What is Informed Consent?

Consent is not as straightforward as it first seems. It’s not black and white.

At it’s clearest and simplest level, it is communicated permission. It is a declaration of allowance within agreed boundaries. I love this YouTube video explanation of what consent is (and isn’t):

YouTube: CampusClarity – What is Consent?

But, consent it is not a binary concept, it’s much more complicated than that.

There are many examples of ‘forced’ explicit consent that is not really consensual –drunken assent, Stockholm syndrome, false consciousness, indoctrination.

It’s also easy to give examples of positive implicit consent, or what economists call ‘revealed preference’. If someone says to you, “I hate anal sex”, but repeatedly over the course of months voluntarily takes a cross town bus to visit their lover who takes them anally, can we really say that they are a victim of a consent violation?


When we talk about informed consent in BDSM, it’s quite a slippery concept because, to be informed it would need to be something like this:
BOTTOMS AND SUBMISSIVES need to have enough experience with similar situations that their consent is truly “informed”.
TOPS AND DOMINANTS need to have enough experience with similar situations to understand how they work (safely).

Obviously, even then we’re not truly “informed”. To be truly “informed” you’d need to be able to see into the future to know exactly how something was going to play out. We never have that level of information, we’re always making the best decisions we can with the information we’ve got.

There are “sticking points”, of course, when it comes to things like coercion or dealing with someone who may be unable to give true consent. Non-consensual consent is not the same as Consensual Non-Consent  (CNC) and it is unethical. As (mature) human beings, hopefully we use our empathy and common sense to recognise when this is happening and when a line needs to be drawn.

But, realistically in BDSM, we need to have a flexible definition of “informed” and recognise that we will always be dealing with imperfect information and that there is a margin of error. Sometimes things don’t play out as we expect them to, and when this happens we need to be flexible enough to quickly accommodate changes on the fly.

It’s yet another good reason to be sure you trust the people you play with.

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