With the emergence of the #metoo movement, there has been even more talk about “consent” in our culture and the media.
Typically, the conversation around consent has focused on the lack thereof. For example, sexual assault or harassment.
In the BDSM community, “consent” has a workable definition. It exists, ideally, to reduce the inherent risk in BDSM activities and ensure all parties maintain safe BDSM play.
This module will cover the basic aspects of consent, commonly known by the acronym “FRIES”. Consent must be:
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 imbalance in the relationship can undermine consent, as consent cannot be “freely given” if the person giving it feels they don’t have the power to say “no.”
I will address examples of power imbalances in another module.
“Freely” means the person giving the consent was free to do so.
In all these cases, the bottom/sub is not freely giving their consent.
Consent is always revocable.
If you give consent, you are never bound by it. You can withdraw your previous consent at any time.
Consent is not a binding contract.
No one should use prior consent to manipulate or cajole their partner into doing something they don’t want to do.
Circumstances may change.
A person might consent during negotiation beforehand, but change their mind later in the dynamic or during a scene.
Example 1: Before a scene, a sub gives 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 this situation, the consent can be revoked with no repercussions.
Example 2: A couple decides they want to enjoy a threesome. But, as the threesome date approaches, one partner starts to feel uncomfortable or jealous.
True consent means that partner has the right to back out of the threesome, even though both partners agreed to it earlier.
Sometimes, what we like in our fantasies we don't like in reality, and that's okay.
Because consent is revocable, a top/dom must always check in periodically throughout a scene. This isn't just asking if the bottom/sub is still doing alright. The top/dom must also read non-verbal cues for emotional states that could affect consent.
To truly give consent, you must know exactly what you're consenting to. If information is left out, it's not full consent.
Example 1: Your partner tells you they were tested for STIs and were negative, but later you find out they lied.
Your consent to have sex with them was not fully informed and thus, not consensual.
Example 2: You are playing with a more experienced partner and they use jargon or language you don't understand and you give consent to those activities/boundaries.
Your consent was not fully informed because you didn't understand what they were asking for.
Because the top/dom directs and makes all the decisions on what will occur in a BDSM scene, it's primarily up to them to provide full information to the bottom/sub.
This is why a detailed negotiation process prior to the scene is important.
Consent does not just mean someone “agrees” to do something. Consent should be enthusiastic and/or explicit.
Some activities in BDSM might provoke a visceral response, such as a “hell yes!”. This is a type of enthusiastic consent.
But for other activities, you might just be curious and considering trying them out. This is where the term “explicit” comes in.
If you're curious and giving consent to try something, you must be able to articulate explicitly what boundaries you have and under what circumstances.
Again, this goes back to the revocable quality of consent. You might explicitly state you're willing to try, say, bondage, but once your top begins tying you up, you decide it's not for you. You can always take back your consent.
Enthusiastic consent is always the goal. Anything less must be thoroughly and explicitly discussed.
Your consent does not extend to things that weren't mentioned in your negotiation or consent conversation.
In addition, your partner cannot assume that just because you consented to one thing, that you consented to another.
For example, you consented to spanking, but 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 or to all body parts.
Specificity in consent means that you get as much specific information as you can from your partner prior to playing.
In BDSM play, it's important to negotiate all limitations of a scene, including:
During negotiation, a top/dom will often get more information about their bottom/sub's boundaries than needed for a scene. This is so the top/dom will have more activities to choose from.
Try our interactive kink test with your partner to see where you two are compatible and what your top kink interests are.
Now that you understand the basics of FRIES, let's move on to what types of things can affect a person’s ability to give true consent.