Some thoughts on the finer points and complexity of Consent
Consent is a hard subject to write about. It’s emotional, it’s loaded, and many people have had super traumatic experiences with it. If you are talking about consent it’s often because there is a problem or violation and that can rip up people’s lives and communities. In short, it is a hot potato of a conversation. My goal in this article is to try to share some ideas and hopefully spark a positive forward thinking conversation with the goal to be discovering what we know about this tricky subject
There’s a joke amongst Jews (I can tell it because I am one) that if you ask a question to a room with 5 Jews you’ll get 7 opinions! I think consent is a subject like this.
Let’s start with some axioms.
I know this is true: Consent is essential.
I also know this is true: you cannot get consent without negotiation and communication
My central hypothesis is that consent is not as simple as yes and no. While I UNEQUIVOCALLY believe that no means no, will the bottom feel able to say no? Do they know what they are saying yes or no to? How will they say no? How does everyone feel when red Happens in a scene? Is it ok, bad/disappointing or actually rewarded for being good communication?
In the frame of D/s and kink there are a lot of areas where the yeses and nos are just not that simple. Let’s take a few examples:
I want to do breath play with a newbie. They have never tried it before. How can I successfully explain all the science, risks and be sure they can evaluate them properly? I’m not a medical professional or a scientist. Also I don’t have any way to measure their intelligence or risk evaluation skills.
I’m playing with a young, eager new sub who says they want to “try everything” and is very focused on pleasing me. I’m older, more experienced and have some online clout. Is there enough of an egalitarian position between us to negotiate fairly? Are they in the midst of ‘sub frenzy’ that will cloud their judgement. How does age, wealth, or position imbalances affect their consent? does the sub’s desire to please me outweigh their own needs and if so, how do you manage that as the D Type?
What I am saying is that many people will not have enough information, personal experience or have the negotiation skills or self confidence/self worth to be able to make the right decisions or communicate them. If they are any of the following or many more their ability to know what they are engaging in is compromised: someone who is shy, comes from a disadvantaged background, isn’t that well educated, hasn’t done much Kinkery before or isn’t used to representing themself, etc, then how can I rely on a simple yes to a list of things I might ask them to do?
So consent is impacted by a huge host of complex factors. Personal ones, macro ones, and cultural factors too. I once had an 18 year old sub ask me to belt them across the face. I declined, explaining that while it sounded hot, their retail job and living with their mother could be compromised. It was obvious to me that this person was just flat out not thinking of negative future outcomes. If I had asked them if I could belt them across the face and they said yes, would that have made it any better? Even if we give safe words, will someone be able to access an obscure word like “red” when they are under severe physical or mental distress or don’t want to disappoint?! Doesn’t the top have to train the use of this word in like any other s type behavior we want?
If we accept the concepts of male and white privilege then surely as a middle aged white man, I’m at a horribly unfair advantage in getting what I want?! How can I be sure my negotiations are fair when there is such a huge cultural elephant in the room? I have no answer for this except that I must respect that I am talking with a consenting adult and play my partner in informing as best I can. I must build on that foundation.
We could also add in the complexity of intoxication or pharmaceutical dependence, serious mental issues, dark shame or religious guilt, self loathing, etc to cook up a truly scary soup!! Now what can we really say is a level playing field for negotiation and consent? How can anyone measure it? I don’t have an answer to these paradoxes- only the desire to surface them for personal reflection.
Are there things you just think are wrong, bad or just plain dangerous like being disfigured, mutilated, kept in permanent captivity, keeping someone away from their family or friends, brainwashing etc? Can or should anyone be able to consent to these things?
Also, our own perception of what we experienced with anyone can change dramatically as our feelings about them shift. So what was consented to in the throes of new passion or love may seem very different after a breakup!
There are some deep conundrums here. We must seek consent- and hopefully the enthusiastic kind (that’s a “fuck yes” not just a “sure”) but will that be reliable when someone is doing something that they have never experienced before. There is a lot of grey area that we must somehow manage with kindness, patience and a good heart. Camus said “integrity has no need of rules”. But integrity is a rare commodity indeed.
Here’s some grey area. Let’s say you have the great rule of not renegotiating during a scene. The bottom has said that something is definitely out before you play but then in the heat of sexual passion (but also their sub space) they change their mind and maybe even beg you to do it? Really beg you and reassure you that it’s completely fine and promise you it’s ok! Will you be strong enough to maintain the no from earlier even though it seems that everyone now wants the same thing? Will self control prevail over horny desire? I have seen a lot of D types get caught out in this one!
I open this discussion to hopefully positive and thoughtful comments. I ask more experienced community members to make suggestions for newer kinksters to help them be safe and thoughtful as they approach negotiation and consent. I sincerely ask for constructive suggestions rather than just recounting of negative experiences so that difficult stories serve as valuable warnings. I ask for you to share tips and tricks for evaluating someone’s consent or ways to better ask for it!
Written by The_Voice and cross posted with permission. https://fetlife.com/users/2536932/posts/6302928