Consent and Communication
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It is often said that the biggest difference between violation/abuse and BDSM is consent; the fact that all parties desire and enjoy the activity that was agreed upon. Communication and respect is definitely the way to prevent most problems. It is also good practice to make first contact with a new partner in a public space (or with trusted people around), have a safety call (someone who will check back on you after a certain period of time), and check for references.
The consequence of doing something to someone against their will can be really damaging to their mental health, even if it was not intended. Bondage is about trust, and all partners have to set boundaries and respect them.
Communication is the very foundation of BDSM play. No matter how much we try, there will always be a moment where we wanted to say something, and we said something a little different, and the other person heard something else, and they end understanding something completely different from what was meant in the first place. We have to constantly work to prevent miscommunication and be prepared to minimize the impact when it happens.
- Favor simple words and simple sentence structure. There is nothing like a triple negative to confuse everyone. Remember that somebody nervous, in distress or going through intense mental or physical stimuli will have less brain power to understand what you mean.
- Create a context where everyone can feel comfortable speaking up. There is pressure of saying yes in front of a group or people we want to impress. Alcohol, drugs, or just the hormones from an intense situation can also impair someone’s ability to speak out.
Negotiation is the term we use to describe the discussions that come before sharing rope where both parties share information on their preferences and limits
- Health conditions
- Disclose any physical condition relevant to the play like recent injuries, loose joints, flexibility issues, allergies, blood pressure issues, diabetes, asthma or that muscle that feels stiff.
- How are you feeling today? Any soreness that could impact play?
- Placement and preferences
- What are your expectations and desires?
- What parts of body are good to have rope on? (ex: arms positions, face, neck, finger, toes, genitals)
- What kind of dynamic are you expecting? (ex: lab mode, sensual, playful, sexual)
- How will you communicate? Is there a chance you will become non-verbal or continue to communicate verbally and adapt on the fly? Will some words have different meanings? (ex: “no” actually means “yes” and “red” means stop)
- Aftercare, what will your needs be once the scene is over?
- What does good and bad look like for you? Is screaming or crying a good thing? Is meditating your happy place, or does it mean you are bored?
- Sexual play
- Where is it good to touch?
- Which sexual act are within limits? What safety methods are expected (ex: use of condoms)
Is direct or indirect stimulation something that is desired ? (ex: insertion of objects or rope sliding on erogenous zones)
It’s not unusual for people to experience a different range of emotions. The happy ones are easy to deal with, but what can you do when somebody panics or goes to a dark place? Emotions are contagious; the best thing you can do when your partner experience negative emotions is to stay calm and in control.
Communication during tying is complex, it’s an exchange from both sides. Monitor your partner: their words, their breathing, their whole body.
Tying also induces a cocktail of hormones flowing in the body and each person is different in how they respond. This can include asking for or doing something that would have been outside of their usual boundaries that can be regretted later on. It’s important to have good knowledge of ourselves and our partner before improvising or pushing boundaries.
Always know the way out in case something goes wrong. Remember: Save the relationship, not the scene.
Once all the ropes are off, the scene is not necessarily over. Intense feeling might need some aftercare. Everyone deals with emotions differently. It’s best to discuss this beforehand, when emotions aren’t high, but you might also need to adapt depending on the circumstances. Some people may need some display of affection in order to make peace with what happened. Other people are hungry and thirsty. And some just need solo time to process their feelings. Everyone involved may need aftercare. The necessity for the person receiving rope is well known, but it’s important to remember that tying can also lead to intense emotions and physical soreness. Don’t forget to assess the state of being of the person who just tied and see what they need.
Asking your partner “What do you need right now?” is a great way to support them. This is especially good in situations where the scene was paused or stopped by a safe word.
Sometimes, a partner might not be able to explain some emotions, or give feedback right away. It’s good practice to contact someone a few days after the scene to open the channel for feedback and make sure you are aware of things your partner may need help with.
More resources about communication, negotiation and consent
- Risk profile presentation by RVA Rope
- Consent Basics by Consent Academy
- What Does it Look Like When a Top’s Consent is Violated? by Ariadne
- Performing Consent by Tifereth
- Musing on Consent, Violation and Stigma by Belle-
Ropecast episodes about consent by Graydancer:
- Creating a Rope Consent Culture: Part 1
- Tifereth on Consent discussion
- Creating a Rope Consent Culture: Part 3
- Interview with Heather Elizabeth
- Interview with Hedwig part 2
- Interview with Mataleao, consent 301
- In the Event of a Consent Violation with Ozma and Oz