Consent, 2016 Style
Updated: Aug 22, 2022
Consent is one of these topics that comes up all the time in the kink community. It will come up in the wider world after a horrific rape makes the headlines, but then it fades. Consent is both very simple and difficult as a topic to discuss.
I want to discuss consent within the context of the kink community. For the purposes of this post, I am setting aside consensual non-consent (rape play) because that is a whole topic in and of itself [if you are really interested, I will be leading a panel on this at Boundless in October (https://fetlife.com/events/414656)]. I also am not going to address consent in the context of the vanilla community, because that is a wide-ranging topic as well.
Kink and Consent
Consent used to be pretty simple in the kink community. When I entered the scene, up to about a decade ago, kinky folks would have a discussion about limits (hard and soft), agree on a safe word (or not), and play. It never seemed overly complex to me. A vast majority of people followed these rules:
Know your partners limits.
Agree upon and respect a safe word.
If someone is drunk or otherwise intoxicated before play begins, they can’t consent.
Don’t negotiate after a scene begins or when someone is in subspace.
That was pretty much it. For a long time, these rules seemed to work in the kink community. Yes, there were some violations of consent. Most of the time repeat consent violators were identified and known and people were warned about them.
Consent in the kink community has become much more complex.
Triggers and Warnings
A couple of decades ago, kinky folks often didn’t talk about triggers and potential triggers. This just wasn’t a thing. As more and more people have come out about dealing with mental illness and trauma, talking about triggers has become de riguer. We not only do it in kink, but writing now has trigger warnings, poetry readings have trigger warnings, and kinky folks have started talking about triggers before play.
I am honestly split on my feelings about trigger warnings. Yes, I see some benefit if you know a certain action really might set you off, then by all means let your partners know. I have a few. I hate being called stupid in humiliation play. I used to have a thing about my upper arms being bound. I can’t do medical play after being extensively and purposely harmed by medical professionals. Now, if I have a new partner, I will discuss these because triggers are expected to be part of the conversation. Generally, I list these and a couple other things as limits. That is the extent of the discussion.
However, not everyone is aware of their triggers and some people worry about potential triggers way more than they should. I know a few people who list somewhere in the realm of 25 triggers for play. That may be a real thing, but it may also be overblown. I don’t deny some people have a lot of trauma. I do think if you have a list of limits and triggers longer than was in 50 Shades you may want to rethink involvement in kink play.
Most partners will take feedback during play when you need to tell them that something is really upsetting. If something new comes up during play, you should be able to tell your partner to redirect or stop. Even without a safe word, most D-types will be able to see distress (the bad kind) in a partner and respond in play. In a situation where you are not in the head space to give feedback during a scene, you can also talk about something post-scene.
I have found that being open to pushing some of my limits and playing close to trigger territory has helped me become more comfortable with certain things. But that is me. You may not be ready to explore those areas. If it is really terrifying or hurtful, let your partner know. If it is “uncomfortable” or “unsettling” it might be a great addition to a scene.
Ultimately, I think if there is something that you know makes you panic, let your partner know. If it is just something that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to think about being a little looser on the restrictions of your play. However, your safety is key, so protect yourself first.
I see this phenomena a lot more in the last five years. Someone (almost always a sub) arranges a scene with a D-type. They go through the scene. Limits and safe words are observed and respected. However, afterward, the sub feels regret about the scene. It either was’t close to what they desired or what went down does not sit well with them. Days or weeks after a scene with a D-type, the sub accuses the person of rape or violating consent (which is rape).
Again, this is something I struggle with. I do believe women and men get raped and don’t fully understand what is going on at the time. They may even appear to be okay the morning after. It is only after some time their brain can process how much trauma has happened and they realize they were raped.
This is especially common when you know your rapist. Something may happen. The person violates your consent. You express distress and a clear need to stop in a scene and they push forward. You are in deep subspace and D-type introduces something that you would never agree to if you were not in subspace and the D-type knows this is a limit but takes advantage of your head space to get what they want. These things are rape and should be reported.
Sub space can make something particularly complicated. If you are in sub space, you tend to be very agreeable. You will say yes to things you never would if you were not in sub space (lord knows I will). An ethical D-type knows this and will respect it. Unethical D-types will violate this and use it to do things you strongly object too.
When your boundaries and consent have been violated, the person needs to be called out and people need to be informed so they can protect themselves. These incidents need to be known in the kink community and reported to police if the victim feels comfortable with doing that.
However, I have seen things go very badly for D-types who have actually been quite ethical. A D-type will play with a new sub. They will have arranged a scene and talked about limits. The sub will want to try something new. Something about the scene doesn’t sit well with the sub after-the-fact. Rather than talking things through with their play partner, the sub starts bad mouthing the D-type online and at community events.
Buyer’s remorse puts DMs and munch organizers in the middle of a lot of unnecessary drama. I don’t know any current DM or munch organizer who hasn’t had to deal with a situation between two play partners where a scene went poorly, then the sub wants the D-type banned from an event or space. Good DMs and munch organizers will talk to all parties involved and use what they know about someone and their past behaviors to make a judgement call.
Ultimately, though, the rise in buyer’s regret has also lead to a perception that there are tons of predatory D-types in the community. Yes, we have predators who must be identified and drummed out of the community. However, I am more afraid of predators in my local bar than a kink space. Kinky people are motivate to protect the community and spaces by making known predators known and banned.
Use Your Words
I have used this phrase more often than I should have to with adults lately. I am not sure if it is the rise of texting or the fact that I am now older than a lot of people in the community, but we seem to have forgotten basic communication skills.
If a scene goes badly, you need to talk to the play partner (in most cases- yes, some are clearly rape or there is threat of violence and the person should be avoided). If you are not in the right head space to talk after a scene, wait until you are. Then use your words- and not texting! Talking, actual verbal talking, is a very different form of communication. You need to be able to talk about what happened.
Do this before you go crazy on social media. If you don’t feel safe talking to your play partner, talk about the incident with close friends, mentors, family or others prior to posting your story on line. Talk, not email or text, a DM or munch organizer about the person. It is too easy to lose perspective and be unclear in an email or text. You need to talk about what happened. TALK.
Yes, this is difficult. I know I have had to take time after certain things have happened before I could vocalize what went wrong. And that is okay. Talking is necessary and helps clarify things. It helps others lend perspective and understand what went down.
Consent Doesn’t Have to be Hard
Consent can actually be sexy. I have a Dom who makes consent sexy. We have an agreement about limits and scenes. Before we begin, he will usually kiss me or bite my neck, wrap his fingers in my hair, and whisper something like, “Do you still agree that we can do xyz?” The juices start dripping at that point. Yes, yes I agree. Please do that!!!
D-types actually have a lot more to fear about consent violations than subs. If they even skirt an area which may not be okay and a sub puts them on blast, they can end up losing access to their community and their support. The experienced D-types I know understand this and take precautions.
Finally, the community is there to support people. If you are interested in playing with someone, use your words and ask around. Everyone needs to take responsibility for vetting their own play partners. Most of the time, if you ask a DM or any leader in the community about someone, you will get an honest evaluation of them. We know who is safe, who likes to push boundaries, who is good for newbies, who should only play with people in advanced levels, and we will tell you. You have to ask if you want this information.
Asking is important for D-types too. Subs know which other subs are crazy. We will tell you if a sub has put four other D-types on blast because of disagreements. We know who is hurting and looking for revenge or is otherwise not in their right mind. Take some responsibility to ask around.
Finally, be honest about what happened. Did the person go beyond what you said was okay? OR, did the scene just not turn out the way you wanted too? Is your claim based on what happened or because someone got pissed about something outside the scene?
Rape is serious, epidemic and real. It happens to people of all genders. It is horrible and painful and leaves lasting scars. We need to protect people from predators and rapist in the community. We can’t do that if you got your feelings hurt and they accuse someone of something through social media then refuse to talk. Help us keep everyone safe. Everyone, use your words.