I recently saw a flyer posted online that lists 4 criteria for consent. The poster spoke to me as it pointed out factors that aren’t usually pinpointed when explaining the concept of consent. Consent can easily be described by the term “no means no”. If your partner says “no” to engaging in an activity then they are not giving you their consent to engage said activity. Such an explanation however can get much more complicated and when you throw BDSM and consensual nonconsent into the mix. In this case consent can be downright confusing.
Abuser M and I engaged in a BDSM relationship where I was his slave and he was my “Master”. He told me that by engaging in consensual nonconsent, I was to do what he said at all times. I was not extremely experienced in BDSM when I began our relationship and I took every one of his words for truth. He was, after all my Master and I had complete trust in him. If only I had learned more about consental nonconsent from the local BDSM community, I believe that I would have been safe from a lot of the abuse that I endured while under Abuser M’s control. I now know that he used BDSM as a guise for the domestic abuse that he inflicted on me in every aspect of our relationship.
The flyer that I speak of has been added to this post for your review below. I want to discuss each of the 4 criteria listed and how my BDSM relationship with Abuser M muddled the definition in my head to the point that I was clueless on the subject.
The flyer states that consent is 1. Active, 2. Based on Equal Power, 3. A Choice and finally 4. A Process.
“1. Consent is Active. Just because a partner didn’t say ‘no’ doesn’t mean they have given consent. Ask because only ‘YES’ means ‘YES’.” Abuser M and I had such a relationship where “no” was not in my vocabulary when speaking to him. If I even implied that I wanted to go against his will, he would punish me in various ways. He told me that in order to be a slave I needed to completely submit to his every whim, whether I liked it or not. His concept of slavery completely blew away this first criteria of consent. First of all, he never asked for anything of me. He always simply took what he wanted especially when it came to sex. In fact, he raped me in a public outdoor location on our first date. He did not ask me for my permission to have sex, he simply forced himself on me so brutally that I was injured and even broke my shoe when I strained to pull away. I somehow rationalized this rape in my head by becoming his slave. In my mind that made his act OK. However, now knowing what I know about consent, he broke the very first rule the first time I ever met him and I should have run the other way and never looked back. This set the precedence for the remainder of our relationship. He always forced himself on me whenever he pleased and frequently forced me to engage in sexual acts that I wanted nothing to do with. He never asked… just because I didn’t verbally say no to him did not mean that I was consenting to his acts.
“2. Consent is based on equal power. If someone is underage, drunk, asleep or in another vulnerable position, they cannot consent.” Abuser M broke this principle in multiple ways. I believe that I was constantly in a vulnerable position when it came to our interactions because I was terrified of him and he made me believe that I was his slave in every way. I was not properly informed on what a slave truly is in a healthy BDSM relationship and he used the title to disguise the fact that I didn’t say no to him because I was terrified of what he would do to me. In addition there were countless times when Abuser M took advantage of me sexually when I was under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Not only did he force himself on me numerous times when I was drunk but there were other times that he forced me to overdose on cough medications (also known as Robo-tripping) because the trip would make me so high out of my mind that I couldn’t feel pain. During those times he would beat me to a pulp without so much as a whimper from me because I couldn’t feel it. There were other times when Abuser M would engage in sexual activities with me when I was asleep. I would wake up to him on top of me and frequently choking me while forcefully having sex with me. I was obviously never given the opportunity to say yes or no in these situations.
“3. Consent is a choice. We must make sure our partners feel free to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without pressure. If we aren’t willing to take ‘no’ for an answer, consent cannot happen.” This criteria blew my socks off when I read it. At absolutely no point in my relationship with Abuser M did I ever feel the ability to say no to him. He made it clear that a slave never said no to their Master. Not only did I fear that I would be physically hurt if I ever refused him, I also feared that he would leave me. I had been so degraded by Abuser M that I was terrified of him leaving me. I felt that I deserved him and the treatment that he inflicted on me. There were very few times early on in our relationship that I did attempt to say “no” to Abuser M and those times resulted in severe physical, mental and emotional abuse towards me. I quickly learned that I could never say no to Abuser M if I wanted to feel safe. Even if I did say no to Abuser M, he would not accept it as an answer.
“4. Consent is a process. Consent requires ongoing conversations with lots of trust. Just because someone says yes to making out doesn’t mean they want to do anything else. You can change your mind at any time.” Once I had accepted that I was Abuser M’s slave, I felt there was no turning back until he released me from his control. I never felt that there was an opportunity to change my mind when it came to Abuser M’s and my relationship because he had control of every aspect of my life. In addition, there was never a point in our relationship that Abuser M asked to assess our relationship to see if I was OK with what was going on. I said yes to being his slave and he made me believe that my doing so gave him the right to do whatever he wanted with me, even when I said no later on in our relationship.
The moral of this post is to state that consent should and can happen in a BDSM relationship. BDSM should not be used as a guise to cover domestic violence. There are many people who engage in healthy BDSM relationships where communication is key to their relationship. Consent is always a key factor in these relationships. There are entire organizations within the BDSM community whose sole purpose is to promote the consent culture. I applaud these organizations and the people who work to promote consent culture in the BDSM lifestyle. I wish that I had encountered them when I was engaged in the various unhealthy BDSM relationships that I engaged in. I believe that this sort of out reach is of utmost importance in such communities where consent can be such a confusing idea.
I would like to briefly suggest ways that people looking to engage in a healthy BDSM relationship can also incorporate all four of the mentioned criteria for consent into their relationships. Once you get the hang of it, consent isn’t a difficult concept even under the influence of a BDSM relationship.
Consent is Active – while engaging in a BDSM scene, the dominant (or top) should always make sure beforehand what the submissive (or bottom) is consenting to. If at any time during the scene the submissive feels uncomfortable, the submissive should have the right to call a safeword to promptly stop the activities that they are no longer willing to engage in. Consent is based on equal power – within a power exchange relationship power can still be equal when it comes to consent. Never engage in a BDSM scene while under the influence of any substance and it should always be made clear the submissive has the power to revoke their submission at any time. Consent is a choice – within a BDSM scene or relationship a dominant should always be willing to accept when a submissive does not want to engage in an activity. Negotiate the terms of your relationship and/or scene before engaging so that it is made clear to both parties what each are willing to engage in and what is clearly off-limits. And finally consent is a process – those engaging in a BDSM relationship (or even just a scene) should frequently check in with their partner to make sure that everything is going smoothly on both ends. If anything feels wrong at any time, stop the scene and openly discuss what has gone wrong. It is also helpful in general to have written terms for a BDSM relationship that clearly state what activities each party is willing to engage in. Such a document should never be taken as a legal contract and can be revoked or revised at any time. Creating such a document is a healthy and easy way to clearly express the desires or both parties involved.
In addition to the suggestions that I have made above, there are many websites that you can find on the subject of consensual nonconsent by searching the term in a search engine.