Never assume

Some thoughts on consent in BDSM and sexual relationships

Consent is one of the first topics any reputable kink resource addresses and that’s good because it’s so damn important when playing with toys that would otherwise be weapons, physical and metaphorical. Don’t do anything to or with anyone that you do not have consent for. If you don’t know whether or not you have consent, then ASK. Consent for A is not consent for B, C or D, and consent can be withdrawn at any time. Any kink – especially BDSM – play without consent is abuse. Even consensual non-consent (CNC) play only looks like consent is absent, the parameters of what is acceptable having been negotiated carefully in advance.

I wish someone had told me this when I was much, much younger. I wish that consent had been a part of sex education when I was at school, rather than the dry, procreation-focused biology and the patriarchal undertones of ‘nice girls don’t’ or the implicit misogyny in the lectures on how boys are sex-crazed monsters and it’s a girl’s job to resist. (This confused me greatly, I was the biggest sex-crazed monster I knew and I felt as though a default position of resistance would be counterproductive.)

Perhaps if I’d been taught from an early age that consent must be explicit, it is absent unless a positive indication is given, and it lasts only until it has been withdrawn, my early sexual experiences would have been less….traumatic.

I need these things explained to me; being autistic, I find the neurotypical world of unspoken convention, double-meanings and social cues to be very difficult to navigate. I’ve learned a lot of rote responses and these days I am comfortable with asking for clarification, but back then….I assumed that what was said is always what was meant, that authority equated to wisdom, that I was some kind of freak for the vast gulf between my feelings and the apparent expectations of others. Even now, I often feel awkward or guilty about asserting my boundaries, the protocols of selflessness, courtesy and humility having been drilled firmly into me by my religious upbringing and a lifetime of being punished or corrected when the invisible ruleset of society ambushed me yet again.

Never assume. I learned that the hard way – and not just as a victim of unstated assumption; sometimes I was the perpetrator. Not deliberately abusive, just oblivious. It’s no excuse, I have explanations but no justification; if apologies could undo the damage I have caused along the way, then I would seek a million words for “sorry”.

“Assumption,” they say “is the mother of all fuckups.” “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me”. “Measure twice, cut once.” – phrases that are probably familiar but which are applied selectively, because who has the time or the energy to question everything, every time? Using our experiences to make judgements about our actions without analysing from scratch every time is how humans roll, and it works pretty well….except when it doesn’t. There are some things which should never be assumed, and consent to sexual or kink play is one of them.

The kink community in general holds itself to much higher standards of conduct than the vanilla world (apart from the usual complement of predators, fuckwits and numpties which infest all walks of life). We have to, because we’re (mostly) not sociopaths and we want to enjoy ourselves but not cause harm to others. When your enjoyment comes from distributing (or accepting) a beating, a rough fucking, authority, degradation, restraint (for example), you have to tread very carefully. Vanilla types see what we do and often recoil in horror, or judge and condemn – what they don’t see is the prior negotiation, the emphasis on informed consent given freely, or the acts of aftercare that counterbalance the discomfiting out-of-context scenes they witness. There is so much that’s utterly fucked-up about vanilla relationship dynamics.

I’ve learned to assert my boundaries, to negotiate, to ask for explanations and reasons. My sex life is rewarding, happy, respectful. I still often struggle to communicate, but I know that if I fail to make the effort then I would not be the person I want to think of myself as.

“Never assume” – these are words to live by.

11 thoughts on “Never assume

  1. What a great post on consent. In my household there is a mantra, consent is key. It is positive that the topic is coming up more, however it is often superficially glossed over. I had to smile, because just before I read you post I commented on another “never assume”.

    The ASD angle also touches me personally, thinking expcially about “sex education” for young people on the spectrum.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree – autistic people have a hard enough time trying to work out social cues without the messaging from popular culture that ‘no’ is an invitation to press harder, or that there is something wrong with a person who isn’t paired up. So many illogical and irrational ideas being propagated as absolute truths by neurotypical people, it’s bewildering

  2. This is such a good and clear post. There are some really good examples of consent education but they are examples rather than the norm. I have so much more to say about the lack of and cuts to useful support with these things for neuro diverse people but clogging your comments with it isn’t the right place.

    1. Thank you for saying nice things! Yes, so many services based on fundamental human rights are now being recategorised as ‘nice to have but we can’t afford it’ while insane amounts of money are being spewed into the Brexit black hole, or tax shelters of the 1%. It’s enough to make one’s blood boil

      1. I fight it in ways that I can but I also cry about it and sit with others trying to find anything that can relieve their desperation.

        1. Your work is valuable and important, but so is looking after yourself. Thank you for the good that you do x

  3. This is a great post – I too was that sex crazed monster at a convent school! and so confused – feeling guilty about how I felt about sex – and have come across some judgemental people in the vanilla world who think that what we do is abuse – I agree they often do not understand the level of communication that is involved before such intense play x

    1. Scratch the surface of many of those judgemental vanillas and you often find some pretty Victorian attitudes to sex in general….

  4. My experiences of sex In vanilla settings after withdrawal if consent and with my first knowledge of being a novice submissive have been filled with traumatic times caused after a more complex manipulation.

    Your post highlights many aspects.

    Thankyou for sharing
    Swirly 🌻

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