BDSM Consent in Non-BDSM Sex

By Kayla Beare

In a post-#MeToo world, the need for a clear-cut and comprehensive definition of sexual consent has become a topic of conversation for many. The BDSM community is often said to be ahead of the curve in having this conversation, and there is much that can be learnt from this community.

BDSM, an acronym referring to bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism, is a term that encompasses a broad range of intimate activities that often, but not always, includes some component of sexual play. BDSM has been around for centuries, as early as Mesopotamian times, but has only recently become part of public discourse in Western societies thanks to kinky books and films such as the 50 Shades of Grey series.

Unfortunately, the 50 Shades of Grey series, although hugely popular, is not an accurate depiction of healthy BDSM. The books, and films, underplay the consent negotiation process generally present in BDSM play. Consent in BDSM, much like consent in sex more generally, is often considered morally transformative. This means that it defines the morality of a sexual act: without consent, it is abuse but with consent, it is a shared, actively chosen experience.  Consent is so vital to BDSM play that is one of the tenets of the BDSM code: “risk-aware consensual kink “ Arguably, we should all be having sex in which we are aware of the risks and are fully consenting, regardless of whether or not we are engaging in elements of kink or BDSM. Let’s explore the key facets of the BDSM model of consent and its use in non-BDSM sex.

There are three main components of consent in BDSM: pre-play discussions, safe words and aftercare. The content of these components will differ from person to person and act to act, but they are relevant and applicable even in sex that is not BDSM in nature. Here is a breakdown of each of these stages that can be used by all:

Pre-play discussion:

This is a conversation, or many conversations, that take place before engaging in any form of sex and generally they take place in a non-sexual context. All parties involved openly discuss their boundaries to ensure that those they are engaging with know what is off-limits. This kind of conversation is generally uncommon in non-BDSM sex because of the societal taboos we have around anything related to sex and pleasure.

Another important part of the pre-play discussion is the establishment of  shared definitions. Because sex is a taboo topic, a shared vocabulary is something that is missing from our collective understandings of sex. For example, even the word ‘sex’ can have multiple meanings. Some use the word sex to refer exclusively to heterosexual, penetrative sex. Others use the word to refer to all acts that are geared toward the sexual pleasure of one or all parties in a sexual encounter. It is important to understand how each party defines sex before engaging in sexual play, because one person’s idea of consenting to sex can look very different to someone else’s idea.

Safe words:

The idea behind a safe word is that it acts as an immediate withdrawal of consent. Generally speaking, safe words are established as a part of pre-play discussion. Safe words are important in BDSM, particularly for the variations of BDSM where someone may be roleplaying as a person who does not want to have sex (which is not an uncommon fantasy) and would be using words like ‘no’ or ‘stop’ as part of this roleplay. In a case like this, they may choose a safe word like ‘cauliflower’ as it is not going to come up in the sexual encounter in any other way.

In the case of non-BDSM sex, one might opt for a safe word like “no” or “stop” because it is unlikely to come up in this kind of play. Another option is the traffic-light model, which uses the words ‘red’, ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ as a communication tool for consent. Red means stop all activity, yellow means slow down and/or do not go any further and green means continue and/or increase the intensity of the act. Both safe words and the traffic light system are helpful tools in ensuring that consent is ongoing. There are harmful misconceptions around consent being static and all-encompassing when it is fluid and dynamic and should be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter.

The establishment of safe words and/or traffic light indicators explicitly acknowledges that consent is ongoing and acknowledges that everyone involved should be able to stop if need be. Furthermore, a discussion about safe words before engaging in sexual activity is valuable because it allows for all parties to understand how to check in with one another. The role of ongoing communication during sex is something that is lacking in our current understandings of non-BDSM sex and adopting the model of safe words can go a long way in combating this issue.

Aftercare:

Even if pre-play negotiation takes place and safe words are established prior to sex, it can still be difficult to communicate during a sexual encounter because of the intimacy of the scene. For this reason, BDSM play often incorporates aftercare. Aftercare can often be used as a means of fully emerging from the play scene, which is particularly helpful in situations where the play has involved a dominant/submissive or sadistic/masochistic dynamic.

This may not be the case in most non-BDSM play, but aftercare is also important as it provides a space for discussion about the sexual interaction that just took place. In the aftercare space, people can talk about what they enjoyed or what made them feel uncomfortable and this is vital for all parties’ understandings of consent and how it is negotiated. Aftercare also provides a space for self-reflection, in which each person can explore what they liked, or did not like, about the sexual encounter. They can then communicate this to their partner/s and this communication can help them avoid what did not work, and repeat what did.

The wealth of research that explores the role of consent in BDSM and how BDSM models of consent can better inform the law provides us with insights into how to communicate desire and willingness to engage in sexual activities. Although BDSM has a series of specific needs and attitudes, the way in which BDSM players openly discuss and communicate consent is a skill that everyone engaging in sexual play can and should apply to their own sexual activities. By doing so, we can move toward a consent culture in which all sex is risk-aware and consensual.

 

Kayla Beare is an MSc Candidate at the EGA Institute for Women’s Health, University College London. Her Instagram Sexual Consent Page is @sexual_consent_conversations.

(Visited 122 times, 1 visits today)