Consent and Communication
It is often said that consent is the biggest difference between BDSM and violation/abuse, 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 and yet, there always seems to be a need to work on perfecting this.
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 to maintain that trust.
Choosing a partner with whom you have good communication is essential. The more you tie, the higher the risk that something will go wrong. You need to pick someone you can trust to deal with difficult situations. It is 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.
If you are self-tying, there should be an internal dialogue of risk assessment and self-checking. Don’t hesitate to write down your own desires and how you feel to get a better understanding of yourself. Consent also applies to other people around you. So make sure they are comfortable with what you are doing and inform them on how to react in case of an emergency.
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. 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.
- Favour simple words and simple sentence structures. There is nothing like a triple-negative to confuse everyone. Remember that someone nervous, in distress or going through intense mental or physical stimuli will have less brainpower 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 of people we want to impress. Alcohol, drugs, or just the hormones from an intense situation can also impair someone’s ability to speak out.
The relationship between people can have a big impact on communication. Depending if you just met, or if you have a long-established bond, if you are in a committed relationship, or close friends, if you know each other more from reputation than experience, or mixes in other domination/submission play. If power dynamics are influencing your communication, you may have to work extra length to get clear communication and confirm consent.
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.
If you are new to each other, it is great to discuss experience levels and previous experiences. This will allow you to adapt the dialogue and make sure you don’t push each other too fast.
- Health conditions
- Disclose any physical conditions 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 the 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? Do you prefer to communicate verbally and adapt on the fly? Will some words have different meanings like having a safeword? (ex: “no” actually means “yes” and “red” means stop)
- Aftercare, what are your needs once the session 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? And what kind of touch is good on more sensitive parts? (ex: brushing gently, grabbing with a full hand)
- Which sexual acts 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)
Depending on your experience level, you may not know the answers to these questions right away. It is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge what you don’t know and explore slowly to find your answers in a safer way.
Don’t accept “everything is fine” – Butterfly Bondage
A white list gives a better result than a blacklist. Say what is good to you, what you expect, and not just what to avoid. “Anything but this and this” is likely to lead to “oops I forgot to say this and that.”. Don’t accept “everything is fine,” “you can do anything you want to me.” It may sound hot, but in reality, it’s rarely the case. Ask some edge cases instead “How would you feel about having a cucumber inserted inside your anus?”, “How do you feel about permanent scars?”
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.
Consent can be withdrawn at any point during play. It is frequent to find out during the tying that something that sounded good in theory was not in reality, and we need to downscale our play. This is not always easy, sometimes the situation makes it difficult to speak up, and when we do, we still need to untie what is necessary. These are some of the biggest risks of rope bondage and why we should progress slowly in our journey.
Tying also induces a cocktail of hormones flowing in the body and each person is different in how they respond. Someone may accept or ask for something that would have been outside of their usual boundaries, leading to regrets later on. It’s important to have good knowledge of ourselves and our partner before improvising or changing boundaries during the tying process.
For each situation, visualize the way out in case something goes wrong. Remember: Save the relationship, not the scene.
Once all the ropes are off, the session is not necessarily over. Intense feelings might need some aftercare. Everyone deals with emotions differently. It is 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 expected, and it is 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 session 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 is good practice to contact someone a few days after a session to open the channel for feedback and make sure you are aware of things your partner may need help with.
Should I tie / should I be tied today? – Butterfly Bondage
Having a ‘date’ to meet a fellow rope lover and do some tying together is usually something to look forward to. But let’s be honest, some days are better than others. It might be a good idea to do an honest ‘self-scan’ about how you’re doing today, before you start to tie or be tied. Ask yourself: “How does my body feel?” and “In what emotional state am I?” Then translate it to the situation of starting to use rope, and ask yourself: “What can I give or receive, right now?”.
Sharing the outcome of these questions with your rope partner is useful. You don’t want to pressure yourself to tie or be tied when you’re not okay. It’s fine to adapt, and state beforehand what your partner can or can’t expect from you, and the coming hours. It is equally important to the person being tied and for the person tying to pay attention to their physical and emotional well-being. Being honest and open with your partner and yourself means more quality time, in my experience.
More resources about communication, negotiation and consent
- Risk profile presentation by RVA Rope
- Consent Basics by Consent Academy
- Communication for Bondage on Remedial Ropes
- The Rope Bottom Guide by clover
- Understanding Risk Profiles and Accountability by -BoP-
- Positive action for consent by Clover
- EURIX guidelines for negotiation and establishing consent by Felix Ruckert
- 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-
- Negotiation & Consent list on Rope Writing Library
- Consent reading list on Wordwise – Consent
- Negotiation reading list on Wordwise
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