7 essential facts about consent (guest post)

This piece of writing is a fantastic one-stop-shop about what consent really looks like. The BDSM-er who wrote it intended it more as a vent of frustration than an educational piece, which is why I have ever-so-slightly edited some of the original language. Reproduced with kind permission of tumblr’s HotDogPhoto.

During the last several months, my local community and the scene at large has had a number of issues regarding consent violation, assault, and generally predatory behavior. In the wake of these instances, I’ve seen a lot of discussions of consent and in the course of those discussions I’ve seen a lot of comments that have chilled my blood. People saying things like, “Well, I subscribe to a blanket theory of consent,” or “The older generation of kinksters doesn’t think about consent that way.” The purpose of these statements is often to make it appear that the issue of consent is that of a subjective communal construct that my peers and I are changing after the fact.

Here’s the thing: It’s not. “Consent” as a concept, has been widely employed in medical ethics (and extended to ethics more broadly) through the last 60 years. So, unless you got into the scene before Nuremberg, the word “consent” has entailed much of the same conceptual baggage the whole time. I want to take some time (as someone with years of graduate training in the history and anthropology of medicine, and medical ethics) to clarify some of the facts.

1. Consent must be negotiated explicitly, where both parties demonstrate a clear understanding of the boundaries. I’ve seen a lot of, “Well, so-and-so didn’t know that the scene entailed x.” No. Just no. If they didn’t know that, then that’s a failure of the party in control of the scene.

2. Consent can be revoked at any time, for any reason. Participants are not obligated to offer an explanation for their change in attitude towards an act.

3. Someone in an altered mental state cannot offer consent. If you got consent to do x before the person was endorphine’d out of their mind, then that’s cool. But if you’re negotiating while a partner is in an altered mental space (as a result of a scene, etc.) then you’re not getting consent.

4. Consent requires an understanding of the risks of the negotiated act. “So-and-so didn’t know what they were getting into” isn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation of how consent was not obtained.

5. Consent can be extended conditionally. e.g., if one party consents to an act on the condition of reciprocation, and the other party does not make a reasonable effort to reciprocate, then the act is non-consensual. (I see this come up a lot in the context of offering aftercare and failing to follow through… don’t do that.)

6. Coercion undermines consent. If emotional or physical coercion is used to establish consent, then it’s not consent. The consenting party must feel that they are free to choose otherwise without undue burden.

Perhaps most importantly,
7. Consent is not the be all and end all of whether a scene was appropriate or acceptable. Having consent does not mean you can forgo good judgment in making decisions. We do a lot of edgy stuff in play, and those of us who do so take seriously our responsibility to make judgments about the safety of our partners. Sometimes, these judgments are squishy and subjective, and we do riskier stuff than others might; sometimes these judgments are just bad, and we have to take responsibility for those mistakes even if we had consent from our partner.

The above has been reproduced with kind permission of HotDogPhoto, who is happy to provide sources, or a history background, on his tumblr blog, which you can find here. Content note: HotDogPhoto’s profile has visually explicit material. I appreciate that some of my readers might not like me linking directly to that kind of stuff, but I think it’s important to give credit to other people’s work. I’m grateful to HotDogPhoto for giving me permission to reproduce this excellent piece of writing.

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