Why Consent Is King In BDSM Play

 

Ms Morgan Thorne has been a lifestyle dominant for 20 years and a Professional Dominatrix for 6 years. She can be reached at her website, twitter, and Facebook.

 

BDSM has been in the spotlight because of the recent release of the 50 Shades of Grey movie, and has had more attention paid to it in the last few years because of the books by the same name. As a long time practitioner of BDSM and a kinky educator who has taught all over North America, I wanted to both see what all the fuss was about and share some of my knowledge on the subject. I recently sat down and read the first book (the one the movie is based on) by E. L. James.

This series of articles will be inspired by the book – the things that people just starting out on a kinky path should know about what it is we do (WIIWD).

Consent is the foundation of BDSM and it’s also one of the areas where the books are criticized the most. It seemed as good a place as any to start.

Let’s start with a basic definition.

Consent is permission to do something or to allow something to be done. It is an agreement between all parties involved. There are different types of consent, depending on the situation and needs of those involved.

  • Implied consent is the assumption of consent, perhaps because consent had been given in the past or because actions lead to the presumption of consent. People in the BDSM community are not fans of implied consent – it is generally not acceptable when it comes to sex or kink and it certainly doesn’t meet the legal threshold in those areas either. Now, when a couple (or triad, quad, etc) have been together for a long time, they will often ask for and get consent in non-verbal ways – a sultry look is answered with a passionate kiss, for example. It is important to note that people just starting out with a new person or new activity should not rely on implied consent – asking for and getting affirmative or express consent is essential.
  • Affirmative or express consent is asked for and given explicitly – verbally, in writing or with a gesture – thumbs up, a nod or by signing. In kinky contexts, getting affirmative or express consent can be fun and part of the play. Having a partner beg for something not only shows that they want it, but it can be pretty hot!

Implied consent is doing something and waiting to hear a no if the person isn’t into it. Affirmative or express consent is getting a clear yes before proceeding.

Consent doesn’t mean anything unless all parties are aware of the possible risks, benefits and consequences of an action, known as informed consent. In BDSM, this means that both the top (dominant, Master/Mistress, etc) and the bottom (submissive, slave, etc) know enough about an activity to understand what could go wrong, since we will assume that the benefits are satisfaction (sexual or otherwise), happiness or pleasure – ours or our partners. Since the top is the person performing the action, they should be knowledgeable enough in the activity that they can share information about risks and consequences with the bottom.

If I want to do a spanking scene with someone, I need to ask them and have them say yes before I can just hit them. I need to tell them that the risks of hand spanking are minimal and the consequences are a potentially bruised ass. Now, things can be done to minimize the consequences (proper warm up, not hitting as hard, stopping at the first signs of bruising), but it’s still a possible outcome.

Consent can be withdrawn at any point.

The bottom can decide that the spanking I’m giving is more intense than they wanted, they started to feel ill or that they’re not as into it as they thought they would be. If consent is withdrawn, even in the middle of play, it is the top’s responsibility to stop immediately. Consent is withdrawn by saying ‘no’ or by using a safe word, whatever the people involved decide.

When asking for and giving consent, a person has to be sober.

This means not drunk, not high and no altered states of mind.

BDSM and booze/drugs don’t mix, since informed, express consent becomes difficult or impossible and because sobriety is needed by both parties to engage in SM safely. A wasted top could easily lose control and play too hard, an impaired bottom may not realise that something is causing unintended pain or harm. Since everyone’s limits for intoxicants are different, each person needs to decide what they are comfortable with.

Personally, I won’t play with a new person if either of us have had even one drink. For regular partners, I will make an exception to this, but only if we have had two or fewer drinks over a few hours and the play is a low risk activity. These are my limits, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Re-negotiating activities mid-play can be problematic.

While playing endorphins are often released, subs can enter what is referred to as ‘subspace’, tops can also experience ‘topspace’ (more on these concepts in later articles). Subspace can affect a person’s perception of pain, it can also make them more amenable to suggestion or willing to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Topspace can affect a person’s perception of their own skill level or make it harder to maintain the precise control needed to be a safe top. Adding activities or renegotiating the terms of play while either person is in this headspace is potentially unethical and dangerous.

Consent is invalid if a person has been coerced to agree to an activity, by threats (I won’t love you if you don’t do X), social pressure (but everyone’s doing X!) or nagging (want to do X? How about now? Now?).

Consent is only valid if it is given freely.

Non-kinky power imbalances can also affect consent. It’s why (real life) teacher/student affairs are looked down upon – the student may feel unspoken pressure to consent. These things can happen in the BDSM world too, a person may feel pressure to play with a popular community leader, educator or celebrity.

A form of pressure that is often seen in kinky circles is the insinuation that if a person doesn’t do X, they are not a ‘true’ submissive/dominant/bottom/top.

Saying “a real submissive would…” or “a true dominant would…” is unfair and untrue. Tops & bottoms, submissives & dominants are all allowed to have limits – things they will not do – and just because a person is into an activity, doesn’t mean they are into it with you.

Consent is an in depth topic, one that kinky people talk about often. These discussions are also seen in the wider, non-kinky world too. Schools are considering teaching affirmative or express consent. People are moving away from the ‘no means no’ model to ‘yes means yes’.

By adopting this affirmative/express model of consent, we are helping to ensure we have more satisfying encounters with our partners and that we only engage in activities with people who really want to.

Ms Morgan Thorne has been a lifestyle dominant for 20 years and a Professional Dominatrix for 6 years. As a former health care worker, she is very knowledgeable regarding safety in BDSM. She is a sex work advocate and an outreach worker with The Naked Truth Entertainment. Morgan is also a fetish film performer and model. She is a writer with Kink E Magazine and volunteers in her local community as a DM and event organizer. She is a kink educator who teaches across North America. Identifying as pansexual/asexual, Morgan tries to be inclusive of all identities and orientations during her teaching. Her new book “A Guide to Classic Discipline” is expected out spring/summer 2015

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