What to Know About Consent and BDSM
We can say “Consent is sexy” all we want and wear it on every crop top we own, but with a rising interest in kink and BDSM, and the ever-prevalent rape culture, understanding the intricacies of consent can become more complicated — and are more important than ever.
You know basically the entire plot of Fifty Shades? Like how Ana is an unknowing virgin who’s whisked into a life of BDSM with a handsome, extremely screwed up billionaire? Well, I’d argue that though Ana is presented a contract, she isn’t truly consenting to almost anything that happens to her in Fifty Shades.
Sure, she’s into the white wine kisses and the grey tie bondage part, but Christian Grey essentially coerced an inexperienced novice into a world of kink— she consented, but she didn’t even know what she was consenting to. That is problematic and it is wrong. Others will disagree with me. Critics of this stance say that Ana said ‘yes,’ therefore her consent was given.
How can a clear willingness or unwillingness to participate in a sexual act become so many shades of grey, when it should be black and white?
It is so essential to a teen's educational understanding, this is the teen’s guide to understanding consent in BDSM.
The blurred lines are confusing AF
When it comes to mainstream representations of BDSM in the media, understanding where bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism aligns with consent can be confusing. It’s not just hazy for teenagers, trust me. The lines appear blurry for pretty much anyone without a deep understanding of kink.
What you may not know is that consent is actually the foundation of BDSM play. Before you can "play," you need to discuss the boundaries and comforts levels of each person involved in the scene.
"Consent is just as important in vanilla sex, but often, we get so used to the vanilla experience that we forget to ask for or enthusiastically express consent. In BDSM, however, you're off the established script. Experimenting with bondage or other non-vanilla play is different from the kind of sex we're used to seeing in the movies or on TV, which makes it essential that you and your partner communicate regularly and clearly to make sure that everything you're doing is okay and enjoyable." Sandra LaMorgese Ph.D., author, former dominatrix, tells Teen Vogue.
How can you be a sexual slave to someone, and also be fully willing? How can you want to be spanked, or whipped, or punished and be down for it at the same time? How does the person you’re having this kinky sex with know where the limits lie? How do you say yes or no?
Trying BDSM means having a trusting relationship
First and foremost, BDSM play should only be tried with someone you trust implicitly. Scenes should be discussed thoroughly beforehand, and between partners who know what they are doing — don’t go tying any crazy knots if you don’t know how to tie knots, or dripping regular candle wax that isn’t meant for bodies on someone’s skin.
If you want to use a crop on your partner, you must have a thorough understanding of the boundaries. You have to ask if your partner is fine with it. BDSM is absolutely NOT about causing someone harm or pain who doesn’t want pain inflicted upon them.
BDSM should never be done only to please another person. You should only engage in a sexual act if you feel comfortable doing it. There is nothing OK about coercing someone to try something they have zero interest in trying.
Both parties must give enthusiastic consent for a BDSM scene to work. Meaning, both parties have to be totally feeling this 100%. It does not mean one person feels lukewarm.
‘Yes’ does not mean ‘yes to all’
When it comes to consent, saying ‘yes’ to one thing in the bedroom does not mean you’ve said yes to all things in the bedroom. If you clearly discuss certain things as having "blanket consent," it means you are fully comfortable with certain things happening without being asked, such as biting or tickling. You can always take away this kind of consent, as with all consent.
"Blanket consent is a different approach to consent—instead of asking if what you're doing is okay every time you do something different sexually (regular consent), you tell your partner to stop if something they're doing starts to cross a line." Says LaMorgese.
When venturing into kink, both partners must stay within the previously discussed scene. For example, if you have agreed to let your partner tie you to the bed and use a feather tickler on your body, that is fine. But, if your partner then brings out a whip and hits you with it, without having asked if you were OK with that, it’s NOT OK.
For instance in Fifty Shades, Christian’s contract comes with some heavy baggage: “A ‘yes’ is only meaningful if it can be taken away at any time without consequences. 'You must sign this BDSM contract or I will break up with you and fly away on my helicopter' is not actually good consent.” Laura Schroeder, an Account Director at Fun Factory tells Teen Vogue.
Make sense? The ‘yes’ you give has to come with no strings attached. You are not subject to the will of the dom, unless you WANT to be. End of story.
BDSM covers a lot of territory
BDSM is not all about chains, whips, and ball gags, despite what you’ve seen in the movies. It is about the giving and receiving of control over anything else. Both the submissive and dominant consent to the submission and domination. That’s actually what makes BDSM so erotic to many who enjoy it.
For subs, it is the release of control to someone who lets you escape from your worries; for the dom, having control in the bedroom can often substitute for a perceived lack of control in his or her everyday life.
Just because BDSM covers a lot of different behaviors, doesn’t mean you’re expected to try every single thing. You may be down to try some light spanking, but that doesn’t mean you want hot wax dripped on you; you might want to be in control during one sexual encounter, but want to give it up to your partner in another, “Like the word ‘sex,’ ‘BDSM’ covers a lot of different behaviors and activities, and trying one doesn’t meant that you have to try all of them.” Schroeder says.
It also doesn’t look any particular way
You and your partner are human beings. BDSM does not always look the same for every couple and that is completely fine.
For instance, Schroder tells us that a someone may like to have their lower lip bitten between kisses or perhaps one partner wants to use a sex toy and kneels in front of the other to present it for approval. These actions are about control rather than pain.
At the end of the day, remember that kink is just a game. It’s not something to be afraid of. If you’re with someone you trust, and understand the boundaries, it can be super fun and pleasurable.
Most importantly, remember that the fun starts and stops with your consent. If something is making you feel weird, gross, or just plain sucks, tell your partner to stop. Consent is the most valuable and sacred part of BDSM. It is about exploring boundaries and learning about yourself — it’s about growing, not losing something.
(This article originally appeared on teenvogue.com and was written by Gigi Engle)