Consent (BDSM)

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Submissive woman being pushed into an open coffin with her consent. Woman being pushed into box.jpg
Submissive woman being pushed into an open coffin with her consent.

Consent within BDSM is when a participant gives their permission for certain acts or types of relationships. It bears much in common with the concept of informed consent and is simultaneously a personal, ethical and social issue. It is an issue that attracts much attention within BDSM, resulting in competing models of consent such as Safe, sane and consensual and Risk-aware consensual kink. Observers from outside the BDSM community have also commented on the issue of consent in BDSM, sometimes referring to legal consent which is a separate and largely unrelated matter. However, the presence of explicit consent within BDSM can often have implications for BDSM and the law and, depending on the country the participants are in, may make the differences between being prosecuted or not.

Contents

Where an act has been previously consented to, the consent can be terminated at any point, and by any participant, through using a safeword. Within the BDSM community, it is generally considered a high risk activity to engage in BDSM without a safeword. Acts undertaken with a lack of explicit consent may be considered abusive and those who ignore the use of a safeword may be shunned within the BDSM subculture. [1] One study has shown that BDSM negotiations to establish consent consist of four parts covering style of play, body parts, limits and safewords. [2]

Concept

Consent is an explicit agreement to acts, terms and conditions. It can be confirmed verbally and/or in writing.

The underlying principle is a classical liberal idea that a person's freedom can be measured by lack of interference with their personal choices. As in classical liberalism, the harm principle comes into play. Consent, within BDSM and some academic schools of thought, is what separates legally actionable harm from legitimate personal freedom.

Informed consent is the idea that consent is offered with sufficient information and understanding of what is being agreed upon. As in larger society, an impairment of mental state or decision making abilities is considered a state in which informed, rational consent cannot be offered. Consent given under coercion and pressure may also not be accepted.

Another concept is contemporaneous consent, which is focused on when consent is offered and how it can be revoked. Legally, if someone says "no", "stop", or any other related things, you are obligated to stop. That is contemporaneous consent. This can conflict with concepts like total power exchange and consensual nonconsent. This is an area of significant conflict within BDSM communities.

Scope

Consent is a vital element in all psychological play, and consent can be granted in many ways. Some employ a written form known as a "Dungeon negotiation form"; for others a simple verbal commitment is sufficient. Consent can be limited both in duration and content.

It is not unusual to grant consent only for an hour or for an evening. When a scene lasts for more than a few hours, some might decide to draft a "scene contract" that defines what will happen and who is responsible for what. Some "contracts" can become quite detailed and run for many pages, especially if a scene is to last a weekend or more.

For long term consent, a "Slave Contract" is sometimes used. BDSM "contracts" are only agreements between consenting adults and are not legally binding; in fact, the possession of one may be considered illegal in some areas.[ citation needed ] Slave contracts are simply a way of defining the nature and limits of the relationship. Other couples know each other's likes and dislikes and play accordingly. Such arrangements typically use a safeword, a signal by one or more of the participants that the action in question should either stop or that the session should end completely.

Consensual non-consent, also called meta-consent and blanket consent, is a mutual agreement to be able to act as if consent has been waived. It is an agreement where comprehensive consent is given in advance, with the intent of it being irrevocable under most circumstances. This often occurs without foreknowledge of the exact actions planned. [3] [4]

Consensual non-consent is considered a show of extreme trust and understanding. It is controversial within BDSM circles, even often frowned upon due to concerns about abuse and safety. It is mainly limited to those in Owner/property and 24/7 Master/slave relationships.

In recent years the term has also been used for the practice in play sessions. In the past, the term consensual non-consent was reserved to committed relationships, while the play practice used the umbrella term of edge play. This expanded scope is contentious and the subject of acrimonious debates.

In limited parts of the online BDSM community, "consensual non-consent" is instead used to refer to rape play that includes the use of safe words. This use of the term is commonly frowned upon, especially among total power exchange lifestyle participants. Experienced practitioners of BDSM generally discourage others from using "consensual non-consent" to indicate rape play. This attitude arises from the belief that it is a miscommunication potentially leading to serious and irreparable psychological harm.

Negotiation

Negotiation is a discussion about what is acceptable and what is off limits between partners. It is a crucial element for consent within the BDSM subculture. Negotiation can be formal with a complete checklist of acceptable and unacceptable acts. It can also be informal, or ad hoc, as part of the regular flow of a relationship. The culture of BDSM encourages a more formalized and explicit process. Clear negotiation for consent is the norm.

Informal negotiation is the process of discovering limits and interests along the way. Things are up for discussion and consent is granted on a case-by-case basis. However, over time the consent granted typically becomes broader before hitting a plateau. Negotiation in this sense resembles regular vanilla relationship discussions and debates.

Formal negotiation goes through a comprehensive list of questions and disclosures. This can be a broad process, setting out the boundaries for a long-term relationship. It can also be a narrow process that only addresses one or two specific actions, like negotiating for hypnotic trance or a thuddy flogging (that involving broad implements). This is fairly popular with play partner arrangements and "pick up" play in BDSM clubs, as it helps set very clear boundaries.

Models and philosophy

BDSM communities share a common language of consent. Various models are expressed as acronyms representing differing approaches towards a philosophy of consent.

SSC

SSC stands for Safe, Sane, Consensual. It is far and away the most recognizable and popular model of consent in BDSM circles, though not without criticism.

RACK

RACK stands for Risk-Aware Consensual Kink. It is the second most popular consent model. It was created to overcome perceived shortcomings of SSC.

PRICK

PRICK stands for Personal Responsibility In Consensual Kink. It is an alternative to RACK that emphasizes personal responsibility for choices and consequences. It originally was said in 2002 at BDSM Overdrive. It has evolved into Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink.

Other models

Other less well known models of consent in BDSM include CCC which stands for Committed, Compassionate, Consensual and the 4 C's - Caring, Communication, Consent, Caution. [5]

Some activities in BDSM play may be considered to fall under legal definitions of rape, assault or similar crimes or torts, and potentially open participants to prosecution. However, many legal systems include a general defense that activities performed with the victim's consent shall not be considered a crime or a tort. This raises some legal and ethical issues, such as:

These concerns apply not only to BDSM but to every kind of interaction between persons. See Consent (criminal) for the general discussion.

The issue of consent in BDSM has caused a controversy among the BDSM community in some countries, since certain activities, especially those considered to be edgeplay, remain unlawful even when consent has been freely given. In such countries, these activities will always be viewed by law enforcement as unlawful when discovered, even though the activities have been entirely private. The Spanner case in England demonstrates the point, where participants in a consensual mutual BDSM play party were arrested. At all stages of appeal the national and European Court ruled against them on the basis that a person under English law may not give consent to anything more than minor injury.

The March 5th 2007 conviction of Glenn Marcus on counts of sex trafficking and forced labor in renewed much debate on the issue of consent in BDSM, both within and outside the community. [6] In a similar case of an accusation made by a participant that the activities had not been consensual, in April 2007 two UK men were convicted of false imprisonment in a case where a third party who had been treated like a dog asserted the matter had not been consensual. [7]

Interested people may think that private mutual activities should not be the subject of law as a matter of public policy, a view which has some legal backing in the United States from the case of Lawrence v. Texas where it was effectively ruled that the state lacked the power to declare an activity illegal purely on the basis of moral opinion. As of February 2019, the law in the UK has been changed to allow for consent to acts that inflict injury.

See also

Related Research Articles

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BDSM is a variety of often erotic practices or roleplaying involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, and other related interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves to be practising BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or subculture often is said to depend on self-identification and shared experience.

Human sexual activity Human behaviour that is sexually motivated

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Consensual crime

A consensual crime is a public-order crime that involves more than one participant, all of whom give their consent as willing participants in an activity that is unlawful. Legislative bodies and interest groups sometimes rationalize the criminalization of consensual activity because they feel it offends cultural norms, or because one of the parties to the activity is considered a "victim" despite their informed consent.

In BDSM, a safeword is a code word, series of code words or other signal used by a person to communicate their physical or emotional state, typically when approaching, or crossing, a physical, emotional, or moral boundary. Some safewords are used to stop the scene outright, while others can communicate a willingness to continue, but at a reduced level of intensity.

The fundamental principles for the exercise of BDSM require that it be performed with the informed consent of all parties. Since the 1980s, many practitioners and organizations have adopted the motto safe, sane and consensual, commonly abbreviated SSC, which means that everything is based on safe activities, that all participants are of sufficiently sound mind to consent, and that all participants do consent. It is mutual consent that makes a clear legal and ethical distinction between BDSM and such crimes as sexual assault and domestic violence.

Bondage (BDSM) Consensual sexual binding or restraining

Bondage, in the BDSM subculture, is the practice of consensually tying, binding, or restraining a partner for erotic, aesthetic, or somatosensory stimulation. A partner may be physically restrained in a variety of ways, including the use of rope, cuffs, bondage tape, or self-adhering bandage.

Edgeplay Term for activity that may involve the consequences of potential short- or long-term harm or death

In BDSM, edgeplay is a subjective term for activity that may challenge the conventional S.S.C. scheme; if one is aware of the risks and consequences and is willing to accept them, then the activity is considered RACK.

Sex and the law deals with the regulation by law of human sexual activity. Sex laws vary from one place or jurisdiction to another, and have varied over time, and unlawful sexual acts are also called sex crimes.

Risk-aware consensual kink

Risk-aware consensual kink is an acronym used by some of the BDSM community to describe a philosophical view that is generally permissive of certain risky sexual behaviors, as long as the participants are fully aware of the risks. This is often viewed in contrast to safe, sane, and consensual which generally holds that only activities that are considered safe, sane, and consensual are permitted.

Consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal or desires of another. It is a term of common speech, with specific definitions as used in such fields as the law, medicine, research, and sexual relationships. Consent as understood in specific contexts may differ from its everyday meaning. For example, a person with a mental disorder, a low mental age, or under the legal age of sexual consent may willingly engage in a sexual act that still fails to meet the legal threshold for consent as defined by applicable law.

National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

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Glossary of BDSM Wikipedia glossary

This glossary of BDSM terms defines terms commonly used in the BDSM community.

Dominance and submission Erotic roleplay involving the submission of one person to another

Dominance and submission is a set of behaviours, customs, and rituals involving the submission of one person to another in an erotic episode or lifestyle. It is a subset of BDSM. This form of sexual contact and pleasure has been shown to please a minority of people.

Play (BDSM)

Play, within BDSM circles, is any of the wide variety of "kinky" activities. This includes both physical and mental activities, covering a wide range of intensities and levels of social acceptability. The term originated in the BDSM club and party communities, indicating the activities taking place within a scene. It has since extended to the full range of BDSM activities.

Limits (BDSM)

In BDSM, limits refer to issues that participants in a play scene or dynamic feel strongly about, usually referring to prohibited activities. Participants typically negotiate an outline of what activities will and will not take place. The participants describe what they desire, do not desire, will and will not tolerate, including the determination of limits. For example, it is common to set a safeword and to establish certain types of play as prohibited.

Erotic sensation play is a class of activities meant to impart physical sensations upon a partner, as opposed to mental forms of erotic play such as power exchange or sexual roleplaying.

In criminal law, consent may be used as an excuse and prevent the defendant from incurring liability for what was done.

Master/slave (BDSM) consensual authority-exchange structured sexual relationship

In BDSM, Master/slave, M/s or sexual slavery is a relationship in which one individual serves another in a consensual authority-exchange structured relationship. Unlike Dominant/submissive structures found in BDSM in which love is often the core value, service and obedience are often the core values in Master/slave structures. The participants may be of any gender or sexual orientation. The relationship uses the term "slave" because of the association of the term with ownership rights of a master to their slave's body, as property or chattel. While male "masters" will usually be referred to as "Master", whether or not female Masters are referred to as "Master" or "Mistress" may depend upon whether they identify as following the leather subculture or BDSM path, or simply preference.

BDSM and the law

The relationship between BDSM and the law changes significantly from nation to nation. It is entirely dependent on the legal situation in individual countries whether the practice of BDSM has any criminal relevance or legal consequences. Criminalization of consensually implemented BDSM practices is usually not with explicit reference to BDSM, but results from the fact that such behavior as spanking or cuffing someone could be considered a breach of personal rights, which in principle constitutes a criminal offense. In Germany, Netherlands, Japan and Scandinavia, such behavior is legal in principle. In Austria the legal status is not clear, while in Switzerland some BDSM practices can be considered criminal. Spectacular incidents like the US scandal of People v. Jovanovic and the British Operation Spanner demonstrate the degree to which difficult grey areas can pose a problem for the individuals and authorities involved. It is very important to learn the legal status of the right of consent in the judicial statue of the country of resident for the practitioners of BDSM.

Index of BDSM articles

This is an index of BDSM articles. BDSM is a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to a lifestyle.

References

  1. ”collarncuffs.com on safewords”
  2. “Conversational-Phases-in-BDSM-Pre-Scene-Negotiation” Journal of Positive Sexuality
  3. "Consensual non-consent" Archived 2009-09-01 at the Wayback Machine , Informed Consent dictionary, Accessed 12 June 2012.
  4. Dictionary of BDSM Terms, "Consensual Non-Consent", Accessed 12 June 2012.
  5. "B&D, S&M, D&S, RACK, PRICK, SSC... An entree of acronym soup and kink". Australian National University.
  6. ""Sex Slave Trial" New York Post". Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-03-19.
  7. "Man was forced to live like a dog" - BBC (Analysis of consent issues on BDSM forum Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine )