Negotiation; it doesn’t work when you don’t have informed consent.

I’m often perplexed by a lot of questions raised on Fetlife and more often than not frightened by some of the answers given. No more so than in the popular discussion group “Novices and Newbies”. It’s a mixed bag of know-it-all never have’s and know-it-all genuinely believe my experience is enough to tell others how it should be done. I couldn’t imagine being someone taking their fantasies into reality via Fetlife. You would think that a group created to bring in those with limited actual experience so that they can ask questions and pull apart ideas in order to make the best decisions for themselves would encourage actual engagement with the questioner and genuine empathy when offering up answers to questions and advice to situations. 

If I had to narrow down the frustration that I feel it would have to be with questions about negotiation. Here’s the context – submissive posts asking how to approach a first time interaction, they have no actual experience but are eager and absolutely certain in their decision to step into this experience.

More and more I am reading people describing their “style” of interaction with someone new. Granted, as with everything I read online I take it all with a grain of salt and try to read between the lines, but recently I saw this description given by someone I was sitting across the table from. So I sat back and listened to what he was explaining and then watching the feedback being given, by those with way more experience than me.

Essentially we are talking about the blueprint of what is going to happen, answers often fall into a few categories relating to their interpretation of what negotiation is for them. There seems to be a generalised and commonly accepted format that most see as essential to “successful” negotiation:

Check lists – downloadable spreadsheets created by a stranger which give you a list of words in which you distinguish between what you consent to and what you reject.

            Focus on the end goal “submitting” (as opposed to the means of getting there), what is it that needs to occur in order for the goal to be achieved?

            Limits and safe words

            Practicalities – toys, language, actions, the elements that create the kink.

While at a quick glance this seems to be an adequate representation of how someone wanting to engage in a successful and healthy interaction; I find it frightening. Simplistic and missing the core of what it is negotiation is trying to achieve – informed consent.

I am not trying to suggest that using a checklist or focusing on limits and practicalities is the wrong way of going about things. What I’m asking is for you to consider that informed and consent have to be core to any initial conversations that preceded the physical interaction involving kink. When you move your focus away from creating the starting platform from which decisions are made (information) in order to create (consent) mutually satisfying interaction you run the risk of causing harm not healthy kink!

 What makes me uncomfortable is that there is no consideration for the fact that one person had absolutely nothing to give their potential partner, in terms of relevant information, from which they could make informed decisions. 

When I took my first steps into kink I had no experience. I had desire and ideas but I had no knowledge about how exactly these things would feel in my body or how my body would react to particular stimuli or circumstance. This lack of experience left me in a position where I could not genuinely negotiate with my partner. I had no information to give him about me, my body, my reactions or areas of concern, so that he could make informed decisions. I had nothing but abstract ideas and desires. Not much to give a dominant who needs to make relevant decisions for himself for me and to react to issues when they arise. 

What I was able to give him was very explicit directions as to what exactly I wanted from him and our first few experiences together. I was very explicit in my intentions to him. I was not doing this for him, in anyway, I was doing this to gain the needed information in order to make future decisions. I’d had fantasies and I’d imagined how something might work, but I had nothing factual to test if those fantasies and thoughts would eventuate.

Essentially he was the facilitator in my experiment.

I needed to see everything, understand how it was going to be used, what things were made of, where they were going to be used and his intentions for using them I expressed my expectations and made it clear that it was my body and my reactions that would be guiding his actions.

Now, I understand that not everyone is able or willing to be so explicit in their experiences. I was very hesitant to take things any further and so was giving myself permission to explore but still retain all control. Not just the ability to say stop, but the ability to structure the directionality of what was happening to my body through to the point of stop. Each of us has to begin somewhere right? My way may not be the stock standard way nor would it work for everybody. But, as someone with a tad more experience and a passable and confident understanding of how some things work, I feel that the “informed” part of informed consent is being minimised. While it’s great to give a synopsis of how things worked, we really need to bring these conversations and answers back to some of the fundamental aspects of how safe, healthy relationships work – consent, informed consent.

It is only when we recognise the imbalance that exists when someone has no experience within which to provide genuine information from which the other person can make informed decisions; that we can create mutually satisfying interactions with genuine informed consent.

Advertisements

Saftey is never an acronym – no matter how convincing they may seem.

Risk aware, personal responsibility or safe and sane? Spend any time in any kink space; online or in real time, and the inevitable safety debate will emerge. Safe, sane and consensual might be tried and true but the SS and the C are too literal and/or limiting – depending who is on the soapbox. Risk aware makes us know (although who tells us what it is we need to know is still not settled) what needs to be known. And personal responsibility is victim blaming – ooops I mean making sure you own your own shit, even when you didn’t create this shit in the first place.

Look, I don’t give a shit – personal responsibility or otherwise, which bunch of letters you claim, it’s actually quite irrelevant to the bigger picture of what it is that kink is. And dare I say it a smoke screen used to stifle any deeper conversations about the practicalities of safety.

The desire to feel safe is not imagined nor is it exaggerated. Those of us who do this thing called kink, just as every other human being, need to feel safe. To feel safe is to be able to walk into something with the understanding that, as far as I can tell any potential undesired outcomes will be minimised and any unknown outcomes will be address in the most effective way possible.

To be safe, not just to be aware of risk of harm, but to have a genuine feeling of safety is only achievable through action. It’s through the choices that we make that we are best able to remove and respond effectively to the outcomes of what we do. In all reality we cannot remove every possibility of encountering harm. We all have seat belts in our cars, we don’t drive while intoxicated, we drive to the speed limits and we stop at red lights. Yet you could be as sober as the day you were born, wear your seat belt and drive to the conditions within the letter of the law and you can still be killed in a car accident, Accidents do really happen.

Safe is not awareness. It’s not researching on line, it’s not buying a book written by a self or community proclaimed expert, it’s not a workshop or a munch. Awareness is more than knowledge. Yes, knowledge is a must. But knowledge is not understanding. Understanding comes into the equation when you take what you know and apply it to the what it. You take all that you know and you put it into practice.

How is this going to actually affect me?

What do I need to do to ensure that, if the consequences of my/our choices are undesired what is the next step?

What do I know about myself – through past experiences or expectations that could create something that we need to address?

I love being flogged – give me a long, slow flogging on my back and I will sleep like a baby, and just between you and me the last time he flogged me I fell asleep. What I didn’t know was that I can’t play first thing in the morning. I need to, at the very least, drink water before he does anything to me. How did I come to know this? I fainted. He woke up in the mood and something went wrong with my blood pressure, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for 10 maybe 11 hours. Nothing could have changed what had happened. I fainted. He made sure I was safe, wrapped me in a blanket, got some water and toast. And then when I felt up to it got me to my GP’s office to make sure it wasn’t anything else. At each point of this experience I felt nothing but safe. Even though I was not aware of the risk of harm his choice had, even though I was on the receiving end of something that was unwanted and unpleasant I was safe

We have been together four years, know each other intimately. Have great communication, and there was nothing to show me that the outcome of what has been done to my body dozens and dozens of times would be any different this time. Unfamiliar or undesired outcomes – including harm, can happen no matter how aware we are of ourselves and what it is we are doing.

By acknowledging that sometimes things really do just happen. By accepting that safe comes from more than awareness. When we remove the acronyms and focus on creating genuine safety I think we can begin to offer some more practical strategies into our understanding of safe kink.

I’m starting to learn that changing behaviours and attitudes don’t come from how to, step by step guides and checklists. They are too simplistic and can’t address the intricate difference and needs that come with the nuance of human sexuality.

So the next time you’re thinking about trying something new I want you to do one thing.

Put the entirety of yourself into the interaction and ask yourself this

Is this going to cause me death?

Is this going to cause me disability?

Is this going to cause me disease?

Is this going to cause me distress?

The 5 D’s are something that we use in health care provision to measure the outcomes of the choices that need to be made for our clients.

Death and disability are pretty obvious – and please no arm lobbing strawman arguments!

Disease – not just STI’s. While the common safe sex message is still relevant to kink, we need to take this a little deeper within our physical and mental health. Is something that I want to do going to interfere with any illnesses or medication? What about skin irritation or infection? A UTI? Food poisoning or an allergic reaction? Sunburn? Is this going to affect your mental wellbeing?

Distress – Is the thing that I want going to, in anyway, interfere with the way I need to live my everyday? Stop you from going to work or affect your ability to do your job? Pay your bills? Having healthy relationships with the other people in your life?

These questions allow us to understand our realities within the expectations that we have and to step back and address or change anything that may be relevant to the situation. I believe that if we stopped focusing on acronyms and arguing the measure of safe and sane (which by the way has nothing to do with our mental health and everything to do with our legal competency) and started merging what it is we want with who we are as individuals then we can truly have healthy, safe and satisfying sex lives and relationships.

The tools we use and the intensity with which we use them are irrelevant here. Whether you are using a knife or handcuffs, a latex hood or a blindfold brought from Kmart, if you are able to walk into something with the understanding that, as far as you can tell any potential undesired outcomes will be minimised and any unknown outcomes will be address in the most effective way possible than you are actively; through your actions rather than an acronym, trying to keep your sex life as safe as possible. And as accidents can and will happen this is the best that we can achieve.