Does BDSM give society wise messages about consent?

There is more than one way to diminish the importance of something. Compare:

a) “Money is unimportant, don’t complain about your poverty.”

b) “Money is very important. I will give you 5 cents – then stop complaining about your poverty.”

In the latter case, the speaker pays lip service to the importance of money, but pretends a microscopic amount of it is enough.

In this post, I will argue that the latter is what BDSM does to consent: The consent they call for is woefully inadequate, and this affects all of society – not only BDSM participants.

consent11) Consent in a power imbalance is problematic

The law say consent is dubious or non-existent when there is a power imbalance. For that reason there are laws about employers sleeping with employees, psychologists sleeping with patients, and adults sleeping with 15-year-olds, even if the employee, patient or teen allowed the sex act.

BDSM scenes obviously have a power imbalance: Doms and subs, slaves and masters, one person tied up and the other free to move, etc. Participants will probably respond by calling it a pretend imbalance, but the imbalance between holding a whip and feeling one, or being tied up and being free to move, is literal and real.

Even the emotional difference between someone who wants to yield and someone who wants to control is real.1 While sex acts between different personality types is obviously not automatically wrong, care should be taken that dominant individuals do not overpower partners, convincing them to give in to acts which they find traumatic and degrading.
BDSM tells the world that consent given from a position of less power is consensual enough.

2) Consent should be ongoing.consent 2

This means, in short, if she said yes yesterday and no today, her partner may not do it today. If she said “yes” 5 minutes ago, but no longer want to continue, her partner must stop.

BDSM doms sometimes convinces subs that “consensual non-consent”2 counts as consent. This means if she said yes yesterday to both yesterday and today’s acts, but does not want it today, her partner may do it today. This pays lip service to consent, but disrespect her actual wishes now that today’s sex acts actually happens.

Taking points 1) and 2) together, ongoing consent (the continued consent for the duration of the act) during BDSM scenes is, by the nature of BDSM, given from a power difference.

consent 33) Consent must be enthusiastic.

Enthusiasm is often pictured as a wide smile as opposed to a neutral expression, but BDSM is worse than neutral. It often features – by the descriptions of subs on their own blogs – subs crying or screaming with pain, their bodies jerking away with every lash that lands. This is the exact opposite of enthusiastically enjoying it. If a happy face on which eyes and mouth smile and say “yes!” is a ten, and a bland “uhm, okaayy” is a zero, this reaction is a minus ten.

In BDSM, if someone is crying, screaming, in pain – the opposite of enthusiastic – but not using a safe word, this is still treated as enough consent. Since I have firsthand experience of not being able to speak because of being afraid or in pain, I would guess that in a painful BDSM situation, subs may sometimes be unable to speak.

4) Consent must be active.consent 4

This means that lack of a “no” is not enough consent. It also means that unconscious (sleeping, or passed out drunk) people cannot consent.

In BDSM, not safe-wording is regarded as ongoing consent. When someone is in “subspace” 3 (a mental state in which they become unresponsive), the scene could still continue.

consent 55) Age matters in consent

Most people I found testifying when they got into BDSM as subs started very young – often teenagers, partnered with much older doms4. Even if they were of age (this depends on the age of consent in their location), older partners could easily manipulate a teen to the point he or she is not giving free consent.

6) Mental health matters in consentconsent 7

Legally, it is sometimes hard to see if someone is mentally healthy enough for consent. But BDSM subs often overlap with women who self-harm 5, and these women sometimes tell partners to hurt them as an alternative to self-harm. Of course, the kink community tells them it is a good, healing alternative.

If consent is given because of brokenness, and the person who gives it would not have tolerated the way the partner treats her if (s)he was mentally healthy with a good self-image, mental health becomes an issue.

consent 67) Consent should be informed

If, during a scene, a sub gets into a mental space where she believes “I exist to please him”, is her consent accurately informed at that moment? I mean, she does not exist to please him! If he believes he deserves punishment, should he be corrected before he could give informed consent to the punishment? If she believes that allowing a sadist to hit her is a better alternative than self-harm, is this information accurate?

It seems to me that some BDSM “consent” is given due to wrong beliefs.

consent 88) No means no

BDSM also blurs the lines of consent when it ignores the “no means no” standard during scenes. When the scene itself pretends rape, and does not stop at “no” but only at a previously discussed safe word, the lines of consent are seriously blurred.

BDSM creates a society where “no” either means “no” or “I am pretending”. Public awareness of BDSM means the public learns it is often acceptable, sexy and exciting to ignore a ‘no’.

My conclusion

BDSM works against a comprehensive and contextual understanding of consent. This is highly significant:

1) This not only affects the small minority group which does BDSM, but public awareness of BDSM means that these ideas permeates the public view of consent.

2) Even the effect on the small minority group who are BDSM subs is significant: If a sub allows a partner to hurt her (or him), this woman or man, as valuable as any other human on the planet, is still hurt. In the case of “consensual non-consent”, this could cause a lifetime of suffering because they trusted the wrong person once.

———————————————————–

1 If you just asked “What about CEO male subs?”, CEO male “subs” pay someone they are not in a romantic relationship with, to do exactly what the CEO tells them to do – which is pretty much what CEOs do all day. They do not yield to the real wishes of an actual dominant partner.

 

“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.[2][3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consent_(BDSM)

The primary meaning [of consensual non-consent] is applied to those practicing Lifestyle / total power exchange / 24/7 D/s relationships. It means that the submissive agrees to all decisions and actions of the Dominant, even in cases where they would normally object or experience discomfort. The submissive waives their right to make decisions (in some areas or in their entire life). It is an extreme form of power exchange …” – Alice Tsymbarevich, https://www.quora.com/What-is-consensual-nonconsent

 

3“ Levels of head space are commonly achieved through manipulations of endorphins. [Reception, Trance and flying are levels of headspace.]

Trance … will cause breathing and the mental process to become dulled/slower … Rational thoughts, use of a safe word or active safe signal may start to become difficult and even impossible during this stage. Verbal response can be slow to come or non-existent…
Flying …takes one far past a typical trance… Medically the condition is also sometimes referred to as endorphin shock. … Some have described it as being hallucinogenic/hypnotic/floating outside of themselves… Often times the bottom will be entirely unresponsive and established safe signals … will fail, indicating it is time for play to cease and gently move into aftercare…” http://bdsmwiki.info/Sub_Space

(My comment: If rational thinking and use of a safe word already could become impossible in the Trance stage, why only cease the “play” in the last stage? Why, even then, cease “gently” and not immediately? The moment the sub is not conscious enough to refuse, continuing becomes a consent violation.)

 

4 I prefer not to even link to what I found on this topic – this blog entry tries to educate, not tittellate!

 

Once again, I prefer to not link to their testimonies, for the same reason as the previous point.

About Retha Faurie

Attempting to question everything, reject the bad and hold fast to the good.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Kink critical and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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