How to deal with crossed boundaries or a consent violation as a sub/bottom.
Consent violations can also include consent accidents.
A consent accident is when someone pushes past your boundaries mistakenly. However, a mistaken consent violation is still a violation, even if the person didn't mean to do it and their intentions were pure.
Let's make a distinction here between an intended violation of your consent, and an accidental one. Here are some factors to consider.
If you've determined it was an accidental violation and not a purposeful one, what should you do from here?
Communicate the Error. If you want to let your partner know, do it as soon as possible. You don't have to, if you're scared to do so (which is completely valid), but I highly recommend you do. It's part of setting boundaries and protecting yourself.
Forgive the Person. This is optional! You don't have to forgive anyone. It may have been an accident, but you still experienced the consent violation, so it's your right whether or not you forgive them. Take a look at their behavior first before making your decision.
Don't Gaslight Yourself. Remember, consent was still violated even if the intent was not to cross your boundaries. Don't start making excuses and shove down your feelings about it. It was still crossed, and it needs to be dealt with.
Decide if you want to continue the relationship or play, and under what circumstances. If your top/dom is trying to make reparations, you can choose whether or not to accept it.
This is also an opportunity to:
Learn more about your boundaries and how to communicate them.
Educate your partner about where your boundaries are and potentially about consent.
Institute new rules and precautions for the future.
We've gone over accidental violations, now, let's go over purposeful ones.
You said "no" and your "no" was ignored.
Examples of "no" include, but are not limited to: the word "no", body language and safe signals, and your safe word.
An example of a purposeful consent violation: you told your partner your safe word beforehand, but when you used it during a scene, they just kept going. That is a clear consent violation.
You may need to seek help and reassurance outside of the dynamic. That could include a therapist or BDSM mentor.
Just know it might be difficult for you to articulate the violation, especially if you're in an intimate relationship with the person who violated your consent. People don't want to hurt their partner's feelings.
Give yourself time and space if you need it. Get an awareness of what you're feeling and of the consent violation. Name what that boundary was and communicate it.
Now, if there was sexual assault or rape, you want to consider reporting it immediately if you are able and willing.
A lot of this is circumstantial, so it's up to you how to handle the violation since you're the one who's consent was violated.
If you're in the middle of the violation, assert your boundary or "no" again until they comply. Use your safe word emphatically. Do whatever you need to do to get them to stop.
Experiencing a consent violation will affect your trust for the person. If you want to continue a relationship with them, first look at how explicit your "no" was. If it was very explicit and stated repeatedly, your trust in your partner would naturally erode. It would have to be rebuilt over time.
After the consent violation, consider whether you want to have a discussion with them about it.
You are not required to have that discussion with the person who violated your consent. It could feel unsafe, it could bring up a lot of emotions for you.
Ask yourself if you feel comfortable and safe giving your partner feedback.
If you're not sure, consider the signs that it might not be safe for you to talk about your violation.
When you want to give your feedback to the person who violated your consent, if you're worried about pushback, you can ask for:
Keep in mind, if they don't listen to your request, they might not listen to your feedback either. If they disregard your feedback, reconsider continuing the relationship.
This is how to handle a consent violation from the sub/bottom perspective.
In this lesson, I'll be going over what needs to happen when there's been a consent violation.
First and foremost, if you're the one who violated consent and your partner has come to you:
Be patient with them, open to what they have to say, and sensitive to their emotions. Act with dignity, respect them and their choices, and be civil and compassionate.
Most often, you'll find out you've violated someone's consent because they tell you. Face to face, over the phone, it doesn't matter; they're telling you what happened.
In this situation, the first thing you need to do—and it might sound simplistic, but it's important to remember—is listen.
Emotions and thoughts will come up, but don't interrupt. Actively listen; don't try to problem solve or defend yourself, it's not the time.
Don't interject, just give them space to vent what they need to say.
After they've said what they need to, don't respond immediately.
Defensiveness in this situation is normal, especially if you're empathic and care about your sub's/bottom's feelings (and you should care). It's hard to hear that someone you care about was hurt through your actions.
Pause, take a moment to feel that defensiveness coming up, breathe through it. Take whatever time you need to calm down.
This'll help you respond in the most responsible way and not out of a fight-or-flight mode.
After a consent violation, both sides need to be completely clear on what happened and what went wrong. But getting and giving that clarity can be a delicate situation.
When you're calm and ready to respond, ask for permission to inquire more about what the consent violation was.
It can be a scary thing for your partner to tell you you've violated consent, and they might not have the capacity to talk more about it right then.
If they say no, don't push. Give them time and space.
Once you're clear on what they experienced, ask if they're comfortable hearing what you felt from your side and what you noticed.
But be very careful that "telling your side" doesn't turn into "excusing your actions". Telling them directly or through implication that "they're wrong" is not appropriate.
It doesn't matter what "actually happened" or what the facts are, what really matters is that they feel their consent was violated and are coming to you with it.
Once you get to this point, take responsibility.
This is especially important as a dom/top, because you were the one in charge of the session/interaction.
You're allowed to feel your feelings, but don't act on any heightened state of anger, defensiveness, fear, or regret. That behavior will not be helpful.
Part of taking responsibility is acknowledging the harm that you might have caused, intentionally or not, and apologize for it.
Don't apologize just to get off the hook or so you can feel better.
Apologize sincerely and take ownership of what you did and the harm that occurred.
And lastly, repair is an important part of your responsibility.
Work with the sub/bottom on how you can repair the relationship, what they need from you to feel safe again, and how you can move forward. Do they even want to continue the relationship?
This can happen prior to taking responsibility. If you're not sure what to do after they've come to you, tell them you're taking a pause and you're going to do some reflection.
In that reflection time, go seek some help.
Seek help and reassurance outside of the victim. Don't rely on the victim for how you're going to repair the relationship or what you're going to do for it.
Take some responsibility and find a mentor (a BDSM mentor) or a therapist who's kink friendly.
Get advice and solid action steps for what you can do next to repair the relationship.
After you've done all that, learn from the experience and improve. Do better next time.
It can make you a much better dom/top if you've experienced this and gone through these steps. It'll prepare you to not make that same mistake again.
That's how we learn. Everyone makes mistakes.
All you can do is try to repair, learn from the mistake, commit to act differently, and make precautions for the future. Implement those and follow through with consistency.
And that's what needs to happen when there's been a consent violation.
The overarching goal of consent discussions in BDSM and kink play is not just to “get consent,” but to cultivate conditions where being honest is possible and safe.
To this end, you need to be able to identify factors that are impeding this safe and honesty-provoking environment. This module will cover the real-world power imbalances that impact informed, voluntary, and freely given consent.
The reason I say “real-world” is because some of the following relational power imbalances can be used in dom/sub role play if done consensually. (For example, boss/secretary or teacher/student play.)
In BDSM play, leave the “power imbalance” for role play, don't allow actual power imbalances between the participants that could lead to non-consensual behavior—whether intended or unintended.
This risk of non-consensual behaviour increases when the participants don't recognize how these power imbalances affect decision making. Even worse, if they don't recognize the power imbalance is there to begin with.
Consent is not limited to sex or the bedroom. It permeates our relationships and lives in ways you might not have considered. Our culture has taught us many non-consensual behaviors that can take years to unravel, both in our everyday lives and BDSM practice.
Where is consent being acquired?
If a scene is happening at one partner's house, that partner has the “home advantage” in terms of control of environment, comfort, etc.
Is there an age differential between the partners?
If so, does the younger partner defer too heavily to the elder?
Is one partner more experienced than the other?
A more experienced partner has a duty to ensure that the other is informed and understands everything that might happen.
The less experienced partner is at a disadvantage. They may consent to things they shouldn’t because they consider the other partner to be more of a mentor and thus assume whatever the mentor does is “right.”
If one partner is taller, larger, weighs more, is physically stronger and more able-bodied than the other, it creates an opportunity for non-consensual behaviour.
The smaller/less able-bodied partner is at a physical disadvantage to respond in some situations. The more physically abled partner needs to ensure the other can speak honestly without feeling physically threatened.
Partners should also discuss any and all health issues.
Does one partner feel at a disadvantage because of the other partner’s socio-economic status?
Does this change their view of the wealthier player in a way that places more trust than is warranted?
Because of societal norms, we may perceive male-identifying partners as having more power over female-identifying partners.
In addition, sexual orientation and variations on gender identity might cause a perceived societal power imbalance between the partners that wouldn't otherwise be there.
If the partners work together and one has a higher position at work, this could impact the consent of the partner with a lower position. The most stereotypical being boss/employee.
The employee might feel there are real consequences to their employment if they don't consent to the boss’ requests in their BDSM play.
This goes for any professional relationship. For example, one partner being a personal advisor/coach to the other. Does the client seek approval from the coach to an extent that the client would surrender to the coach’s requests?
Similar to coach/client, a teacher wields a tremendous amount of power over a student. If a student and teacher are playing or in a relationship, the student might consent to things they do not want to do in order to “please teacher.”
The student could have real-world consequences in the back of their mind, impacting their free consent.
(If you're unfamiliar with this concept, I highly suggest googling it for more information, or reading the book “Attached” by Amir Levine).
For example, an avoidant personality in a relationship with an anxious attachment personality.
The threat of abandonment by the avoidant could cause the anxious attached person to consent to things they otherwise wouldn't have just to keep their partner from “going away.”
If one partner has mental health issues, their partner can take advantage of them, especially if they are easily influenced.
If one partner is more cognitively impaired than the other, it can create an imbalance in the “informed” aspect of consent.
In addition, one partner could use their intelligence to outsmart the other, manipulating consent.
This could even be as simple as one partner having more knowledge and the less knowledgeable partner deferring to them.
Does one partner’s religious values or cultural values create an environment where consent could be masked by duty?
Is there a risk they will submit too easily or ignore their own needs in favor of someone else’s?
Whether the relationship lasts a few hours, a weekend, or a lifetime, the surrounding circumstances of consent must be addressed in any negotiation or discussions about what is allowed to happen.
Each person’s needs, wants, limits, and boundaries must also be addressed in the context of relational power imbalances.
But don't let this overwhelm you, the goal is to try your best, and use the best practices you can.
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 (Coming Soon) 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.