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.