Tolerating Criminal Behavior in the Scene, and Judging Others

Several things have happened over the years that have had me really starting to look at what happens in our circles when clearly and unambiguously illegal behavior comes to light.

My first encounter with this sort of thing was finding out that a former play partner of mine was a convicted pedophile. There are also numerous other reports (usually kept under wraps, but sometimes boasted of publicly) of other acts of pedophilia, bestiality, and much more, up to and including murder.

After much soul-searching on the pedophilia question, trying to sort out whether or not such people should be outted or not, I decided that I would only do so in that particular case if I were to observe this person speaking with people whom I knew had children, especially young girls, and then only to the parents involved. As for my personal encounters with him, I spent a long time trying to decide whether or not to continue to associate with the other members of his leather family, how to handle running into him in public, etc. It was much easier to decide to cut him out entirely than to decide what was appropriate with the others.

Ultimately, I decided that I had to back away from them all, because I didn’t want to be painted with the same brush by others – and because, as my ex once put it when I told him about what had happened, anyone who would stay with someone who was abusive to children or animals knowing that was happening (or had happened) is just as guilty of the crime as the person who actually committed it.

That isn’t true in a legal sense, obviously, but certainly is in a moral sense. Birds of a feather and all that. You hang with pedophiles and bestialists, or thieves and murderers, and you are implicitly condoning their behaviors. You hang with people who have numerous friends who are into these things, and you’d better also consider why they associate with such people even if they deny those proclivities themselves…

The sex with children and animals debate has been going on for a long time in the community. Generally speaking, both are widely condemned, as they should be, since both involve abuse of beings that are unable to consent, and unable to even understand what is happening enough to give informed consent – or indeed any kind of consent at all. These subjects are verboten on virtually every mainstream kink website, except to discuss intellectually, for very good reason. Such behaviors would never be tolerated in our playspaces, and not just because that could get the spaces closed down and send a lot of people off to jail. It’s because the majority of kinksters genuinely understand how very wrong these things are.

Many of the other types of abuse, rape, and assault that occur in our circles can be ambiguous to define and identify. We pride ourselves as a community on tolerance for what gets others off. Which, again, is largely how it should be, although there are certainly exceptions, and identifying what’s OK and what’s not is the central theme of this blog.

But what about other crimes? And how does our whole attitude of “your kink is OK” play into acceptance of criminal and abusive behavior that anywhere else would get people tossed into jail instantly?

Sometime last year, a submissive who appears to be quite popular publicly posted a tale on Fetlife about how she was house/petsitting for someone, apparently something she does as a business, and came across a bottle of 100 Vicodin tablets in her client’s medicine cabinet. These are powerful narcotic pain relievers, controlled prescription drugs with a high addictive potential. They also have major street value as a result. Apparently this young woman has had some major drug problems in the past (her public self report) and described how, despite knowing full well that she should not do so, she swallowed not just one or two of these pills – but literally swallowed the whole bottle.

This would kill the average person, or come pretty darn close, but again, our heroine was sitting there telling everyone about it, without hospitals and ambulances figuring into the story, so obviously she had some pretty major tolerance built up. The sure sign of an addict; they can take doses of controlled drugs that would even kill the average horse and just keep on going.

She talked about her upset at backsliding out of whatever clean period she’d had, and got dozens, if not hundreds of messages of support. To my shame, I was one of them. I do understand how people feel a pull like this, though. I do sympathize with that, and her obvious upset about it.

But here’s the thing.

First of all, she stole these pills. From a client. She didn’t just take one because she had a headache, which virtually no one would have an issue with, she stole the whole bottle – all 100 or so tablets, consuming them on the spot.

She is also a veterinary technician (which she has repeatedly mentioned publicly online) who should doubly have known better. Who still has ongoing access to other such drugs in her employer’s clinic, if she’s still working in this field, because that’s one of the things that vet techs do, is dispense and manage the stock of the medications the veterinarians they work for prescribe. She is putting both her job and her employer at risk doing this shit, not to mention her own freedom. Why she’s confessing to it publicly, I don’t claim to understand, but hey, it’s her life.

If she’s doing drugs again, particularly if she is going to work impaired or seriously hung over, she is also putting her clients’ pets’ lives at risk, because vet techs assist in surgery and doing numerous other hands-on tasks around the clinic that involve direct care of the creatures entrusted to that veterinary practice. You simply can’t have people who are drug impaired in positions like this, because mistakes can be fatal.

Somehow she managed to rationalize all of this away, however, by saying that because the expiration date on the bottle had passed that she believed her employer-the-client wouldn’t miss them. Wouldn’t even know. Wouldn’t notice. Wouldn’t care.

She committed a felony.

Was talking about it openly in public.

She knew it was wrong, and yet her entire focus was on the poor me of being upset that she’d started using again.

And apparently no one (sadly myself included) even took her to task for it in any way.

The only reaction she got was all these people patting her on the back and giving her all kinds of sympathy and encouragement.

Oddly enough, at least one of her friends is a veterinarian. Who still remained friends with her, at least on that site, long after this confessional was posted.

What is wrong with this whole picture?

If she’d have said she had robbed a bank or murdered someone, I like to hope that no one would encourage her and offer her sympathy for whatever feelings may have driven her to that, or might be feeling in the aftermath.

And even aside from the fact that associating with a bank robber could get one’s own self tossed in jail with various types of charges levied in certain circumstances, I like to hope and believe that the people of our “community” have enough integrity to “just say no”, and quit associating with people who commit felonies, not treat them like the victims. This goes quadruple for associating with known pedophiles and bestialists, especially those who see fit to advertise these tastes in fully public venues like anywhere on the Internet.

I also know of a number of other outright criminal acts like rape, murder, and embezzlement that scene members have committed that are known and openly talked about, and yet most people still seem to welcome these perpetrators in our midst.

I’d like to hope that such types would be unwelcome, but sadly, it doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

But how is it that a person feels free to discuss at a party how he served time for murdering his wife, and no one else in the room even bats an eye, and that person is still welcome at events? How is it that he’s invited back? How is it that his wildly improbable tale of how he was the one who was done wrong is believed and sympathized with when a judge and jury with all of the details of the whole story and probably expert witnesses on both sides obviously didn’t buy it?

How is it that sometimes they are still allowed to be in positions of responsibility that fly in the face of their known transgressions, like known thieves still allowed to handle the money at events? Confirmed embezzlers allowed to have access to an organization’s membership records? Known abusers of various stripes allowed to continue to present classes and demos and other events?

Now I’m not saying everyone should report people who commit felonies or other crimes and talk about them in public like this to the authorities. Far from it, although there certainly are times that should indeed happen.

It just seems like something in our social system has broken down beyond repair that such tales could even be told in public without repercussions, never mind such people continue to find safe haven in our midst and even serve among the leaders of the community. That people who say all the right things in public are allowed into positions of influence, particularly around newbies, when it can be well documented that they don’t walk their own talk and have caused numerous others terrible harm. That our culture continues to protect perpetrators in so many ways.

And it seems doubly twisted that anyone whose own occupation is related to such crimes, or whose other personal interests should make them steer far, far away from anyone engaging in these sorts of patently illegal, damaging, and immoral behaviors, or even talking about enjoying them, should still associate with these perpetrators.

I mean, why would anyone with children or who is a teacher still associate with known pedophiles? Or people with pets or animal-related jobs with known and self-confessed bestialists, or even with people who deny they are into such things even when confronted with hard evidence when it’s also obvious from just looking at the interests of those such abusers associate with as well as the comments of all that there are clearly shared predilections of this nature? It simply boggles the mind. And yet we see it every day.

Birds of a feather…

So, yeah, YKIOK – your kink is OK. Sure, but not when it crosses undeniable, unambiguous legal or moral borders like this and harms others who did not or cannot consent.

And no, confessing to robbing your employer because of a moment of weakness does not make it right, or entitle you to sympathy, whether you claim that your drug use or the thrill of the risk of getting caught is part of your kink or not.

Killing your wife by engaging in breath play is still murder, even if she was begging for it. You have the obligation to understand the risks and to not do things that will endanger your partner’s life.

Violating limits is still assault, battery, and/or rape or the like, depending on the details.

Not stopping what you’re doing when your partner safewords is also a major violation of trust if you couldn’t hear it because you have refused to wear your perfectly good and needed hearing aids while playing and have the music turned up too loud in your own home. And you also shouldn’t be excused from the injury you caused because you couldn’t see what you were doing because you refused to wear your glasses while wielding your dangerous implements on sensitive bodies, or to turn up the lights in the room to a level that would have actually allowed you to see.

Accidents happen with WIITWD, to be sure. But when they happen because a top refuses to take the precautions necessary to avoid them, particularly after the need for such has been discussed and agreed upon, then injuries and so on are no longer accidents but the predictable result of careless disregard for your partner’s safety.

Your kink is not allowed to extend to doing whatever the flying fuck you feel like in the heat of moment to your partner when it will endanger her, especially if she’s already made it clear that it’s not OK with her for you to do so.

Claiming it’s part of your kink does not excuse any harm done when you have not taken even the most basic appropriate precautions to prevent it. It does not excuse ongoing harm if you continue to repeat such behaviors, even if your sub hasn’t yet figured out what you’re actually doing or found the personal wherewithal to get away from you or even safeword.

Not calling people on doing shit like this that shows a callous disregard for the sub’s safety only encourages such behaviors to continue. Not naming it as the selfishness that it is, or pointing out the utter lack of self control that it shows, only serves to encourage it further.

And then taking a complaining sub to task for speaking up about nonconsensual things being done to her only serves to perpetuate the terribly damaging community myths that the dominant is God and can do no wrong, should not be questioned, etc.

Horsepucky.

And so we then end up where people can talk with impunity about committing unquestionable crimes and felonies against the obviously nonconsenting even in the vanilla world, and fully expect to get away with it, not only not even forfeiting friends because of it, but ending up with sympathy, and even glorified and more popular than ever!

I believe that the culture of confidentiality and “your kink is OK” as has existed in the scene for years has fostered an atmosphere where not only are there few if any repercussions for any of these kinds behaviors, but people actually go out of their way to defend the indefensible, all supposedly in the name of not judging others or their kinks. And then we vilify anyone who dares to speak up against any of it in any way, as if they are the problem.

A drug-stealing member of the community is less likely to significantly harm others in our midst than people who have a track record of violating limits and repeatedly raping and/or injuring their partners, or even engaging in consensual play that deliberately involves activities that clearly causes lasting physical or emotional damage, whether by design or because it’s a result that ought to be expected.

Still, I think we really need to rethink the degree to which our “community” goes to justify away the commission of crimes of all types, and to which we go to still associate with the perpetrators, never mind allow them into (or to remain in) positions of responsibility and leadership. So doing lends them an air of acceptability that is undeserved, and which can only serve to endanger others, particularly newbies.

We need to think about what our associations say to others. We should definitely think twice about what those interactions may be interpreted to mean when dealing with people who are known criminals or a users of any sort, how they could increase risks to the unwary who observe them.

I know someone, for example, who continues to associate publicly with a known abuser he absolutely despises, who significantly harmed one of his closest friends, all in the name of political expediency, and keeping an eye on the guy. His friend understands his thinking, but is not amused, except by knowing that her abuser thinks this person is actually a friend of his as well, even calling him that publicly to draw attention to the association, when nothing could actually be further from the truth.

But why is this necessary? Does this person not realize how his willingly conversing with his friend’s abuser even in public when there is no compelling reason to do so otherwise just encourages the guy – who knows this person knows full well everything he did?

I mean, sure, you can nod hello to anyone in passing in the name of civility, or chat in passing over the food table about the weather or the outfits others are wearing or the like, especially if no one else is around. But to actually get into conversation when there are others available to talk to? And to not extricate oneself at the first opportunity if cornered? This person is well known and respected, for good reasons, and so any such association lends the problem person an air of acceptability that is utterly undeserved and could, as a result, put someone else in jeopardy.

This person is not the only one to do such things by a long shot, though, sadly enough. We are a group that is full of such artifices. All it does, though, is continue to protect known abusers and criminals, at the expense of their victims.

When you have large groups of people not just seeing nothing wrong with abusive and overtly criminal behaviors, but actively defending them (and defending the supposed right of the offender to continue his harmful ways), and even continuing to go out of their way to associate with the perpetrators, it’s really no big surprise that all kinds of other abuse and violation of limits take place in our midst.

It’s also no surprise then that such behaviors not only go unpunished but are apparently both accepted and even openly glorified, and the victims themselves blamed and wronged instead of the responsibility put squarely on the heads of the perpetrators.

I’m sure that many people must have opinions about these things, and know of or are themselves victims of such transgressions, but all too often, they don’t speak up because they are afraid they will be shunned themselves. They don’t think they have the right to speak up, either to complain a out what was done to them, or to even voice concern about abusive practices observed and perpetuated in the community at large.

We tell them they have no right to judge others. But folks, that is BS.

You are fully entitled to your own opinions about what people are doing either directly to you or just around you – and you have just as much right to talk about your disapproval as you would in any other setting in life.

And you should.

If those of us who see injustice and wrongdoing don’t speak up, it will continue unabated, and more people will be harmed.

Wake up, people. Just because you’re in circles where there is a great deal of tolerance overall does not mean that you should tolerate or condone everything others do, even if they try to label it a kink.

Despite popular practice and community mythology to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with speaking up and voicing your disapproval.

You may not have a right to try to stop people from doing many things you disapprove of, or that are outright obviously illegal, especially if their partners and others directly involved are consenting to it, but you are not a bad person for having your own opinions, for feeling however you do about it – or for sharing those thoughts with others.

It may or may not be appropriate to try to actually stop known transgressive, damaging, or other criminal behavior (and usually you don’t have that right, although there are certainly exceptions), but you sure as hell have a right to your own opinion about it happening – and to voicing it – especially if it concerns something that was done to you. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

If you don’t approve of something someone else is doing, or you think they’re nuts to do it, even if it’s not legally wrong or harming anyone else, you are entitled to your own feelings about that as well. And you’re entitled to discuss it with others if you wish.

There is a big difference between saying you think that something another person is doing is wrong and trying to stop them, or outlawing the practice just because you personally don’t like it.

There’s a difference, too, between a playspace or party host disallowing high risk practices that are known to endanger people and/or property because of concerns for the safety of guests and yes, their own potential legal liabilities, and telling people they shouldn’t ever engage in such pursuits.

Don’t drop your lifelong morals at the door to the dungeon, though. Rape, murder, assault, theft, pedophilia, bestiality, other forms of animal and/or child abuse, etc. are just as wrong when committed by kinksters, either in the name of being kinks or not, as they are for everyone else.

And don’t let anyone else try to convince you otherwise, or to shut you up from openly voicing your disapproval if you want to do so.

You may receive threats for speaking out against certain behaviors or people who engage in them, as I have, but remember that one of the few tools we have to combat abuse and other criminal behavior in our circles is our voices.

Yes, I’ve been threatened and attacked for my outspokenness against abuse and what was done to me and others. In writing. On multiple occasions, by multiple people.

Document those threats if you receive any, and then speak out against them and the people who have made them as well.

Lift your voices. Stand your ground when you know you’ve been wronged, especially when you know you can fully document everything you say (as I can), but also even if you don’t think you can prove any of it. Truth is on your side, and you’d be surprised at what can actually constitute proof.

Don’t let your abusers or their friends browbeat you out of your right to speak up about what has happened to you, or about problems or other criminal behavior you observe in the scene, or try to otherwise separate you from your morals, or convince you that something you know to be wrong is somehow all right.

We are in this fix of rampant abuse, glorification of abusers and other criminals, and justification of their misdeeds precisely because scene conditions and mores have supported their being able to hide their antics without challenge.

Yes, we’re a subset of the population at large, and whether or not there is more abuse in our circles than in the vanilla population or not, we sweep it under the rug even more than the vanillas do, which is all the worse because of our stated community values of SSC, RACK, etc.

That makes us hypocrites on a colossal scale.

We have acted for years as if holding the community-wide ideals of negotiation and consent somehow mean we actually always walk our talk, are somehow automatically more caring, better communicators, etc, just because we identify as kinky and spout all the right words, but that is all patently inaccurate by any measure.

It is decidedly harder to speak out against what others have done when your pool of friends and partners is as small as ours is, no question. It takes guts to stand up and point out the problems – and the problem people.

But we are growing quickly as kink becomes more mainstream, even as our ability to effectively reach and train newbies decreases as a result, and the rot is spreading as newbies are taken in hand by and fall under the influence of those who do not walk their talk, and who no longer seem to understand that yes, Virginia, there really sometimes is right and wrong.

If those of us who see the problems, and who have been at the effect of them, do not stick to our guns and continue to try to rout out the utterly immoral rot that clearly does exist within our own midst, then we have no standing to try to preach the ideals of consensuality, etc. to others, or to put ourselves out to the vanilla world as being anything special or different, to try to portray ourselves as a group as any safer or better in any way.

The lies and myths we have perpetuated for years from within must likewise be resolved from within if we are to either help people in our midst stay safe, or have any hope of widespread acceptance for WIITWD. The vanillas are right that there’s abuse in our circles. So what? It is what it is, and no amount of denial or ostracizing people for pointing it out will solve the problem.

Naming it is the first step – owning that it is real, and likewise, looking at the many ways we continue to perpetuate it, and the additional fallout that comes from an obsessive and unhealthy focus on denying it and demonizing those who speak up about it. We must recognize that when we start letting little things slide and accepting absolutely anything that anyone wants to call a kink as inherently OK, we have opened the door to ever more severe moral and legal infringements upon others.

We simply cannot have gotten to a point as a community where people openly confess to deliberate felonious behavior and get sympathy and encouragement for their crimes without a wholesale abandonment of even the idea that some things in life are inherently wrong and should simply not be tolerated.

Everyone will have his or her own breaking point in this regard, but what we must stop doing is trying to silence anyone who speaks out about issues they see or have personally encountered.

I know from speaking to many people about the subject that there is, in fact, much more widespread discontent and concern over many things that happen than people generally talk about openly. If they aren’t willing to go on record with their concerns because of legitimate fear of censure, then the problems will be allowed to continue.

We must quit trying to tell people that they are wrong to consider behavior they consider inappropriate as wrong. We must quit trying to silence such voices, who have as much right to their points of view as anyone else.

We need to start to listen more often to complaints about people that victims of abuse have encountered, to not so often paint the squeaky wheel victim as the one in the wrong, etc. We need to find a way for it to be safer for victims to come forward without facing community-wide censure for speaking out.

We need to face the fact that just because a newbie (or anyone else) complains about a popular top or other established community figure does not inherently mean they are a problem themselves, but that in fact, quite legitimate complaints often surface about such tops – but are widely ignored or stifled until someone else who is popular finds herself negatively affected.

And we need to look at what we have created that people no longer even seem shockable when someone can openly confess to a felony on a public bulletin board and get sympathy and not even a hint of censure. Where people who express concern for the safety of others who are engaged in activities that obviously cause great bodily and/or emotional harm are vilified for even raising the issue.

What kind of monster have we created that things like this are even remotely possible? What kind of people would create such a world, where all morality seems to be chucked out the window? Where people seem to think that everyone should be allowed to do pretty much anything they want, especially if they label it a “kink”, even if it causes lasting harm to themselves and others?

Abuse and other criminal behavior are never going to go away completely, but we can certainly stop being complicit in hiding and excusing it when it happens to us or we observe it happening to others. And we can quit buying into community values that perpetuate it, and stop teaching them to newbies.

We not only can, but indeed we must.

I am very encouraged by the increase in number of strong, outspoken, articulate people like Mollena, Kitty Stryker, and others blogging about their abusive encounters and our increasing interconnectedness and reposting and interviewing and linking to us by more and more websites. I am deeply gratified by the increase in the number of classes and programs targeted at teaching people the difference between healthy BDSM and abuse. The tide seems to be starting to turn, but we still have a long ways to go.

I think we need to also tie in the issue of openly condoning other criminal and clearly immoral behavior, because we may have created a bigger monster here than we have even realized.

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See also Your Kink Is Not OK and Just because it is “your kink” does not make it OK with me

How You Can Help Combat the Abuse Problem

A newbie I met the other day told a tale of being abused or having her limits violated when playing with someone she said is well known at the Citadel, our local community playspace.  She said she’d like to get involved to help combat this problem, and asked how to go about it.  Here is my response to her.

I’d also add that it’s important to bring the issue to the attention of the dungeon owners if the problem occurs in their playspace, and frankly, even if it doesn’t.  No one will know that someone in an inner circle is a problem child if no one reports it.

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At this point, it’s pretty much a free for all.  People are writing in their blogs and getting interviewed for other publications, doing various classes, etc. I’ve got links to many of them on my blog, so you might want to take a look.

And then there’s my nascent BDSM Abuse Survivors’ Network that one day I’ll set up a separate website for, which is currently housed on the front page of my blog.  It’s purely volunteer, just allowing me to post whichever contact information you prefer that people use so that others who have been through this or are going through it now can find someone to talk to on a peer level.  I have no idea if anyone thus far has actually contacted anyone on the list, and I don’t monitor it in any way.  I get pretty good SEO rankings, though, and am getting more and more hits as time goes by, so eventually something should happen.

And then there’s just speaking out, telling others about your experiences, encouraging still others to speak up.  It very well may cost you something in terms of popularity, I can’t lie, but I’ve come to realize that the people who are ready to pooh-pooh me, particularly because they don’t see my ex doing what he did themselves, or who believe his crap, are people I don’t need in my life.  As some “friends” started dropping away, I found new ones who have a lot more sense coming into my life.

I’ll tell you this, too.  If the person you had a problem with is indeed popular at the Citadel, or in any other way a “leader” in the community, it is *highly* likely that you are far from the only one with a negative experience of him.  The same is true of many others as well, but it’s a near certainty with these most visible people.

One of the hardest things to communicate to newbies is that just because someone is well known and popular around the scene, or even a well-known presenter or group leader, or member of a board of any of the kinky groups, that in no way should serve as an endorsement.  Many such community leaders are just fine – but there is a frightening number who are quite dangerous to one extent or another.

As to what you said about blaming yourself, I do think it’s important that we all look at whatever our own contribution to a problem situation may have been, if any, and there are in fact times when we need to take that sort of responsibility for what has transpired, but when you say “Stop”, and someone doesn’t, or they just flat out violate limits you’ve already set, then hon, I’m sorry, but it is often entirely on them.

This game we play of “the dom is the boss” is a game, although many people do take it seriously.  There is nothing wrong with any level of that as long as both parties are consenting, and in agreement as to the parameters of the dynamic, but at the end of the day, no means no, no matter what, and you are entirely within your rights to object and pin the blame on them if someone violates those agreements with you.

The hard part is that it *is* hard sometimes to know how far is OK to go in any given encounter, but this is one reason we have things like safewords and promote the idea of thorough negotiation.  Pay attention to your gut.  If you don’t like what’s happening, and you do not end up feeling as good or better overall when all is said and done, and especially if the top involved responds poorly to your objections and even continues what he is doing if that is not your agreed-upon dynamic, then there’s an issue that needs attention, even if it’s just finetuning the negotiations next time.

Parameters of Consent – Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and speaking with others about the issue of abuse within the kink community, and how best to identify it, deal with it, and prevent it.  This post is the first in what I expect to be a series on the topic of consent and how that ties in with abuse, identifying it, and helping prevent it.  Many others, including the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), Midori, Thorne, and many more, are also looking in much greater depth at questions pertaining to abuse and consent than we have done before.  This is an idea whose time has come, and is gaining ground quickly.

We must get a better grip on the problem of abuse in our subculture, because it is at an all-time high, and part of that is examining consent much more deeply.  If we want to remain safe ourselves, much less expect to find acceptance by the mainstream, we’ve got to name the beast that lives within our walls in order to rout it out and put our energies more into how to solve the problem rather than continue to try to delude ourselves that there isn’t one.  There is – and it’s huge – and until we accept that, and examine what we do in much greater detail, and look at how we can improve on that, we will never be able to resolve the abuse problem.

Many of the concepts I will discuss here are actually equally applicable in vanilla relationships as in kinky ones.  Healthy relationships of any sort share most of the same qualities, and consent is equally necessary in all, although it is rarely articulated in the same way in vanilla contexts as we do in the kink world.

For many years, we have identified the difference between WIITWD (what it is that we do) and abuse as being about consent, or lack thereof.

And that’s true – always was, still is.  At the most fundamental, basic level, that is what it ultimately comes down to.

If you honestly agree to X, enjoy it, get off on it, etc. – great!  If not, you’re in abuse territory if your partner continues it despite your objections – or if you are the dominant continuing what your submissive objects to.

However, years of reading and hearing about literally thousands of people’s commentaries on and complaints about their relationships and what differentiates kink from abuse (not to mention my own experiences) has left me feeling like this is far too simplistic a way of looking at things, and that it’s time that we take a much deeper and more nuanced look at exactly what consent is, and learn some new ways of eliciting it, ensuring it, and otherwise working with it.

It is no longer enough to say “She consented” or “He did not consent”.  It is no longer a simple “yes/no” question.  Relationships of all sorts – and particularly BDSM relationships – are far too complex to leave such a critically important notion dangling by such a thin thread.  Even the most detailed of negotiations need to look at consent with new eyes.

Consensual Non-consent

The most obvious place where this simplistic definition of the difference between BDSM and abuse breaks down is with the concept of consensual non-consent.  That works when both players really trust one another, and no one crosses boundaries the other objects to enough.

By definition, however, such scenes often do cross them into territory that is truly nonconsensual.  What makes it OK (when it is), and allows it to work, is a whole constellation of considerations, not the least of which is prior agreement that that is OK and desirable, lots of negotiation, knowing each other really well, etc.  I don’t want to go too deeply into this particular question at the moment, but this is one of those most infamous “grey areas” in WIITWD in which the lines between true consent and abuse can be very blurry indeed.

Playing with consensual nonconsent, while an important and often critical part of many people’s dynamics, is basically edge play at its very edgiest, and there are tremendous risks involved.

Contrary to popular belief, too, consent can still be withdrawn during a consensual non-consent scene.

I think we can also place many of the stricter master/slave, 24/7, TPE (call it what you will) relationships in this category.  Many of these relationships operate under an agreement that the slave/submissive is not allowed to leave, and has to do everything the master/dominant requires, whether she likes it or not.  For many, there is the notion that she cannot leave, and many go so far as to turn over control of literally every area of their lives to their partners, and many will speak in terms of being physically “unable” to leave – as if she is somehow permanently chained.  For some, this works great.

At the end of the day, though, this is still a relationship construct that requires a suspension of disbelief, and is unenforceable in most of the world, since slavery is illegal almost everywhere, and even the contracts that people in relationships of this nature often draw up are legally unenforceable.  People do build their lives around these notions, but they are still fundamentally fantasies, and consent is still absolutely essential from the get-go, and on an ongoing basis.  Because slavery is actually illegal, consent can also still be withdrawn in these relationships at any time, regardless of the prior agreements, even though you will hear loud screams of outrage and disagreement at the very suggestion from many quarters.

What does consent really mean, and consist of?

One of the major issues I keep coming back to, and finding new angles to think about, though, is the question of exactly what “consent” means, even beyond the boundaries of consensual nonconsent, and I’ve come to realize that there are many different parameters involved in creating consent that is truly meaningful and useful.

There are a number of these – far more than most people realize – and I will address them a couple at a time so as to not make any individual post too long.

Informed Consent

The first issue we really need to look is at informed consent.  There is far too little of this going on in our little corner of the world, and that really needs to change.

It is not enough to discuss a scene, for example, and say you want to do some flogging, some needle play, some humiliation play, breath play, etc.  An eager bottom may agree to these things without even fully understanding what is involved – and what the real risks are.  Unless the pros and cons, accurate information regarding the anatomical and physiological issues involved in the activity, and real, concrete information as to what the risks and dangers are are fully communicated, then even an eager “Yes, I want to do that!” has no real meaning.

You also need clear definitions, as far as such things are possible.  “Humiliation”, for example, means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and you cannot assume that the person you are speaking with has the same understanding of it as you do.  Until and unless the specific kinds of actions, language, etc. are discussed in detail, and agreed upon, you do not have consent to proceed with that sort of play.

Negotiation

You most assuredly do not have consent if you just start playing with someone without explicit negotiation, or at least there is a serious risk that you don’t, or that it’s not clear cut – and a good case could certainly be made to that effect. This is obviously closely tied to informed consent.

In order to have a valid negotiation and agreement, you need two adults who are of sound mind to basically sit down ahead of time and discuss exactly what will and will not occur and be permitted in that scene or relationship.

The old hand in the submissive’s hair and calling her “slut” as you bring her to her knees is fine, and hot, and all well and good – but only if it’s been negotiated.  If you’re doing even something this simple on the fly, by the seat of your pants, as far too many people do, you are asking for trouble.  So far, most people have been OK – but we are moving in the US in this day and age into an era of far greater litigiousness than we have ever known before, and particularly as kink goes more mainstream, we are going to see more and more lawsuits, arrests, and problems resulting from lack of adequate negotiation of even matters this simple.

Paradoxically enough, too, as we see more and more newbies flooding in our doors from the Internet, and we are less and less able to adequately educate them, we need all the better emphasis on how to effectively negotiate scenes and relationships and to elicit consent properly.

With respect to definitions, likewise, with relationship labels such as “dominant” and “submissive”, “master/slave”, etc., explicit negotiation as to what these means is essential.  No two people mean the same things by any of these terms; the best they are good for is shorthand for starting a conversation.  You must get into much more detailed discussion as to what each term means to each party, and what their expectations are of themselves and each other before you can say that a given relationship (or scene) involves real consent as to the nature of the relationship and interactions.

Absent such detailed discussions, informed consent does not exist, and thus, arguably, no consent at all is present.  The more that is left open to interpretation, the more slippery the slope.

These are the issues that most people think of most readily when the question of consent vs the lack thereof comes up.  There is much more, though, and I will cover those elements in later posts.

What are your thoughts on these issues?