Consent within BDSM is when a participant gives their permission for certain acts or types of relationships. It bears much in common with the concept of informed consent. Legal consent is a separate and largely unrelated matter. The importance of consent is simultaneously a personal, ethical, and social issue. Acts undertaken with a lack of consent may be considered abusive and shunned within the BDSM subculture.
Types of Consent
Consent is a vital element in all psychological play, and consent can be granted in many ways. Some employ a written form known as a "Dungeon negotiation form"; for others a simple verbal commitment is sufficient. Consent can be limited both in duration and content.
Temporary Consent : It is not unusual to grant consent only for an hour or for an evening. When a scene lasts for more than a few hours, some might decide to draft a "scene contract" that defines what will happen and who is responsible for what. Some "contracts" can become quite detailed and run for many pages, especially if a scene is to last a weekend or more.
Indefinite & long term consent: For long term consent, a "Slave Contract" is sometimes used. BDSM "contracts" are only agreements between consenting adults and are not legally binding; in fact, the possession of one may be considered illegal in some areas. Slave contracts are simply a way of defining the nature and limits of the relationship. Other couples know each other's likes and dislikes and play accordingly. Such arrangements typically use a safeword, a signal by one or more of the participants that the action in question should either stop or that the session should end completely.
Consensual Non-Consent: (also called meta-consent and blanket consent) Mutual agreement to be able to act as if consent has been waived. It is an agreement where comprehensive consent is given in advance, with the intent of it being irrevocable under most circumstances. This often occurs without foreknowledge of the exact actions planned.
Consensual non-consent: Considered a show of extreme trust and understanding. It is controversial within BDSM circles, even often frowned upon due to concerns about abuse and safety. It is mainly limited to those in Owner/property and 24/7 Master/slave relationships.
In recent years the term has also been used for the practice in play sessions. In the past, the term consensual non-consent was reserved to committed relationships, while the play practice used the umbrella term of edge play. This expanded scope is contentious and the subject of acrimonious debates.
In limited parts of the online BDSM community, "consensual non-consent" is instead used to refer to rape play that includes the use of safe words. This use of the term is commonly frowned upon, especially among total power exchange lifestyle participants. Experienced practitioners of BDSM generally discourage others from using "consensual non-consent" to indicate rape play. This attitude arises from the belief that it is a miscommunication potentially leading to serious and irreparable psychological harm.
Negotiation: Discussion about what is acceptable and what is off limits between partners. It is a crucial element for consent within the BDSM subculture. Negotiation can be formal with a complete checklist of acceptable and unacceptable acts. It can also be informal or ad hoc as part of the regular flow of a relationship. The culture of BDSM encourages a more formalized and explicit process. Clear negotiation for consent is the norm.
Informal negotiation is the process of discovering limits and interests along the way. Things are up for discussion and consent is granted on a case by case basis. However, over time the consent granted typically becomes broader before hitting a plateau. Negotiation in this sense resembles regular vanilla relationship discussions and debates.
Formal negotiation goes through a comprehensive list of questions and disclosures. This can be a broad process, setting out the boundaries for a long-term relationship. It can also be a narrow process that only addresses one or two specific actions, like negotiating for hypnotic trance or a thuddy flogging. This is fairly popular with play partner arrangements and "pick up" play in BDSM clubs, as it helps set very clear boundaries.
Importance of Verbal in BDSM
Importance of Verbal Consent in BDSM
Having an actual verbal discussion about kink with a partner it is pretty important because when it comes to BDSM and kink activities, going with implied consent drives the risk of violating consent right up. Not everyone reacts to pain the same. What may be a genuine stop reaction for one person can be an expression of surrender and enjoyment for someone else. If you want to respect boundaries in kink, having open communications about what those boundaries are is far more successful with verbal communication.
If you never talk about what you are willing to consent to, or ask where their consent boundaries are, it can be easy to overstep the comfort the level and push someone to an unwanted experience. You cannot count on someone being able to read your mind any more than you should assume you can correctly read the mind of others. Do not take the risk of getting put, or putting someone else, into a bad space. Show respect to yourself and your partner and talk about it.
Another reason you may wish to emphasize a verbal conversation about boundaries is because if you rely on non-verbal cues you may miss out on an experience that you both would have excitedly consented to.
The Problem with 50 shades of Grey
Fifty Shades brought BDSM into the spotlight without much focus on consent
The fascination with BDSM didn’t begin with Fifty Shades of Grey, but the popularity of the books and movies did bring the alternative sexual practices into the spotlight. And in the center of this spotlight: consent. Why does it matter? Why should we care? And most important, how can we do it right?
Explicit and implicit consent
Take if from an experienced kinkster: even in our communities, we talk about consent all the time. There are often debates about what constitutes explicit consent, when implicit consent is enough and the particular problems with consensual nonconsent.
There are many ways we give permission: explicitly, by saying, “yes, I consent to this,” or implicitly, by either not stopping an action or not caring about it. In the kink community, explicit consent is the least problematic because it’s fairly simple. You want to hit someone on the ass with a paddle, you ask, “May I use this paddle on you?” and the person says yes or no.
In explicit consent scenarios, limits and specific actions are agreed to in advance of a scene. It’s called “negotiation.” This is basically when you sit down with your play partner and explicitly name the things you want and don’t want, the things you expect and means of communication (like safe words or nonverbal distress signals). Explicit consent scenarios provide a clear frame within which players can enjoy themselves.
But explicit consent scenarios are not the only ones that happen on a play floor or behind closed doors. Implicit consent, the kind of consent that is more assumed than received, is also quite common. Implicit consent scenarios might go something like this: A person agrees to a general framework for a scene (a spanking, a rope scene, whatever) but doesn’t explicitly consent to each and every action performed within the scene.
Simple? Maybe. Clear? Not so much.
The big deal with consent
Well-intentioned kinksters (because we have to acknowledge that some of them are not) always make a big deal about consent because it is a necessary but insufficient condition for healthy BDSM activities.
Consent matters because it underpins everything about BDSM. Consent is the one thing that, to an external observer, differentiates BDSM from abuse.
And this is why Fifty Shades is often so problematic. Anastasia often lets Christian do things to her that she didn’t consent to, often because she’s too shy to say no or because she fears losing him if she takes it away.
Although these behaviors are fairly common for women, putting them in a BDSM context makes them even more dangerous. Giving oral sex even though we don’t particularly enjoy it is one thing; receiving a potentially dangerous beating or engaging in breath play or rope suspension, on the other hand, can cause real, long-term physical and psychological damage.
So why is consent a big deal, really? Because without it, we can hurt or even kill people. People who engage in BDSM without the ability to reflect on their needs and desires, and therefore without the ability to properly consent to activities, cannot effectively engage in healthy, fulfilling kink.
This is why so many of us have major problems with Fifty Shades of Grey. To people with real-world kink experience, Anastasia’s behavior is misinformed at best and dangerous at worst.
And for people who truly care about consensual, fulfilling and healthy kink, Anastasia and Christian represent everything that we don’t want to be.
In order to keep this shorter than it normally would be I mostly copy and pasted directly from the sites I looked up. I also provided the links for the sites for anyone who wants to go to the sites themselves.
Principle of Consent
The underlying principle is a classical liberal idea that a person's freedom can be measured by lack of interference with their personal choices. As in classical liberalism, the harm principle comes into play. Consent, within BDSM and some academic schools of thought, is what separates legally actionable harm from legitimate personal freedom.
Informed consent is the idea that consent is offered with sufficient information and understanding of what is being agreed upon. As in vanilla society, an impairment of mental state or decision making abilities is considered a state in which informed, rational consent cannot be offered. Consent given under coercion and pressure may also not be accepted.
Another concept is contemporaneous consent. That is about *when* consent is offered and how it can be revoked. Legally, if someone says "no," "stop," or any other related things, you are obligated to stop. That is contemporaneous consent. This can conflict with concepts like total power exchange and consensual nonconsent. This is an area of significant conflict within BDSM communities.
Models & Philosophy
Models and philosophy
BDSM communities share a common language of consent. Various models are expressed as acronyms representing differing approaches towards a philosophy of consent.
Main article: Safe, sane and consensual
SSC stands for Safe, Sane, Consensual. It is far and away the most recognizable and popular model of consent in BDSM circles, though not without criticism.
Main article: Risk-aware consensual kink
RACK stands for Risk-Aware Consensual Kink. It is the second most popular consent model. It was created to overcome perceived shortcomings of SSC.
Main article: Risk Aware Consensual Kink § Variations
PRICK stands for Personal Responsibility In Consensual Kink. It is an alternative to RACK that emphasizes personal responsibility for choices and consequences. It originally was said in 2002 at BDSM Overdrive. It has evolved into Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink.
Several of the activities in sexual BDSM play are considered illegal and fall under the definitions of rape, assault or similar crimes or torts, if performed without consent. However, most legal systems include a general defense that activities performed with the victim's consent shall not be considered a crime or a tort. This raises some legal and ethical issues, such as:
What is consent?
Who can express consent? (For example: children are typically not considered to be able to give consent to sex.)
When do we define consent as given?
When is given consent invalidated?
And are there activities that we still cannot allow, even with the victim's consent?
These concerns apply not only to BDSM but to every kind of interaction between persons. See Consent (criminal) for the general discussion.
The issue of consent in BDSM has caused a controversy among the BDSM community in some countries, since certain activities (including some kinds of edgeplay) remain unlawful even when consent has been freely given. In such countries, these activities will always be viewed by law enforcement as unlawful when discovered, even though the activities have been entirely private. The Spanner case in England demonstrates the point, where participants in a consensual mutual BDSM play party were arrested. At all stages, the national and European Court ruled against them on the basis that a person under English law may not give consent to anything more than minor injury. Interested people may think that private mutual activities should not be the subject of law as a matter of public policy, a view which has some legal backing in the United States from the case of Lawrence v. Texas where it was effectively ruled that the state lacked the power to declare an activity illegal purely on the basis of moral opinion.
The March 5th 2007 conviction of Glenn Marcus on counts of sex trafficking & forced labor renewed much debate on this issue. Likewise in April 2007, two UK men were convicted of false imprisonment in a case where a third party who had been treated like a dog asserted the matter had not been consensual.
Most people agree that consent is important but a lot of people are stumped on what to say when asked how they recommend giving or getting consent. Some believe that consent is and should be implied but this can be a slippery slope. If you rely only on implied consent, there is room for those implications to be misinterpreted. Just because consent is given for a kissing, does not mean that consent is given for moving to the next step. Just because consent is given for kissing once doesn’t mean that consent is implied for kissing later.
Navigating Consent Conversations for Short Term Partners
If you are out at a play party and connecting with someone to play that you are just meeting or do not know well you may wish to engage in a shorter conversation about boundaries and consent. Some people are impatient to play and if this is a one-time interaction which may never repeat, many people are tempted not to spoil the mood of the moment with a lengthy conversation. This is a common barrier for consent conversations. The key thing to remember here is that this conversation should not be mood spoiling. It should demonstrate that you care about the well-being of your partner as well as yourself.
It is important to take this moment, even if it is brief. You will wish to establish a few key things.
What is the safeword?
Do they prefer the framework of safe, sane, and consensual? Or risk, aware, consensual kink?
Is anyone involved under the influence of any drugs or alcohol?
Out of the toys available for this session, what are they open to using? To what extent?
Is there any particular words or language that is triggering and should be avoided?
Are there any current injuries or pre-existing medical conditions that could impact the play sessions?
Is sexual activity welcome in this scene? To what extent?
What kind of aftercare do they prefer?
This can be a fairly quick conversation that occurs with this prospective play partner. If you encounter someone who is extremely resistant to discussing these basic things before playing, you may wish to reconsider if this person is someone safe and ethical to play with.
If you are inexperienced and new to BDSM, don't feel awkward if you are not sure how to have this conversation. Start with straightforward questions if you are not sure how to phrase them. As you talk more about it, you will find what works for you. You can try role playing with a friend before going out to a party. You may also wish to practice what types of answers you would give to these questions. Even if you are inexperienced, you can still take some time to consider what you think you might be interested in and what you might like to try with a potential partner. Having an idea can be a huge help in finding a play partner.
Consent is equally important for those who intend on playing with the same person repeatedly. This conversation should be more in depth and cover more areas. It doesn't have to happen all at one time, you can space out the conversation. This will give you both time to consider your answers and what things you might be willing to negotiate on.
A good place to start is to go through a Yes, No, and Maybe checklist with your partner. This is a list of fetishes, kinks, interests where you decide Yes, No or Maybe for each activity. Some lists will have you rate from one to five your interest in the activity. You may also wish to indicate if you have tried the activity before or if you have any other thoughts or things you want your partner to know about that activity. If this is your first time doing this activity, you may wish to review the list alone to have time to decide. Then you and your partner can set some time to discuss the list.
Once these general guidelines are established the important thing to remember that consent to different activities may change over time. This conversation should be revisited periodically. You and your partner may wish to revisit the whole checklist or you may also just wish to keep the conversation casual and only discuss what's been on your mind.
The other thing to keep in mind is that depending on a variety of life factors, such as mood or stress, what activities you or your partner wishes to consent to in the short term may fluctuate. This is why it is important to have an established safeword.
Navigating Consent During a BDSM Scene
So you've set the stage for your scene with a solid conversation about consent. How do you ensure that you have continued consent during your scene?
Keeping a keen awareness of your partner's state and responses. Are they responding positively to your attention? How someone responds in a play situation or under certain stimuli will vary greatly, this is why it's important to discuss this prior to play. Keep what your partner said in mind and watch out for the use of the safeword.
You can also do a verbal check in with your partner. This can be as simple as leaning over to whisper, "How are you doing?". A verbal check in does not have to disrupt the mood of the scene. Depending on the type of scene you are engaged in, this can actually enhance your scene.
If you are building a scene that is focused around humiliation where stepping out of character may be disruptive, work the question into the language used in your scene. If you find this does not work, talk with your partner about a phrasing that will work or perhaps a visual cue. This can be a gesture or action the submissive performs to demonstrate that they are still enjoying the scene. If the action or gesture is not performed at the consent check, then the scene is brought to a close.