Reality Check: Positive, Enthusiastic Consent
As part of writing in the field of non-consent and gender degradation fantasy, I aim to check in occasionally with responsible, real-life practices for safe, respectful behaviour in the real world. Starting this month, I’ll be publishing these both to BDSMLR and AllTheseRoadworks.com.
If you’re reading my writing, the chances are you find stories of non-consent to be really hot. The fantasy of overpowering someone, or being overpowered, is common, natural, and healthy to explore, discuss, and share with consenting adults.
But in the real world, that element of consent is really important. Consent is the *only* acceptable foundation of real-world interaction, even – especially – if you’re exploring master-slave or non-consent fantasies. And when I talk about consent, I’m talking about positive, enthusiastic, informed consent.
Don’t be alarmed.
Any discussion of consent has to include a lot of “don’t do this” statements. If you’re young, or if you’re new to sex, or if you’re from a family or culture that doesn’t talk about this a lot, it might seem scary, or a high standard. It might make you want to say it’s all too hard and ignore what I’m saying.
Please don’t. If the things I’m saying here aren’t what you’re already doing, then yes, you might need to slow down and think carefully about it. Getting it right is important, and there are consequences for you and, more importantly, for other people in getting it wrong.
BUT thousands of other kinksters have been here before, all of them new to it, many of them not particularly bright, and they learned, and you can too. You want a good reputation in the kink scene. You want to play with hot partners, and you want them to come back for more, and you want them to tell their friends. So you want to learn this, trust me.
Consent is a skill. Unfortunately very few of us got taught it properly growing up. And so, like any skill, learning it takes active work and practice. It’s not black and white – you’re not 100% perfect at it or 100% worthless. You get better with time and practice.
But, as with many skills, there is a minimum level of competency for playing safely with others, and if someone gets hurt as a result of your mistake, the responsibility for that is on you.
The bare minimum.
The bare minimum for consent is obeying the law, and the following will cover you in almost all jurisdictions. (Some places have a less stringent test, but they really shouldn’t.) I say this not to suggest you can call this “good enough”, but merely to say that if you’re not reaching this standard, you need to stop playing with other people until you can.
- A positive belief of consent ….
Your belief as to consent must be positive, i.e. “I believe they consent”, not, “I have no reason to believe they don’t”.
- … based on positive actions …
Your belief must be based on actual things your partner has said or done to make you believe they consent. Silence, absence of struggle, or absence of protest are not consent.
- … held on reasonable grounds …
Other people in the same position as you would come to a similar belief as to the existence of consent.
- … at all relevant times.
Your belief must last for the duration of your interaction. If you no longer have reasonable grounds to believe they are *still* consenting, you need to stop, immediately, even if you’re “almost there”.
But we can do better – much better – and as kinksters, who do things more dangerous or unusual than vanilla sex, we have an *obligation* to do better. So let’s talk about how consent should work.
1) Consent must be positive.
Consent is not the absence of protest. “She didn’t say no” isn’t consent. Silence isn’t consent. A lack of struggle isn’t consent. Arousal isn’t consent. Consent consists of positive words or actions that unambiguously mean “yes, please”.
2) Consent must be enthusiastic.
Coerced consent isn’t consent. You can’t badger or harass someone into consent. You can’t tell them they owe you consent. If they consent because otherwise you will be sad, disappointed or angry, then it’s not consent. If consent isn’t an enthusiastic “hell, yes!” then it’s not consent.
3) Consent must be informed.
People need to know what they’re consenting to. They’re entitled to know any matter which they’ve expressed concern about or which might reasonably affect their choice to consent – even if it doesn’t matter to *you*.
Some matters which people need to know in order to give informed consent:
* Are you going to use protection and/or birth control?
* Do you either have an STD, or are at risk of one without having had a recent screen?
* Do you have a partner or partners who would consider what you’re doing “cheating”?
* Are you photographing or recording what you’re doing? Do you intend to?
* Do you have a physical or mental health condition which could impact your safety or theirs?
Everyone has a right to know what risks to their privacy, physical health and reproductive health they’re consenting to.
4) Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
Anyone is entitled to withdraw their consent at any time. Even if they’ve consented in the past. Even if they consented to a consensual non-consent scene. Even if sex work is involved and you’ve paid money. If someone indicates they are less than enthusiastically consenting, *stop*.
5) Only sober, conscious, adult humans can consent.
Minors can’t consent. Animals can’t consent. People who are unconscious or less than fully awake can’t consent. If you’re too drunk or stoned to drive, you can’t consent. If you’re on any medication or drug you’ve not tried before, or which impairs your judgement, you can’t consent.
(Can you consent while sober or awake to activity happening while drunk or asleep? The answer is “kind of”. I know for some of you it’s your kink, and you want it to happen. But it’s super-risky, because you’re not going to be in a position to safely withdraw your consent once the activity starts. If you *must* do this, you want to do it with someone that you’ve built up trust with, and you want to be super-explicit in advance about what you’re consenting to, when it’s happening, and what the limits are.)
Also, to gloss over a somewhat complex area, I’ll also just note that being horny affects your judgement, and responsible kinksters avoid asking people to consent to new surprises while they’re desperate to cum, no matter how hot that might be. Also, mental health can clearly affect your judgement, and kinksters need to be upfront about their diagnoses and how that affects their judgement, and, on the flip side, 100% ready to pull the plug if they’re less than completely certain their partner’s consent is rational and sober.
6) If they can’t communicate, you can’t be sure they’re consenting.
If you’re playing with gags or bondage, or in a noisy or dark environment, you need to think about communication. How are they going to withdraw consent if they need to? You need to make provision for that in advance. Discuss that with your partner to see what works for them. You may give them a toy to hold in one hand – dropping it means they need to stop. Or leave them a hand free that they can use to rap on a noisy surface if they need your attention.
If you don’t have a reasonable, positive belief that your partner is *still* consenting, then your consent isn’t safe.
7) If you have any doubt they’re consenting, check in.
If they look like they’re not into it anymore, check if they’re okay. If they’re starting to look spacey, check if they’re okay. If they haven’t made any sound in a while, check they’re okay. If you have the *slightest* doubt that they are still enthusiastically consenting, check in. If you don’t get a response that indicates enthusiastic consent, stop.
8) You need to get consent *every time*.
Just because they’ve consented before, doesn’t mean they consent now. Just because they’re consenting to someone else seeing them naked, doesn’t mean they’re consenting to you seeing them, or interacting with them. In long-term relationships, consent can get faster and simpler, sure, but even with someone you’ve been married to for 20 years you should be getting positive, enthusiastic consent to anything you’re going to do with them.
9) Consent isn’t transactional – even in sex work.
No one owes you consent, even if you’ve paid money. If a sex worker says no, you stop. Whether that then means you’re entitled to a refund is possibly a matter for negotiation, but it’s a negotiation that happens after you stop, and after you’ve made sure that they’re safe, and it may be a negotiation you need to have with someone else on their behalf to make sure that they *continue* feeling safe. No stream performer or model or stripper or escort owes you their consent, even if money has changed hands. Also, providing sexual gratification to someone else doesn’t oblige them to “return the favour”.
10) Consent isn’t just for sex.
Here’s the thing – if you’re doing consent right, you’re not just doing it for sex. You’re doing it in relation to all your interpersonal interactions, whenever you’re going to cross someone’s personal boundaries. Before you touch someone, you ask if it’s okay. Before you photograph someone, you ask if it’s okay. When you’re interacting with people, you actively give them a way to withdraw, or communicate that they’re distressed. You teach kids that they’re allowed to say no to hugs. Good consent skills are something to use every day, in all your interpersonal interactions.
Here endeth the lecture.
Still here? Good. Like I said at the start, consent is a skill, it takes practice, and you get better. Start practicing. Your partners WILL appreciate good consent skills. It will make them feel safe and empowered with you, and they’ll be more ready to try new things, take risks, and lower inhibitions. Consent benefits everybody.
I’m happy to take questions on consent skills at any time, and the next time I come back for a reality check I might offer an example consent negotiation, drawn from personal experience. (I’ve actually written it up, but then realised this article was already exceptionally long.)
Thank you all for reading, thank you for being wonderful, responsible kinksters, and you may now return to reading your regularly-scheduled smut.
– All These Roadworks