Adults Are In Need Of Lessons In Consent Too
The Debrief: Why do we think it's only teenagers that have something to learn about consent?
So last month this happened: a girl shoved a lollipop up my arse. Yup. Right up. I know, I know, I know, the pressing question you all want to ask: what kind of lollipop? Well, it wasn’t a Chupa Chup, put it that way. And before you ask the experience wasn’t that pleasant. For me or the lollipop. But in a way the experience was a good one because it’s made me revaluate the concept of consent in the bedroom.
Consent it seems is always in the headlines, from consent classes in universities to sex education in schools to the adult industry. But does the Average Joe on the street actually understand what sexual consent means and how it works?
In January, The Frisky published a piece by Seattle based Pro Domme Mistress Matisse about navigating consent in the world of BDSM. And BDSM is a good place to look for understanding and evaluating consent in a static and fluid (i.e. before and during the fucking bit) environment.
I reached out to two Pro Dommes, Glasgow-based Mistress Megara Furie and Toronto-based Mistress Isobel, to see what ‘vanilla’ folk can learn from those living a kinkier lifestyle. Firstly, I asked Furie whether the notion that kinky partners – or those with an interest in BDSM at the very least – are much more aware of the negotiation and trust involved when exploring different areas of sexuality, rings true.
'I think this is a fair assessment however there are vanilla exceptions who are respectful and will have conversations surrounding boundaries, using protection etc., just as there are exceptions in the kink world who try to play without speaking first,” she said. “It comes down to respect and maturity [because] it is not a successful approach to avoid speaking and get on with things.'
Mistress Isobel agrees. She says that because BDSM involves playing with uncomfortable physical feelings and emotions it’s important to have 'clear verbal negotiation' so that 'all participants understand the desires and limits of the other.' But she also says that the exact same rules should apply to sex that isn’t kinky too.
'Notebooks out: Doing anything to someone’s body without asking them, especially if it’s something you haven’t done together before, is grounds for abuse,' she says. 'People have incredible imaginations, but most are terrible mind readers. So, even if you think your pal(s) might be into something, check.'
Checking and talking is, of course, how we learn what sexual partners like but also how we get better in bed. Take fingering for example (God almighty if there’s a less sexy term out there I don’t know what it is). The first time you finger a girl how the fuck are you going to know if you’re doing it ‘right’ (for that particular girl) if you don’t ask (what that particular girl likes)? But at school, whenever someone in my group of male mates offered this up as a way to learn, someone else would always argue back, 'Ya don’t ask her if it feels nice, do ya? Girls don’t like it when ya ask' as though asking a girl if something felt nice led to the life of a eunuch.
But that’s the thing: you should ask, and everyone, irrespective of gender, likes it when you do. Consent isn’t just for kids. Whether fingering (that word again), throat-fucking, anal, heavy petting, pegging, love biting, or hair pulling, the best experiences for everyone involved are only reached by talking about them – so why do adults outside of the BDSM community seemingly have trouble vocalising the C word?
Furie says, kink, by default, requires people to talk anyway as some fetishes and ‘scenes’ (a controlled environment where a BDSM activity or activities takes place with pre-planned roles and rules) can be complicated which means the subject will, or should at some point, be raised and discussed. Vanilla sex, on the other hand, has become normalised – by the media and social constructs Furie argues – and therefore people are expected to just ‘know’ what to do because it's ‘normal’.
So, if we’ve all become conditioned to never ask what feels good or what’s fair game in the bedroom, how do we introduce consent into our adult sex lives without sounding like someone presenting a driving awareness course ('…and indicate… and insert.')?
In BDSM, the term ‘check in’ means to make sure your partner is okay with whatever is happening to their body (and we’re not talking in a 'How do you feel about your nasal hair?' kind of way, we’re talking about pain barriers during spanking or the tightness of restrains, for example). The easiest and perhaps most common way to do this is to ask your partner ‘Red, yellow, green?’ with each answer acting as an instruction: red for, ‘No, I want you to stop’; yellow for ‘Slow it down a bit’; and green for, ‘Yes, keep doing what you’re doing’. But the ‘traffic light system’ is only one way to assess consent in the bedroom. There are various other creative ways to check in.
'It’s true that asking, “Can I do this to you?” every time you place another clothes peg on a nipple is somewhat of a downer, because it can disrupt the power dynamic that builds with one side being totally helpless and exposed and the other side being surprising and forceful,' Isobel says. 'To keep the illusion of spontaneity, certain pre-negotiated words, phrases, or obvious body movements can work the same as the traffic light system.'
For example, when doing an activity like sounding [pushing metal rods into the urethral opening of the penis] Isobel will say, 'This shouldn't hurt. You’ll tell me if it hurts.' If she has the urge to do something she hasn’t explicitly discussed with her partner, but isn’t far off the mark of the interests she knows they have, Isobel will simply tell them her ‘plan.’ 'I’m going to spit on that pretty face,' she might say, and then make eye contact and wait for a verbal ‘yes’ or a nod before proceeding.
Whatever the method of communication, Isobel says, 'I will do something because I’ve already got the enthusiastic ‘yes,’ rather than assuming ‘yes’ until I get a ‘no’.'
But what if your partner is unable to communicate with their mouth or their eyes, say they’re bound, gagged and/or blindfolded? Both mistresses say that a good trick is to get your partner to hold an item – a ball or a heavy-ish object – which they can drop if they wish to withdraw consent or shake around to let them know they need a break. In other words, a visual cue that acts as a verbal check in.
Consent then, can be sexy. You don’t always have to sound like a mum asking their little kid if they want, “More peas?” Fucking is supposed to be fun and consensual fucking is even more enjoyable because that way you’re pushing boundaries together and looking out for one another as you go. As Furie says, 'If a person can't communicate about what they are doing, they shouldn't be doing it, as it’s like tiptoeing around blindfolded in a minefield, but consent is another level of connection with a partner, a way of reassuring them that I care and I am present in the moment – and who doesn’t love that?'
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