The concept of consent is one that’s fairly laboured in the BDSM community – and increasingly in sex education in general. For the most part though, it’s laboured in a way that’s not terribly helpful. You’ve probably come across an article or video at some point that makes an effort to explain consent… but unfortunately most fail to do so in any meaningful way.

The nature of consent is generally fairly well covered, but many of the nuances are left unacknowledged, and the information given is generally only applicable to extremely black and white circumstances.

I won’t make an attempt here to lay out a full guide to consent – that’s a whole other book! But I will go through some basics, including a clear definition, and a few of the more common things that can affect it.

Definition

Consent is permission. It’s as simple as that. In some form or other you must get permission for each and every sexual act you undertake with someone else. If you don’t, you risk sexually assaulting them, which will be a breach of the law, and can land you in very serious trouble. Everybody – man or woman – needs to get consent, and they need to do so in a way that does not pressure or confuse the other person involved. Consent needs to be informed, enthusiastic and freely-given.

Consent doesn’t always have to look like a straightforward yes or no. You don’t have to ask your partner “CAN I HAVE SEX WITH YOU?” That’s not reflective of the way the real world works. Consent, in reality, can be given with a smile, a nod of the head, a gesture or a single word. Consent can be given in a variety of different ways. It’s crucial, however, that you ensure that you are not misreading the signals you are being given, and are not foisting yourself on your partner or pressuring them in any way. Usually it will be fairly obvious if this is the case, but if there’s any doubt at all, it’s best to simply ask.

No Pressure

When establishing consent, you must not put any pressure on your partner. They must be free to make up their own mind, without being rushed or hurried. Pressure can be emotional, physical or sexual. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid pressuring someone – a lot of flirting walks the line between being playful and being pushy. Read your partner’s reactions, and realise when you may be pushing them a little too much. If they seem reluctant at all, pull back and let it go. It’s simply not worth the risk of pushing the issue. 

Alcohol And Other Drugs

Be aware that alcohol and other drugs can impact on a person’s ability to consent. This may seem slightly odd, as a lot of sexual activity happens between people who are inebriated. Indeed, I’ve heard some people say that they’d never have sex at all if it wasn’t for alcohol. Be that as it may, you open yourself up to some degree of risk every single time you have sex with someone who isn’t completely sober. In reality the risk is small, but it’s worth bearing in mind. And – needless to say – if someone is so intoxicated that are obviously unable to make

Rational decisions, it would be unwise to sleep with them, even if they are consenting enthusiastically to what you want.

Each And Every Time

You must ensure that consent is there each and every time you engage in an act with someone. Even if you enacted a particular kink with them a week ago, it does not mean they necessarily want to do the same thing this week. Make sure to establish whether or not their boundaries have shifted since the last time you met. A simple way of doing this is to ask whether they are happy to do all the things you did the last time you saw one another.

Anal is a good example of this. Quite often, for anal sex to be fun for the receiving partner, they must be aroused and in the mood. Thusly they may consent to anal when they have been sufficiently aroused. This does not mean, however, that they wish to receive anal at any other time – so don’t assume that they do!

Awkward Silence

Be aware that people, women in particular, may not tell you when they feel their consent is being violated. There are all sorts of cultural and social reasons for this – far too many to do justice to right now. All that matters is the fact that you cannot take someone’s silence as consent. Even if they do go along with an activity that you initiate, it may be that they secretly do not wish to participate. Observe your partner closely, and look for any sign of a lack of enthusiasm. If necessary, ask if they are okay with what is going on.

Give Consent Clearly

This is a point that is very rarely talked about, in or out of the kink community – but it is an important one. Whether you are male or female, dominant or submissive, you have a responsibility to articulate your consent. If you do want to go ahead, you must communicate it. If you don’t, you must make this obvious too. It is unfair, immoral and unreasonable to participate enthusiastically in something which you do not truly want to be taking part in, and then later claim that you had your consent violated. It is your responsibility to communicate your consent. 

That certain individuals do not do this is the source of much drama and misunderstanding in the kink community. I urge you to take a strong stance on your personal consent, and not abdicate responsibility for it. 

Consent Cannot Be Retroactively Revoked

This is another point that should not need saying, but sadly must be included. Consent that is given honestly and enthusiastically at the time of carrying out an act cannot then retroactively be revoked. Quite often our feelings change about things over time. It may be that we play with an individual one day, and then a week or two later come to regret this. This does not change the fact that at the time gave our consent, and meant it. Regretting something that you consented to is not the same – morally, legally or otherwise – as not consenting to it in the first place.

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