, and include me on that list.  Nevertheless, it’s good to know that as long as they were still doing it, they were smart enough to have a safe word. I’m actually proud of them, God rest their souls. You know what I mean?

Just for fun, if I had to pick something different, I probably wouldn’t go with anything as dangerous-sounding as porcupine the second time around. Similarly, rhinoceros is a no. Machete is a no. Scalpel no. Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, and Lorena Bobbitt are all nos. Sure, those are all unlikely words to be yelled out during sex, and all of them scream, “Stop!” But who wants to carry Hitler in their back pocket during the act of lovemaking? Not me. Nowhere to go once you bring Der Führer into the mix.

By the way, have you ever seen a live porcupine? Let’s be honest: They’re adorable.

Anyway, I’d have to pick something sexy and beautiful, something that would be easily identified by my partner (or partners) as my safe word. Porcupine seemed like a good idea when I was thirteen, me not thinking it through, not knowing the right questions to ask. Butterfly has always been one of my favorite words, but I’ve used the word butterfly in the course of having sex, probably multiple times, just because it’s a sensual word: “Butterfly.” A good flower would work, something like chrysanthemum or rhododendron, but spoiler alert: I often refer to my female companions as flowers: “Oh, my sweet little tulip!” or “You sexy-ass hibiscus!” A bit old-fashioned, I know, but ladies are beautiful flowers—it’s the birds and bees. Flowers, unfortunately, are out.

I’ve enjoyed a good meal as much as the next guy, but not while having sex. Cacciatore or thermidor or coq au vin would all make for bad choices in that regard.

More wine?

I’ve considered matching my safe word to my partner’s safe word: one word, two (or more) lovers. I’ve used porcupine—successfully, I might add—on multiple occasions, and later, had my partner turn around and tell it to me: “Porcupine!” There’d been zero prearranged discussion on sharing safe my safe word, but when I heard porcupine, I cut the engine. Porcupine means STOP! in my brain. When I hear porcupine, I shut it down. Let the air out of the tires. I would expect the same from my partner, should I for some reason blank on porcupine and use her/their safe word instead. Think about it: You hear your own safe word come out of your partner’s mouth, it has to at least make you hesitate, right? Check in? Of course it would.

Speaking of—and you don’t have to tell me this now—but since I’ve told you my safe word (porcupine), would you mine telling me yours? It’s presumptuous of me to think I’d need that right now, but since we’ve been talking about it (and let’s face it, I’ve been the only one talking), that seems like the obvious first question. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to chime in, not to mention allow me to get to know you better. A person’s safe word says a lot about them, I always say. What does porcupine say about me? I think that’s obvious.

If you’d like, we can make it a game: You could give me three guesses. If I get it, you could tell me I’m right. If I don’t, then we talk about something else—or you could give me more guesses.

For my first guess, I’ll start with the obvious: Porcupine?


Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three collections of short stories, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015). He serves as Editor of Moon City Press and Moon City Review, as well as Interviews Editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. In 2009, he received a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.