How to Know When You Have Consent
We’ve talked about consent a LOT around here. (Scroll to the end for a list if you want to deep-dive into this topic). And we’ll continue doing so because (in our view) it’s one of the only two “rules” for BDSM and power exchange. The other being communication. Without consent, you don’t have BDSM — you have abuse masquerading as BDSM.
But what does it mean to give consent? Is it as simple as saying, “Yes” or “No”?
Sometimes (maybe most of the time) yes, it is that simple. But we’re kinksters and some of us say, “No, no, no!” when we really mean “Fuck yes! More, please and thank you!” So…how do we really know when we have consent?
Here are some ways to know for sure.
Ask for It
The last thing anyone needs to do is guess if they have consent. If you don’t know, stop until you do know. The quickest, easiest way to know is to ask. We most often discuss this as checking in with each other for the safe of safety. But it pulls double duty as a consent check, as well.
- “Can I keep going?”
- “Do you want this?”
- “Give me a color!” (That one is John Brownstone’s favorite. We use the traffic light system, and he knows I’m all in when I give a green light.)
- “I want to [insert all the fuckery you want to do]. What do you think?”
- “Tell me what you want right now.”
- “Can we [insert fuckery you want]?”
There are infinite ways to ask for consent. You can make it matter-of-fact and no nonsense or you can work it into the sexy scene you’ve set for each other. We recommend both — get consent before things get kinky and fun, and make sure you still have consent while you’re playing.
Pay Attention to Body Language
Some people read body language really well. Some people don’t. And, in general, it’s never a good idea to “read” your partner when you can simply ask them. But there’s a lot of information to be found in a person’s silent cues. Especially since some kinksters (including a lot of submissives) will verbally say yes when they’re less than enthusiastic — often because they think they’re supposed to agree to whatever their Dom wants to do, no matter how they feel about it.
Like the words we use for consent, the cues a person gives off can be almost anything. The longer you’re with a partner, the more you may understand these signs.
- Becoming quiet when they were just talkative.
- Not making eye contact (and not because of your kinky scene).
- Shrugging you off or backing away.
- Moving slower than they typically do
- Appearing hesitant in some way
There are all kinds of reasons why someone may exhibit this body language, and not all of them will connected to their enthusiasm and willingness to consent. But when you see these cues, it’s important to stop and ask. Get clarification on how they feel. Find out if they’re hesitant for some reason. Sometimes they’re nervous because it’s new. Sometimes they changed their mind. And sometimes it’s none of those things and may not have anything to do with the kinky moment you’re in.
Make Sure You’re Both on the Same Page
A big part of the consent conversation these days tends to focus on enthusiastic and informed consent. We’ll get to enthusiastic, but let’s start with informed. In order to fully give consent, both (all) people involved need to know what they’re agreeing to. This goes beyond, “Can I spank you?” and “Yes, you can spank me.” Using spanking as the example, there’s more information to be gathered and shared.
- What kind of spanking will this be? With a hand? A paddle? A flogger?
- What position will the bottom/submissive be in? Over the knee? Standing? Bent over the bed?
- How long will the spanking last? For a certain number of smacks? Until a specific outcome (like tears)?
- Why is the spanking happening? Is this punishment, funishment, therapeutic, or just because you both want it?
- Have you discussed the risks associated with this kind of spanking? Marks? Bruises? A safeword?
The longer you’re in a relationship with each other, the more you’ll form a shorthand to share this information without the need for a long conversation. But until you develop it, spell it out for each other. This can be as sexy as you want it to be.
“I’m going to bend you over my knee and paddle your ass until you cry, babygirl.”
You can follow that with a question or give your partner time and space to respond. If they don’t give you a response that gives you clear consent to move forward, follow up with something like, “What do you think of that?” or “Is that what you want?”
How Much Enthusiasm is Required?
Just how enthusiastic does a partner have to be to give complete consent? It’s not always as simple as “They must be the most enthusiastic they’ve ever been in their life!” In fact, please don’t hold your breath waiting for that every single time. Like all things, enthusiasm can be felt in varying degrees. For me personally, it’s less about how enthusiastic or excited I am and much more about how emphatic (or certain) I am. I want to be 100 percent (or at least 95 percent sure) that this is what I want to do. Even if I’m tired and would rather go to sleep, I might say yes, not because I’m super excited for kinky fuckery but because I’m willing to do it for John Brownstone.
Enthusiasm gets complicated at times. I can say, “Yeah, sure, I guess” and be perfectly willing. Someone else might say, “Yeah, I guess so” and feel hesitant. That’s a moment when it’s important to check in.
Bottomline on enthusiasm: If you don’t know into it your partner is, stop, check in, ask directly, and don’t move forward until there’s no doubt for either of you. But also, it’s not always absolutely necessary for a partner to be jumping up and down in rapturous joy for them to enthusiastically consent to fuckery, either.
Make It Safe to Say No
Giving consent is one thing. There’s also a matter of withdrawing consent. Both partners should always have the freedom and ability to withdraw consent. That can be through a safeword or simply by saying, “No” or “I don’t want to.” That might be true but not everyone will feel comfortable doing so. How do you make it safe to say no? Again, there’s no single way and it’ll depend on the person involved but talking about it is key.
- Remind your partner they can say no or safeword whenever they need to.
- Ask for a color. (This isn’t just a test of enthusiasm. It’s always a way to gauge willingness. Red means stop and sometimes it’s easier to say it when asked.)
- Be calm and understanding when your partner uses a safeword or says no.
- Never throw the situation in a partner’s face later. (“We could have had fun but you said no!” — That’s a total douche move.)
- Withdraw your own consent when necessary. (Set the example that it can happen safely.)
- Explain to your partner how them not withdrawing consent will make you feel if you find out later they didn’t want to do something. (John Brownstone told me early on that he would be very upset to know he moved forward with fuckery that I didn’t fully consent to.)
Most importantly, be consistent with whatever methods you use to make it safe for a partner to say no. What makes the most impact on a person isn’t what you say one time, it’s what you say and do over and over again.
If it’s safe to say no when necessary, that can make it easier to say yes the rest of the time.
Other Discussions on Consent
Consent is More Than Yes or No (episode 30)
Consent in Every Aspect of Life (episode 115)
Non-Sexual Moments of Consent (blog post)
Consent will never be a one and done thing in your kinky life. It’s an ongoing process, and every time you engage in your fuckery or your relationship, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got consent to move forward. That’s why we discuss it so much around here. When you join the 30 Days of D/s program, this will be one of your prompts to discuss with a partner, think about for yourself, or make a topic of discussion in your kink community!