Negotiation and Consent Myths, Part 2


Okay, I’ll go ahead and admit that I stacked the deck in part I of this post. I deliberately put most of the myths I figured a lot of people could get behind there, and then shoved all the ones that I figured people would argue like hell with me over here in part II. Oh well, here goes.

Myth 7: Responsibility for the bottom’s safety is solely the top’s responsibility!

Nope, sorry, not buying. In any scene, we both share responsibility for our safety. You want me to suspend you? Take a class and learn the risks. You want me to do knife play on you? Take a class and learn the risks. Sure, if you’re new, I’ll go over the basic list of cautions with you beforehand as a cover-my-ass maneuver. But for goddess’s sake, I teach classes on this shit so I can PLAY with people, not turn every scene into a teaching opportunity. If you don’t come to my classes, that’s not my fucking fault. Topping you does not make me responsible for educating you.

Also, can we get back to the fact that bottoms are always going to be the people in the best position to monitor their own safety? Assuming that tops are the primary people responsible here seems like a swell way to make sure that lots more people get injured. I got injured doing a suspension the other day, and I didn’t turn to my top and say, “It’s your fault for not noticing that my costume was too tight!” What the fuck kind of sense does that make? (And yes, I seriously was injured by the bad combo of costume + rope. Risks even I don’t usually consider…) Meanwhile, one of the few times I got pretty annoyed with a top was when someone was knife topping me, I told him he was cutting my foot, he looked at my foot and assured me I was fine (it was the bottom of my feet, so I couldn’t see) and kept going… and sure enough, he had fucking cut the bottom of my foot. Not cool. That arrogance comes from a mentality of “tops know best,” which they often don’t. Responsible bottoming means looking out for your own well-being, and responsible topping includes not dismissing the information bottoms provide you when they can feel their own bodies and you can’t.

I think everyone is in more danger as long as we fail as a community to grow a sense of MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY between tops and bottoms.
Mind you, I’m not saying that tops aren’t responsible for bottom’s safety. I’m saying that tops AND bottoms are responsible for each others’ safety.

In short: you don’t get to skip the class just because you “only” want to bottom for the activity.
Myth 8: Bottomspace is compromising, but topspace isn’t!

Okay, I may have lied when I said that #1 in Part 1 was my biggest pet peeve. This one might actually be it.

Soooo… I hate to break it to you, folks, but psychological research has consistently demonstrated that everyone makes more compromising decisions when aroused, although men much more so than women. That’s right. You make worse decisions just by standing next to that hot person you’re negotiating with, and that’s more true if you’re a dude.

I get so tired of hearing about how easy it is for tops to take advantage of poor defenseless bottoms. Newsflash: bottoms can totally take advantage of tops too. Sure, my hands may be tied, but I can get into a world of trouble with my mouth on your ____. And I can often still grab your ___ with my fingers too. I remain very conscious of the fact that (to the best of my knowledge, and knock on wood) the closest I’ve ever come to violating someone’s consent while super-super-spaced… I was literally and figuratively on the bottom of the scene, but I can’t even honestly say I was in bottomspace.

I’m a switch. I’ve been in subspace, domspace, switchspace, bottomspace, topspace, slutspace–I know I haven’t done everything, but I’ve seen a lot of the kinky galaxy. And I am 100% certain that my decision-making abilities were equally compromised in each of those spaces. No, my experiences are not representative of everyone everywhere. But let’s stop treating bottoms like helpless victims, okay? And bottoms, don’t act like helpless victims. Being in subspace is neither more nor less of an excuse for acting like an idiot than being in domspace.

Forevermore, can we please agree that EITHER it’s acceptable for tops to proposition bottoms for “new things” mid-scene because we seem to think it’s just fine for bottoms to proposition tops mid-scene, OR we say that neither one is acceptable? (Personally, I’m voting for the first one. But I’ll settle for consistency).
I’m more than willing to concede that under certain circumstances, mid-scene propositions from tops to bottoms can feel like implicit threats or coercions (especially, if, say, choking, strangling, or knives are involved). But that’s entirely different from saying that tops who proposition bottoms mid-scene are “taking advantage of the intoxicating effects of subspace” (that’s a direct quote from another post I read here on fet recently). If you think that it isn’t an intoxicating power trip to have your high heel poised on someone’s throat while they look up at you pleadingly, half longing for you to step harder and simultaneously terrified that they will… Well, come on, why do you think tops love doing this shit?

And if we continue the myth that tops are the ones who are totally responsible for scenes, who the fuck has to take responsibility for switch scenes? I don’t care which side you’re on: your decision-making abilities are compromised when we scene, and my decision-making abilities are compromised when we scene. Let’s both admit that we signed up for this and take responsibility for the shit we do.

This principle has personally become my primary focal point of pre-scene negotiation with experienced players.
Rather than focusing on “am I allowed to touch you ___ with ___?”, nowadays, most of my pre-scene negotiations with new-to-me (but not new-to-scene/kink) folks focus on:
“Do you agree that we are grown-ups who can take responsibility for what we do, regardless of which side of this we’re playing on? And promise to tell each other when we don’t like what’s happening? Can we move this along in a way that feels natural and smooth without having to carefully discuss each step along the way? Do you think you can tell the difference between my squealed ‘nonononono’ and my grumpy ‘seriously, don’t do that’? Do we both agree that safewords are, under most circumstances, just an annoying last resort? And, given these conditions, are we still reasonably certain that neither of us will leave the scene feeling violated, except in that good way?”
As a switch who likes to play with switches and enjoys unexpected switching mid-scene, I find these negotiations especially useful since I want to make sure that we’re both going to take similar levels of responsibility for what happens regardless of who’s on top at any given moment.

Myth 9: If you negotiate mid-scene, you must be bad at this.

…or you might be someone who likes for “scenes” to feel like “dates.”
…or you might snarkily observe that every scene is constantly being re-negotiated in every moment, whether the players are conscious of it or not.
…or you might genuinely be a shitty negotiator.

If we get out of the “contract” mentality of consent, and start heading more towards an “ongoing negotiation and conversation” mentality, I think we are far less likely to end up with consent violations. Partly because it’s a mentality constructed around personal responsibility for consent and pleasure, partly because no one should feel trapped by their pre-scene negotiations with it (“wellllll, I said ‘non-sexual knife scene’, and I guess that knife on my pussy isn’t technically sexual, so it would be unfair of me to safeword…”), and partly because then everyone is recognizing that regularly checking in with their partners (however they choose to do it) is a necessary aspect of ensuring safety and ongoing consent.

Myth 10: Getting consent for sex is more important than getting consent for other activities!

This one intrigues me. Society expects people to have sex. But it doesn’t expect people to say, want to be tied up, stepped upon, and spit on. So why, here in our peculiar little subculture, have we decided that someone has committed a more serious transgression if they try to sex you in an un-negotiated way than if they, say, try to humiliate you in an un-negotiated way?

For me personally, doing un-negotiated things that I find humiliating is much worse than doing un-negotiated sexual things. But I definitely feel like an outlier on that one. I can get way more sympathy from people by telling them that someone once tried to lick my pussy (specifically forbidden) while I was tied up (negotiated) than I can by telling them that someone tied me up (negotiated) and aggressively threw me down naked onto the dirt in front of a crowd of people (not negotiated). Both of these things actually happened. Know which one pissed me off more? Definitely being thrown down naked in the dirt in public, because that’s humiliating to me and I never want someone to do that to me. But I actually like for people to lick my pussy.

My point here is that we as a subculture are quick to condemn people for making unwanted sexual advances on people that they’re engaging in kink with, when in reality, I think it’s a pretty understandable offense (although definitely it is an offense) to be more turned on than you expected to be by the naked pussy dangling in front of your face. It is less forgivable in my apparently eccentric opinion to do (kinky) things to people that they just never like and that are way more socially unacceptable in the first place. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m saying that both these things are bad. But we as a subculture seem to take it way more seriously if, say, a guy sticks his fingers up a woman’s pussy without her consent while she’s dangling in his ropes than if he whipped her or spit on her without her consent when she was tied up. The difference in those reactions is very odd to me.

Conclusion: Stop treating kink like it’s special

I’m very resistant to the idea that the way we minimize consent violations is by being more rigid and structured in our negotiations. I think the opposite approach—one that emphasizes real-time ongoing communication and shared responsibility—is the way that we actually minimize consent violations. If we negotiate a rope scene, and I forget to tell you, “no crotch rope, please,” I don’t get to scream at you, “you’re a consent violator!” if you try to put crotch rope on me without asking. If you start to put rope on my bits, and I fail to say, “no crotch rope please,” and then spend the rest of the scene feeling physically and emotionally uncomfortable because there’s rope in my crotch that I didn’t want there—who the fuck does that benefit? Yes, you should probably ask before doing something you know many people object to, but I should also have to take responsibility for my side of this arrangement as well by voicing my objection. COMMUNICATION IS A TWO-WAY STREET.

Let’s agree to treat consent as an ongoing process in a complex interaction. No amount of pre-scene negotiation could ever substitute for authentic and meaningful in-scene communication. The more we treat kink like we need a signed contract to engage in it, the further we get from a mentality that lets us do the things we love and keep each other actually safe and happy.

As always, you’re free to disagree with me in the comments below, but only if you do so in a respectful fashion. If you start being aggressive, start name-calling, or are just generally douchey towards me or anyone else in these comments, I will ruthlessly delete what you write. Also, please follow basic netiquette. If your “comment” is more than half as long as the original post, go write your own post and link to it in the comments. <83 IPCM

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