Consent is a serious topic and it is a complicated and contentious area in BDSM. For us consent is always present unless a safe word is used, but in reality Sir would never ask me to do something that I didn’t want to. The level of trust we have is huge and it means that consent is not really something that we think about, so for me personally, I take a pretty relaxed view. At work, however, I have to make sure that young people understand the importance of making sure that consent in present at the time. We also make sure that they know what the law surrounding sex and consent means for them. One of the great resources we use compares consent to having a cup of tea and this helps to make the point. So I suppose I want to make it clear that what I am writing about here is about how consent works in our D/s marriage, and to make the point that I don’t advocate this being appropriate for other types of relationship, and that I realise our practices may leave us on the wrong side of the law, if it ever came to that.
Speaking of the law, I do think that it is wrong that couples engaging in BDSM could be prosecuted for ‘inflicting harm on another person,’ if that activity falls within agreed limits that are consensual. I would argue that whether or not I am left with the bruises and marks from a cane or any other implement, done within the context of our scene, what was carried out was not harmful but part of the way we are showing and celebrating our love. I also think it is wrong that if someone can punch the life out of someone else in a boxing ring and that sort of harm is condoned as being sport, or that someone can cut through another person’s skin and tissue to carry out unnecessary cosmetic surgery and that is condoned as being a surgical procedure, that what we do would not be given the same legal standing. When there is no legal issue from the harm caused from tattoos or piercings, quite why the bruising on my spanked bottom would cause so much contention, I am not really sure.
However, the law and public opinion aside, consent works differently for us than for some other couples. If I say ‘no!’ then it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no!’ If I say ‘I don’t want to!’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘I don’t want to!’ If I say ‘stop!’ then it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘stop!’, so I do see why some people feel it is confusing. The thing is that in BDSM you have to understand the other person, be aware of their needs and wants, and also of their limits. Add to that the trust that all of this will be communicated, respected and observed and clearly you are dealing with something much more complex than it may at first appear. Obviously there are never any guarantees so I should point out that to protect us both, if I say ‘red’, it will all stop. This will be immediate and absolute and until a proper discussion has taken place and we have agreed how we are going to move forward, any previous agreement is on hold. As a testament to the way things work in a D/s marriage like ours, calling ‘red’ is not something that I really have to do and have never done it during a scene or kinky play, but it is there as a safety measure nonetheless, and is a key control to have when you are doing things which could ‘inflict harm on another person.’
So why say ‘no’, or ‘don’t’, or ‘stop’ if you don’t mean it? Well I think there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that there is a huge grey area between what the brain wants to limit and what it wants to experience. I suppose it is due to our need to protect ourselves, and we respond to our anxiety in order to do that. Sometimes you are caught up in the fight or flight reaction when your brain wants to either halt everything by freezing to let the danger pass, or let your body take over and run for your life to escape it. This is all well and good when the danger is real, but when it is only perceived, I think that we can limit ourselves by responding to it. My own hangups and fears would certainly restrict the choices I made if I let them. And sometimes, that is exactly what I do. Sir knows this and so sometimes if I have a little shove, a little bit of reassurance and a bigger purpose (pleasing him), I can push past my own limits to experience something new that I will really enjoy.
The second reason, is that it is fun. A lot Domination and submission, especially in play and scenes, is about theatre. You know that you are safe, but the fear of the unknown can pump you full of adrenaline which gives the whole thing a bit of thrill. To pull against your bonds and realise that you are stuck in a vulnerable position brings excitement; to allow yourself to be played by a mindfuck means that you can experience things in a way that differs to your norm. Essentially, you can keep it all fresh and new and exciting, and in a sexual sense, to be able to do this in a long term relationship is a little bit like finding the holy grail. Everything in D/s play is heightened – your senses, your emotions and therefore, consequentially, your experiences.
Essentially a lot of it is illusion which is why I think that many find it so difficult to understand. The submissive standing naked in the corner knows that her Dominant does not see her as inferior to him. The submissive being told she must endure just five more strikes, knows that she is going to feel pleasure and not pain. A true Dominant can not be compared to someone who is willingly inflicting pain on someone. He does what he does out of love and with the highest regard for the safety, for the well-being and for the pleasure of the submissive, and this is what is often not seen or understood. Ultimately both parties know that the pain, the humiliation and the fear will translate into pleasure and safety and love. But often in order to experience these things, you have to let go of the things that hold you back, and giving consent to another person to allow you to do this, is one way that works for a number of people.
It is only within the safety of the consent that is part of D/s, that Sir and I have really been able to explore who we are. My nature is more cautious and less impulsive than I would sometimes like and, in the past, this has held me back and prevented me from admitting to some of the things I really wanted to experience. Sir is by nature caring and protective, so for him the same is true as it is only really within the structure of the D/s that he has felt safe to explore and enjoy some of the things that involve his darker more deviant side. Through all of this we have built an intimacy and closeness that means that we pretty much know what the other needs and wants,
so to have to go back to a more conventional interpretation of consent would mean communicating in a completely different way which would be a backwards step for our relationship.
For more on consent and how it works for us please see my earlier post: Consent, Safety and Aftercare, and the follow on post from this: Consensual Non-Consent.