We talk a lot about consent in BDSM. It’s even part of every acronym that I have ever heard regarding the lifestyle.
SSC = Safe, Sane, and Consensual
RACK = Risk Aware Consensual Kink
PRICK = Personal Responsibility In Consensual Kink
And right up to the newest terms on the horizon:
CCC = Committed, Compassionate, Consensual
The 4 Cs = Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution.
Notice all the emphasis on consent? There’s a reason for it. It’s this, more than any other principle, that sets us apart from the ranks of the abusive and the abused. It is essential to this lifestyle. It’s the fuel we need in order to drive our relationship SUVs down BDSM Boulevard. But what does it entail? Is it a simple yes or no, or is it more than that?
Filling Up the Gas Tank
Consent begins before anything happens, even before two people ever touch. It starts with our old friend communication — whether you are discussing a hug, a single scene, or a long-term relationship. That SUV isn’t going anywhere without gas in the tank.
Trust needs to be established.
This means no coercing your partner (it’s not true consent if a person says yes when they really mean no because saying no will cause a fight or punishment of some sort), no halving the truth, no bait and switch activity, and absolutely no false information.
Talk through your wants, needs, desires, and fantasies thoroughly.
Both partners need to be aware of, and fully understand, what is being proposed. This requires knowledge of what will take place, an understanding of the activity or activities themselves, what will be expected of all parties, and the risks involved. Seeking as well as giving an enthusiastic and affirmative yes.
It doesn’t stop there, however.
Keeping an Eye on the Fuel Gauge
Some people assume that consent given once is consent given infinitely. This idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. Just because you fill the tank on an SUV doesn’t mean it is going to stay full. We have to keep an eye on that gauge.
The same goes for consent in relationships. During play, the Dominant partner should be regularly checking in with the submissive, and in long term power exchanges — especially new ones — negotiations should happen regularly. These practices not only establish trust and encourage communication, but they also provide a space to give continued consent or revoke it.
Consent is one of the main reasons we use safewords. For the purposes of this post, we are going to use the traffic light system as an example.
Green is enthusiastic consent. It tells our partners that we are enjoying what is happening, and we absolutely want to continue.
Yellow is cautious consent. It can mean that you are uncomfortable physically, mentally, or emotionally, but being aware of what is happening, you want to continue slowly. It can also mean that you are withdrawing your consent for use of a particular toy or specific activity but wish to continue with the rest of your planned activities. Sometimes it just means you need to hit the pause button (muscle cramps are a thing, y’all!).
Red is the withdrawal of consent. We do not wish to subject ourselves to this activity, environment , or whatever is taking place any longer. The activity should end. Full-stop.
Many Dominants will not use safewords themselves, although it is perfectly acceptable — especially mid-scene — for them to do so, but they will withdraw their consent by simply stopping the activity when they reach the point of being uncomfortable with what is taking place. This is the common view of how a Dominant withdraws their consent, but it is not the only option for the Dominant side of the slash. It is, however, the simplest.
Sitting on Empty
At the beginning of this post, I stated that trust needs to be established. In this case, that trust hinges on two things: confidence that your partner will stop when you withdraw your consent and the confidence that it will not have negative consequences.
It should never be an “or else” situation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-time scene, a new long-term partner, or your well-established significant other. If you don’t give your consent, the activity should not take place, and if you withdraw your consent, the activity should stop. If it doesn’t, that crosses the line into abuse.
Withdrawal of consent should not cause a fight or bring a punishment; no one should be angry at you for saying “no.” Yes, withdrawal of consent can be disappointing but the top priority needs to be your partner’s well-being.
Once consent has been withdrawn there needs to be… what? That’s right! More communication.
At this point, the SUV has run out of gas, and it’s time for a little maintenance. Check the fuel lines for leaks, the tank for cracks, change the filter or maybe the pump. Then fill her back up.
The withdrawing partner, especially us s-types, will most likely need reassurances that all is well, they are still wanted and desired and — if it’s a romantic partnership — still loved. To know they have not just screwed the pooch, so to speak.
Maybe a particular instrument didn’t feel as you thought it would, or it just hit wrong. Maybe that word your partner used took you into a dark place you had no desire to go. The only way these things can be addressed and avoided in the future is through communication.
An examination of what causes someone to withdraw consent can help identify where limits and boundaries lie, where there are issues that need some work, or things that need to be approached from a different angle. No matter the reasons, an open, honest, conversation with our partners is part of growing that trust and connection that allows us to give consent again in the future.
At the End of the Day…
Consent and communication are the foundation of BDSM. There are many types and facets of consent, and it is something that should never be taken for granted. Whether you are new to this lifestyle or a veteran, it plays into everything that we do. If you are in doubt of your partner’s status of consent, play it safe, and stop whatever you are doing.
Until next time, remember: This is your life; live it your way!