Consent, Power, and Negotiation

A friend of mine recently wrote about the importance of negotiation prior to casual play, and the active role that submissive’s need to take in the negotiation process.

Two things stood out to me: one in his original post, and one in the comments.

In the post, he said, “The more intense the play, the clearer the boundaries need to be.” In the comments that followed someone made this statement: “I am one of those who once in that space does not really have the ability to say no. I actually don’t play lightly because of that. I have to have pretty in depth conversations before I play because I need to know in advance that the person I’m playing with understands that I can have all these conversations now but once in that space, they can’t change the rules because I won’t be able to say no.” Put these two statements together, and you have a concise summation of why detailed negotiation is so vital, and also why some opt out of casual play.

In my own experience, I love that space when my sub is no longer able to say no. My sub is fiercely independent and submission does not come easy for him. Even when he is physically submitting, his mind is still his own. That is a trait that makes him who he is, and who I love. However, when he hits that place where he can’t say no….well, words can’t fully describe how much I relish that place. To me, that is the ultimate power exchange. In that moment, I can do anything.

The balance is knowing his limits and respecting what we have negotiated. Yes, I can do anything, but if I love the place where he can’t say no, then it is up to me, as the dominant partner, to prolong that state. Pushing him too far in that state would not only bring that state crashing to an end, but would also make it harder for him to achieve that headspace in the future.

As a dominant, I have a responsibility to know the rules. We have had in-depth discussions about our mutual boundaries and limits, and when he is no longer able to say no, the onus is on me to make sure the boundaries are respected. As a submissive, he has a responsibility to know himself, and to communicate his limits with me. If we find a limit during play that he was previously unaware of, it is his responsibility to communicate that with me. If I want to try something that we have not discussed, it is my responsibility to communicate that to him when he is not in the altered state of not being able to say no.

Just because someone does not say no does not mean they have consented. When someone “does not really have the ability to say no” then they also do not have the ability to say yes.

Negotiation is vital. But timing is equally important.

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Day 10: What are your hard limits? Why are these hard limits?

I typically reserve discussions of my personal limits for intimate partners; however, in the interest of providing a discussion of the importance of negotiation and limits, I will talk about one of my hardest limits.

Blood: I have a rock hard limit of blood. Blood freaks me out. I can handle the sight of it in an emergency situation, but I cannot separate the sight of blood from the thought that there is automatically an emergency. Because of this, blood in the bedroom is a hard limit.

What does that mean? It means that I have a responsibility to tell my partner how hard of a limit that is, and to stress to them that not only will I not be drawing any blood or breaking skin, they need to not do so either. Yes, accidents happen. I do bleed. But if they draw blood, they need to do everything they can to make sure I do not see it. Meaning: clean me up before I realize there’s been blood.

Pushing Limits

Limits are good. Hard limits, soft limits, it doesn’t matter…limits are good. Communicating those limits is even better. But even if something is not a hard limit or a soft limit, there are still limits.

How much pain can you take (and enjoy)? How long can you be denied an orgasm? How long can you kneel? These are just some examples of limits within things that may not be limits. And like hard and soft limits, these limits will be unique to each person.

So what do you do as a dominant, when your submissive enjoys testing and pushing limits? How do you find the limit without going over?

The simple answer: Feedback.

The long answer: Communicate with them. Check in during the scene to see how they are doing. Ask if they want more. There is nothing sexier to me than someone saying “more please” when I check in with them. Encourage them to say something when they reach the limit. And when they speak up: STOP.

Negotiation 101

So far, most of the posts here have focused on myself and Phoenix, our journey and our relationship. We have occasionally touched on topics such as negotiation and consent, but have yet to devote a post to it. This is that post. This is the post where I put on my teacher glasses and tell you that what we do is not “safe”.

Phoenix and I practice RACK: risk aware consensual kink. In essence, this means that we accept that there is an inherent risk in BDSM, however, being aware of that risk allows all parties involved to provide informed consent. The important thing here is informed consent. Consent given without all the pertinent information is not informed consent. You wouldn’t sign consent papers to have a kidney removed without being informed of the risks. Similarly, you should not consent to BDSM activities without being informed.

If you are new to BDSM or need help finding a starting point for negotiations, I recommend a yes/no/maybe list. In essence, you would write down all of the kinky activities you can think of and then mark them with yes/no/maybe. You can find multiple checklists online, as well as one at the bottom of this post, if you prefer a form to fill out.

While the yes/no/maybe list is an excellent start, it is important to remember that the key to successful negotiation is COMMUNICATION. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you are hesitant about something, but willing to try it, let your dominant know why you are hesitant. Be honest about your fears and/or concerns. Most importantly, do not be afraid to have limits, and to expect your partner to respect them.

Many sites provide checklists for the submissive to fill out; however, I would recommend that you have your dominant/top fill one out as well. This will give you both a way to see where the middle ground is, and set the “fence around the playground”. The document I’ve linked at the bottom of this post also includes information about potential health risks, history of STDs, and ICE (in case of emergency) instructions. Please feel free to download this document, alter it as needed, and use it to your own personal benefit.

Negotiation Worksheet