Consent is a top – if not THE top – priority in lifestyle, BDSM, and fetish communities. In sex and play that often roleplays a very clear power dynamic and can include force, physical harm, and emotional anguish, consent is what separates rough sex and fetish from assault and abuse. If you’ve been in the community for any length of time you may have heard of SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual), RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink), CCC (Committed Compassionate Consent), or PRICK (Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink). All of these emphasize the importance of gaining consent before engaging in sexual or kink activity, but they don’t necessarily spell out what that looks like. Consequently, this can feel like murky waters to navigate.
At the risk of adding to the alphabet soup, I would like to introduce you to IF SOE. IF SOE is a consent philosophy that I find to be much more specific and illuminating – as well as widely applicable to many situations involving sex and intimacy. This was created by a colleague of mine, Activist and Educator Christina Kittle from The Coalition for Consent.
I – Informed Consent
Informed consent is consent without deceit.
This certainly means disclosing things like your STI status and relationship status, and whether you’re on birth control. This also means using protection if you’ve committed to doing so. In the context of BDSM, for example, this means not misrepresenting your level of experience with something. Don’t tell a play partner you’ve got a lot of experience with rope suspension if you’ve only done it once (or not at all). Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of an action or sensation, misrepresenting your experience level and skills can be dangerous to everyone involved. Informed consent is about risk awareness. It’s about thinking things through and determining what information you need to know to move forward with the risks you’re exposing yourself to, whether those risks be emotional, sexual, physical, mental, or all of the above. Education, practice, and communication are all big parts of informed consent.
Informed consent is also about having a backup plan for things that might go wrong. That could mean discussing your feelings about Plan B or abortion. That could mean making sure you have safety shears on the nightstand for when you’re exploring bondage play. That could mean PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) or PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) for protection against HIV risk (http://www.whatisprep.org/). In a lot of cases it means establishing a safeword – a word that the bottom (or submissive) can say when they need everything to stop because they need help or don’t feel safe. Many kinksters establish safewords and think that’s all there is to it. Unfortunately, safewords can sometimes do more harm than good, but we will talk more about this.
F – Freely Given Consent
Freely given consent is consent without manipulation.
Begging someone to play with you or have sex with you, or using fear tactics, violates their ability to freely give consent. This can be extra important in communities and play scenarios with a power exchange dynamic. Unequal social power can inhibit a person’s ability to freely give consent. A teacher asking one of their students out on a date is an example of this, especially while they are teacher/student. If the teacher controls the student’s grade, the student may feel pressure to go on the date – even if that’s not what the teacher intends. Being attentive to situations where people might feel compelled to comply even when they’d rather say no is important. Giving someone a guilt trip or emotionally manipulating them for refusing your advances is another example of behavior that violates their ability to freely give consent. If a submissive asks a new Dominant to play and the Dominant declines, so the submissive pouts and cries and tries to make the Dom feel bad, that would be emotionally manipulative. If someone asks their partner for sex and they get rejected, but then respond by saying things like “don’t you love me,” “but I bought you dinner,” or “but it’s been weeks!” – these are also examples of coercive and manipulative behavior.
S – Specific Consent
Consent to one thing is not consent to all things.
Consent to kissing is not consent to oral sex. Consent to a blow job is not consent to anal penetration. Consent to being tied up is not consent to being flogged. Consent to being flogged is not consent to knife play. Consent to knife play is not consent to blood play. You get the idea. Consent is a conversation and it involves negotiation. Sneaking in new things without telling your partner is a violation of their consent. In BDSM this might mean a lot of negotiation before the scene ever starts. Using “Yes/No/Maybe” lists or other BDSM checklists is a good place to start (http://selfservetoys.com/resourcecenter/favorite-yesnomaybe-lists-available-online/). Decide what someone’s limits are and what their desires are BEFORE you get to play time or sexy time. Someone entering your bedroom is not blanket consent for all the things you can think of.
S – Sober Consent (I’m modifying Christina’s original acrostic to include this second S.)
Drunk people cannot consent to sex. Drunk people cannot consent to BDSM.
If a person is too drunk to drive a car, they’re too drunk to give you consent. In BDSM this is important for a number of reasons. Let’s say you and
your partner come home from date night and you really want to crack into your latest KinkCrate and break out the rope. You were the driver but your partner (in this case they’ll be the bottom) has been drinking quite a bit. Even if you know they want to play with the rope, doing it while they’re drinking is a wrong choice. A drunk person doesn’t have a good sense of their own pain threshold. A drunk person is cognitively impaired and may not use their safeword when they would otherwise. A drunk person does not have the ability to make decisions the same way they would if they were sober. This is dangerous to both of you. I know this is controversial in the BDSM community and many sex clubs and dungeons sell alcohol. If you’re the type to mix drinking and sex or playtime, I
strongly encourage you to reconsider this for your safety and others’.
O – On-going Consent
Consent is not a contract, you can change your mind at any time.
Saying yes at dinner doesn’t mean you can’t say no once you get home in bed. Saying yes when you start doesn’t mean you can’t stop or change your mind. Consent is a conversation not a contract. If you change your mind for any reason your partner must respect that. In BDSM, this also looks like checking in with each other. If you’re a Dom who has a submissive bound up and in an intense impact play session, your submissive may go into subspace and be less communicative than usual. This is why I said earlier that safewords can sometimes do more harm than good. If you’re waiting for a safeword and it doesn’t come, you may go too far if your submissive has mentally or emotionally checked out. Additionally, in some cases where people feel unsafe or insecure, they don’t feel safe to speak up and stop the action. This is true in BDSM and in sex generally. Feeling threatened can very often cause folks to freeze up and allow things to happen that they don’t want. It is your responsibility to check on them periodically and make sure they’re okay. Kayla Lords and John Brownstone from Loving BDSM (https://lovingbdsm.kaylalords.com/) talk about their playtime on their podcast. When they’re in a scene she will sometimes go deep into ooey-gooey subspace. When this happens, he will frequently pause to lean down and ask her, “Give me a color, babygirl”. Then he waits for her to say “green” (keep going, I like this), “yellow” (I need a little break or that’s a little too hard), or “red” (please stop). He’ll ask her three times and if she doesn’t respond or doesn’t respond coherently, all play will stop. This is an important and excellent example of ongoing consent in a BDSM scene. If he were to just keep flogging or caning her because she didn’t use a safeword he would be violating her consent with potentially traumatic and harmful outcome.
E – Enthusiastic Consent
Also known as “Affirmative Consent” or “Yes means Yes”.
Most of us were taught “no means no” in regard to sexual consent. If someone says “No” that’s a complete sentence and our only right response is to stop and respect that. The problem is, it doesn’t always work that way. Remember when I said sometimes safewords do more harm than good? Safewords are good to have, but they’re just another way to say “no”. Like I said above, if you’re just waiting for a “no” (or “pineapple”) you might miss important cues that your partner is in distress. Enthusiastic partners are present, coherent, informed, engaged, and able to communicate with you. Only “Yes” is a “yes”. If you are going to play around with power dynamics, please take the time to pre-negotiate limits and boundaries, and check in with each other throughout a scene. Also pay attention to the body language and responses from your partner. A person who is enjoying an activity looks and acts very differently than a person who isn’t. And, if you’re not sure, ask! It won’t kill the mood, I promise. Lean over, whisper in their ear, “do you like that you dirty boi”? …. Then watch as they enthusiastically agree that “yes, Master, I love it”. Create a code that helps you know what they want without breaking your roles. “Yes, Sir” could mean just exactly that, but maybe instead of no they could respond “Only if it pleases you, Sir” or “I wish to please you in some other way, Sir”.
Consent is a shining thread that should be woven throughout your kinky time and your sexy time. It starts before you ever get into bed (or the dungeon) and even includes checking in with each other after playtime or sex is over to see how everyone is feeling. These are tools that can take your emotional and sexual intimacy to the next level all while respecting the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved.
Is there consent? IF SOE, it’s a go!
If you’d like help honing your consent conversation techniques or have questions about this article or anything else, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*this article first appeared in the June 2018 Kink Crate workbook. For more information or to subscribe to Kink Crate go to kinkcrate.com/professorsex