Friday, March 25, 2011

The Space Between "No" and "Yes"

On my earlier post, Roadmaps of Consent, aj, asked this:

One big thing your article brought for me was a heightened awareness that "Consent" is not a one-way street -- asking requires that someone provide response. Sometimes when there is no response, or when the response is unclear, I assume consent is not present. This is the safest way to approach that. Would you mind providing more of your own insights about this??
This has actually been on my mind for some time. Good consent does go both ways. I've done things with people who wouldn't or couldn't be clear about consent, and I generally regret it.

A small clarification before I go further: in a BDSM context, "consent" is not always identical to "wanting." Some of my girl's fantasies are driven by me doing things to her that she doesn't want. She can enjoy something after the fact, and want it to happen again, but not want it in the moment. It's a masochist's dilemma. Pain is aversive, and if you get into heavy pain play, there will be a part of you that says, "ow, that hurts, make it stop!" It's just that the part that says "Yes! More! Good!" is bigger. I would never set out to do something to my girl that she hadn't consented to, but both of us enjoy it when I occasionally do things that she doesn't want.

The other side of this: people who want something but won't say "yes" when you ask about it. These are people who don't trust their own desires, who want sex or BDSM or whatever without the negotiation. At the very least, I'm nervous doing things with these people. If a person can't say "Yes, I consent," to something, how can I trust them to tell me if something goes wrong? Maybe I unexpectedly hit an emotional trigger, or maybe I'm poking her clit too hard, or maybe a rope slipped and is pressing on a nerve. I'd feel bad if something like this happened and I didn't notice and fix it. Yes, I'm a sadist, but I also like to be in control. If you're going to be in pain, I want it to be precisely the kind of pain I choose. How else can I make sure that it's a safe and rewarding experience for everyone?

Some of these people as unskilled communicators. I'm sympathetic to them. Or society shames people who communicate openly about their sexual needs and desires. If I'm going to play (even lightly) with someone who has a hard time saying yes, I spend a lot of time emphasizing, "You can say no whenever you want, and I'll stop, and we can watch a movie instead! No hard feeling at all." I also try to praise and reward them when they bring up things they'd like to do, or if they explicitly say yes when I suggest something.

People who won't own their desires are more complicated.

Again, I'm sympathetic here. Most people are taught that they shouldn't have desires, or at least desires outside of the norm. A deliberate refusal to engage in consent-based negotiation is often a form of self-protection. It gives people a way to get their sexual needs met without having to admit to their desires. I see the appeal.

That said, if you can't admit that you want it, I'm not going to give it to you. I have to protect myself, too, and consent, open, explicit, you-can-take-it-away-at-any-time-but-you-can't-deny-that-you-gave-it consent, it protects me. "I didn't like it" and "I didn't consent to it" are really different things, and situations in which the two can be confused are extraordinarily problematic for everyone involved.

So I don't do it. Unless we have a really good working, consensual sexual relationship, where I can trust you to say no, you have to say yes.

"Yes" is sexy, too. For the sadist in me the most delicious consent comes when I have a whip held over some sensitive part of her, and I ask her to tell me that she wants it. I like being able to watch fear and desire fight behind her eyes before she gasps out, "Yes."

1 comment:

  1. "If you can't admit that you want it, I'm not going to give it to you." I like this. I like it a lot.

    While I see your sympathy for those who can't admit what they want, I also think they perpetuate a very negative stereotype, which does none of us any favours. The existence of this want-it-but-can't-admit-it behaviour is used as the excuse of many a person who has just taken what they want from someone unwilling.

    I think we all have a responsibility when it comes to consent.

    Thanks for the good post.