Friday, December 2, 2011
Last year, I was tucked into a textbook, doing some research in the campus Women's Centre because, well, they have the comfiest couches on campus. A rather scruffy looking hippie boy who I later learned was named Matt came in shortly after I did and handed me a pamphlet titled “Consent is Sexy.” Apparently, he had booked the space for a workshop of the same name, due to start in 30 minutes, and did I want to attend? Well, let me tell you. There was no way in hell I was going to give up my spot on the comfy couch, so I said “Sure, why not?”
Now Matt had obviously put a lot of time, research and effort into his presentation but an hour of inanity followed. The basic premise of the presentation was that if your partner does not explicitly tell you before and frequently during sex that he or she wants or still wants to be having sex with you, then it is rape. This was followed by a fun-filled interactive game of “How someone might be telling you 'no'.” Ironically, in our tiny little pocket of subculture, many of the above mentioned ways to say no usually mean “NOW we're having a good time!” (note: “Ow! Fuck, that hurts!” is only green when you're kinky, otherwise it's a sign that you're doing it wrong.)
To be clear, I think that it's a Very Good Thing that we know when someone is telling us that they don't want us to fuck them. Seriously, all this stuff that we do is so much sexier when we have a willing victim (erm, I mean, partner). What upset me about the presentation was how sex negative the whole thing was. For a talk entitled 'consent is sexy', it made consent seem very, very unsexy. There were, according to the workshop, many many ways to say 'no' to sex, but only one way (verbally, explicitly, and immediately before the act) to say yes. And in case you're wondering, the answer to my question “So, are you saying that negotiated nonconsent has no place in a healthy sexual relationship?” was a resounding “no.”
I find is extremely sad that in a culture where communication is quite literally global, immediate, and far far easier than it has ever been in the history of the human race, people seem to have forgotten how to do it. For God's sake, talk to your partner, or your potential partner. Negotiating a scene doesn't have to mean sitting down with a list and a contract and quibbling over every little bit. Sit, and chat about what turns you on, and what really really doesn't. Be sure to mention which of these things is fantasy, and which you actually *do* want to become reality. Tell each other naughty stories, play 20 questions, have a round of truth or dare! Communication is body language, tone, inflection, gestures, all of these things at once. And be honest about reading these things in other people, if you're not sure what they meant, ask. And remember that we all make mistakes. If things go poorly because you misread your partner, stop, take a breath and talk about it. Don't get angry, or defensive, or even worse, offensive. That just takes all the fun out of it, and damnit, I like fun!
Consent, in and of itself, however, is useless. Ask the ethics board at your local hospital. In order to really consent to something, you need to know what it is that you're consenting to. For the vanilla crowd to which the 'sexy' workshop was geared, this means things like knowing that your partner is HIV positive, your girlfriend being honest when she tells you that she's on the pill, and knowing the risks of STI transmission that you're taking by fucking her without a condom on.
In our little corner of sexcapade-ville, things get a little more complicated. A lot of the time, a bottom won't want to know that the top they're playing with will flog them for exactly 15 minutes before moving on to the paddle, then the crop, and for a little break, will be rubbing ice cubes down her back, then invading her with Big Giant Big Boy Buttplug while she kneels in a vat of rice pudding. It ruins the surprise. But she still has the right to be able to consent to playing with MrPuddingTop, and part of that consent is being informed. Not of what exactly he is going to do, but definitely a range of things that he might do (If her hard limit is anything involving rice products, she's in for a nasty surprise!)
The key to all aspects of this consent is communication. Getting to know your play partners, from them, and from other people who've played with them is a big part of it. The other part is learning what risks are inherent in what you're going to do. This applies to the top and to the bottom. The only way that either of you are truly going to be able to consent to whatever fun play you have planned, or are hoping for is if you know what could possibly happen if you do it. I know, whenever I climb onto my bike there's a chance I might crash, that when I step into a sparring ring I might get pummelled and wind up with a concussion. I know these things, but I choose to do them anyway. I wear a helmet, an a mouthguard, so that *if* those things happen, the damage is minimal, but I accept them as risks of the activities that I choose to do.
This is the reason that I chose to write these articles. Not to tell people not to do any of the lovely kinky things that they might want to try. Instead, just let me sleep a little easier knowing that when you do choose to do them, you choose with your eyes open to the risks involved, and maybe with a bit of knowledge about how they can be minimized. If I've done that for you, then my work is done here, and that, my friends, is very, very sexy.
-Mad the Safety Ranger out.