BDSM consent and negotiation guidelines

by La quarta corda

19 – When consent breaks


Managing an incident or violation of consent is an extremely complex and sensitive subject that would require a separate article. Therefore, I will try to summarise a few key points in order to reflect on how we might behave if we were involved in such a situation ourselves.

First let’s see what the differences between consent “violation” and “incident” are.

In the case of violation (or breach) of consent, a limit is deliberately overstepped, mostly with the aim of taking advantage of the situation.

By contrast, in a consent incident a limit is crossed unintentionally and doing so doesn’t necessarily offer any advantage.

If with violation one of the two partners commits actual violence, in a consent incident the responsibility may be shared or even be with the person who has suffered the event.

An incident may occur in a session without breaching consent if, for example, you do something that wasn’t considered during negotiation and the other person doesn’t like it, or a partner forgets to inform about a given issue or limit regardless of exchanging information. Conversely, there can be a violation without this constituting an incident when, for example, we are subjected to something that we did not want to do but then realised we actually enjoyed doing it. The differences can therefore be very nuanced.

Be aware that consent violation also occurs when consent cannot be expressed by one of the partners for whatever reason and yet the other, while being aware of the situation, carries out what they wanted to do anyway. An example could be when a person is evidently not fully competent – because they are drugged, drunk, under emotional stress (depression, fear, sadness, etc.) or even asleep or unconscious – and therefore they cannot rationalise and fully express their consent. Violence also occurs when one of the partners takes advantage of a dominant position (D/S relationship, job position, age difference, etc.), material or psychological blackmail to breach a limit or to obtain non-negotiated benefits.

Although consent incidents are not based on willful misconduct, the consequences for those who have suffered them are not always minor.

So let us once again reflect on the fact that the more sincere and precise we are when negotiating, the less risk of accidents we run, and that if we are intentionally unclear about certain aspects we want to leave less defined and “open”, we must also accept the consequences.

The negotiating tips listed at the beginning of these guidelines are good starting points, especially when we are not very well acquainted with each other. I will summarise some of them here:

  • be clear and specific about the limits,
  • don’t negotiate too many aspects,
  • agree on a safeword or safegesture and be ready to use it in case we want to stop the game,
  • proceed step by step,
  • be as informed as possible about what we’re going to do,
  • be responsible for the decisions we make.

As we have seen, consent incidents can take many varied forms, and sometimes it can be difficult to understand how their liability is shared.

In my opinion, it is therefore useful to reflect on some aspects of the problems in consent management.

The first consideration that comes to mind is to accept that we can all make mistakes, both as top and bottom. Unless we find ourselves in a clear violation of consent, sometimes limits are accidentally crossed. That is why we can allow ourselves some flexibility on certain aspects so that we can react to unexpected developments without feeling immediately shocked, reacting firmly but without attacking our partner straightaway. This paragraph is not intended to be an excuse, but an acknowledgment of the fact that we always must take responsibility for our own choices and make them respected, especially when it comes to possible shared responsibilities.

The other consideration is that learning to respect limits and being able to express them effectively are two skills that must be trained at the same time. Sometimes an accident can also happen because the person who suffered damage didn’t make their wishes and limits clear in the first place.

Finally, the third food for thought is to consider how in an accident it is not always easy to understand how responsibility is shared. The limit between doing something we are not fully aware of and realizing that we have been pushed to do it is sometimes very subtle – just as it is between crossing a limit because we haven’t been diligent and doing it because of a certain aspect of the initial negotiation was unclear. Unless there has been a manifest and voluntary breach of consent, responsibility is often shared, although sometimes to varying degrees between the partners. Rather than wanting to blame someone at all costs, it is more useful to take time to reflect, talk with the partner, accept our responsibilities and try to understand how to avoid that situation occurring again.

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18 – Consent

20 – Conclusions

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