Sunday, January 9, 2011

Overall Consent vs. Situational Consent vs. Covert Conversion

I am building off of my previous post and comments on my recent posts Styles and Intensities of Femdom Relationships and A sub's Consent: Sacrifice and Trade-offs

If you scour the internet for intro to BDSM type material you'll find it ripe with warnings and cautions and the term "consensual" tossed around a lot.  Most BDSM material was written with active BDSM communities in mind and mostly to protect vulnerable women from potentially dangerous and abusive men.  In these cases it is usually a wise system to follow but it doesn't seem to translate as well towards the variety of Femdom relationships you'll find both in reality and what people are seeking when you isolate activities within Femdom relationships.

I could rattle off a few clich├ęs here about men being physically stronger than women so there's less risk, etc. but it doesn't really get to where I'm going.  No one seems to have a problem with a Domme inflicting physical punishments on a male sub or ordering him to pleasure her for hours with no sexual pleasure for him.  Those topics are treated as fairly ordinary and the types of things that people get into D/s relationships for.

The debates about consent really stem from the emotional health of the sub in light of the Dommes requirements of him.  I've seen a lot of Dominants take heat for their isolated actions towards subs and I don't really understand why unless a very narrow view of consent is project onto the situation.  Taking away a sub's favorite leisure activity, prohibiting orgasms, or inflicting public humiliation are a few activities that come to mind.

Now yes, it is unlikely that the average sub enters into a D/s relationship readily admitting that he okay with the prospect of having zero fun in life, is willing to be locked in chastity for a year at a time, and taken out in public and made to cry whenever she feels like it.  Since he hasn't agreed to that activity, if it pops up, does that make it non-consensual?  In some ways yes, in others no.  Situationally, it may appear non-consensual.  Overall, he may very well have agreed to let her punish him as she sees fit.

If he shirks his chore duties, she might take away his privilege to watch football or play softball with his buddies.  Is this any different from being grounded as a child/teen when you misbehaved?   If you agreed to let her decide how to punish you and agreed to abide by such a ruling, then on a greater level it is consensual.

If he is repeatedly caught masturbating without permission after consenting to give her full control over his orgasms, isn't it consensual to allow her to lock him in a chastity belt until she sees fit to release him?

If he consents to her full domination if she wishes to take him out and parade him around dressed as a French maid hasn't he really consented to that?

It's not that there's a clear cut answer here but I think the problem is that a lot of people look for the easy and straight forward answers while ignoring the circumstances of the situation and relationship.  If he can opt out at any time, where is the power exchange?  Also, if it's too much for him he can always walk away (she won't be strong enough to physically prevent him from doing so). 

I assume that subs that are faced with something they cannot or will not handle will walk and Dommes that have subs that will not do what they want them to will dismiss them.  Under this understanding I believe it's a safe assumption to say that long-standing relationships that engage in morally gray material (in BDSM morality) probably have the overall consent to do so or they wouldn't be together.  If his greater needs are met he will sacrifice his lesser needs and pride.

It becomes more difficult as relationships change over time.  If a Domme all of a sudden instigates a new rule or activity out of the blue that go beyond what he is comfortable with, he then must make a difficult decision to go along with her wishes or to walk away.  Walking away can be very difficult at this point but he can also choose to increase his submission and trust that she will keep him out of harm's way.

Basically, I think with most single activities that people interpret as non-consensual, they overlook the fact that the circumstances behind the activity are consensual.

To stir the pot a little more I'm bringing up the idea of something I call covert conversion (which is a term I made up tonight).  I view covert conversion as the gradual and non-consensual injection of the D/s dynamic into a vanilla relationship.  While this is often seen with closet-submissives trying to get their wives into domination, I will focus upon when things happen in the other direction with women attempting to subjugate their male lover. 

If you are familiar with the writings of Elise Sutton (loving female authority), Georgeann Cross (sexual power for women), or Lady Misato (real women don't do housework), I consider the methods and philosophies outlined in their works to be of this type.  While each of these methodologies are a bit different, the general idea is similar:  use sexuality and sexual conditioning of the male in order to transform a standard relationship into a female led relationship.  I discovered some of this material very early on in my trip towards submission and found it intriguing, although I hadn't yet identified with it.

When I first entered the lifestyle I discussed the ideas of these writings with my girlfriend/Mistress and she was quite against them (she came from a BDSM-community background) for their lack of consent. 

All in all, I guess I had never viewed some of those methods that differently from a wife or girlfriend with-holding sex or acting bitchy towards her significant other in order to get her way on something or to show displeasure with his behavior.  I guess that's why it struck/strikes me as odd that they elicit such a strong response from many in the BDSM community.

5 comments:

  1. Interesting post.

    Since supply and demand works in favour of the female dom, there's *always* going to be a real power imbalance, and hence an element of non-consent:

    "If I hate X, but know if I refuse then she might terminate the relationship, or all kink activity, then I'll go along with X."

    That sort of consent is different only in degree from a real Classical slave consenting to serve because the alternative is brutal punishment, or being sold off to the mines or the arena.

    However, we have the advantage over the real slave in that having our consent violated turns us on, as long as we still feel safe.

    Morally, this poses 3 problems:

    1. Doms can't trust us to express non-consent, because we want to maintain the relationship.

    2. It's hard for us to know whether or not we ourselves are truly consenting to something, because violation to a point turns us on.

    3. We would not want a femdom relationship in which only consensual things happened, because that wouldn't be real.

    I suspect the answer is specify hard limits in terms of effect rather than specifics:

    e.g. How about, "Nothing that would permanently damage me or my ability to function at work or socially, nothing that is potentially dangerous unless we're both 100% sure of your skills, nothing that would risk concieving a child."

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  2. Thank you for the comments Giles. I will try to comment on your most recent post later today.

    Your wording of hard limits is basically how I have worded my hard limits in the past. Usually I have included things that would be illegal and a few specific activities that I felt my damage me psychologically. The latter ones are the ones that often get pressed.

    The flip-side to this is that we can assume most Dommes also want to maintain the relationship. This puts a bit of a system of checks & balances in place and may require a bit of compromise on the Domme's part. Ideally the relationship has enough kink overlap to not have to require any great effort on her part, but she can also exploit this to some extent: Cater to his kink enough to make him addicted to the dominance and feel that the relationship is irreplaceable and his resistance to unpleasant activities will weaken.

    She doesn't have to make this type of consolation but I think this is what happens in most cases where love is involved, even if it's purely out of love and not to get him to do things he doesn't enjoy.

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  3. Basically I agree with you, Fur. Implied consent or 'meta-consent' can also be considered as consent. And what might appear to an outsider to be non-consensual might be absolutely consensual for the couple. Not everyone needs always explicit consent or safewords, etc. In some relationships there is an understanding that everything is consensual as long as it does not violate hard limits. And to a degree one could also assume that everything that happens in a relationships is consensual, as long as the sub has the chance to leave (-> if he does not leave, it an automatic consent). Hm.

    Just a few thoughts/remarks:


    Quote: 'I assume that subs that are faced with something they cannot or will not handle will walk and Dommes that have subs that will not do what they want them to will dismiss them.'

    In theory it's that easy. But don't forget, in practice there is unfortunately something like emotional dependancy. Sometimes very serious one. This can be a problem for vanillas and even for dom(me)s, but I suppose mostly for subs, as they are wired to serve and to make sacrifices for their 'commander'. *g* And for subs who are emotionally dependant, it can be very difficult to leave. If faced with extreme duress, yes, but as you mentioned somewhere you sometimes tend to stay in relationships longer than it is good for you, and I assume many genuine subs feel like you.

    Under these circumstances the opinion that everything that happens in a freely chosen relationshis is consensual appears in a different light. No?


    Quote: 'Walking away can be very difficult at this point but he can also choose to increase his submission and trust that she will keep him out of harm's way.'

    And sometimes the choice to stay and to submit is better and more beneficial for both, but it is risky. It can be a very fine and narrow line between forcing someone beyond his comfort level and harming someone. Unfortunately dommes are not mindreaders, so it's difficult to predict the outcome.


    Quote: 'While each of these methodologies are a bit different, the general idea is similar: use sexuality and sexual conditioning of the male in order to transform a standard relationship into a female led relationship.
    (...)
    When I first entered the lifestyle I discussed the ideas of these writings with my girlfriend/Mistress and she was quite against them (she came from a BDSM-community background) for their lack of consent.'

    I would differentiate: Does the male has a real chance to avoid this conditioning? Is he only coaxed into the femdom-relationship? Or is he forced/blackmailed/coerced into it? Is his opinion valued, are his problems considered? Or is she riding roughshod over his needs and concerns?
    If he has a chance to say 'no', if he is seduced into submission, but not pressured, I would see this as (implicitly) consensual, even if he is initially reluctant. He COULD resist without greater consequences. If he cooperates... well, is this cooperation not a form of consent? I see it as problematic if he strongly resists and she insists on her methods and tries to force him, although she sees that he is totally against this kind of relationship.


    Quote: 'All in all, I guess I had never viewed some of those methods that differently from a wife or girlfriend with-holding sex or acting bitchy towards her significant other in order to get her way on something or to show displeasure with his behavior.'

    I cannot help myself, but that appears to me like childish, immature behaviour. *g* (That's also one reason why I don't like some of Lady Misato's advices... I think a grown woman should act differently as she advises sometimes.)


    ~ Deborah ~

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  4. PS:

    Quote: 'No one seems to have a problem with a Domme inflicting physical punishments on a male sub or ordering him to pleasure her for hours with no sexual pleasure for him. Those topics are treated as fairly ordinary and the types of things that people get into D/s relationships for.'

    I also don't have a problem with a maledom who inflicts pain on femsubs. *g* Or who humilates a femsub until she's unable to hold her tears back. Or whatever they do... (Assuming that he knows what he does and that he does not inflict any lasting harm.)
    I do not make differences between F/m and M/f couples.


    ~ D ~

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  5. Quote: "And to a degree one could also assume that everything that happens in a relationships is consensual, as long as the sub has the chance to leave (-> if he does not leave, it an automatic consent)."

    This is pretty much what I was trying to convey but done in about 800 less words than I wrote :)
    I do find many times where people fail to see the meta-consent and write it off as non-consent if the sub resists it (even if he gets off by being put into situations that he doesn't want).

    Quote: "In theory it's that easy. But don't forget, in practice there is unfortunately something like emotional dependancy. Sometimes very serious one. This can be a problem for vanillas and even for dom(me)s, but I suppose mostly for subs, as they are wired to serve and to make sacrifices for their 'commander'. *g* And for subs who are emotionally dependant, it can be very difficult to leave. If faced with extreme duress, yes, but as you mentioned somewhere you sometimes tend to stay in relationships longer than it is good for you, and I assume many genuine subs feel like you."

    I agree completely here but there is a line in the sand that would make me walk. I will elaborate in response to the next quoate.

    Quote "Under these circumstances the opinion that everything that happens in a freely chosen relationshis is consensual appears in a different light. No?"

    I would say yes and no. Nine years ago I had a hard limit that I wouldn't let anything up my butt. 18 months ago I was emotionally blackmailed into a situation where I had to offer up something major to prove my devotion and I dropped that hard limit and let her violate me. It made me cry and I still cry every time it happens. It also turns me on a great deal and I go to a depth of subspace I had never reached before. In a healthier relationship that would have never happened but I do not regret it.

    Now no sexual contact with males is still a firm hard limit for me. If I was faced with the option of sucking off another man or having sex with one vs. having the relationship end I would walk without hesitation. It would hurt me that it came to that, but at that point it would leave me no other choice.

    I think ultimatums and emotional blackmail can put a sub into a position to where they must truly evaluate their hard limits and how important they are to them. Is it a need or a preference? With certain things I think that only under great duress are we willing to test the waters and find out or be willing to sacrifice everything to stand firm.

    I think people in standard relationships face these kinds of trials as well. Buy a home vs. rent, have kids (and how many) vs. not, relocate the family for work vs. not, etc. The one who makes the larger compromise usually puts the greatest value on being with the people involved and feels least strongly about the choice being made.

    Quote: "I cannot help myself, but that appears to me like childish, immature behaviour. *g*"

    I agree that it is childish. Oddly enough, the strictest, bitchiest taskmaster wives I know are vanilla. It happens to one of my good friends all the time.

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