Is “Consent Culture” ruining BDSM?

Early in 2020, I dressed up for a what I thought would be a fun night in a well-known dungeon in Los Angeles. A group of about 50 people were there, a large fraction of them heading over from a nearby conference on sex positivity. For many, it was their first experience in a BDSM environment, and an opportunity to play out fantasies and expand their sexual consciousness.  But, it turned out not much play actually happened.  Most everyone stood around looking at each other, not knowing what might be appropriate behavior, or what language to use when approaching another attendee in hopes of playing.  To me, a veteran of visits to dungeons all over the world over the past several decades, the lack of action was surprising, even upsetting.

Why was this happening in a dungeon once famous for its hot BDSM scenes?  Over the evening, it became clear to me that this outcome is a result a changing BDSM culture that puts more emphasis on consent than on play.

Most everyone stood around looking at each other, not knowing what might be appropriate behavior, or what language to use when approaching another attendee in hopes of playing.  To me, a veteran of visits to dungeons all over the world over the past several decades, the lack of action was surprising, even upsetting.

The evening started with a welcome circle, under bright institutional lighting, in which we were all required to give our names and preferred pronouns (as if we were going to be able to remember all 50 of them).  When it came to Me, I did not say “she or her;” I said I wanted to be called “Mistress/Madam.” This elicited laughs, but in a dungeon environment, I am not there to make buddies, I am there to Dominate willing submissives and slaves. 

For the rest of the evening, most folks watched the few couples who were actually engaging in scenes as if they were zoo animals. It was as if the spectators were sociologists trying to study human mating rituals. The sexiness of BDSM was nowhere to be found, replaced by exhaustive discussion about what participants could and could not do, how people identified themselves and what was appropriate behavior. Very few ever got past the discussion phase to get around to the playing. The evening was a bust. The delight of a darkened dungeon filled with fragrant pheromones scenting the air, along with the erotic noises of pain and ecstasy, were completely missing.

Over the past several years, numerous of articles have popped up on the internet, dedicated to extolling the virtues of BDSM relationships in terms of what it can teach general society about informed consent. The focus of BDSM communication is, of course, the negotiations that take place prior to each scene, in which the participants discuss the limitations of the submissive so that play can run smoothly.  These articles might also give advice on how to top and bottom, or how to discuss expectations and bring up any worrisome behaviors.  The theme of consent is paramount, and certainly, such negotiations are important when introducing a newbie to an established environment or scene.

While I understand the need for instruction on consent for curiosity seekers, or those who approach BDSM as a hobby to spice up their sex lives, my visit to the dungeon reinforced for me something I have felt for awhile now:  An overemphasis on consent can render BDSM toothless, and blunt the sharp edge that makes it such a powerful force in people’s lives. Consent is necessary to start down the path of BDSM, but “consent culture” is counterproductive, and puts up roadblocks to Dominants and submissives who want to more fully live the BDSM life.

Those of U/us who have been in the BDSM community for years will tell you that we do not see BDSM as a passing Kink, but an extension of who W/we are, and how W/we choose to share and express O/our deep love relationships.  Neither Dominant nor submissive wants to feel limited by our agreements; rather, we want to find liberation in them. We want to follow our own intuition and experience in deciding boundaries and limitations. To be confined and defined by “rules” of continual checking in and constant consent breaks down the very cornerstone of what makes O/our relationship work.  

An overemphasis on consent can render BDSM toothless, and blunt the sharp edge that makes it such a powerful force in people’s lives.

Mistress Lila

During my evening in the dungeon, I noticed one couple trying to embark on a scene and never quite getting it off the ground. The would-be “top” would take a swing at the bottom, then stop to ask, “Is this okay for you?”  They eventually stopped playing altogether, sidetracked by endless analysis.

A bit later, a young male couple approached Me for my advice. It was clear they were a tight couple, and I asked them if they had shared their fantasies. They nodded.  I then advised them that once they began playing and their scene was underway, under no circumstances should the dominant break role to “check in” or ask for consent.  I firmly told them the new obsession with being “consent correct” would defeat their entire D/s experience.  Being granted permission to proceed without following a prescribed societal protocol filled them with delight.  

“That’s what we’ve been missing,” one said.

I agreed. “If you truly like each other and know each other, stop asking what the person wants. Use your common sense and your knowledge of the person to figure out their limits. Remember, as the Dom, you help discover and set the submissive’s limits. The sub is the one most likely to lose perspective.”

As the night wore on, I heard from a number of guests who identified that particular couple’s scene as the “hottest” because it wasn’t constantly being interrupted by political correctness.

As the Dominant, it is My role to understand the mental, physical and emotional limitations of My submissive.  In a truly intimate relationship with a submissive or slave, it is my responsibility to remain aware of what my submissive is feeling through non-verbal reactions and signals.  I know how much a submissive does not want to be asked for permission, and in fact, would find it abhorrent.  That is why the concept of consent can eventually no do more harm than good in long-term D/s relationships.  A true submissive wants to be dominated without rules, and certainly without choice.  How many D/s relationships have failed because the submissive felt the Dominant was not truly in charge?

A submissive’s excitement, thrill and most importantly, their need to be Dominated and taken care of, is at the core of the D/s exchange. Respect and trust must be earned, and it takes time to foster that kind of relationship. If one is truly Dominant, you know how to set the pace and what boundaries are ready to be pushed.  

In a society of greater tolerance, where BDSM is becoming more normalized as one more behavior on an ever-expanding spectrum, W/we need to keep in mind the underlying principles of Dominance and submission.  In my opinion, by codifying every behavior, or gaining permission for everything prior to participation, we shackle the D/s relationship.  An emphatically pushed consent culture compromises the challenge, creativity and titillation of what should be a relationship built on trust and intimacy.

When reading the massive amount of literature out there for Dominants and submissives, I suggest we not forget that for some of U/us, BDSM isn’t playing dress-up, or role play, or dabbling in Kink. For many of us, power exchange is the essence of who W/we are as individuals. To experience it fully, W/we can’t be handcuffed to someone else’s rules.

Mistress Lila, is a Domme with more that twenty-five years BDSM experience both professionally and personally. She resides in Central California where she offers workshops on the subject, and counsels lifestyle couples.

One thought on “Is “Consent Culture” ruining BDSM?

  1. Thank you for a wonderful article. I’m completely in agreement.

    However, a person isn’t in the dominant role if they are required to continually request permission, especially when consent can be unilaterally withdrawn for no reason.

    I’ve discussed that isn’t BDSM, at all, but just fantasy role play with “BDSM elements” and these dungeons as mere props or sets.

    It’s just a hollow facsimile. And the worst part is that new people think it’s actually BDSM and dismiss it without actually getting to experience the real thing.

    Like

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