With the advent of the #metoo movement, there has been even more talk about “consent” in our culture and in the media.
Typically, the conversation around consent has focused on the lack thereof as it pertains to, for example, sexual assault or harassment.
In the BDSM community, the idea of “consent” has a workable definition and exists, ideally, to reduce the inherent risk in BDSM activities and ensure all parties maintain and foster safe BDSM play.
This module will cover the basic aspects of consent, commonly known by the acronym “FRIES,” which means consent must be:
In order to have true consent, it must be freely given. Anything less is nonconsensual.
There must be no manipulation, coercion or trickery. In addition, any power differential in the relationship has the potential to undermine consent, as consent cannot be “freely given” if the person giving the consent feels they don’t have the power to say “no.”
Examples of power differentials in consent will be addressed in another module.
“Freely” means the person giving the consent was free to do so.
If, for example, a bottom or submissive was told that there would be no “safe word,” then the bottom/sub was not free to give consent.
A sub/bottom is not freely giving their consent if a dom/top does something in a scene, to them, that was not negotiated beforehand. Or if their safe word is ignored during the scene.
I like to say consent is always “revocable” or “reversible”.
This means you can revoke or reverse consent at any time. In other words, if you give consent, you are never bound by it. At any time you can withdraw your previous consent.
It is important that consent is not considered a binding contract. No one should be using prior consent as a means to manipulate or cajole someone into doing something they don’t want to do.
For example, if a dom and sub negotiate before a scene and the sub gives his/her/their consent to be caned, but during the scene the caning does not feel good, the sub is not bound by that prior consent.
In that situation, the consent can be revoked or reversed with no repercussions. In other words, just because at one time, the sub consented to caning does not mean that she/he/they will always consent to caning.
Circumstances may change. In the context of consent, the circumstances under which a person consents during negotiation might change later in the dynamic or during a scene.
For example, a couple might decide together that they want to enjoy a threesome. But, as the threesome date approaches, one partner might start to feel jealous or uncomfortable.
True consent means that that partner may decide unilaterally to back out of the threesome, even though it was both partners had agreed earlier to set up the threesome.
Sometimes, what we like in our fantasies might not actually be wanted in our reality.
So, while the idea of a threesome in this example seemed hot and fun at one point, at another point, the partner was uncomfortable as the reality approached.
Because consent is reversible, a top or dominant must always check in periodically throughout a scene. They must also read non-verbal cues of their scene partner to detect emotional states that could impact consent.
In order to truly give consent, you must know to what you are consenting. If some information is left out, it is not full consent.
For example, if your partner tells you that they were tested for STIs and were negative, but later you find out that they lied, your consent to sex with them was not “informed”and thus not consensual.
Similarly, if you are playing with a more experienced partner and they use jargon or language that you do not understand and you give consent to those activities/boundaries, your consent might be in question because you do not fully understand to what you are consenting.
It is primarily up to the dominant partner to provide full information on what will happen in a BDSM scene because the dominant makes all the decisions as to what will occur and is directing the scene. This is why a full and free and detailed negotiation process prior to the scene is important.
Consent should not just mean someone merely “agrees” to do something. Consent should be “enthusiastic.” “Enthusiastic” means you are excited to do something. That you desire to do it in some way.
Some activities in BDSM might provoke a visceral response, such as a “hell yes!”
Others you might be curious about and are considering trying. This is where the term “explicit” comes in.
If you aren’t enthusiastic about it but curious and are giving consent to try it, you must be able to articulate explicitly what boundaries you have and under what circumstances you are willing to try something.
Again, this also goes back to the reversible quality of consent. You might explicitly state you are willing to try, say, bondage, but once your top begins tying you up, you might find you get panicky.
Enthusiastic consent is always the goal. Anything less must be thoroughly and explicitly discussed.
Your consent does not extend to things that were not mentioned in your negotiation or consent conversation.
Your partner cannot assume that just because you consented to one thing, that you consented to another.
For example, if you consented to spanking, that does not mean you consented to all impact play. In addition, it does not mean you consented to spanking outside of the BDSM scene in particular or to any and all body parts.
Specificity in the context of consent means that you obtain as much specific information as you can from your partner prior to playing. In BDSM play, it is important to negotiate about all parameters of a scene, including:
Often, during negotiation, a dominant or top will get more information about boundaries from a sub/bottom than is needed for a scene, so that the dom/top will have more activities to choose from in the scene.
Try our interactive kink test with your partner to help find where you are compatible and what your top kink interest are.
Now that you understand the basics of FRIES, we will move on to what types of things can impact a person’s ability to give true consent.