In Some Gals Just Like to Be Tied Up I introduced an overview of my ideas about BDSM. I want to start delving a little deeper into those ideas. Given the overall theme of my last article, and some of the misconceptions I see about BDSM, I thought consent might be a good place to start. I want to look at two ideas of consent: Implied Consent and Actual Consent.
Implied Consent is easiest to discuss in terms of its legal applications. For example, being unconscious and at risk of death or injury is considered implied consent to be touched for the application of first aid. Possessing a US Driver’s license is implied consent to a field sobriety test or other screening to determine blood alcohol content or intoxication. (Thank you to Wikipedia for the quick reference.)
As you can probably guess, Implied Consent is not always good. As a tired but sober driver, you may not want to submit to a sobriety test and feel it is an invasion of your privacy. What if you, unconscious after an accident, have a psychological condition that causes you to behave erratically at being touched by a stranger – or worse to share bacteria from mouth-to-mouth touching – that can border on self-harm.
Implied Consent is a one-way street. In some situations, such as determining if a driver is drunk and a risk to others, or working as a first responder, it is necessary. It is also applied in ways to err on doing what is best for either the person being acted on (in the case of emergency care) or general safety (in the case of field sobriety tests).
Consider this idea outside of these situations. In a party of two, only one is making the decision about whether or not consent has been given. No discussion takes place. The person simply looks at the situation and decides for himself or herself whether the other person is okay with an activity. Because of this, Implied Consent is problematic. Depending on it for any kind of play, kinky or otherwise, is dangerous, no matter the intention behind the person acting on it. If you do not know that it is okay to do it to someone, do not do it.
Actual Consent is given when both participants in an activity are clear about boundaries, activities, desires, and signals. A submissive or bottom in any kind of relationship should never, honestly, ask the question “what do you think you’re doing?” The professional Domme I worked for would have lengthy conversations with her clients by phone, determining their interests and limits. She would spend about five or ten minutes preparing her client for their session, allowing time for last minute discussions about limits and setting a safe word.
Consider your own relationship with a significant other. At some point, you discuss your boundaries. You are into specific types of sexual play. He or she is not. He or she enjoys certain sexual positions you may not like or may find physically uncomfortable. These are on-going discussions, where one partner asks the other about trying something new. “Surprises” in the bedroom stem from conversations about whether or not something might be enjoyable. In a healthy relationship, they never come out of the blue.
With Power Exchange Comes Great Responsibility
BDSM relationships, whether or not sexual activity is involved, are no different. These relationships and scenarios are a fantasy of a sort. We step away from our mundane selves and mundane lives to become or experience something different. With that action, however, comes responsibility. Participants discuss boundaries and interests. They also keep that as an ongoing conversation outside of the limits of the BDSM activity.
So what is the purpose of the safe word, then, if these boundaries are already discussed? The safe word is meant primarily for warning when something is approaching a limit or play has become too intense. It is also used if one participant needs to step out of the scene. A safe word never, ever, ever takes the place of discussing what is and is not permissible in the first place.
Consent and BDSM
So does Implied Consent have any healthy and productive place in play? As a basis of play – no. Remember: if you do not know that it is okay to do something to someone, do not do it. The basis of play should always be informed, express, unanimous consent. Just as the submissive or bottom of a relationship has to be okay with the play that is about to take place, the Dominant or top has to also be okay wielding that power.
I know. It’s strange to think some people into wielding power may not be comfortable using it. This happens, though, and if your Dominant is not comfortable with the power they are wielding, nothing good will come of the activity or the relationship. This could mean being uncomfortable addressing someone as a slave, or not enjoying using degrading language. It may also be not enjoying the same kind of activity as your submissive. The Domme I worked for had her limits and activities she would not participate in.
Implied Consent is usually the fantasy within the fantasy. Once boundaries are set and play begins, the fantasy play between a master and slave may be the Implied Consent of the slave to do whatever the master commands – even things “the slave would not do on his/her own.” This kind of fantasy play extends to entertainment that is enjoyed by enthusiasts as well. The enthusiasts watching them also understand scenarios of Implied Consent to be created on the basis of actual, knowledgeable consent. It is nothing more than the fantasy of the creator. When that is not the case, enthusiasts tend to be turned off.
When I was warned not to touch a collar without permission, I was warned about knowing the difference between the fantasy of Implied Consent and Implied Consent. The collar implied submission and consent to the will of a Dominant. Without being the Dominant and without actual consent being given to me, I could not act on the implications of the collar.
People in the scene who never learn this difference can find themselves ostracized. Word gets around. Respect is sacred in BDSM.