Treading the grey – Consensual non-consent
I have been repeatedly asked what consent really is. Whose consent matters? What happens when consent is violated? Why would one violate another's consent? What should one do to ensure consent is not violated? These questions fall into a grey area. VERY grey!
Consent should be explicitly given and received without the influence of substances, with full awareness of as many consequences as possible and only from people of legal age and a sane mind. Consent is not to be trivialised because consent defines trust, your experience, and your journey.
What exactly is consent?
Consent is a clear expression of a willingness to participate in certain acts with a certain partner/s. Giving consent is equally valid for both Dominants and submissives in the BDSM context. When someone says, ‘I don’t know, and I’m confused’, it’s not consent. When they say ‘maybe’, it’s an invitation to discuss and explore, but it’s not consent. Similarly, if anyone says ‘NO’ in any form, with or without a smile, please do not assume it is consent. ASK. Agreement given under the influence of alcohol or any other substance is not consent. Consent given by an underage person is not consent. Consent to permanently harm someone is violence, plain and simple.
Levels on which consent works:
Consent works on several levels. There are relationships and dynamics where permission is given only for specific activities. For instance, I may consent to the use of a vibrator but not a dildo.
There are also cases where consent is given in advance for a specific session/activity/time under pre-negotiated limits. This means if someone states that they consent to be tied up, it could be with a rope, tape, or even a wire. However, if they are allergic to jute, and this has been explicitly stated, using jute ropes violates consent.
Nuances to consent can be tricky. For instance, the use of jute rope may not get a person into legal trouble. However, sex without consent is a criminal act (non-consensual sex is called rape, you see).
Similarly, some people share an interpersonal dynamic where blanket consent works. Consent for an activity is valid for every session they have together unless explicitly denied.
And then there’s the consensual non-consent. Consensual non-consent is like a person saying to the other – ‘I WANT you to ignore my resistance and continue doing what you’re doing’. Now, this is potentially dangerous. What if the person saying no genuinely wants to stop? How does one know? Therefore, it is best to indulge in consensual–non-consent only with people one truly trusts. Like only if you know a person extremely well and trust them with your life. And be sure to set limits and agree on safe words.
How to ensure consent is respected
- First, communicate; in excruciating detail.
- Second, only consent to play with a stranger or newbie if one of you is at least well aware of the activities you will indulge in.
- Third, do not jump into play. Discussing safe words, limits both hard and safe, and kinks in detail helps. Also, fix your safe calls to ensure a backup in case something goes wrong.
- If anyone says submissives/slaves don’t have/need a safe word, run from them! Anyone who says a Dom doesn’t need a safe word is another BIG red flag! Fix safe words and treat them as sacrosanct.
- When in doubt, err towards caution. So, if you’re unsure whether your sub is groaning in pain or desire, ask! If you are still unsure, or your gut says otherwise, stop. It’s better to be dissatisfied and do a follow-up session rather than damage a submissive.
I think there’s so much more that people should know when it comes to safety. Keep an eye on this column for more insights. Till then, stay well and play safe!