Subspace and consent
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen online discussions pop up that centered on the shouldn’t-it-be-simple concept of consent. Quite honestly, a lot of it sickens me. There is a LOT of blame-the-victim stuff that is sadly reminiscent of what I heard when I assisted a licensed psychologist in his group therapy for sexual offenders. And by “sadly reminiscent” I mean “exactly the same.”
For the record, my discussion of BDSM matters, unless I specifically state otherwise, takes place in the framework of my monogamous relationship with Mistress Delila. I do not play casually, and never have. I don’t go to play parties and have no interest in doing so. I don’t care if there is a “scene” because I wouldn’t be part of it anyway.
So why should I care what scene-players are saying? Beyond the “no man is an island” thing, there is the fact that what public or semi-public players do and say impacts the way society will view me. I don’t want to be associated with rapists or psychotic abusive assholes. I want my love-style of BDSM FemDom/malesub to be understood and appreciated for what it is – the way Mistress Delila and I express our love and mutual arousal.
Consent, to me, is simple: It’s me giving permission for a person to engage with me in a particular action. It is not something that can be given for future acts, nor can it be revoked or altered retroactively. It is present-tense, ongoing, moment-by-moment.
My power-release to Mistress Delila is complete in that I surrender everything to Her that is possible to surrender. I worded that carefully, because I want to stress that there are some things it is not possible to surrender. For an extreme example, I could not surrender my life (meaning, offer to be killed). In a more realistic fashion, I cannot consent to abandon my parental duties to Her – I continue to be a father according to the best of my ability (though She is a valued partner and advisor). For my purpose here, I cannot surrender my ability to consent – and therefore to not consent – because it is an innate part of being a human in a free society.
There is, however, such a thing as “standing consent.” This is consent that is continually given until actively revoked. This is given with the understanding that Mistress Delila will behave as a sane person and not, for example, try to ass-fuck me in the middle of Piggly Wiggly…or any other supermarket. Our list of activities that are allowable mesh well together, and I know where the lines are drawn for Her and She knows where the lines are drawn for me. This is not the outcome of a single conversation or checklist, but the mutual understanding gained for a long-term and ongoing relationship.
I don’t like the term “enthusiastic consent,” though. In my mind, that would preclude entering any activity that I am not sure I would enjoy beforehand. Can I be enthusiastic about…I don’t know…making woodchuck sounds during orgasm? I’m not sure. Is it something I’d do if She wanted? Yes, without a doubt. But I couldn’t be enthusiastic about it, and I wouldn’t try to fake it.
One of the activities that Mistress truly enjoys is to roll a bit of ice over my skin. It makes Her giggle. It makes Her aroused. It is not something I am enthusiastic about. It makes me cringe to think about it. I hate the feeling of ice on my skin. Mistress does not have to ask for consent every single time, though, because it is part of the standing consent we maintain. For me, it’s kind of like if She wanted me to have dinner with a friend of Hers that I don’t like – I’m not going to enjoy it, but I’m going to do it because I love Her and want Her to enjoy it. Having been married twice, I can speak with some authority when I say that married couples make that sort of sacrifice for each other often.
It also neglects the power-arrangement of our relationship. I thoroughly enjoy getting a spanking and am generally enthusiastic about receiving one. However, early in our relationship, I violated a rule and received a spanking as punishment. I was not enthusiastic about getting it, and I didn’t enjoy it. I consented to it because it solidified and upheld the dynamic that both of us wanted to have.
I say all of this because I want to address the idea that it is always the responsibility of the submissive partner to use safewords and to actively withdraw consent. In short, that is a stupid idea. It totally neglects the dynamic that I want to achieve.
A big part of the ongoing consensual nature of our relationship is that She will continue to seek consent on an ongoing basis. It continues to be my responsibility to give it. But it is Her responsibility to make sure that it is given. This is not splitting hairs. It is being realistic.
I enjoy sensory deprivation and bondage. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, it allows Her complete control over what I experience and where the activities lead. Second, it takes away even modest attempts on my part to influence what She does. If I can’t even beg with my eyes; then I am truly vulnerable and She is truly in charge. It is physically impossible for me, at times, to speak or to communicate in almost any way. THAT IS THE POINT OF IT.
So how does She maintain consent? A good part of it is that She knows what my boundaries are, She knows what Her boundaries are, and She is willing to maintain control over Her own desires. She checks on me constantly – sometimes through touch, sometimes verbally, sometimes by lifting the blindfold for a moment or two. It is one of the reasons I feel comfortable with giving blanket consent to Her – I know She is not going to abuse it. I know I am safe. I know She will deprive Her desire of going further for the sake of being safe. I know that our continued loving relationship means more to Her than ANYTHING She could possibly want to do to me.
Does “subspace” change this dynamic? Well, first, I want to say that “subspace” (as I’ve heard it described – I’ve never experienced it) sounds a lot like a dissociative fugue state. I think the term gets used incorrectly a lot. I have had a dissociative episode (relating to childhood abuse), and it is not something I would ever want to repeat. I have also been so taken away with the experience of masochistic and submissive pleasure that I was blissfully non-verbal. However, I was (in my mind) very affectionate and cuddly during that time. I didn’t want it to end, and I would love to go back there.
However, Mistress Delila was uncomfortable with it. When I sensed Her distress at my non-verbal-ness, I reassured Her that I was okay. She trusted my self-awareness enough to allow me to have my bliss. She didn’t understand it, and I don’t know exactly how to explain it to Her. What’s important for this discussion, however, is that She stopped and immediately went into care-mode when I entered unfamiliar territory.
It is conceivable that persons in this situation could find a spot where the non-verbal-ness allowed things to progress to a point where consent had not been given. In that case, it is absolutely the fault of the Dominant for pushing that far – even if the activities were things they had discussed and both of them thought were hot…even if they were things they had done at other times!
Consent cannot be given – even standing consent – if it cannot be revoked. This is what Mistress Delila understood when She shifted into care-mode. I was fully conscious of what was going on, and I wanted more – but She refused to go on until She could be sure that was actually what I wanted and WHAT I WAS CAPABLE OF CONSENTING TO. It was my responsibility as Her lover, as Her submissive, and as a human being, to shake off the non-verbal blissfulness and make sure She was in a place where She could enjoy my reaction. That meant saying that I was okay and struggling for the words to explain it, even if it wasn’t a good description.
It doesn’t mean that Mistress Delila would have been a bad person to continue with things She knew I enjoyed or things I had previously consented to do. Good people can make bad decisions. A single consent violation, under the circumstances I’ve outlined here, do not throw everything into jeopardy. BUT a good person would figure out the consent violation and try to make amends – and then figure out how to make sure that consent violation didn’t happen again. Someone who blows it off as the sub’s fault for “spacing out” or being non-verbal isn’t being a good person. They are blaming their misdeeds and mistakes on someone else’s temporary state. Even then, they aren’t a “bad person” until they laugh it off, shrug it off, and set about doing it again.
This should be simple stuff. It really should. But it is something that most people don’t stop to think about because you can’t understand fully what it’s like until you are there. Contingency plans are only as good as foresight allows. I understand that. I believe in second-chances, when warranted. But I also believe permission is better than forgiveness. I believe that, when doubt sets in, it’s okay to stop and get more information. Yeah, it may “break the scene” but the people in the scene are more important than the scene itself. Broken scenes heal faster than broken people.