There has been a lot of discussion recently around issues of consent in the kinky community. While very few Doms would ever knowingly violate the consent of their partners, there are many, many cases where miscommunication, inadequate negotiation or simple mistakes have led to someone’s consent being unintentionally violated.
If you’re thinking to yourself “sure, other Doms might screw up, but that’ll never happen to me”, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even the best, most skilled and experienced Doms are still human beings, and human beings make mistakes. There are two types of Doms — those who admit their mistakes, and those who don’t. There is no third category of “perfect Doms”.
Some examples of mistakes are:
- misreading your partner’s reactions to a particular activity
- not hearing a safeword
- misinterpreting what was said during negotiation
- accidentally saying or doing something during a scene that triggers a traumatic memory
Those are just examples. There are many, many other types of mistakes.
You need to do your best to minimize both the likelihood of mistakes occurring, and the impact that they have when they do occur.
Even if you manage to avoid ever making mistakes, there are still risks. The things we do are often emotionally intense, and it’s not unusual for people who go through intense experiences to have different recollections of exactly what happened. That can put third parties in the awkward position of having to determine which recollection more accurately reflects what actually took place during a scene.
It is also quite possible to do a scene for which you had full consent, only to find your play partner deciding, upon reflection days or weeks later, that they feel their consent was violated. This “retroactive withdrawal of consent” is rare, but it does happen.
You need to do everything you can to avoid violating your partner’s consent. You may also be called upon to prove that you did in fact have consent.
Here is some practical advice:
- Do not play privately with someone until you know them really well. This is the same advice we give to submissives, and it makes a lot of sense. The first few times you play with someone should be at a play party, either a big public event or a smaller party in someone’s home. The important thing is to have lots of eyes watching, lots of ears listening, and (ideally) DMs who are listening for safewords. Playing in that environment is safer for both of you.
- When doing pickup play at an event (i.e. playing with someone you just met that night), consider having someone sit in on your negotiations in order to make sure there’s a witness to what was agreed to. Ideally, this should be someone who is not close friends with either you or your play partner.
- Before playing with someone privately, ask for recent references and check them. If the person cannot or will not give you references, you should not play with them. Again, this is the same advice we give to submissives.
- Go to your potential play partner’s fetlife profile and read their writings and comments in order to gain some insight into their perspectives on consent. If those perspectives are vastly different from your own, you may want to reconsider playing with them.
- One of the key points to discuss during negotiation is sexual contact. While most people view kink as a sexual activity, and would not be satisfied with a scene that lacks a sexual component, there are some who feel quite differently. Some of them may have deep, serious issues around any form of sexual touching. Both of you need to be specific and explicit as to what is and is not acceptable/expected. If you find that you have very different expectations in this area, you should seriously consider not playing with each other.
- Do all your negotiation by email or text. Not on the phone, not on Fetlife. This gives you a written list of limits and negotiated activities that you can check before the scene to make sure they’re fresh in your mind, and also provides documentation as to what was negotiated. Needless to say, do not delete the email. If you use email client software (as opposed to a web interface), be sure to always leave the messages on the server where they can be verified.
- Ensure that your play partner has a safecall in place, and that they use it. They should call once upon arrival, again if you change locations or take a break during the scene, and again at the end of the session.
- Before the scene begins, do the best you can to verify that your partner is not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. If you’re not sure, ask them.
- Make sure your partner knows their safewords (or safe signals, if a gag is used), and is willing to use them as needed. Be aware that some submissives have trouble safewording because they are afraid of displeasing you. You need to reassure them that you will not be displeased, and that you will absolutely not take offense if they safeword. If someone says they are unable to safeword, do not play with them since you have no way of knowing if you violate their consent.
- During the scene, check in periodically to make sure they’re still communicative. Ask them if they need to safeword (or ask them for a color, if you’re using red/yellow/green). If they are unresponsive, stop the scene.
- If in doubt at any point, stop the scene. You can always resume after a break, or on another occasion.
- Provide aftercare. The form that the aftercare takes should be discussed during negotiation.
- When the scene is over and aftercare is done, do a debrief to make sure your partner still feels positive about the experience.
- Follow up the next day, again by email. This is not only common courtesy (and an opportunity to schedule additional play dates), it also establishes that there was no violation of consent.
Despite your best efforts, you will still make mistakes sooner or later. When you do, you should acknowledge them and take responsibility. Do not pretend that they didn’t happen. Do not attempt to blame your partner (even if they were partially or entirely at fault). Simply accept that you made a mistake. Apologize. Ask what you can do to help your partner.
Hopefully your partner will forgive an honest mistake. However, regardless of whether they do or not, you need to forgive yourself and move on. Do not wallow in guilt.
And if you hear of others being accused of things, do not jump to conclusions and immediately assume the worst of them. Remember, they’re human too.