The morning after; A bitter pill, the bitter truth
The idea of retroactively withdrawing consent arose during an episode of The Third Rail on which I was the guest. The episode aired on May 1, 2016. We were talking about unconscious sex (which is a violation), but a comment was made about retroactive withdrawal. I stated, quite adamantly, that those who feel they can remove their negotiated consent days or weeks later are wrong. We didn’t go too deeply into it because it was off topic. However, I have noticed a disturbing trend. Many will say it is “rape culture“, but I think we are also dealing with another culture. One that has attached itself to rape culture and is going along for the ride. I call it “victim culture“.
Some notes about potential consequences of writing this:
- My opinion is likely to get some knickers twisted, and I am sure that an SJW (or ten) will swoop in and chastise me.
- There is also likely to be a few Survivors who will mistake what I have written to be some sort of victim blaming because I am nullifying their experience.
- It’s okay, I already have my Membership Card to the Sisterhood packaged, ready for the revocation that is sure to happen.
- I’m also sure that some asshat is going to come in here and say I deserve to be raped. To them, I say, “Fuck you and stay the fuck away from me. Comprehension isn’t one of your strengths, is it?”
Clear consent violations are clear:
First of all, I am not talking about clear cut consent violations, such as:
- There was penetration and none was agreed to,
- There was an impact with a toy(s) that was expressly forbidden (or if you negotiate based on inclusion, it wasn’t included),
- Someone who was not part of the negotiations joins the scene without your consent,
- Under Canadian law, consent requires that the parties be conscious throughout the activity. If one party loses consciousness (by any means … drugs, alcohol, choking), consent does not exist for the period of time they are out. Consent can be re-established when they regain consciousness. R v J.A.
- Also, under Canadian Law, non-disclosure of certain STI/Ds (AIDS/HIV status is the one in the Case Law) is a consent violation, even if the other party did not inquire. The idea is that there was not informed consent at the time that the agreement was made. R v Cuerrier
Those are consent violations (they would be classed as either sexual assault or assault).
What I am talking about is the notion that if you wake up the next morning, or the following week, and you feel icky about what happened, you were violated. The idea that you can retroactively withdraw consent after a scene has concluded based on how you feel about the encounter at some future date.
Yep. I said it. I call bull shit on that.
Consent violation means, quite simply, that they violated your consent. They did something that you did not agree to. Simple.
If you negotiated fully and honestly and you had sex or a scene, and they did not do anything that you had forbidden … or to state it in affirmative terms, they stayed within the bounds of your negotiated limits … they did not violate you.
Bad feels don’t equate to violation
Sure, you woke up feeling icky. You know what that means? That is something you shouldn’t do again. Or, you shouldn’t do it with that person again. Chalk it up to being a life lesson. Because that’s what it is. You were interested in trying and it didn’t pan out how you thought it would be. Don’t do it again.
So, you wake up and feel icky and you reach out to the person you were with the night before and they dismiss your concerns. Wow! What an ass. Really, that is kind of douchy. But, that doesn’t mean they are a consent violator. It just means that they aren’t very compassionate. Lack of empathy does not a violator make. Chalk it up as a life lesson. You may not want to play/fuck that person again. Move on.
There is this notion that consent can be withdrawn at any time, including after the fact. What a load of …! Think about this from a practical position, if you can.
- Party A and Party B negotiate a scene.
- They are both honest and up-front about their limits.
- The scene progresses and stays fully within those negotiated limits.
- At no time during the scene did B call a stop to the scene. (Or A for that matter. Tops can safe word too.)
- The next day, B says they felt violated (for whatever reason).
- And we all clamour to B’s side and say “There-there, what an ass … They violated you. Let’s lynch them!”
What the ever-loving fuck? What exactly did A do wrong? Nothing. A adhered to the boundaries that were set for them.
Please stop … just stop!
If we allow this sort of thing to happen (or more accurately, continue to happen), then we, collectively, cannot trust the process of negotiating and obtaining consent. All things kink will grind to a halt because they might change their mind.
Future reconsideration doesn’t alter past conduct
As a friend of mine recently said, you can’t reclaim your virginity because you didn’t like the sex. 1)I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. Not enjoying an experience is not a violation of consent. It means you just didn’t enjoy the experience. Learn from it. Grow. Factor that into the next negotiation.
Please, for the love of kink, leave the words “consent violation” for those instances where someone has crossed the lines of negotiated consent. Morning-after regrets, or Coyote Ugly, are just that; Regrets.
I have empathy for anyone who had an unenjoyable experience. However, I have a huge amount of sympathy for Tops who negotiated to the best of their ability and got caught up in this current air of “retroactively withdrawing consent“. I believe consent can be withdrawn at any time, up to the moment the scene ends.
Retroactively withdrawing consent erodes trust
I play in some pretty deep waters. It isn’t for everyone. Seriously, if you can’t tread water, get the fuck out of the pool. However, I need to trust that my Top isn’t going to cross any boundaries and they need to trust that I will be okay with whatever occurs, including owning my emotional response to it, if they stick to our negotiations. It is already difficult to find people who are skilled enough and willing to play at the depth I occasionally do without having them fear that morning after regrets are going to become a lynch mob or criminal proceeding.
Another friend of mine likes to use the OLG slogan: “Know your limit, play within it“. On the same token, you can’t go back to the casino and say, “I know I said I wanted to gamble. Yes, I was the one feeding the slot machine. But, I changed my mind and need my mortgage money back”. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way.
Some examples that aren’t violations of consent
As is the nature of blog posts, occasionally things get mentioned in the conversation thread. One commentator, racer26, did an excellent job of detailing some situations where things did go wrong, but consent was not violated. Human error, poor negotiation, equipment failure, known risks … these can all lead to a bad outcome, but none of them is actually a violation. I am quoting the comment here (this link leads back to the original post on FetLife).
It either happened or it didn’t
Consent violations are not subjective. Nobody ‘decides’ that a particular event was or was not a consent violation posthumously. You dont get to do that any more than your partner or a third-party observer does. Consent violation is a binary thing that either happened or did not happen. It is a fact of the scenario.
Consent was negotiated (perhaps inadequately, which left room for misinterpretation), and then a scene occurred.
If all parties to the scene acted within the boundaries of the negotiation as they understood them, AND neither party to the scene actively withdrew consent during the scene by safewording or otherwise making known their revocation of consent, then no consent violation has occurred.
If your scene went well, but you feel icky about it days later for any of a myriad of reasons, that is not a consent violation, that is regret. You should learn from it and choose your scenes more carefully in future.
If your scene experienced a problem, and you were injured because of it, say, a suspension scene in which the top accidentally dropped you, resulting in scrapes and bruises that were not specifically consented to or negotiated, but did form part of the expected risks of the scene. That is not a consent violation, it is an accident. Sometimes, risk mitigation isn’t enough and accidents happen. You might learn from this something about assessing a top’s proficiency in the skills they plan to apply to you, or maybe not. Maybe it’s just a freak accident.
If a misunderstanding of the negotiation occurred, and a boundary inadvertently treaded upon, this is not a consent violation, but a failure in negotiation and comprehension that both parties should carry forward as a learning experience to be more clear in future.
If a negotiated limit was broken accidentally, say, a limit on breaking skin, and a toy struck funny and accidentally broke skin, this is still not a consent violation, but an honest mistake. Shit happens. Don’t play in the deep end of the pool if you can’t swim when something goes wrong.
Consent violation – actus reas and mens rhea
If a negotiated limit was broken intentionally, or a revocation of consent made clearly known in accordance with the negotiated methods for doing so was ignored, then and only then has a consent violation occurred, and the appropriate vilifying of the relevant parties is justified. Note: Tops give their consent to participate in the scene too, and may have limits that can be equally violated by their bottoms, or can revoke their consent mid-scene too. It’s unusual, but it can happen.
A long answer addressing some common concerns
Also, there was a lot of discussion about “new people”, check-ins, negotiations = explicit consent and some other stuff. I wrote this long answer in response to some of these comments.
This isn’t addressed at anyone in particular, but several commenters have said things along the same lines of “there wasn’t any consent unless …”
Negotiating (immediately) prior to a scene is explicit consent.
When consent ends
After a negotiation, consent ends when:
- it is withdrawn … by word or action.
- the activity concludes.
- a person becomes unconscious.
What “on-going consent” means
It means that consent has not been withdrawn. It does not mean that you have to constantly check-in.
Check-ins are a great thing to incorporate into a scene, especially with someone who is new (to the scene, or yourself), but not checking in doesn’t mean that there is no consent. Consent was established and has not been withdrawn. Consent still exists until it is withdrawn (see above).
There have been comments about “new people don’t know …”
Okay, here’s the thing with new people; most of them do not know. There are a lot of things new people don’t know. Their limit is one. They also may not know that they can say no. HOWEVER, if a safeword is negotiated, that is a clear sign that they have a negotiated out. The parameters of consent (the negotiation) made it clear to them that they can say no.
Here’s where I am going to be very blunt …
If someone does not know their limits, they should not be engaging in complex scenes. Sorry. Keep it simple. A couple of toys. Frequent check-ins. Use a scale to gauge their pain tolerance. Reinforce that they can tap out at any time.
When someone plays beyond their limits, for whatever reason, including because they want to be an impressive bottom/sub, the fault is not solely on the Top when things go wrong and there is lingering bad feelings.
And then there is subdrop … (yes, Topdrop exists too). Even experienced people sometimes have difficulties navigating the feelings after an intense scene. A new person? Yeah, all those weird feelings of disconnect and sadness and whatever else subdrop may entail for an individual, they can feel horrible. But that does not mean that the scene was bad and it does not mean that they were violated. It is something that they are going to experience from time to time and they need to learn about their limits, aftercare and selfcare.
Check-ins are great to determine that someone is still okay. I especially encourage frequent check-ins with someone who is new to BDSM, or is new to you. They may not know their limits and you may not be able to read their reactions. Check-ins will help with that. But strictly speaking, they do not change whether consent was obtained. They act as an opportunity to withdraw or change consent.
Consent exists, based on the negotiations, whether check-ins occur or not. It continues until it is revoked, activity concludes, or there is unconsciousness. Failing to check-in does not invalidate the negotiation.
From my personal opinion … as in, the scenes I enjoy … check-ins are frequently a nuisance, especially in longer, deeper scenes. They pull me out of my headspace. It is no longer an exchange of energy and lovely endorphins, it becomes a series of things that are done to me. The more frequent the check-ins, the less connection I feel.
I played with an awesome woman from Boston last fall. It was our first time playing together. We did a thorough negotiation at the beginning, including what toys were allowed. All others were left in her toy bag. She did frequent check-ins at the beginning, to give herself a comfort level with my responses. Once we got going, her check-ins were only when my responses changed (i.e. my body language, or the noises I was making, changed). That was great.
To put it even more bluntly (re: new people)
Being new does not absolve them (the new person) of their responsibility to make adult decisions in line with what is best for them.
Be honest. If you don’t know, you don’t fucking know. Your Top (or bottom) will be grateful that you are being honest and are expressing self-awareness. Now, you can explore with caution. Baby steps.
FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THIS IS A REAL THING OR SOMETHING THAT IS ACTUALLY BEING DISCUSSED
Here are two writings that have surfaced since I wrote this one:
From the archive. Originally posted on FetLife, 2 May 2016
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