Illustrations by Theo Blaze and Nicolas Brunet

The Dominant has control, decides what is to be done by or to the submissive. That control begins when the subs consents. The consent is the crux of the matter. The scene may be light or heavy, full of pain or humiliation, or all of them. No matter how difficult to bear, the sub must know that he has consented to what is happening. If not to the specifics, to the scene.

I see consent in two forms, the general and the specific. General consent is the agreement that the sub will take what is done to him for a period of time. Specific consent is for what is done at the moment. As each strike of the Dom’s hand contacts the sub’s bare ass, the sub has consented. Because he has generally agreed to the spanking.

Consent is reached in a conversation before the session begins. Limits are discussed, what the sub feels he can and cannot bear. In addition, what turns the sub on should be discussed. The subs interests are part of gaining consent because doing some portion of this encourages the sub to accept what the Dom does. It is not required that you ask about every single action planned, but it does mean you obtain consent for the themes. If pain is to be administered, how much? Have the sub explain what they know or expect their limits to be. “I have taken 30 strikes of a belt at full force”, or “I don’t think I can take anything beyond a hand to start”.

If a sub mentions a limit, the presumption is he will accept up to that point, but no further. The sub says he has a limit 30 beltings, I can deliver 30, not 31. Consent can also change within the scene. If I have delivered 30 beltings, and ask the sub if I can deliver another, and he agrees, that is my 31. Requesting a change in consent during a scene is a delicate matter. It is one thing to push the limits slightly is part of the dynamic, obtaining consent for that push is acceptable, provided the sub is as willing days after the scene as in the middle of it.

Consent must also be valid. Valid consent means the person is able to make rational decisions concerning their own welfare. Under the law, anyone under the age of majority in your  jurisdiction cannot give consent, and must be excluded from all scenes. Legal systems evaluate if a person has the mental capacity to give consent to restrict their own rights, such as pleading guilty in a criminal trial. The legal standard in general is if a reasonable person would have doubts of a person’s competence, they cannot provide consent. Say a prospective sub arrives under the obvious influence of narcotics. No reasonable man would believe he could make rational decisions concerning his own welfare. He cannot offer consent. He cannot participate in the scene. 

In the midst of a scene, the sub is in a stupor, awed by your abilities, and thinking he can take anything. At this point he is not in full control of his mental faculties, so he may not be able to provide valid consent. It is a delicate situation, so you have to be sure you are obtaining consent to something the sub will ratify once he has left his high. This is virtually impossible if you do not know the sub. Once you have established a rapport, you will know what modifications to the currently enacting scene the sub will later agree to. Ratification of a consent change is valid only once the sub has returned to normal thought, so most definitely not during aftercare.

It is not ethical to coerce consent. The line between strong suggestion and coercion is very hard to distinguish. The more you know the sub, the more you know what buttons to push. Using challenges (“I bet you can’t take X”), or competition (“My sub yesterday took 10 more”), or another tactic can be an effective tool to expand a sub’s limits. Do so only if you know the sub will accept it once they are away from you and are thinking clearly. The question here is not can you obtain agreement from the sub at the time, but in a few days, will the sub be accepting of the change you got.

Actions such as blackmail or hypnosis invalidate consent. By definition, these remove the ability of a sub to act restricted to their limits. Blackmail involves the credible threat of harm to the target if demands are not followed. Hypnosis is an attempt to mold the thoughts of a sub, reducing inhibitions. Both exert an unnatural pressure on the sub and as such the sub’s ability to give valid consent is removed.

Another area where consent is difficult to untangle is “consensual non-consent” role-play. Say the sub has a fantasy of being kidnapped at an unknown time, taken to a remote cabin and raped. On the face of it, these are abduction, forcible restraint, and sexual assault. All are significant charges in every jurisdiction. A concerned witness, or even the sub can call in authorities during or after the scene and the result can be criminal charges. If the Dom agrees to this, in addition to the logistical challenges, the Dom needs to have many, very detailed discussions with the sub about why this is a fantasy, and how to deal with any problems either can envision. For a scene so intense that laws are technically being broken, it is advisable to take extraordinary actions to not only confirm consent, but that the sub is completely willingly surrendering it. I would suggest including a number of other people, known by the sub and perhaps not the Dom for the sub to review his desires and express his consent. Physical and social distance from the Dom means the consent is given without influence. It is further wise for the Dom to then contact these people and provide details of the plan, such as the date and locations. If one or more is available to watch, even if unobserved by the sub, that provides more security. Not just for the sub, but if the law is involved, there will be uninvolved witnesses able to attest to the consent given. I cannot address how the legal authorities would view these witnesses, and how any possible charges would be changed. It is a very real risk. Consider that for any possible scene.

During the exercise of the general consent in the scene, each action requires the specific consent. This does not mean you have to ask if the sub consents to every action you will take. The sub already has with the general consent. Specific consent is revoked with the use of the safeword during an action. Safewords are an unequivocal statement that everything must stop, and are established by the start of the scene. At the point of utterance (or signal, if gagged), consent is withdrawn and the Dom must stop. General consent is suspended until the Dom and sub can discuss if the current activity can be resumed, change activities, or terminate the scene. As with pushing beyond limits, resuming after safeword use requires being very sure the sub is willing not only at the moment, but will continue to be on later reflection.

Establishment of a safeword not only helps to build trust, but reminds the sub that he has and continues to consent to the actions in the scene. He has given his consent, he has it in his power to remove it, but every second is a new submission to his Dom. Once used, the Dom must stop, even if previously agreed limits have not been reached. In the course of a scene, something may have changed with the submissive. The sub may have had a sudden onset of a physical ailment, like bad cramps, or the introduction of a material the sub is allergic to. It is also possible that an element of the scene has mentally bothered the sub. I once had a sub safeword when I put a horsebit in his mouth. He was not able to articulate what the problem was at the time, but he was very upset. His use of the safeword prevented the scene from being a disaster for him. We were able to continue in a modified way.

Consent is not limited to subs. Some subs have particular interests and will request these as part of a scene. In some cases, the request may not be something the Dom is interested in. A Dom should consider if he is willing to engage in those activities or not. It could be a personal taste, or there may be ramifications if the request is extreme. As with the sub, the Dom can stop if he does not feel he can continue. His position as the instigator of the instant action gives him control, so he can halt as needed. I do feel it is important to explain to the sub if the Dom withdraws from something the sub has requested.

Whether a single scene, or an ongoing relationship, consent is vital to the agreement between Dom and sub. It is the surrender the sub offers. He gives up power willingly, and the Dom must use this power in a way that does not betray the sub’s trust. The pain they take, humiliation they bear, none of that is as sweet as the sub offering up their consent for it all to happen.

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