Consent, 2016 Style

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 ( 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:

  1. Know your partners limits.

  2. Agree upon and respect a safe word.

  3. If someone is drunk or otherwise intoxicated before play begins, they can’t consent.

  4. 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.

Buyer’s Remorse

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.