Imagine the scene–I am tied up and vulnerable, unable to defend myself. Stephen is standing there with a riding crop, bringing it down on my naked bottom over and over, watching the color change to a bright, angry red. I am begging him to stop, tears rolling down my face. He tells him that it’s his choice when we stop, not mine, and blithely continues.
That sounds horribly non-consensual and abusive, doesn’t it? I recently had a conversation about BDSM with a vanilla (non-kinky) friend of mine who doesn’t know about me and Stephen. She’s decided that BDSM is where the poor submissive has pain and torment inflicted on her by some overpowering sadist, and ends up suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Admitted her entire experience was based on Fifty Shades, but it did get me thinking about consent and what it means to me and Stephen.
I’m going to rewrite that scene from my perspective:
I am tied up and vulnerable, unable to defend myself. Before we start playing, Stephen and I talk about what we both wanted from the scene. Stephen knows my limits. In fact they’re written down and we revisit them from time to time to make tweaks and adjustments. I give him permission to play within those limits and if he thinks we can both take it, to stretch those limits, within reason. If there are padlocks used, we both know where the several spare keys are. If it’s rope that Stephen’s used, we both know where he’s deliberately placed the EMT shears.
Stephen is there with the riding crop, bringing it down on my naked bottom over and over, watching the color change to a bright, angry red. I am begging him to stop but I haven’t used my safewords yet, so he knows he can continue. He keeps a constant eye out for my hand movements. We’ve worked out through experience that I will stretch my hands out in a classic “stop” gesture if it gets too much. If he sees that gesture, he backs off slightly, keeping the scene going, but staying within my limits.
Tears are rolling down my face, but like the color and sensation change in my bottom, it’s something that I’m not even aware of. The heady mixture of pleasure and pain (“subspace”) has changed my perspective on things. I’m starting to float off into a very happy place after a cathartic experience.
Stephen tells him that it’s his choice, not mine, when we stop. Still monitoring me, he appears to ignore me and continue. At this point, it is his choice when we stop and I put my whole trust in him. I don’t want him to stop suddenly–I have adrenaline surging round my system and a sudden stop leaves this with nowhere to go, except making my chronic fatigue syndrome flare up over the next few days. He needs to bring me down slowly, and he does. At the end of the scene, he unties me, wraps me in a blanket and hugs me tightly until I am ready to sit up and have some water, again something we know to do through negotiation and experience.
My point is that superficially, the scene looks non-consensual. But when you look more closely, every tiny detail has been negotiated. In addition to the scene itself, we have two bits of paperwork in place–first a BDSM checklist so we explicitly know each other’s limits. There’s no guesswork required or any room for misunderstanding. Second, on the first day of every month, Stephen gets a signed letter from me that is valid only for that month stating that any marks or bruises come from consensual play. Sounds a bit like overkill in some ways, but it’s important to us as it gives us a distinct boundary of consent.