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back to ba(sex): 50 shades of consent

 bdsm consent public domain

The most painful whipping anyone in the BDSM community has ever handled is the defamation the lifestyle has suffered at the hands of EL James. The 50 Shades of Grey author has crafted a public relations nightmare for a community that does not necessarily have communications professionals to put forward its interests, particularly in a Western society that has issues talking about sex in its most basic forms.

I must put a disclaimer here:  I have not read the book nor watched the film, based on a number of reviews and the fact I have an active enough imagination to conjure up my own awesome, feminist BDSM and non-BDSM fantasies if I want to (don’t chortle if the safe word is ‘liberation’.) I am familiar enough with a number of analyses and commentary surrounding the novel and film to understand that with the intense stalking and mental manipulation it inherited from its intertextual predecessor, the Twilight series, that this is not BDSM but violence – even in light of a latent contract.

BDSM practitioners (if that’s an adequate term to use) are rightly incensed by the appropriation of their sexuality by someone who has disregarded its principles. For many humans, this is a consensual adult lifestyle and not just about sex. For some, it is devoid of actual genital stimulation unlike your average “vanilla” partnership. I’m not about to launch into a necessarily new defence of the lifestyle in the wake of this text series. But the recent release of the book’s film adaptation has stirred up concepts that also need to be addressed in relation to non-kinky sex.

In many cases, BDSM sex is more consensual than the vanilla sex many of us would have. Because of the intense physical sensations of BDSM, it warrants full cooperation from parties involved to be successful. In research for a previous Lip article, an Australian sexologist told me that when done correctly, the consent standards of BDSM are quite proactive.

‘There’s quite clear and reasoned guidelines for and very structured negotiation that goes on to ensure everyone’s safety,’ she said.

This is, of course, not to say that all people who participate in kink are on board with the consent requirements necessary in BDSM – or vanilla sex. But it is an ideal that is upheld by many members of the community.

Our level of concern should not just be levelled at the depictions of violence passing to many as BDSM, however. We should always be aware that without negotiating a range of sensory cues, we could be assaulting our partner.

Instead of borrowing from the handiwork of EL James, we need to – as is our feminist refrain – ask first of what we like, don’t like, are open to or not. We should not wait to be hot and heavy to do so, either. Sure, asking when hot and heavy is good but as in anything, research is necessary to ascertain any situational considerations (like, maybe your partner is only into head if protection is used because safer sex is sexy) and ensure partners are of sound mind. It doesn’t matter if you and your partners opt into being subs, doms or equals: discuss and discern your boundaries.

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