Consent seems to be a trending topic in the BDSM community at the moment. Perhaps it was the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey, which inserts negotiations over a formal written contract that are not in the book, or perhaps it’s some of the trainwreck consent cases that have been in the spotlight recently.
In the past few weeks I’ve read about a women publically shaming a US kink community group after her (famous in the community) male partner kept playing through her explicit and forceful withdrawal of consent and the group defended the man, saying that he had the right to continue playing because the two players had agreed to consensual non-consent.
In another case, a man was charged with rape for having sex with his wife of 40+ years. She has Alzheimer’s. The husband said she gave consent, which, at the time, he believed she could legally do. The doctor said she was no longer capable of giving consent. The wife did not complain or object but could not remember the details. The doctor filed the complaint on her behalf because the doctor believed she could not legally give consent.
And in yet another messy case that got dragged through the US courts, a woman claimed to have had one drink. The man waited two hours before initiating any sexual activity and the woman consented. After the fact, she says she actually had four drinks making her too drunk to consent. Included in the arguments in court is the fact that even with four drinks, after two hours her blood alcohol level would have been under 0.1%, the legal limit for drunkenness. She countered that any amount of alcohol in her system is enough to invalidate consent.
CONSENT IS NOT THE ONLY THING
I have great respect for consent. It’s an important component of BDSM and is one of the things that clearly separates it from abuse. I would argue that it’s not the only thing – it also requires respect, communication, understanding, trust etc – but it is certainly an important thing.
Of course consent is not always black and white. Consent, like much in life, is also subject to circumstance, context, time, place and individuals. There is implied consent as well as expressed consent, and also a difference between consent morally, and consent legally.
There will always be weird cases, specific circumstances and (fifty shades of) grey areas, but the discussion seems to have got bogged down in these and has become a bit academic. In 99.9% of cases, we all know what consent is, we all know when it’s given and we all know when it’s withdrawn. The waters can certainly get muddy when it gets to topics like blanket consent versus consensual non-consent, but at its most basic level of “when is it informed consent?”, most of the time it’s not difficult to understand.
At the end of the day, BDSM, kink, fetish and the things that we do are all about mutual pleasure between people. Sure we might want to push boundaries and experience new things we aren’t always 100% sure of, but for most normal, sound minded people we do this for enjoyment/fulfilment.
I’ve heard some people define consent like this:
“Tell the person everything you plan to do, how you plan to do it, when you plan to do it and if that shit is gonna hurt”.
That’s not really how most of us play. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are essential tools for many Dominants, and they enhance the BDSM experience for many submissives. Many Dominants, including myself, also play in a fluid way. I may decide to change tack and do something different part way through a scene. I’m not going to stop the flow to explain that, run through a checklist and kill the mood. Therefore, quite often the informed part is “I’m going to do what I do, when I do it. Call out if you need to get my attention to discuss something”. Is it informed consent? I think it is.
DBADA – DON’T BE A DUMB ASS
Consent is important, but all this discussion about specific outlying grey areas of consent are taking attention away from simple things that are really important in BDSM, like:
• Never put anyone is a situation where they can’t communicate a way to stop.
• Always respect boundaries and decisions. Sure, you might try and persuade your submissive to push their boundaries, but you communicate when you reach that point and you have safewords in place to control your experiments.
• Never do anything that would knowingly cause actual lasting harm, mentally or physically. A strawman that often comes up in consent discussions is “what about if someone gave you full and written consent to kill them in what ever way you liked?” Of course you wouldn’t. The question is irrelevant. You have a moral code. Kinky =/= Psychopath.
• Don’t inflict your kink on innocent bystanders, and don’t do anything that will land anyone behind bars (even if it turns you both on).
Add your own to that list. If the “consent” in SSC (safe, sane, consensual) and RACK (risk aware consensual kink) is seeming to be getting over-complicated (and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking so with all the current discussions), then I think DBADA pretty much covers it. That’s all you really need to remember. Don’t do stupid shit.