Vir Cotto's BDSM Blog

Consent is Only Part of the Equation

I'm heartened to see the public outcry about the abuses that were done by people like SN and EP in the NYC area. Speaking out against the kinds of abuse is an important first step into changing the culture that allowed these things to happen. But there's something else that needs recognition: Consent is only one small part of the equation here.

Consent is the lowest bar by which we can evaluate an action. If someone agrees to something, that's consent, and yet we haven't had a serious discussion about coercion or patterns of abuse that go beyond the simple question of consent.

In particular, the stories I'm reading about a long-term relationship and abuse go far beyond the simple consent models that we often use and discuss. This is also a contributor to the victim-blaming backlash we see of "They consented, so it's buyers remorse". In some cases, there was consent in the moment, but so long as our only measuring stick is consent, we are ignoring a large, important part of healthy relationships.

I also want to address the rebuttal that this is not a kink problem. After all, problematic behavior, including manipulation, coercion, social pressure, etc. all exist in the vanilla world. That is true, but not germane to the discussion, for two reasons. The first reason is that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the vanilla world. We celebrate our level of introspection and communication. We can't celebrate our superiority while not also doing the hard work of addressing where we collectively failed.

Secondly, and more importantly it's clear that kink, and in particular Authority Based Relationships were a key component in the abuse. Whatever we want to call it, M/s, D/s, Power Exchange- these relationship models facilitated the abuse of individuals in our community and allowed that abuse to go on unchecked for years.

That does not mean we need to either stop kink or stop Authority Based Relationships, but it does mean that we need to start treating relationship skills with the same gravitas as we do for skill-based kink activities such as rope, needles and fire play.

Reading about some of the abuse reports in the NYC scene, it reads out of a cult handbook, using the power of social pressure, of food and sleep deprivation and gaslighting. These techniques are used by certain groups to entrap and control individuals for years. They use these techniques because they're effective.

What these examples have shown us is that we need to shift our narrative from "Their kink is not my kink" to asking honest, sincere questions about whether someone's kink is masking abuse.

And since many of the accused are (or were) high profile instructors, we need to ask ourselves about the way we structure classes and other instruction. Do we venerate "big names"? Are they above scrutiny? What additional ethical demands should we place on individuals that teach? Should we change the culture itself to get rid of the idea of "big names"? Should we be treating classes/instruction more like peer share?

We have become good at helping empower bottoms (and tops) around the issues of inappropriate touching or going too far in a scene, but the recent string of abuse stories that have come out have shown us that we need to take these questions and discussions to the next level.