If we were writing some kind of guide to the principles or philosophy of BDSM then “informed consent” would probably be our opening chapter. Nearly everything else we talk about, when you distill it, is based on informed consent. It’s the dividing line between BDSM and abuse, it’s the basis of SSC and it’s the mechanism that keeps our encounters happy, positive and sexy.
Often when we think of informed consent what we think about is the agreement between two people who are going to entangle in some kind of kinky way (either “play” or to form some kind of power exchange relationship). An obvious example would be pre-negotiation… the “getting to know you” questions you might ask a potential partner that help you both understand what kind of interaction is desired on each side and how things might unfold so you both get what you want.
Obviously consent doesn’t end there. The hidden or implied word in informed consent is “ongoing”. As we move deeper into something the situation can change. That’s why we have safewords and feedback loops. It’s not enough for someone to say yes to something. They have to continue to agree to it, because the minute they don’t there is no longer consent.
WHO IS PART OF INFORMED CONSENT?
Informed consent is easy enough to understand when we are thinking about two people agreeing to something. Both parties obviously need to be capable of being “informed” (which excludes the mentally incapacitated) and the consent needs to be positive or enthusiastic (which excludes force or blackmail).
But for BDSM to be ethical, consent extends further than the two parties directly involved.
1. Don’t scare the villagers
When you are in public, the people around you haven’t consented to being involved in your kink. Rules of good citizenship apply, so it’s really about reading the room and understanding what is socially acceptable. If you would have trouble explaining something to a child, chances are good that you shouldn’t be exposing unsuspecting bystanders to it.
2. Cheating isn’t a kink
You’ll hear people saying “people in the kink community are supposed to be tolerant and accepting of other people’s lifestyles”, and in general they are, but there is very little acceptance of people who play outside of the boundaries they have set with their primary partner. Most people consider the requirement of consent to extend to all people affected (or potentially affected) by what we do. Phrases like “my partner doesn’t know…” tend to send ethical members of the kink community running the other way.
• Wikipedia – Consent (BDSM)
• Psychology Today – Cheating and Consensual Non-Monogamy
• Feministe – The Subtleties of Consent: Deception and Sexual Violation
• Thought Catalog – What Does and Does Not Count as Cheating
• Kinkly – Wanna Act Kinky in Public? Here’s How to Do It Incognito
• Ask Men – Understanding Fetishes: Voyeurism & Exhibitionism