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A hard limit is a "no, until further notice, and I'm the one who will give that notice." I consider the question of whether hard limits are open to discussion to be a separate limit, and often one that applies differently to different hard limits.
So a hard limit can be "off the table, but open to discussion" or "off the table and not open to discussion" or "off the table, and not open to regular discussion, but you are free to ask about whether it's still a limit on occasion" without ever moving out of the "hard limit" category.
I fully support the people who say that for them, a hard limit is "No. Not ever. Don't even go there. Ever." That's as good a definition of hard limit as any other.
But I've also seen, time and again, people be concerned that, if that's the definition, then they need to hesitate to put something into that category, and feel that the only things that they can reasonably say in advance are "no, never, ever" are things like death, dismemberment, farm animals, and minors, because even if they have a genuine and seriously strong aversion to something, they're willing to acknowledge a theoretical possibility that somewhere down the line, under circumstances they can't really imagine, they might change their mind.
Here's the thing. Your limits are YOUR limits, and it's important to see them in terms of your consent, not in terms of some objective reality independent of your consent.
As human beings, our tastes change. Our bodies change. We adapt in relationships. Things that seemed scary become commonplace. Things we had opinions of for one set of reasons change when we're presented with other circumstances. Things we couldn't imagine doing become options as we interact with people we respect and relate to who do them all the time.
You can validly have a hard limit today, that in a year or in a decade or in a new relationship, becomes something you're open to consenting to. Most experience kinksters will tell stories of at least one thing that used to be inconceivable that is now commonplace. That doesn't mean that at the time, they weren't genuinely hard limits.
The risk of getting too literal and calling something that you don't and won't consent to a soft limit because you're aware of a literal theoretical possibility that at some point that might change is that many people, understandably, interpret a soft limit as open to negotiation, and in some cases, as open to nagging, pushing, or "just giving it a try to see how you feel about it today."
Whether that's valid or justified or legitimate is a different discussion. But if something is -today - simply not open for negotiation, you're better off as a practical matter calling it a hard limit and then let that theoretical possibility be that someday you might reconsider it, rather than calling it a soft limit and open the door to having to constantly defend or discuss or negotiate something you know you have no interest in consenting to.
That's why I use language like "in the foreseeable future" in my definition of hard limit, rather than the more decisive "not ever." But there's nothing wrong with the "not ever" language as long as you realize that you're free at a later point to change your mind about it.
That's distinct from the safety net of a safeword or verbal feedback for unexpected needs to stop - it's built in, and negotiated, and understood that there will be a point where a limit is reached in the course of the kind of play that's being consented to. It's often intended that that limit be reached, and pushed, with the full consent and eager participation of both people, but that once that limit is reached, it's a real limit.
The most important thing about limits is that even the term is short for "the limit to my consent." Consent can be given or withdrawn at any point, whether a limit was expressed in advance or not. But expressing limits is like putting up fences or painted lines on the ground in an open field - mapping out in advance those areas where consent won't be granted if someone tries to go there - so don't go there. And some kinds of soft limits are more like speed limits or caution signs - not a direct refusal, but the advance agreement that specific cautions will be taken and specific boundaries won't be crossed, even if those boundaries may move around over time.
Some people make the mistake of assuming that everyone, even casual partners or people in new relationships, automatically consent to everything unless it's on a limits list. That's backwards. Until someone actually and affirmatively consents, you aren't consenting to anything whether you express a limit or not. But limits are a convenient way of mapping out known areas of consent and non-consent in advance so you don't have to keep asking and answering "Is this okay? Is this okay? Is this okay?" questions.
Which is why I shake my head at the people who start their limits lists with things like "no amputations, no farm animals, no children." Because as far as I am concerned, the normal discussion of what someone might get up to doesn't even put those sorts of things on the table for consideration, so they don't need to be discussed as some sort of exception to what might reasonably be expected to come up for consent. It's also why I think so many "I have no limits" discussions go off the rails right from the start. I agree it's a really poor phrase to sling around casually, but the kind of people who leap to "So, you mean it's okay if he cuts your arms off? No? Then you DO have limits!" are actually buying into the complete miscategorization of what what limits are all about. Sure include such things in your lists if you must, but if you honestly think you're dealing with someone who thinks such things are an option unless you say otherwise, you need to rethink your choice of playmates.
It's worth noting that it can go in the other direction as well. Something that you consented to doing, or even honestly thought you would enjoy and eagerly sought out, can become a limit as circumstances and preferences change. Just because you said yes once doesn't mean you say yes forever. As a practical matter, it's fair to a partner to explicitly say so, and not get upset if they assume a previous yes is still in force if you haven't said otherwise. But there are some things that go beyond that. Even if someone agrees completely that they won't try to force it on me, there are things that other people could do, or do with other people, or even simply clearly state that they enjoy doing.
If you have further input on HARD LIMITS, feel free to write them below for discussion.