Informed Consent Before You Play With BDSM

What’s Informed Consent and Why Is It Important In BDSM?

The word ‘consent’ comes up constantly in conversations about kink. People often tout it as the core element that separates BDSM from abuse. While this is true, the word by itself doesn’t go far enough to help practitioners, especially those just starting out, protect themselves and one another from potential problems.

The dictionary defines consent as ‘permission’ or ‘agreement’ to carry out a particular act. Our agreement means nothing, however, unless we’re fully aware of what we’re signing up for, including the things that could go wrong. For our (and our partner’s) consent to truly be valid, everyone involved must be informed of the risks the act in question entails.

The term ‘informed consent’ was first used in the medical field and is considered fundamental to ethics and laws regarding patient rights. It describes the process that requires doctors to provide information about possible side effects and other risks before they elicit permission to provide a particular treatment. The term is now often applied to sexual activity as well. All participants must be aware of one another’s STI status, in agreement about any birth control methods being used, and comfortable in the environment in which they’re having sex.

Informed consent is especially important for BDSMers because a lot of what we like, if handled carelessly, can lead to lasting trauma, injury, and even death. By making an effort to equip one another with the knowledge needed to make mindful decisions, we reduce the chance of tragic outcomes down the road. No one should have to walk away from a kinky session feeling like they endured an experience they didn’t sign up for, or that they were unaware of the amount of responsibility they were taking on. Informed consent helps mitigate risk for tops, bottoms, switches—everyone.

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Talking Ethics in BDSM

The BDSM scene is not a monolith with clearly defined dogma. There’s no be-all-end-all guide or ‘one true way’ to navigate the interests we share. Our community has no president, congress, or hot paddle-wielding police hopping from bedroom to bedroom making sure we all behave in ways that are safe and admirable. Rather, we police ourselves by frequently asking, “Is this thing we want to do okay?” A number of handy acronyms have popped up over the years to help participants arrive at an answer everyone can feel good about. The two most common are SSC and RACK.

SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual)

This motto states that the activities we want to do in BDSM must be handled safely, that all participants must be of sound mind, and that all participants must have enthusiastically agreed to take part without force or coercion. By adhering to those guidelines, we can distinguish what we do from domestic violence, abuse, rape, and other unethical acts.

Critics of SSC argue that the term is too vague to be useful and wrongfully implies BDSM can be done completely safely i.e. without any level of risk. As a result, RACK was born.

RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink)

RACK highlights the fact that all forms of kink entail certain degrees of risk and it’s impossible to ever fully guarantee anyone’s safety. There are no “safe” or “unsafe” activities according to RACK, only “safer” and “less safe.” All participants must therefore practice individual responsibility by researching and discussing the risks of what they wish to do, even if those risks are minimal or unlikely to occur.

Whether kinksters in the community follow the guidelines set forth by SSC, RACK, both, or neither, the need for personal responsibility and awareness remains constant. Anyone interested in BDSM should read up on each specific activity they want to try before diving in.

Risks of 5 Common BDSM Activities

When I first started doing kink with partners, there were many things I didn’t know or think to research in regards to common practices in the community. Here’s a quick rundown of those points.
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Spanking

Butts, fleshy as they tend to be, are generally safe targets for hard, smacky fun. The danger lies in hitting too high or too low. Landing blows above the area where the receiver’s crack ends can injure their spine or kidneys. Hitting below the highest portion of the thighs can cause injury to the legs. Focus on the roundest, most padded bits and the spankee should be fine in the long run regardless of bruising or soreness. There’s disagreement in the kink scene about whether it’s safe to spank hard over existing bruises. While I’ve never personally experienced complications from layering new marks over old ones, the safest option is to allow the spankee to heal between hard sessions.

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Bondage

Rope, cords, zip ties, and other materials used to restrain receivers can put excess pressure on nerves if applied too tightly, causing long-term pain and discomfort. The top should be able to slip a finger beneath the rope (or whatever they’re using) at all points without difficulty. In sessions involving suspension, however, the top must tie tightly enough that the bottom is not at risk of slipping from the hold of the ropes. Equal weight distribution is also important for a comfy, injury-free hang. Additionally, leaving a bottom tied for long periods can impede circulation, resulting in a loss of sensation. The top should check in frequently and make adjustments if the bottom begins to experience numbness, pain, or difficulty breathing.

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Wax play

Some candles burn at higher temperatures than others and can burn or blister the skin, leaving permanent scars. It’s best to use candles made specifically for BDSM, which can be found online and at most sex shops. Never leave burning candles unattended if you don’t want to burn your house down (obviously). Wax can also be a nightmare to clean off of surfaces after you’re done, especially carpet or tatami mats, so lay out a tarp or sheet of plastic in advance to avoid the hassle of a mess.

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Blindfolds

Removing the bottom’s sense of sight can add a delicious element of suspense to any kinky scene. This can be problematic, however, if the top attempts to surprise the bottom with acts they haven’t specifically received permission to do. For instance, blindfolding a bottom at a party and allowing third parties to touch them may constitute sexual assault if the bottom did not previously agree to play with those people. Always communicate beforehand to make sure activities introduced during sensory deprivation play will be enjoyed.

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Anal play

Anal play is often made to look like a quick and easy endeavor in porn, but most receivers require considerable warm-up and lubrication for penetration to be carried out in ways that won’t cause harm. Tops should always start by inserting thinner objects like fingers before moving on to thicker ones like penises or plugs. The sphincter needs time to relax and stretch or it could tear, resulting in health complications like fissures. Though rare, colon perforation has been known to occur. It is also easier to pass STIs, viruses, and bacterial infections between partners via anal play than it is with vaginal sex. Always be sure to wash toys, hands, or other body parts when switching between anal and other types of play.

Activities involving breath play, electricity, knives, needles, fire, or extreme stretching of orifices are considered ‘edge play’. They involve much higher levels of risk and may require tops to do formal training. Check out classes and workshops in your local BDSM community if you desire to incorporate them into your sessions.

5 Emotional & Psychological Risks

1) Abuse

There’s always the possibility for a partnership that starts out consensually to cross the line into abusive territory. Tops in BDSM must function from a foundation of benevolence and make it their priority never to violate hard boundaries. Partners can keep their dynamic fulfilling and pleasurable for everyone involved by negotiating, actively communicating, and having systems in place to minimize safety concerns. The bottom should never be pressured or forced to experience anything they genuinely don’t wish to go through.

2) Triggering Trauma

It is possible to trigger adverse reactions in participants who have suffered trauma in the past. This can manifest in the form of panic attacks, PTSD, anxiety, and depression, which can confuse the top if they can’t recognize what’s happening. Talking about the mental-health histories of both participants during the negotiation process can be helpful for avoiding such incidents.

3) Codependency

Codependency, a type of behavior characterized by excessive emotional reliance on a partner who requires support, can occur in partnerships that involve power exchange. This typically occurs when the dom or sub ‘loses themselves’ or sacrifices their own needs to earn the approval or praise of their partner. Though it can be thrilling to explore outside of one’s comfort zone and engage in intense acts of devotion, all participants should prioritize their own mental and physical health while doing BDSM.

4) Legal Issues

Some of the activities we practice in BDSM are illegal in certain parts of the world. In more conservative areas, this is because kink is considered obscene or offensive. In others, causing someone bodily injury or threatening their physical security may be seen as a breach of that person’s personal rights. British law, for instance, does not recognize the possibility of consenting to actual bodily harm. This can lead to legal trouble for tops if the police become involved for any reason.

5) Predators

In addition to loads of wonderful folks, the BDSM scene attracts its share of predators with nefarious intentions. These people label their abusive proclivities as ‘kink’ in order to appear trustworthy and convince their targets to give them a chance. While seeking out play partners, we must all be on the lookout for red flags, communicate our boundaries, and trust our gut to avoid getting entangled with dangerous play partners.

Click here for more information about the difference between BDSM and abuse, and here for tips on how to tell the difference between fake and real dominants.

Helping Inform Those Who Are New to the Scene

The advent of the internet and pop-culture influences like 50 Shades have benefited our community in the sense that kink is now less taboo. It’s easier to connect, organize events, and share info than ever before. The drawback is that curious folks, some of whom are exploring their sexuality for the first time, are diving into play at record numbers without community support or proper info about safety. The true nature of consensual BDSM is rarely ever as straightforward as it appears from the outside or in the context of fantasy. It’s easy to get the impression something dangerous like choking is safe with images of D/s splashed all over the internet, but memes, porn, and erotica clearly aren’t reliable sources of education for our purposes. Kinksters with experience can do wonders to help inform those who are just finding their feet.

I remember being new, right after I took that terrifying leap 10-ish years ago and began exploring BDSM in the real world rather than solely inside my head. I was young, excited, and foolhardy, eager to try every activity with anyone in the community who seemed more experienced than me. I’d known I was a fetishist from my earliest days, yet still had no way to anticipate all the things I was ignorant of and would go on to learn. Some veteran kinksters I encountered helped me steer clear of trouble with prescient advice. Others, I now recognize in hindsight, quietly took advantage of my naivety.

When it comes to the lovely people we play with, we have an obligation to inform them of any risks they’re unaware of if it becomes clear they’re lacking certain information. Informed consent does, of course, lie on the shoulders of each individual participant equally, but approaching kink as a caring, collaborative effort is how we build trust and comfort when we come together.

The Bottom Line

We can never be too informed when it comes to situations that require consent. A hefty number of people who wish to explore BDSM seem to believe that talking about the specifics is too taboo or ruins the magic somehow. This attitude can lead to avoidable mistakes that ruin lives. Sexual mishaps and claims of abuse pop up in the news constantly, even between participants in vanilla partnerships. There’s much we can do to keep those stories from becoming our reality. Empower yourself and your partners by making informed consent a priority in your dynamic.

By Molly Lazarus

Molly Lazarus is a sex blogger, kink educator, and erotic fiction author. Her website, Kink Out Loud, serves as a resource for readers who are curious about BDSM or new to the practice. Offline, Molly acts as Volunteer Coordinator for the Bay Area chapter of Kinky Salon. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest, or browse her fiction on Amazon.

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By reading and accepting this article you agree to all of the following: You understand that this is simply a set of opinions, personal experience and anecdotal evidence (and not advice). You are responsible for any use of the information in this article, and hold BDSMTrainingAcademy.com and all members and affiliates harmless in any claim or event.

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