"What are your limits?"
"Scat, blood, the dead and kids."
"You must be new."
"Only the novices have so few limits."
This is a real conversation. It happens all over the net and in munch groups. Sure there are no-limits slaves out there, but that's just not as common as the rest of us. We come into the lifestyle with no clue what half of the things are that we read on a BDSM checklist so we stick with what everyone says we should have. Those unknown activities just remain unfamiliar with no caution to adding them to our soft limits list.
So what are limits anyhow and why are they important?
Limits are personal boundaries that everyone places for how far they are willing to take things. These limits can be sexual, personal, emotional or otherwise. You may even have some for your every day that you don't realize are limits. Let's say your job frequently asks people to stay late last minute. If you have kids in day care than a limit you have placed with your employer could be that you will not work overtime without previous planning. I'm sure you can think of other limits you have placed on others or ones placed on you. "Limit 12 items," "No Checks Accepted," "Shirt, shoes required."
Applying limits to your BDSM experience is necessary for negotiation purposes in play and in relationships. It's like a compatibility scale. The more items on the limit list that match the more likely you are to be compatible and have fun playing in the same way. Being a novice isn't a hindrance for everyone, some Dominants like to help a novice explore their limits. In my situation with my Dominant, he was the one that was new, so we worked around my known limits at the time. We now have similar enough limits to make our relationship work.
Phobias are a good place to start with limits. If you are afraid of heights you might not like the idea of being suspended. If you have a re-breathing phobia then hoods might be a limit. Perhaps you are really shy and are afraid of being naked in front of groups. Establish for yourself if these things are fears you want to explore and break down at one point or not.
If you don't have any BDSM experience, the idea of setting up limits can be challenging.
"In a vanilla relationship, everything is off the table unless it is included (hey hon, is it ok if I take pictures or you nekid?). In contrast, in a BDSM relationship, everything is on the table, unless it is agreed to be excluded." (FetLife: BenMartin) What you may be used to is being asked if something is okay to do before it's done, but now you need to define ahead of time what is not okay.
Limits are not set in stone. The number of limits you have can go up and down. They will shift from hard to soft and back again. This is a normal progression of development. As I described to someone the other day when they asked if my limits were the same as they were in the beginning, "It's like drawing a line in the sand. Today the line is here, but tomorrow the winds will have wiped the line away and you will have to redraw it. Some days you will draw the line further out, others you may draw it further in."
And that's the beauty of self-discovery. Make sure you understand that limits are fluid and don't be afraid to try to break some down when you are ready. Grow in your submission, explore new things and keep those limits moving.