Nicola Corkin, in her piece “Yes means Yes – feminist musings on consent in sex”, says “Our inability to allow the woman an active, hedonistic participation within sexual acts is the root problem for consent to sex, and thus rape, in our modern world. As long as we do not allow women to say ‘yes’ to sex, there will not be a societal and cultural recognition of her right to say ‘no’ either.”
I absolutely agree with this statement. As I’ve said before, I don’t see how one logically respects someone’s right to say “no,” if they also cannot respect their right and ability to consensually say “yes.” Consent only works if we can trust, respect, and accept the answers we’re given.
If you can’t do that for your partner, you need to sit down and have a very long, very involved, very honest conversation with them about their expectations, your expectations, and where the disconnect might be.
Which is hard. I know.
Especially because, even as we shift—and rightfully so—toward a more consent-driven attitude toward sex, we’re still not good at talking about consent.
And we need to get better about it.
About treating it as an on-going and never-ending conversation.
Because it is complicated. And treating it like it’s not often does more harm than good. Because, consent is a complex, constantly fluid thing.
Particularly, with kink. Since, “in kink, pain and damage aren’t automatic indicators of abuse like they are in the vanilla world. In fact, we tend to be quite proud of our bruises and scars—often descending into a battle scar contest worthy of Jaws […] It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around, even among kinksters, this idea that a top can beat a slave bloody and raw, can string a submissive up until they pass out, can burn, can suffocate, can cut, torture, and rape a bottom and—so long as everything was agreed upon beforehand and wasn’t objected to at any point—it’s not abuse. It’s just fun. However, even in the kinkiest relationship, the most vanilla sex—in the dark, half-clothed, married, missionary—can be abuse if done without consent. Consent is king.”
We cannot afford to treat consent like a toss-away, yes-or-no question. Or even a one-time conversation. It is something that we need to understand and accept as an ever-present part of our lives and relationships. Whether this is your first hook-up with a partner or you’ve been married for most of your lives. Whether you’re exploring a new kink or doing the same-old, same-old that you’ve done a million times. Because the suspension scene that felt thrilling and fun last week may not be something your partner is interested in tonight. The humiliation scene you enjoyed the hell out of yesterday may emotionally hit too close to home for them today. Hell, the flogging scene you’re currently enjoying right this second may change from one lash to the next. That is the accepted risk of play. As I’ve said before, “To act as if one can enjoy kink without risk is a little ridiculous. Part of what makes kink fun—what makes it kink—is that it carries some amount of risk. That’s part of its charge. If all risk is erased, if you’ve controlled and sanitized it to the point of complete safety, you’ve taken kink to a place past vanilla.” And that risk is not a bug or blip in the programming; it is a feature. Which means, by default, consent—obtaining and maintaining it—must be too.That’s why we have so many safeguards and procedures in place—like checklists, check-ins, safewords, negotiations, and aftercare—to handle this type of situation. We wouldn’t have so many tools and ways of dealing with it if it weren’t important.
And, to be fair, even the most vanilla, in-the-dark-mostly-clothed-monogamously-married-missionary sex ought to be playing by these same rules. Because, no matter what you’re doing with a partner, the rules of consent still apply. And, whether you know it or not, you want them to. For both you and your partner. Proper consent is not about covering your ass or going through the motions; it is about prioritizing pleasure. Yours and your partner’s. Consent and pleasure are the same conversation. Because we all want partners—and should be striving to be the kind of partner—who cares about the other person’s pleasure. We all want to be with people who want to be with us. Who want to be doing what we’re doing. Otherwise, what are we doing?
As Corkin points out, even—especially—among kinksters who are into consensual non-consent play, also known as simulated rape play, it’s only fun if everyone’s in on the game. If everyone consents and is getting pleasure from it. That’s why we call it play.
Which is why we need to stop treating consent like it’s some obligatory step we’re forced to take before the fun starts. It’s not a Terms of Agreement contract that we all can afford to treat like yeah, yeah, yeah, I totally read that. Or at least it really shouldn’t be. And really doesn’t have to be. Consent doesn’t have to be an obligation, if you accept it—incorporate it and lay it out—as part of the game. We need to learn how to get comfortable, even get sexy, with asking each other questions. We need to learn how to give each other multiple choices that expand our ideas and definitions of sex and play. And we need to learn to stop seeing that vast and near infinite amount of choices as consolation prizes to penetrative sex.
Because, if penetration—and not mutual pleasure—is your goal, they make toys for that, you know. And consent is never a thing you have to worry about with your inanimate toy.
But, yeah, consent will always be an important and necessary and gratifying part of a partnered relationship, from hookup to committed.
And it should be.
Moreover, you should want it to be.
Read all of Nicola Corkin’s piece “Yes means Yes – feminist musings on consent in sex” here.