Since the 80’s we’ve used the phrase safe, sane, and consensual to distinguish for outsiders wiitwd from unhealthy abuse. But there are parts of bdsm that…blur the lines of consensuality. Some of us intentionally play with the line between real and not real, giving blanket consent to our partners, playing with consensual non-consent. I personally enjoy con-non con; it gets me hotter than most other types of mental fuckery. I like feeling… Truly afraid. I like it when it pushes past the point of easy, past fun, past feeling like a game. I like it when it becomes real and I become pared down to an animal, all heat and anger and rage and fear, afraid for my life, instincts screaming at me to stop what it is that I’m doing, just certain that I am going to be seriously broken or worse. I like begging, really begging, for my partner to stop, please stop- I’ll do anything that you want, just please stop. I want them to be able to look at me and smile their monster grin and say “Fuck you- I’m done when I’m done.”
This is what I like about negotiated blanket consent. My partner has been given my limits, which are admittedly fewer than most, and from that moment out I trust them in all things, all of our play. I don’t renegotiate each scene, what is and is not okay. I want them to push me, to do things that they want that aren’t always fun for me. I get off on the submission of such a thing- giving them my body and mind to use, to control, is such sweet release for me. I like feeling powerless, out of control. This to me is the difference between my bottoming, and my submitting. I’ve consented to the relationship, and to their power over me, and that’s the end of my consent. Everything else is auto-consented to.
But this trust is not just given away to whomever I randomly decide to play with. It is an earned privilege that I don’t give away lightly. There’s only one person in my life right now who has my blanket consent for everything not a hard limit. Trust is ultimately a gigantic piece of what this “lifestyle” is about. In Joss Whedon’s show the Dollhouse, the main character had been programmed as a dominatrix, and she said, “Everyone thinks it’s about the pain. It’s not about the pain, it’s about trust. Handing yourself over, fully and completely, to another human being, there’s nothing more beautiful than letting go like that”. And that is precisely the heart of kink for me. It’s about that trust. Knowing that this person cares for me, wants the best for me, while simultaneously doing really fucked up shit to me. That trust pluses any play. Without some level of trust, there is no play. To be so vulnerable with someone, literally and figuratively, there must be a great level of trust. And being vulnerable, cracked open and raw, is what soaks my panties.
Recently I was in San Francisco with this person and I was asked a question that really made me think about the trust I have, and the type of consent I’ve given. After a demo that involved me being faux-tied to a hard point by my neck while I stood, very precariously, in 8″ ballet shoes til I lost my balance and fell, I was asked: “at what point were you planning on safe wording”? It was a tricky question; I knew the artifice of the demo (embroidery thread that snapped with my weight- we rehearsed multiple times) so I simply wouldn’t safe word- I already knew it was safe. But something about that question stuck in my brain. If I didn’t know it was a trick, at what point WOULD I have safe worded? I’ve only used my safe word a couple times, when it was actually the point of a scene. I feel like I trust my dom so completely that I don’t know that I would have. Maybe if I’d started to choke and strangle after I fell, I’d signal out. But I feel like there is a part of me that knows that he won’t let me die or be seriously injured. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have him as my dominant.
But how do I know? At what point does my personal responsibility kick in? What if there was an accident? He wouldn’t intend to hurt me, but shit happens and things go south, and they can go south quickly. I know that my partner is experienced and plays very safely, even when doing the edgy shit we like. For me, knowing that informs my level of consent. And I also know, intrinsically, that much of what we do is edgy and scary and walks a razor’s edge of sane and insane. At its core, so much of what we do isn’t safe. For gods sake – we light each other on fire, stick each other with a hundred needles, play with brains and meddle with each other’s basic reality. We play at torture, mimic rape and interrogation.The scene is full of mitigated, calculated risk. Telling ourselves that we what we do is harmless, 100% risk free is a dangerous, stupid lie. Nerves get pinched and damaged. Triggers get pushed and emotional landmines explode in ways that require professional help. Blood-bourne pathogens are accidentally shared. People get literally burned.
I keep consenting anyway, keep playing anyway, eyes wide open and aware of the dangers of what it is that we do. I will never say that I didn’t know, or that it’s not my fault. When two people play, each have an equal responsibility to the scene, and to each other. Just because I am on the receiving end of things does not absolve me of responsibility. Far from it. It is my responsibility to know the dangers of the play that we do and decide if they are acceptable, to negotiate my relationship and limits and wants and needs well, to tell my partner that things are becoming too much. I am an adult. Being strapped down doesn’t change that. It is literally my ass on the line , and I believe this is true of anyone who submits or bottoms. It is ALWAYS your ass on the line, every scene, every relationship. If you think that because you’re bottoming this is not so, I strongly recommend you step back for a while.
This calculated risk though is not unique to our play. So much of our lives involves calculating risks, and doing things anyway. All things can be dangerous. When we drive to work, we’re consenting to possibly getting in an accident. Eating at that sketchy food cart because it smells good and it’s cheap. Riding horses, taking medications, getting into and jumping out of airplanes, going sailing. If we want to be perfectly safe all the time, we need to stay in our homes and never leave. Our lives are precious and short and we want to have them as long as we can. But living them, in spite of the risks is so important. That’s one of the things I love most about BDSM. After a hard scene, scary or painful, I feel so alive, so present, so grateful to be here and breathing. It reminds me that I AM alive and that my body is a wonderful gift that I should use instead of just saving in case it breaks.
But I must carefully consider the choices that I make, and think about the potential costs of the things that I choose to engage in. Risk aware consensual kink. Personal responsibility informed consensual kink. These are my mantras and I take each word of them very seriously, and I urge you to do the same. Think about what you do, what trust you’re giving and to whom you’re giving it. Do they deserve it? Is your consent informed- are your eyes open? They need to be.