Warwick Fetish Society

Consent and Negotiation

Consent and negotiation are the cornerstone of safe, sane, and consensual kink. Consent is paramount to safe and responsible practice on the BDSM scene, and negotiation is a key way to ensure everyone involved gets an equal say in the activity.


Consent

Consent is actively agreeing to participate in, or be exposed to, something. It doesn’t just apply to sex or kink: being aware of and respecting the boundaries of those around you is an important part of human interaction. Everyone has different limits around what they’re comfortable with, and it’s important to respect these (for example, one person might love hugging their friends goodbye after a night out, but another might hate physical contact).

When engaging in kink or sex it’s important to be mindful of not exposing people around you to anything which might make them uncomfortable. This can include closing curtains so people can’t see into the room and being aware of what people around you are likely to be able to hear.

Consent should be clearly and continuously communicated throughout the activity, either through verbal or non-verbal means. Planned Parenthood use the FRIES model to explain consent. This means that consent should be:

Everyone involved in the activity needs to be able to say “no” without any negative consequences. This also includes not being under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, and not being coerced or manipulated into consenting to something.

Anyone involved in the activity can change their mind and revoke their consent at any time and for any reason. For more information on suggested ways to ensure this in a kink situation, see the Safewords section below.

People can’t fully consent to sex or kink unless they have all the necessary information. This can include things like knowledge of: STI status, safe sex measures, any relevant health conditions and any risks of the activity.

It’s important that people consent to things because they want to do them, and not because they feel like they’re _supposed_ to want to do them. Not being interested in any particular BDSM activity, e.g. being a submissive and not wanting to experience pain, does not make you any less valid or kinky.

Consenting to one thing does not imply consent to anything else. You can be as picky as you like about what you consent to. In BDSM, negotiation is a good way of communicating exactly what you do and do not want to engage in.


Safewords

Safewords are an agreed word which can be freely used by any participant (whether Dominant, submissive or something else) in a BDSM scene to call an end to the activity or communicate a need for a temporary time-out. A good safeword is short, easy to remember and not likely to come up during the scene. Exercise common sense when engaging in BDSM: if your partner is saying a random word during a scene, check in with them as this may be a safeword they have used in the past but forgotten to tell you about. Needing to use a safeword doesn’t mean you’re ruining the scene, nor does it make you any less Dominant or submissive. Clearly communicating your boundaries is a vital part of being a responsible practitioner of BDSM and kink. The Traffic Light System of safewording is the most commonly used system in the public BDSM community. It uses different colours to communicate different things:


Alternative Safewords

If you don’t want to use traditional safewords, a wide variety of alternatives exist. For example:


Negotiation

Negotiation is a discussion prior to a scene in which the participants talk about what they’d like to do and disclose any relevant information. This talk can happen several days or weeks before the activity, in which case it’s a good idea to have a quick follow-up conversation on the day in case anything has changed. It’s important to clearly communicate your likes, dislikes, desires and limits to your partner before you start playing. This is partly to narrow down what you’d like to do – Dominants aren’t mind readers! – and also to ensure the specific consent of everyone involved. Sometimes BDSM can cause people to slip into alternate headspaces such as subspace or the equivalent topspace, which can affect their ability to make rational judgements about what they consent to – this is similar to the way in which you might decide to do something embarrassing while drunk which you’d never do sober. Because of this, negotiation should be a separate conversation to the scene. While consent can always be retracted, it’s not a good idea to expand it during an activity.


How to Negotiate: A Step by Step Guide (adapted from Robot Hugs)

There’s no one way to negotiate, as different situations and relationships will require different details to be discussed. What follows should be considered a list of suggestions, some of which might not be relevant, rather than an exhaustive script of everything to include. You don’t have to go through all of this every time you want to play with someone!

Step 1: Set the Scene

This is the basics: what are you going to do, when is it happening and who are you doing it with? Be clear about what you want to get from the scene and what part you’d like to play in it.

Step 2: Risk and Risk Tolerance

Every activity, whether it’s related to BDSM or not, has inherent risks. Obviously you don’t have to draw up a full written risk assessment for your scene, but everyone involved needs to agree about what could go wrong and how you are reducing the chance of that happening.

Step 3: Experience Level

Be honest with play partners about whether you’ve tried a specific activity before. Claiming to know more than you do can put both you and them in danger.

Step 4: Triggers and Limits

Everyone has limits. No matter what yours are, they are valid and non-negotiable. You should never be shamed, mocked or judged for your limits. Never attempt to coerce someone into going beyond their limits, and never listen to anyone who tells you that a “real submissive” or a “real Dominant” would be up for whatever they’re proposing.

Step 5: Sexual/Intimate Contact

Contrary to what mainstream media would have you believe, BDSM does not have to involve sex. Any sexual contact should be discussed before it happens.

Step 6: Health Issues

These can range from temporary illnesses which might affect your scene, to longer-term problems which you need to learn to work around.

Step 7: Communication and Consent

Safewords are an invaluable way of communicating, but it’s also wise to let your partner know how to tell if you’re enjoying yourself without having to ask you. These indicators should never replace safewords, but can be helpful for Dominants to judge whether they are being too gentle or whether their partner is nearing a limit (in the latter case, check in with your partner to make sure they’re OK).

Step 8: Aftercare

Aftercare is the period of time after a scene in which the people involved relax and emotionally and physically look after each other. Everyone’s aftercare needs are different, and what works for one person may not for another.

The Stop, Start, Continue method is a good framework for talking about scenes. It involves discussing anything that you wouldn’t like to do again (Stop), any new ideas you’ve had that you’d like to try (Start) and anything you enjoyed and want to do again (Continue).


Conclusion

Good consent practice is the keystone of safe and responsible BDSM. Everything above essentially boils down to a) talking to your partner about what you want and don’t want, b) feeling able to speak up when you need something to change and c) being willing to adapt and grow together. The key principles of negotiation and communication can easily be applied to other social situations.

For more information on negotiation, see the following videos: