Without Consent, It’s Not Kink: The Lessons of the Ghomeshi Trial and the Virginia Court Verdict

The Stockroom

A few recent high-profile legal cases with implications for the BDSM community as a whole have stirred up some conversations around The Stockroom over fundamentals, best practices, and protocol for safe, sane, and consensual BDSM. We’re committed to being good leaders in the kink community, and that means talking about some subjects that may be uncomfortable, divisive, or controversial. While we strive to embrace a diversity of opinions and worldviews, we also feel duty-bound to address these issues as they relate to providing a healthy environment for all adults to explore the rich tapestry of human sexuality. That’s not possible without establishing a common ground of mutual respect and responsibility from which to operate.

While cases like the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the recent Virginia Court ruling against a student at George Mason University don’t apply directly to us, the issues they raise should be familiar to most kinky people. Whether you’re new to the scene or a deeply-entrenched veteran, these are topics worth thinking about and paying close attention to. We hope to expand on this conversation in the future both here and during some of our Stockroom University workshops in Los Angeles.

This is not intended as a comprehensive legal guide or advice, but as a refresher on a few of the basic tenets important to the practice of healthy, safe, and sane BDSM.

Consent

Consent is non-negotiable. That isn’t to say that you can’t negotiate a scene that suggests or mimics non-consent, but that understanding and communication are key in any interaction between two or more people. The more potentially hazardous a scene, the more important planning, preparation, and protection are to making it successful. Everyone involved should have a clear and comfortable way to communicate that they want to slow down a scene or stop it outright. If there’s ever any uncertainty about how things are proceeding, the scene should be stopped immediately. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and no scene is worth hurting yourself or someone else in the name of “authenticity.”

Furthermore, consent can be withdrawn at any time, by any party involved, and that needs to be respected and reinforced by everyone else in the scene. There’s sometimes an unfortunate tendency among long-term BDSM players to say that “safewords are for wimps,” and for submissives to take pride that they’ve never had to call their safeword. In fact, the exact opposite is true: knowing when to call your safeword or signal and end a scene is an essential skill for safe and pleasurable BDSM. It should be respected and encouraged the same way that we admire people for being able to tie ornate rope harnesses or praise them for their flogger technique.

Discussion and negotiation are the first steps in establishing consent. The best method of ensuring a happy, healthy scene is by discussing it well beforehand, in a neutral, non-sexualized setting. Many factors, internal and external, can impair our ability to give consent, so it’s best to remove as many as we possibly can ahead of time. Talk about what you want, listen to what your partner(s) want, and have a conversation about how everyone can achieve their goal. Make contingency plans and discuss safe words, signals, and other safety protocols. Establish responsibility for overseeing the whole scene and have appropriate responses prepared for any foreseeable contingency. Consent isn’t possible with incomplete or incorrect information, so make sure to disclose and discuss anything that might affect the scene, such as health conditions, medications, or emotional state.

Responsibility

Those of us who practice BDSM have to bear in mind that there is the potential for greater risk in what we do than in many conventional sexual relationships. This isn’t to say that they are uniquely risky. In all sexual activity — and even all human interaction — a certain amount of peril comes along with pleasure. In order to be ethical and safe partners, it’s best to remember Spider-Man’s maxim: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Not only are we responsible for our behavior, but our partners’ physical and emotional safety are often entrusted to us in a very literal, immediate sense. We have to make sure we are taking all reasonable precautions to honor that trust and preserve the safety of everyone in any scene we’re involved with. This means not only negotiating beforehand and communicating throughout, but also providing appropriate aftercare when the scene ends. To quote one of our favorite educators, Midori, aftercare “can make the difference between a fantastic scene and a miserable experience.”

It’s impossible to cover every possible pitfall or complication in the bedroom, but being prepared, proactive, and attentive can help prevent many undesirable outcomes. Just as even the best drivers may be involved in a traffic accident, every action is full of potential risk, and the purpose of these methods is to limit that risk. It’s doubtful that even a novel-length screed could adequately cover every contingency, but by being committed to safe, sane, and consensual BDSM practices, and by underwriting those practices with an affirmative commitment to mutual respect and responsibility, you can help ensure the continued healthy growth of the whole community.

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