Sub in the City

A Quick Guide to Consent

A Quick Guide to Consent

What is consent, why it’s important and how to practice it

Consent may seem like a simple concept, but it can look and feel different for everyone. In the world of BDSM and Kink, Consent is one of the core foundations on which a successful dynamic, relationship or experience is built upon. So, if you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge around consent, check out our guide for ways to actively practice it as part of your play. 

What is consent

Consent is the act of someone freely agreeing to something. We see acts of consent being practiced within day-to-day life (‘Can I pet your dog?’, ‘Can I give you a hug?’), and consent is especially important in the bedroom. It helps sexual partners communicate to understand how they both want to be touched, as well as their kinks and desires, which can help to create an exciting and fulfilling sexual experience. Consent is also helpful so that sexual partners can understand each other’s limits to establish agreement and comfort before and during a scene. It is extremely important to understand and practice consent within all aspects of BDSM, kink and sex. 

Why it’s so important in BDSM

Consent is extremely important within sex and particularly important when participating in kink and BDSM. A lot of kink involves experimentation, taking risks and, in some cases, enduring pain, which is why it is important to consider safety and limits. To ensure that you feel safe and ready before engaging in BDSM or sex, you and your sexual partner may want to discuss information about the upcoming scene and build trust through communication, so that you are both informed, in agreement, and consenting. Additionally, it is important to consider consent throughout a scene to make sure you and your sexual partner remain on the same page.

What consent looks like / different types of consent 

Consent can look and be practiced differently based on the individual, the dynamic of sexual partners, and the level of trust and understanding they have with each other. Some of the various types of consent are explored below. 

  • Affirmative: this simply means that someone has consented by saying or signalling that they agree to give/receive a particular action.
  • Enthusiastic: with enthusiastic consent, not only will the person say ‘yes’, they will express excitement for a scene, they will be turned on, and their body will respond positively.
  • Implied: Implied consent can be a tricky one and requires a lot of trust: it argues that if a person does not say ‘yes’, but also does not say ‘no’ or refuse an action, there is an implication of consent. Unless you and your sexual partner have agreed to use this method, it is best to opt for a clearer way of communicating consent.

Consent model – Wheel of Consent

There are multiple models that illustrate possible instances where someone may ask for consent or give someone their consent. The Wheel of Consent, developed by Betty Martin, differentiates consent based on the person giving and the person receiving touch, as well as how a person may give/receive touch in a consensual scenario based on the dynamic. This model can be applicable to many non-sexual contexts, such as caretaking or medical, but fits a BDSM context especially well and can be used as a helpful way to understand consent. 

Below is a quick explanation of the pairings we might come across within the realm of consent.

  • Accept (‘Will you…?) and Serve (‘Yes, I will’): In this scenario, you may ask your partner to perform an action for your pleasure, and your partner agrees. Your partner gives by doing this activity, and you receive through accepting the action. 
  • Take (‘May I…?’) and Allow (Yes, you may…): In this scenario, you may ask your partner for access to their body so you can touch them to receive pleasure. Through your partner’s agreement to this, they are giving you pleasure.

 

3 Minute Game

To help understand the Wheel of Consent, Betty Martin recommends playing the 3 Minute Game, created by Harry Faddis, as a way for people to practice asking to give and receive consensual touch. 

To play this game, you ask each other ‘how do you want me to touch you for 3 minutes?’ and ‘how do you want to touch me for 3 minutes?’. You and your partner can adapt your answers based on each other’s limits, then set a timer each time to enact the answers to the questions. 

After enacting answers to both questions, the different dynamic of the two scenes will become clearer, which helps us see how the language we use can make a big difference and how it is important to consider both what we desire and what our partner desires from giving and receiving touch.

Triangle of Consent

The triangle of consent, developed by Crystal Farmer, is another useful model that can help us understand what is needed for full consent to be established. The triangle consists of three components to consider when planning to engage in BDSM or any sexual activity…

  • Agency: Can you both recognise that you are both able to make your own decisions? Is there anything that may be preventing you from this (eg. drugs, alcohol)?
  • Power: What is the social power dynamic between you and your sexual partner, and are you both aware of this?
  • Communication: Have you had an honest and open conversation about what you want? Have you disclosed your limits or any barriers that may come up during sex?

 

Ways you can ask for and give consent 

Despite its simplicity and popularity, saying ‘yes’ to a request is not the only way to clearly communicate consent to your sexual partner. Below are some other examples of ways to ask for and give consent that may be helpful in different contexts and scenarios.

  • Verbal: verbal consent is the most commonly used method of consent in sex and kink, which involves verbally requesting or accepting touch. This can be established through verbally requesting or accepting touch, asking how your sexual partner feels during a scene, negotiating boundaries, and telling your partner when to slow down or stop.
  • Physical: physical consent can be communicated through nodding, hand gestures, or anything using the body that can be signalled to a sexual partner. This can be particularly helpful if you or your partner are physically unable to speak (for example, when using a gag or performing oral), or if you or they are in a non-verbal sub space. 
  • Contractual: this type of consent relies on a non-legally binding contract or form, which outlines topics such as potential actions within a scene, any boundaries or limits, and agreed safewords. Consent can be granted when all involved with a scene or ongoing dynamic have signed the contract. This method of consent can be helpful in a scene where you or your partner may not be able to speak or move (for example, if a sub is tied up or if they have been instructed not to disagree with their dom), or if you and your partner practice consensual non-consent. If you’d like to find out more about consensual non-consent, join us on 11th May for the upcoming workshop Consensual Non-Consent: When No Means Yes: Exploring CNC Role Play.

 

When to stop

The methods outlined above can also be used to decline and withdraw consent, but there are two other methods that may be helpful to use when a boundary has been crossed or limit has been reached.

Safewording is an effective way to let your partner know that a limit has been reached and that they should stop. Safewords are a word or short phrase that you and your partner can remember, which can be spoken aloud if necessary. In the instance where someone uses their safeword, it is best to stop and go straight to aftercare. After this, when you both feel comfortable, you may want to evaluate what happened during the scene and how it made you feel to understand how you can be more conscious of your boundaries next time.

Using the traffic light system can also be helpful for verbally signalling how you or your partner feels. ‘Green’ communicates full consent, whereas ‘red’, like a safeword, is a sign to stop completely. ‘Yellow’ or ‘amber’ can be used to let your partner know that you are approaching your limit, but that you do not necessarily have to stop. If this happens, you could ask for a break, slow down, or suggest moving on to a different activity. 

 

It is important to remember that there is no shame in saying no! Whether it is your spouse of 20 years or a Tinder hookup, you and your sexual partner are under no obligation to say yes and always have the right to refuse touch. 

Consent looks different for everyone and can depend on the level of trust between partners, previous experience with each other, and the dynamic of a sexual or BDSM relationship. Next time you find yourself with a sexual partner in a situation that requires conversations about consent, consider which type of communication may be most effective for you both and how you can ensure that you and your partner are consenting throughout the scene. It is important to practice consent in all aspects of relationships, whether they are sexual or otherwise. 

Want some guidance getting started? Download your free Limits & Boundaries Checklist & Kink Scene Negotiation Sheet to help you establish consent with your partner. 

 

Note

(TW: consensual non-consent, rape play)

When researching and practicing consent within BDSM, you may come across a kink called consensual non-consent (CNC). This is where sexual partners experiment with breaching consent within a scene as a pre-discussed consensual agreement. To learn more about this, check out the article ‘Consensual non-consent: What is ‘rape play’ and how to do it safely’ or join my upcoming workshop Consensual Non-Consent: When No Means Yes: Exploring CNC Role Play on Thursday 11th May

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