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Dear expert sexpert,
Lately there’s been a lot happening in the news surrounding sex and consent with BDSM. How does consent work with BDSM? Can you really consent to someone choking you?
Consent is so, so important for anyone engaging in any kind of sexual activity, especially where there may be a physical risk to participating.
It’s also important to note that BDSM can mean a variety of things. The acronym itself stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. For the most part though, BDSM is used as an umbrella term for a variety of practices that make up a unique community of non-normative sexual practices and lifestyles.
Just because someone is into BDSM doesn’t mean they’re into the same things you are, which is important to understand, especially when it comes to informed consent.
Informed consent is a practice that comes out of healthcare, and it’s the idea that everyone participating is fully informed and aware of the risks, side effects and benefits that may arise from participating.
Informed consent also ties into the idea of enthusiastic consent — yes means yes and nothing less.
One is unable to be informed if they’re intoxicated or coerced, and this also means that giving consent for one action (e.g. bondage) doesn’t give consent for something else (e.g. discipline).
Consent is also an ongoing process that can be revoked if participants are no longer comfortable; consent isn’t static and consent given at the beginning of a sexual experience can be revoked at any time during sex, a BDSM scene or anything else.
Too often we hear that because someone consented to one form of kinky sex, they can’t complain when other “kinky” things happen and that it’s somehow their fault. This isn’t true.
It’s an incredibly harmful idea that places even more shame and stigma on people who engage in kinky sex or BDSM.
BDSM isn’t the same as sexual assault, but you can still be sexually assaulted when practicing BDSM. Unfortunately, under the law, no one can consent to anything that causes serious bodily harm.
This problematic standpoint fails to account for many parts of the community and makes consent in BDSM situations different than in so called “vanilla” sex.
This doesn’t mean that BDSM is inherently unsafe. Many people practice BDSM using the guidelines of Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC) or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK), and when partners trust each other, BDSM can be incredibly rewarding for all involved.
As with all relationships, it’s important that any BDSM relationship is a healthy one. Safety, honesty, acceptance and respect all still apply. Even though “safety” seems contrary to many BDSM practices, people who engage in these practices do so safely.
Safety can mean things like having a safe word, a hard limit to play or a whole other range of things. In order to be safe when practicing activities that carry risk, communication and respect of your partner are of the utmost importance.
It’s also important to know what you’re doing — the SHRC has tons of books that can help you out or you can check out Kingston Kinkster’s, a local group that promotes safe and fun BDSM.
You can also read some previous Journal articles on the subject:
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