Consent and Safewords

Timely reminder, useful deep dive, and public acknowledgement of what society can learn from our community

My parents recently learned about my fetish side, which was an enlightening experience for us all. I must say, it has been entertaining to see how my parents take in and digest all this new information on my lifestyle, and balance between curiosity and maintaining a responsible and healthy distance. After all, they remain my parents! Nonetheless, where curiosity wins, my parents ask potent questions, and I do my best to answer them respectfully and provide the best education possible on the subject matter. For my mother, one subject stood out above all others: consent and safewords, when practicing BDSM. I’d like to share with you how I broached this subject with my mom on a walk through Amsterdam during the holidays.

“Let’s cover the basics here first,” I said. In terms of official definition, consent is (giving) permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. In the context of a BDSM session, this would be giving permission to your “play mate” to perform certain pre-agreed acts with you, or to you. Consent here is based on the same principles of that of two consenting individuals sexually involved, but perhaps with a bit more complexity and need for explicit communication. It involves not only having sex, but also consenting to certain acts, such as impact play, or bondage, where one may lose the ability to remove themselves when they want to, on their own accord. It is therefore necessary to give prior consent to those actions specifically, explicitly, and in most cases, verbally. Crucially, it is important here to manage expectations with great detail. Sitting down and talking about expectations on what is OK and what is not OK, before a session, as well as after, is very important in building trust and to practice BDSM safely. Key words here being trust and safety.

Consent, as it is given, can always be revoked. But in a BDSM session, say involving bondage and gags, or an impact play where a sub has its limits being pushed, it is important to define a clear method of communication understood by both parties where a submissive, or dominant, can communicate that consent is removed and the play needs to stop immediately. Here, the best practice is using safewords: specific and often random words with no literal connection to the BDSM being performed, which when being said means red flag, stop now, I am removing consent. One cliché example of this is ‘banana’, my mom noted from pop culture. I must say, I was impressed she knew that! However, I told her I personally like to use a different pop culture reference as a safeword: Darth Vader. Regardless, any word which is agreed upon by all parties should suffice, but it is recommended to use a word that is well enunciated and easy to distinguish so it quickly can be understood and processed. Beyond words, you can also use safe signals, where a certain signal determines the removal of consent. For me, this could be nudging my head to the left repeatedly in a noticeable way. This is particularly useful when you are unable to speak or use your mouth during your session. My mom had no comment when I said that…

After this, I figured I had explained enough, as I could see my mom processing everything she just had learned. The first thing she said then, I found very interesting. From her outside-looking-in perspective, she noted: “You know, it sounds like the vanilla community, it’s called that right? The vanilla community can learn a thing or two from the kink community on trust and communication when it comes to consent and safewords.” And I realised she was on to something. As much as my mother learned new things from me, she was not the only one being schooled that day. This enlightenment I have experienced with my parents has impacted me positively in helping me understand myself and my lifestyle, and particularly in what I believe I – and we as a community – can teach society to make a positive difference.

I am in the firm belief that in our desire to practice BDSM safely, our community has mastered the meaning of consent and the use of safewords. I believe we can lead here by example and that society, in both sexual and non-sexual circumstances, can learn from us.