Saturday, May 3, 2008

Informed Consent

Within BDSM, D/s two acronyms represent the two key philosophies of safe play; S.S.C. (Safe, Sane, Consensual) and R.A.C.K. (Risk, Aware, Consensual, Kink). Today I would like to focus on what one of those letters stands for, the one common to both acronyms. The letter for our focus is “C” for Consensual. Not that the other terms and their respective meanings are unimportant but in my view, all of the other terms and their respective meanings all lead back to this one over-arching theme, Consensual. For that reason I feel it extremely important that everyone and most especially the submissive be completely clear about the meaning of it. Generally we understand Consensual to mean that the two (or more) people involved in any BDSM play activity are informed consenting adults and that consent has not been obtained under duress but freely given. That is a good starting point but there is much more I think needs to be considered when we discuss the idea of Consensual.

All states have laws concerning when a person is “of age” to legally consent whether we are talking about legally consenting to sexual intercourse or to being say a legal party to a binding contractual agreement. There is sound reasoning behind these laws because without them, a person not really mature or psychologically competent enough might suffer harm or be taken advantage of without this important protection. The downside though is that we then tend to accept that a person who has attained the required chronological age to be considered an adult in the eyes of the law is per se capable and qualified to give consent. But I offer that with respect to our lifestyle this is not necessarily always true.

When determining whether a person is capable of giving consent, several obvious factors are taken into consideration; the person’s mental state, emotional state and chronological age. One factor that is sometimes overlooked is experience. In general the dominant is more than likely always going to be operating from a position of superior experience to the submissive. As submissives we have a natural and strong need and drive to please. If we are asked to perform something that we are given to believe will be pleasing to the dominant, almost automatically we are going to immediately express our willingness to do it. If you happen to be playing with a dominant with a strong bent towards sadism and you happen to not be terribly masochistic and they ask you if you would like for them to beat you with a cane and you agree, you may be in for a terribly unpleasant experience. So I pose the rhetorical question, is this really operative as consent? Yes, the dominant does in my opinion have a responsibility to subjectively evaluate whether a submissive is capable of giving informed consent before engaging in any activity because I think the dominant should of course be mindful of the fact that submissives are pleasers type personalities. Yet that does not relieve the submissive of the responsibility to ask themselves a few pointed questions instead of blindly offering up consent. For example; “Am I really prepared to go where the dominant wants to take me?” “Do I really want to engage in this specific activity?” “Am I on the same page here as the dominant, in other words, do we both have the same understanding about what this activity involves?” These questions I think must be asked and answered before consent can be offered. Otherwise we violate all of the other tenants contained within the meaning of remaining terms represented by the acronyms, S.S.C. and R.A.C.K.

If we ask ourselves questions like this and we feel prepared to go where the dominant wants to take us, we feel we do want to engage in the specific activity and we feel we are on the same page with the dominant as far as understanding what the activity involves, then the next question a submissive should ask themselves is, “Why do I want to do this activity?” Is the reason a healthy one? As an example, a healthy reason for wishing to be securely bound and then subjected to as much pain and torture as a dominant might be able to dish out is because a submissive desires a genuine test of how much he or she can take because this will further their growth as a submissive. An unhealthy reason would be I’m willing to do this just because I know the dominant really loves and gets off on playing with a pain slut, so I want to be that person for them because I need to please. The submissive really needs to be more concerned here about how masochistic they actually are rather than how much they desire to gratify the sadism need for the dominant. Your decision about whether to submit to an activity needs to be guided more by your level of desire for the activity than by your need to please the dominant.

Next the submissive needs to ask themselves, “How will I feel about myself after engaging in this activity?” Will this experience leave me feeling strong, good, positive and deliciously submissive? Or will it leave me feeling weak, ugly, dirty, diminished or worthless? Will the activity leave me feeling good about myself as a person or will it contribute to a negative self-image or cause self-respect issues? Will the activity leave me feeling ashamed and not in a good and erotic sense?

Another consideration before giving consent is how much trust the submissive has in the dominant. Trust is not automatic but is built between two individuals over time as they share experiences which demonstrates trustworthiness. Does the dominant have the skills and experience to engage in the activity competently and safely so that it provides a healthy outcome and leaves me feeling good about myself? If this activity is going to challenge me and push me to my limits, if I need aftercare, do I trust the dominant is capable and willing to provide me with the necessary emotional support? Am I trusting the dominant based on verifiable experiences and past observations or am I blindly trusting out of my need to please and connect with them?

Finally, before offering to submit to a dominant in one or more elements of your life you must be clear about whether those elements are truly yours to offer. If for example you want the dominant to own your sexual pleasure, do you have other lovers whose rightful expectations might compromised? If you wish the dominant to control your bathroom habits, is your life’s schedule and physical health such that you can perform as required? If you wish to submit to forced dressing, will the manner of dress you will be required to follow cause problems with you as far as the dress code of your employer? In summary, are the things you offer your’s to give without compromising responsibilities you have to other persons and things?

Hopefully I made a case for the fact that there is a good deal more to consent than mere willingness on the part of the submissive. To give competent and informed consent, you must first ask and answer some hard questions and not allow your strong and innate need to please to be the deciding factor. Your experiences with submission should serve to strengthen you and build you up, not tear you down or leave you feeling like less of a person than when you began. So before responding to a dominant with “yes, please” to a proposed activity, make certain you are actually ready for and truly want to do the activity for all of the right reasons. Otherwise, you will be wise to pay attention to that little nagging voice in the back of your mind and instead respond with a respectful, “no thanks.”

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