Consent—sexual and otherwise—has never had as much limelight as it’s getting now. With more and more women stepping forward to speak openly about their experiences with sexual harassment/assault it has never been more important to have conversations about consent. The best part? These conversations can be really sexy.
Taking a Page from Kinksters
When considering consent I think it’s best to look to our “experts” in all things sexual: the kink community. Anyone who’s seen the popular Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy knows what a safe-word is. But the kink community’s standards for consent centers around a three-tier system. This system keeps people safe while they explore sexual pleasure together and actually serves to enhance the experience for both partners.
Stage 1: The “Contract”
In many kinky relationships, there is a dominant and a submissive. During sexual play, the dominant lives up to their name and—on the surface—maintains control of providing (and restricting) sexual pleasure. But before a dominant and submissive ever bring out the whips and chains they sit down to talk about their interests and “limits”. Limits can be both hard and soft (pun intended), with soft limits being things that sexual partners are generally uncomfortable or inexperienced with but haven’t completely written off yet and hard limits being subjects of sexual play that are completely unacceptable. Sometimes these interests, limits, and expectations are put down on paper called a “contract”, while the rest of the time a verbal agreement stands in place of physical representation.
The thing about a “contract”—physical or otherwise—is that it provides a designated time for partners to openly discuss their desires, fantasies, and fears. Unlike non-kinky couples, discussion is itself sexualized. Rather than talking about willingness, open discussion usually navigates towards how partners can heighten one another’s pleasure during sexual play.
Stage 2: The Safeword
Safewords have become a comedic topic in today’s media. In Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, we see a scene in which a young boy blurts out his safeword “pineapple” and proceeds to ask to be hit. Sadly, how the safeword is used in films is generally not the way that kinksters use them.
In the kink community, many now use the “traffic-light” system of safewords. Submissives are given three words: green, yellow, and red. During sexual play, the dominant operates as if the submissive is continually “green”; that the submissive is comfortable and engaged in play. During play, the submissive can say “yellow” to alert the dominant to discomfort, fear, and/or unwanted pain. “Yellow” tells the dominant that the submissive doesn’t’ want the sexual activity to stop completely but that if the dominant continues their activity the submissive may need to use their “red” safeword. “Red” means that the submissive has reached their limit; all activity ceases immediately and the dominant and submissive move out of play and into Stage 3.
Stage 3: Aftercare
Aftercare happens immediately following the conclusion of sexual play. It allows for the dominant to check in with the submissive about their experience: did they enjoy the sexual play? Was there something they wanted that they didn’t receive? Was there something they wanted more or less of? Aftercare isn’t an assessment of sexual prowess though; the conversation is never about how “good” the sex was but rather how each individual feels post-coitus. The dominant can also take this time to express their thoughts and feelings and evaluate the emotional and mental wellbeing of their submissive.
Aftercare can be as simple as partners laying in bed together, having a relaxed conversation, or as complex as you want. A standard for some kinksters is “blanket” aftercare. This entails the dominant wrapping the submissive in a warm blanket and asking questions about their play.
Consent is essential, necessary, and vital to safe sexual practice. But it doesn’t have to be boring or non-sexual. Take the time to treat your partners with the respect they deserve. Take consent beyond just “yes” vs. “no” and allow people a platform for their feelings. Sex is supposed to be fun, after all.
We're big fans of Watts the Safeword on Youtube if you'd like even more information about the kink community.