A Beginner’s Guide To Consent

A Beginner’s Guide To Consent


It is often said that the one thing that separates BDSM from abuse is consent. It is very true. If you are going to engage with someone in impact play calling them derogatory names, for example, you need to 100% know that it is what is 100% wanted beyond any shadow of a doubt. And you need to know it is physically and mentally safe for all to engage in that play. Whether it’s bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, or sadomasochism, or a combination of these, you carry significant risk of causing physical, mental and emotional damage to the participants. So it should not be entered into lightly.

It is really important to read up current health and safety guidelines by peers to practice kinks safely.

On rare occasions, where consent was not clear cut and a violation takes place, the person aggrieved has every right to cry foul and contact the law for protection. Any marks on a body is considered assault/battery in most countries and different states will have different understandings of BDSM issues.

So without consent you will be committing assault and/or abuse. Should you seek consent inappropriately you will be violating consent. You could get a criminal record and land yourself in prison.

The purpose of this writing is to cover the basics of consent. It is not an all knowing reference point. It is important to get in contact with others in your local kink community to discuss these issues and how to best interpret them in your relationships and play environments.

Understanding Personal Boundaries

When anyone interacts with someone else there are certain rules of engagement to consider. Social norms, manners and etiquette. The nature of the relationship will determine how you interact. The level of physical and verbal intimacy will vary considerably from person to person. You may hug your grandma, but you would not do so with your boss at work. You may curse and use slang around friends, but you wouldn’t if you are in a job interview. In personal relationships, therefore, you have to be very mindful of what your partner(s) consider appropriate. Everyone has different boundaries that we need to be sure to know, and make it our business to get to know, to be able to successfully build meaningful, positive, uplifting, non-threatening relationships.

Seeking consent

There is a lot of debate around how to seek consent and what it looks like in a play session or a kinky relationship dynamic. These are useful tips to consider:

  1. Everyone engaging in the play or dynamic must be consulted and all opinions taken as valid.
    Creating a climate where people can speak openly and freely will reap dividends. There are no short cuts to doing these things.
  2. If someone appears in anyway unsure or nervous, give them time and space to make their decision to play or not. Applying any form of pressure on someone else will mean they are not making that choice freely, and you are therefore not gaining consent. Consent should be clear and enthusiastic to avoid doubt, a “hell, yeah!”
  3. Only play with people you know and trust. Not only because you don’t want anyone lying about you and causing problems, but because you need to trust that if they are experiencing a problem that they can feel comfortable in telling you that. It takes time to build that level of trust, because you become very vulnerable.
  4. Do not take advantage of, or feel pressured by, a person’s enthusiasm to try a dozen things at once. Do one new thing at a time to gauge your and their reaction to it. Too many things at once will mean you’re not sure which parts you/they are reacting to and why.
  5. Allow plenty of time to negotiate what you’d like to try together. And accept that sometimes you or they might change there minds and it’s completely ok doing so. There should be no pressure to play or engage in a dynamic at all.
  6. Make sure you’re aware of each other’s health problems and medications they take, and keep safety equipment at hand. Ensure this is part of your pre play negotiation. Ask about whether they’ve recently eaten or used the bathroom, have felt sick or dizzy in the last 24/48 hours or the past week. How they feel emotionally. Anything that will impact each of both/all of yours’ ability to engage in play. Then moderate your play according to it, not playing at all if it’s not the right time and circumstances.

Using Safe Words

Safe words are ways for participants to withdraw consent mid scene. It can happen for a whole variety of reasons. They may find it too much physically and/or mentally. They may feel it is not what they seem to be enjoying (even if they enjoyed it previously). They may need a toilet. No matter the reason, if someone wants the activity to stop, you stop. Top or bottom. Submissive or dominant.
• Once the word is called, you listen to it. You do not ever ignore the safe word. If you do you are violating their consent and are committing assault/abuse. That is not what BDSM is about, so don’t do it!
• Make sure everyone is 100% clear what those words mean in practice. Demonstrate on each other beforehand. Stick to those interpretations.
• Choose words that you are not likely to use in the scene. It is common to use various safe words to mean different things. A traffic light system is widely used: green means go, yellow means pause the activity for a short break (and removing any devices or toys or sexual activity) temporarily, and red which means stop everything IMMEDIATELY.
• Use non verbal methods too, which is important if you’re using any form of gag or they respond in play by losing their ability to talk. Examples of commonly used ones are: a double tap by a hand onto a surface or your body, like in martial arts, indicates to stop; ringing a small bell held in the hand of the bottom/submissive, that if they ring it means stop; or a double hand squeeze, where the top/dominant squeezes the hand of the bottom twice to ask if they’re ok, an if they respond with two squeezes back it’s ok to continue. No squeeze or one squeeze is withdrawal of consent. Whichever you use, agree beforehand what they mean and what you do should they be used i.e. to pause or stop completely.
• A participant may ask to pause then after a break decide to continue. Other times they may decide to stop altogether. Both are completely fine.

Reading Body Language

You will need to learn to read body language really well. Do your partner (s) look happy with what’s going on? Are they smiling? Is there anything in their demeanour that looks like they are uncomfortable, that you may need to pause or change your activity? Discuss these things in your pre play negotiations.

Think about and discuss what verbal and physical resistance means to each of you. If your partner says “no”, do you take that literally or is it going to be part of your play? Similarly, if someone pushes back or recoils, is this resistance a withdrawal of consent? Do either of these require you to stop completely or pause to discuss what is happening or give them space to decide if they are happy with continuing the play? Just because they are happy with this type of resistance, are you happy to play along? Generally, engaging on this type of play carries heavy risks, so I would recommend avoiding interpreting these reactions as anything other than what they literally are, a withdrawal of consent, for a considerable amount of time. Again, discuss this in your pre play negotiations.


An integral part to BDSM is after care. This needs to be negotiated prior to play, so that everything needed can be easily available. Water, a sugary snack (if appropriate), a blanket, a soft place to rest are very common to use in the immediate aftermath of play. Time to sit and reflect should also be factored into the negotiation stage.
It is good practice to check in on all participants after a few days to check for any negative reactions.

It is very common to experience a “drop”, whereby the body’s chemicals that are triggered in play such an endorphins and serotonin, dip down to normal levels. It can cause fatigue, headaches, emotional disturbances like guilt or sadness. It is really important to be honest and open. Take and give feedback. Avoid being judgmental if things did not go as planned or expected – it usually does not in some way. And don’t rush to play again until everything is processed and lessons learned

Don’t seek consent to play if…

These are the circumstances within which asking someone for play is wholly unacceptable:

  1. Mid-scene. If you ask for something not pre-agreed, you can not at all assume you’ve got consent. Your partner(s) are not in the mind space to make rational decisions about what they’d like.
  2. If they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A person who’s reactions are delayed are not able to give consent. It is like if they’ve consumed alcohol and/or drugs, they can’t drive a car.
  3. If they are tired or unconscious.
  4. In public. Unless everyone around you has consented directly to watching you play. Even at events it is worth noting the venue’s restrictions about what they allow and stick to it.
  5. Outside of any pre-agreed, fully negotiated times and places.

When Mistakes Happen

Mistakes do happen. We are human. We may have missed a safe word, or hit slightly too hard, or something else. If things go wrong, you have to accept your side of the blame and do what you can to apologise and make amends. You stop immediately if you are playing to check what’s happened. If they mention something later, you listen and accept their feedback.

But they don’t have to accept your apology. Or they may need a lot of time and space to process what happened, until they are ready to communicate.

It will often cause a relationship to break down, because violating someone’s consent breaks their trust in you. BDSM is built on trust. So take your time to learn your lesson and seek support from others.


• Violating a person’s consent is not ok. So don’t do it.

• Negotiate what you want to do and all the factors affecting play and after care, and then stick to the agreement.

• Use safe words abundantly, need be. You’ll create a better dynamic and experiences that way.

• Own your mistakes.

Here are some visual resources on consent and a few to help distinguish between BDSM and abuse. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, know that it is not your fault, help is out and you will be believed. Keep safe.

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