The BDSM community takes great pride in consent. It’s the foundation that underpins all the acts of playtime, the invisible border that separates healthy BDSM and abuse. The shield used against any criticism : it’s between consenting adults. So there!
permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
But the somewhat blurred lines of consent can be a tricky subject for four reasons:
The Notion of Informed Consent
Consent assumes an understanding of what you are consenting to in the first place.
But how do you gain that understanding? Firstly there is way too little education on BDSM out there, which leaves most people just scrabbling around the internet in search of information on new toys and techniques that they may like to try, maybe they watch some BDSM porn in the hope they pick up a few tricks and learn some new moves or techniques.
But Kink is such a personal experience, there really is only so much you can learn from others. Understanding the pleasure and experience of a certain toy or type of role play can only be assessed by YOU, once you have tried it, and even then – with each new partner the same play will have a new facet and feeling.
So, the bottom line is we are always consenting to play without having ALL parameters clear. That’s the nature of the game.
A large proportion of consent really just means:
I trust you won’t abuse my trust.
And after all, we have our safeword right? Well…
Consent, Safe Words & the Need to Please
In my article about the Swedish consent law, I wrote
A safeword safeguards consent – NOT calling your safe word when implicit consent is assumed can be considered explicit consent. A safeword called is a lifeline, a clear border that marks the difference between healthy BDSM and abuse.
And I cringed when I wrote that.
Undoubtably, calling a safe word means ‘I am now retracting consent’. All play stops until further notice. Anything else is abusive and has no place in BDSM. But the reverse is not that simple. Often, NOT calling a safe word is interpreted as giving implicit consent. But is it that simple?
Very often, submissives have a strong urge to please. If you aren’t a sub, you wouldn’t believe how good a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ can feel. Seeing the pride in a Dominant’s eyes when going the extra mile for them is exhilarating. Seeing their disappointment when not is devastating.
So I have heard many a submissive going beyond what they were actually comfortable with – because they wanted to please.
Confession: I myself did not use my safeword when a Dom engaged in unsolicited edgeplay because I was afraid he might not be interested in me anymore otherwise.
Literally, risking my life. Crazy in hindsight. Luckily I have become a much more emancipated sub since.
Thankfully, I had good mentors along the way who taught me that it’s more important to stay healthy and sane than to please anybody else. But I see many, especially new submissives struggle with this problem.
But surely our peers should support us in becoming more emancipated and take more responsibility for our own well-being right? Well…
Consent & Peer Pressure
The peer pressure that comes from within the BDSM community itself can be overwhelming at times. For newcomers it can suggest that having your limits crossed is part of the normal BDSM exploration, instead of advocating that normal practice is to find your limits.
It’s incredible to me how often we are pushed into going too far because of what our peers do. Or because our peers brag about doing so. The dominants that want to bruise their subs more than the other dominants do. The subs that want to be yet more “consensually non-consenting” than other subs. The kinksters that tell slaves that they are only ‘true slaves’ if they let their masters do to them whatever it is that master wants. How many lashes with the whip does it take to be a real masochist?
So, we have an emancipated submissive who knows his or her boundaries and is secure enough to call a safeword when needed. And we have responsible dominant who seeks to respect the submissives limits and treat the gift of submission with the utmost care that it deserves – then surely we are all clear on consent, right? Well, apart from the thing with ….
Consent & Sub Space
During a BDSM scene, it is not unheard of, that a submissive goes into a (really awesome :)) state of fluffy fuzzy happy being – sometimes referred to as sub space. It’s a truly wonderful experience. Difficulty is: In that state, many subs will ‘consent’ to anything. Possibly even ASK for something actively that before they defined as a limit.
The responsible dominant will know not to ask for consent after play has started and will not engage in any spontaneous limit pushing. There’s always time for doing so in the next session and checking back in with the begging submissive once they are a bit more… sane 🙂
In sum, naturally, I believe consent is crucial. It’s the best we’ve got as a lighthouse in kinky waters. But let’s acknowledge that it’s not perfect and certainly not error-proof.