Once upon a time, I had a sweet little newbie for a client. He liked age play and being spanked. I hadn’t noticed the marks on his left hip until he took his underpants off, but there they were as big as life. A cut and a scar. Neither of them what he’d paid the “Mistress” at the lingerie modeling salon for. What happened?
Once upon a time, I agreed to bottom to a stranger for a “sensual flogging.” I was fairly inexperienced and tend to push my boundaries. (Translation: I sometimes get all macho and am reluctant to safeword.) By the end of the evening I wasn’t feeling very sensuous, I was feeling great discomfort and seeing huge bruises all over my not-exactly-petite breasts. What happened?
Once upon a time, I lovingly flogged a friend who was fairly new to the Scene and still learning her limits and preferences. As we played, she encouraged me to flog her harder. I declined. Instead, I moved in close, often petting or kissing her while carefully looking at her face to see how she was doing. When the scene was over, she sat in a happy, unfocused daze for nearly as long as we’d played, while I gave her water to drink, stroked her hair and spoke softly to her. When she came out of “head space” she thanked me for ignoring her requests for more intensity. What happened?
Once upon a time, while I was on my knees and facing away from him, butt in the air, my Dom unexpectedly announced that we would be ass fucking that night. And we did. Feeling simultaneously scientific and coordinated, he tested a number of canes and riding crops on the meat of my vulnerable cheeks while we copulated. Spontaneous and unscripted, changeable and unpredictable, our play is organic and holistic. How did this happen?
The answer to all four questions is: Negotiation. Or the lack thereof.
When you’re in the mood to play and presented with the opportunity to do so, it’s hard not to get excited. Like the receipt of any gift, the willingness of another to top, bottom, submit, dominate, or in some way indulge in our favorite fetish or activity can be heady stuff. It’s easy to give in to the temptation to simply gather up one’s toys and start playing without reading the manual first. Nonetheless, don’t do it.
If there is one concept that sits at the heart of what most people consider to be healthy BDSM – whether it’s a single sensation play scene or a 24/7 lifestyle D/s relationship – that concept is “informed consent.”
Informed consent occurs when those involved in an activity exchange enough vital information about themselves, what they hope to do, where they hope to do it and how they hope to go about doing it, that a reasoned, thoughtful and mutually acceptable agreement is reached.
Without informed consent, one no longer engages in Safe, Sane and Consensual BDSM. Instead, one begins to engage in abuse. Obviously, this is a bad thing and to be avoided. Fortunately, that’s not difficult.
Within the BDSM context, informed consent occurs within a process called “negotiation.” Something like playing a game of kinky 20 Questions, this is a “getting to know you” period during which the people who will be involved with a scene determine what exactly it is that they want to do and – perhaps even more importantly – what they do not want to do. During this discussion, each person involved should provide information about their personal limits (and yes, that includes the Top/Dom), their experience, how much time they would like the scene to last, special emotional/mental/physical health or safety concerns and solutions, and what kind of scene they would like to create together. The complexity of the negotiation process can be directly related to the complexity of the scene being negotiated or one can choose to be exhaustive in all situations, although that’s likely to be time consuming. For instance, a spanking usually requires less negotiation than a kidnapping or sensory deprivation scene.
The method of negotiation will vary from person to person and situation to situation. It can be formalized, including the filling out and signing of forms found online, through BDSM organizations, professionals, or in kink savvy publications such as Jay Wiseman’s SM 101. It can be informal, involving a long or short conversation and verbal agreements. Depending on the situation and the individuals involved, negotiation may be done long before a scene occurs, immediately before a scene occurs or even during or throughout a scene.
Let’s quickly take a look at our four examples from the beginning of this column and see how negotiation – or its lack – influenced how the scenes unfolded and the participants felt afterwards.
- When meeting with a professional BDSM practitioner, it is wise to learn their background and experience, as well as some of their philosophies regarding BDSM and the activity in which you will be engaging. As more people become interested in kinky play, more inexperienced, indifferent or simply poorly skilled individuals are claiming expertise they lack. Yes, she’s the dominant goddess of your dreams, but does she know what to do with that whip other than make you want to pull your wallet out and start handing her dead presidents?
- When playing with a stranger, make sure everyone agrees on their terminology. Confusion over definitions like “bottom” vs. “submit,” or “sensuous” vs. “serious,” for instance, can lead to unnecessary emotional and physical discomfort and trauma. Make sure you clearly state what you do and do not wish to participate in, but do not assume that an unspoken activity is acceptable simply because it has not been specifically restricted. If you feel unable to comfortably trust your potential play partner, graciously pass on the opportunity or safeword out of the scene. It’s your right to do so whether you’re Topping or bottoming.
- Sometimes people realize that they would like to play a bit harder than they initially thought. And sometimes they think that they’d like to play harder but haven’t developed the judgment to know what their limits truly are. Unless you’re familiar with your play partner(s) boundaries and reactions, it’s generally best not to renegotiate limits during a scene, especially with someone unsure of what those limits are and flying on endorphins. A good rule of thumb is that a first play session that leaves the participants wanting more is better than a play session leaving them wishing they’d never done it in the first place. Especially in the beginning, it is generally better to move more slowly than too quickly. This works as an overall play style philosophy as well as a physical play style technique. Budgeting nearly as much time for aftercare with a new player as one budgets for play isn’t a bad idea, either.
- There are cases where more experienced players, those who know each other very well, or those in relationships including power exchange, may choose to negotiate throughout the scene or, conversely, rely upon previous, formalized, long-term negotiations.
These are only some of the most basic aspects of negotiating a Safe, Sane and Consensual scene. Because of the nature of What It Is That We Do (WIITWD), there are deeper layers of negotiation and techniques for exploring them successfully.
Becoming involved with local BDSM organizations, finding Community elders to learn from, reading reputable kink-related materials, attending workshops conducted by experts in their specialties, and developing good communication and interpersonal skills will increase your ability to understand what it is that you want to do and how to negotiate for it. Although nothing is foolproof, the information in this column should provide you with a good platform for negotiating scenes you’ll enjoy and resulting in memories you can cherish.