I often say that the difference between healthy kink and abuse is the presence of consent. In my Foundation classes and my books The Kink Embrace and New Bonds, I discuss the anatomy of consent because having this key knowledge is so important. We need to know what consent means to us and those we interact with. We need spaces to reflect and learn from others to improve our practice.
No one has the right to touch another person’s body, their property or use harsh language without consent. No one. Bondage restricts the person’s ability to move, and without consent is false imprisonment. Leaving a mark on a person’s body is evidence of assault in the UK. So, this topic is a very serious one.
It is not easy, though. Consent isn’t just asking, “Do you want X?”, and then hearing “yes” or “no.” Consent is an ongoing evolving process. People say yes out of pressure or manipulation. People go along with things because they want to try things out, but aren’t always that robust in communicating their intentions. So, knowing if and/or when you have consent is really important. Knowing when you no longer do is just as important. The nuances are so complex that it should be an ongoing point of reflection for anyone doing rope, I believe.
Some people like to hand control to another person. This is often called power exchange. Or you might see the term authority transfer. One person, the dominant, makes the decisions on behalf of the submissive. They choose what will happen. But there must always exist the option to withdraw consent. Without this, it is abuse.
I occasionally hear the debate about “total power exchange” and “consensual non-consent,” and the nuances come into full view. Ethical power exchange dynamics will always have a get out clause. A couple may decide for periods of power exchange time to be longer, or for “no” to not mean “no”. This is only ever possible once their trust and communication are solid, which can take many years. But there are always down-times, breaks, moments of reflection, and the ability to change our minds, and the ability for another word to mean “no”. 24/7 agreements thrive this way because individual autonomy is maintained. Without this, it is abuse.
A rope scene can end for any reason whatsoever. Whatever is negotiated for the scene can stop at any moment. Power exchange or not, this must always be the case. Without this, it is abuse.
Dominants are not all knowing gods. Submissives are not doormats. If a dominant deprives a submissive of their liberty to choose, are they ever really submissive? There is so much joy in a submissive, with all their freedom and choices in the world, that they choose to serve their dominant.
Equally, if a dominant is only happy if they control others due to their own insecurities, are they ever really dominant? Dominance is more effective and fulfilling from a place of self control and confidence.
When negotiating relationship dynamics and play scenes, we need to keep it rooted in reality. We need to slow down and take baby steps to see what works and what doesn’t. We also need scope to reflect and decide whether the person opposite us isn’t right for us, or not. We need to know our boundaries and that those boundaries will be respected in their company. Your consent is the most important aspect in negotiations, so work on it and treasure it.