Aspiring towards Authenticity: Crusading for Consent

“A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.”
~ The Pervocracy

Consent.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about promoting Consent Culture is that I spent so much of my life ignorant of it. No one taught me what respect for another persons sovereignty and boundaries was or looked like. The models for relationship I grew up with were based on control, manipulation, and on ownership dynamics.

As I became involved in the poly scene I began to hear catchphrases like “Only Yes Means Yes”, but I still didn’t get it, not until someone asked me to talk about the rules of consent at a large event. When I sat down to think about what consent means to me, I became painfully aware of how many times, in connecting intimately with others, I had overlooked whether I had their consent or not- and also how often I had gone along with something because I didn’t know it was okay to say no. I realized that with every instance, that relationship where consent had been absent was one that became toxic, filled with drama, and ultimately disruptive and destructive for everyone involved.

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Whether we are conscious of it or not, when our right to non-consent is violated or ignored, it effects us. We can attempt to rationalize it as “Well, I put myself in that situation”- but rationalizing it is not okay. We can want so desperately to feel a Yes (because we think it means we are desirable or popular or loved) that we ignore the loud screaming No coming from deep within ourselves. And it is hard to come to terms with having done to us- or even doing to others- something which did not have explicit consent.

When we sacrifice our sovereignty to placate or please others, something damaging happens to us: we learn that it’s okay to ignore non consent. We become part of perpetuating that culture of kyriarchy and control. And the problem is, this cycle of non consent has been going on for eons; for as long as we have record of human interactions we have tried to dominate and control one another.

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Spiritualists might say “Oh this must have been my Karma,” or “Oh well, that was that person’s Karma,” but in my opinion that is a dangerous attitude, and one that reeks of Spiritual Bypassing. As a consequence of attitudes like this, abusers, misogynists and rapists often find too easy a home within spiritual communities- leading to the perpetuation of outdated gender stereotypes in an environment where people should be looking beyond them. At its core, no matter what your approach, Spirituality looks to encourage the growth of the soul, to improve the human condition. The most significant thing we can do to that end, I believe, is to no longer accept the perpetuation of tyrannical attitudes of ownership and control, and to replace those with a cooperative structure based on consent and communication.

One of the most important steps to being able to embody Consent Culture is nurturing authenticity within ourselves. If we are afraid to be ourselves, afraid to voice authentically who we are, what we are, what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with- then we are hindered in our ability to give or refuse consent. We have to nurture authentic dialogue with ourselves- something that I know I personally found very challenging during the days when I was partying and drinking excessively.

“Among those socialized as girls, however, there’s an often particularly extra-strong need to be nice, to put others’ needs before your own, and to follow the unwritten expectation that you must be compliant and self-sacrificing to be of value… Don’t rock the boat. Don’t talk back (especially to men). Be humble. Be accommodating. Put others before yourself. Be compliant…”
~ Marcia Bazcynski, The Good Girl Recovery Program

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We can all learn how how to hear, accept, and respect a “No”. And I don’t just mean in a sexual context. In any context. If we are unable to respect the individuality and autonomy of those around us, and dismiss another person’s “No”, potentially even arguing with them about it, we are still buying into that paradigm that says it’s okay for us to attempt to manipulate, control, and direct the decisions of others. Consent is absolutely the most important aspect of any relationship.

On New Year’s I had a great experience with consent. I was at a house party, in a ‘cuddle puddle’ with a few people- some of whom I had met that night, some of whom I already knew. There was a lot of kissing going on in this cuddle puddle. I found myself curious about one woman in particular and- well, I don’t remember how it began, but at some point, I think I started it and asked if I could kiss her. She said yes. Then she asked if she could kiss me. Yes. Then I asked if I could touch her body. Yes. She asked if she could touch my thighs. Of course. She said she liked spanking: could I spank her? Yes please. I was curious about scratching: could she scratch me? Maybe a little. Was that too hard? No. And on it progressed. It was one of the sexiest consent-fueled first encounters I’ve ever had with anyone.

I learned that night that Consent really is that ‘easy’. It’s about respecting that everyone has different boundaries, and making no assumptions about what those boundaries are. Consent isn’t time consuming- it’s sexy, and empowering, and takes a heck of a lot of guess work out of things. There’s no more silent questioning, “Are they enjoying this?” because you become comfortable with simply asking if the other person is enjoying the experience. There’s no trampling over someone’s comfort zones- rather, you get to gently glide to the edges of where you are each willing to explore. And when done right, it can build the anticipation ten fold.

It’s taken me time and practice to get comfortable with asking for consent and giving consent or non consent, but I think I get it now. It starts with a dialogue with yourself. Next time you are going on a date, or to a party- what do you give yourself permission to do, and to not do? What will you be comfortable with, and uncomfortable with, and with whom? Knowing our own boundaries, becoming intimately familiar with our own “Fuck Yes!” and our “Hell No” and the “Maybe”, we equip ourselves to be in a better position to both ask for, hear, and express consent and non-consent.

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There is strength in abandoning the masks and living authentically. We have to be the change we want to see in the society around us; living in our own truth, and being generous with our authenticity, is one of the most radical, most transformational practices we can engage with.

So, whether you’d like to buy someone a drink, or you would like to put a balloon sculptured animal on their head and serenade them with free-styled Klingon rap- always ask, never assume, and then respect whatever their answer is.

The bottom line is this: consent begins with knowing what we want, and don’t want, and maybe want- and articulating it, knowing that others have things they want, don’t want, and maybe want too-  to listen to them articulating it, respecting where those wants don’t overlap- and daring to dive in and explore where they do.

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Knowing your “No”s

The first word I ever said, was “No”, and it’s a word that I have been contemplating a lot recently.

traffic-light-1024_159700kI’m finding myself moving into a space of exploring my Dom side- and I am hyper aware of the fact that not everyone feels comfortable all the time with saying No. Since I am seriously contemplating kinky things that would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, I want to make sure that whoever I do anything like this with is confident in their ability to express their boundaries- both ahead of time, and during any kind of play session.

As a woman, I was raised with the idea that only men could be rapists, and also that all men wanted sex. As an assertive woman, I found myself pushing things far beyond consent on several occasions before I ever heard male friends tell me their stories of being assaulted- and being raped. It opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a rapist, sexual assault can be committed by anybody- regardless of their gender- and this began to highlight for me the importance of consent, checking in, and engaging in dialogue about where everyone’s at in the moment.

Sexual assault, rape, non-consentual experiences: it doesn’t matter what gender you are, nor your sexual orientation. We are all capable of causing it, and we are all potential victims of that. We all, I believe, have a responsibility to have honest dialogue with ourselves, to recognize where our own “No”s are and learn how to recognize where other people’s “No”s are- even when they might not know them themselves.

Internalized sexual shame can drive us to stay with partners who have abused us- and I don’t think that we always realise in the moment that it is abusive. I used to have sex with my husband when I didn’t want to cos, well that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are married, right? That feeling of obligation can also kick in within the sex party scene- after all, if you go to a sex party you must want to have sex and be ‘down to fuck’. I’ve had experiences where I absolutely refused to believe that my body was trying to say no to something that, intellectually I wanted, and yet physically something else was going on- and then forced myself to go through with it anyway. Cos, you know, what would people think? There’s so many other ways in which we can be abused. Partners can mentally dominate us in so many ways, not just through bullying- sometimes it is unconscious, it’s a pattern of behavior we have learned from others. Sometimes it is deliberate: negging, for example, is a type of mental domination: putting someone down and then praising them, so that they become reliant on you for feelings of self worth.

My back prickles when I hear women talking about men as being sexually dangerous, and, in the same conversation, they take an attitude of needing to take these men down a notch by making them their subordinates. I grew up around a lot of dialogue like that. It makes me very aware that there can be a tendency to want to dominate out of a desire to level the playing field. I have met many empowered, feminist women, who honestly believe that it is their right to make men submit to their will.

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The primal “let’s fight fire with fire” reaction that comes up a lot is, I think, understandable from an animal behavior point of view- many women have grown up seeing men as a threat, and so that fight or flight survival response can be triggered.

This by no means justifies it though. We are human beings and we have the ability to master our actions and consciously choose our reactions.

My mother told me stories of taking a knife with her to protect her when she went on dates when she was in her twenties. She was disgusted by sexuality in general- male sexuality specifically. She had no problem putting men down in a struggle to boost her own self confidence. I grew up with a model of emotional manipulation from wife to husband, and thus for many years I simply emulated that in the way I related to lovers. One day, I realised that this really wasn’t any way to treat any other human being, and that I was tired of relationship dynamics being governed by sexual guiltifying and an ongoing tit for tat squabble.

An important factor for me being Singleish has been that I don’t want to slip in to that learned behavior model of manipulation and control anymore. Even as someone who, in kink terminology, is more dominant, I refuse to let that mean, “I have control over you”. If someone I’m with prefers that I take charge? That’s something that lovers and potential lovers have to outright express a desire for before I’m willing to go there, and even then, I have found I am very cautious in negotiating what that means for them. In short, I do not want them to feel that they have to do it just because it’s what I want.

I noticed that the times in my past when I myself had gone too far, hadn’t checked in with myself or the other people around me thoroughly enough, it was predominantly when I was under the influence of alcohol. Even when people’s bodies were giving clear signals (drying up, loosing erections, etc) we all just tried to keep going. So, I now choose to not have sex if I am drunk or if the other person is drunk- even if I am in an established relationship them. And if someone isn’t seeming interested, I don’t try to make them want me more- I check in and see what’s up.
I know I got better at figuring it out in others once I learned how to hear and acknowledge a “No” in myself.
Why then, is it still such a challenge for me to say “No” to others?
 
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“Subspace is often characterized as a state of deep recession and incoherence… intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of … natural chemicals … the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

~taken from Wikipedia entry on Subspace

“Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it. My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
particular reason.”

~from MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace, Falling or Floating or something else?

When I go in to subspace, or sub drop, it can be hard to communicate. It’s a hypnotic-like state, where free will surrenders, the body surrenders, and your conscious mind sinks in to your unconscious mind. It can be a very liberating experience- but it also has its dangers. I’ve experienced going in to subspace and not realising till afterwards that what was happening wasn’t actually something I wanted. I’ve also experienced being unsure, and not being able to actually physically find any words to vocalise my feelings.

So, sometimes non-consentual things can happen in intimacy because one person has subdropped and is no longer able to communicate clearly. That’s why safe words and hand signals are incredibly helpful- they are the absolute “stop everything you are doing” signal that help to keep everyone in a space of enjoyable, consentual, fun intimate play.

However, they only work if we know where our boundaries are. I’ve struggled with this, and with getting to know where my “no”s are- and as a consequence I’m super cautious now about moving to an intimate space with someone, not just because of my own sub drop, but because if the other person goes in to a sub drop, I need to know way ahead of time where their “no” lies, and figure out how to recognise it when even they might not.

I have known so many people who have been in relationships that were abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally- and not just between lovers. Sometimes in family or work situations too. And I’m so concerned when I see one of my friends enter in to a new relationship or situation that might have the potential to take them in to that deep state of hypnosis, and I don’t know that other person well enough. 

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Consciously craving the subdrop can be a form of escapism, as a reaction to post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, the thing is- kink can be REALLY HEALING for PTSD type things (for me, a lot of the PTSD I experience is connected to my miscarriages). With the right people, I’ve been able to dive in to my own traumas and let go of a lot of things, and right now I’m on pause while I await connection with someone new who might be able to help me in this exploration.

In general, I’m concerned that the person I’m with may not recognise when things might be physically damaging. If they are new and don’t know much about how much one person can surrender not just their body, but their mind- well, that’s something that can be taken advantage of. That is power that can be abused in unskilled or unaware hands. And, can have long term repercussions, especially if the subspace is helping the person receiving access their own deep traumas. Dealing with our traumas and shame can be terrifying. To step in to that most vulnerable of spaces and have someone create further trauma- that, to me, is the most dangerous element of kink, and why I remain so cautious.

It is such a fine line. I don’t want to short change someone on an amazing experience, and nor do I want to push things too far. I don’t want to create psychological scars on anyone.

Above all else, one of my goals in how I share my love in relationships is for it to be something healing and nurturing. Eye opening; heart opening. I want to share my love in such a way that the people I share it with feel free. And, once again, I come to the conclusion that the better I know myself, the more I am able to know others; the stronger I am in my relationship to myself, the more connected to my Self I feel, the greater my capacity for connection to others, and the richer and more rewarding my relationships become.
 
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Magical Mysterious Maybe

‎”Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
~ Carl Jung

I’ve been thinking about three little words: Yes, No, and Maybe.

This article on the power of “fuck yes” really got my attention. I think of how many times I’ve had an intoxicated liaison that wasn’t a “FUCK YES!” but more of a, “Well, I don’t have anything else to do…” and how different those experiences have been compared against the rolling crescendo building in my body when I’m with someone whom every cell of my being is yearning for.

noThe “No-Way-Jose”s are always very clear to me, and if I am not interested in someone’s romantic overtures, I tell them so quite plainly and in a straightforward manner. I’m told that the word “No” was one of the first words I ever spoke, right after “Baby”, “Mama” and “Dada”. Apparently, I have always been assertive in communicating my boundaries.

And then- there’s the mysterious Maybe.

A “maybe” can be so confounding. Because we often say maybe when we mean no, or say no when we mean maybe, and hardly ever do we say maybe to really mean that we aren’t sure yet because we don’t have all the information to make an informed decision either way.

Say What You Mean, And Mean What You Say

Several months ago a friend of mine found herself as the metamor of someone I had just started seeing. We already knew we attracted a lot of the same people, so when she told me she was going for brunch with my sweetie, I asked, “Is it a date?”

“No, no” she said emphatically. ” It’s not a date. I don’t think I would date him.”

So you can imagine my surprise when, a week later, the beau in question told me how attracted he was to her and he wanted to date her- and that the feeling was mutual.

What?

I felt a lot of anger towards her. What happened to the “I don’t want to date him”? How did that turn around? And why, as a friend, had she not thought to maybe say a few words to me after their brunch to say that, actually yeah she might want to date him too?

Honestly, if she had said that she might want to date him, or if she had texted me or called me up after their brunch and said “I know I said I wasn’t interested but that was before I got to know him and I’m actually really attracted to him” – I would have been okay with that. Really, I would have.

And for all that this friend kept saying about how much our friendship meant to her, I really had thought I could have expected more from her. I would have thought she would be the person to tell me. This certainly wasn’t something I thought I would hear from the mouth of my lover after some particularly magical and sensual afternoon delight.

I haven’t quite gotten over the shock of this. I still go back to that time in my memory and wonder how things could have played out differently, positively. I know we were both still figuring out this poly thing (heck, I think I am still figuring out), but I keep returning to this situation again and again.

Why did she do what she did? Why didn’t she speak her mind and say what she was thinking and feeling?

I can’t say for sure, though I wonder if it has to do with people pleasing. When we don’t want to ruffle feathers, we are more likely to say what we think other people want to hear, than actually express ourselves from our hearts- even if we know that it may not necessarily cause conflict to do so. Sometimes we just hold back from saying anything at all, stick our heads in the sand and hope that whatever we are feeling that’s incongruent with what we think we’re supposed to be feeling will just go away if we baton down the hatches for long enough.

But it doesn’t. It can fester. It can cause ambiguity that sews discord that in turn breeds distrust. And when you circulate with a social group of poly people who will all, inevitably, at one point or another date everyone else, that kind of discord can be a poison. And it hurts.

Taking responsibility for expressing ourselves

How do we take responsibility for the intentions we bring in to any situation- or relationship?

How do we become aware of how we express ourselves externally? How aware are we of the message we send to the people around us by the way we speak and interact?

Conscious ownership over our actions and the intention with which we move in the world and through life is a form of self-mastery. It is going to take some work. You can’t be complacent. You have to have courage in communication.

Most of all, I think we need to be able to engage in authentic dialogue within if we hope to have authentic expression on the outside.

I believe it’s healthy to question things, to assume nothing, and also to allow yourself to be present to each moment fully. That’s how we connect in with ourselves. You can call it meditation or self examination, or contemplation. It’s not about being detached from past or future, but allowing yourself to be fully You in the moment. And knowing who it is that you are.

Having An Authentic Dialogue with Yourself

It could be argued that being Singleish is a way of avoiding responsibility in relationships. Heck, being poly could be seen as a way of avoiding responsibility. The more on the promiscuous side of the spectrum you sit, the more tempting it is to treat relationships as disposable. I can hold myself guilty of that- of taking things for granted and not having the maturity and wisdom to exercise responsibility for the relationships I’ve been in.

But- as much as poly can potentially be a breeding ground for disposability and avoiding relationship responsibility, I also think it can lead to learning relationship responsibility in a whole new way.

We support one another the best, I think, when we are clear with ourselves in our own journey. When we are proactive in owning our own shit, and astute and self-aware enough to not take on anyone else’s caca. It takes a tremendous dedication to working with one’s self. Me- I like to journal. I enjoy the self-dialogue that grows organically from the stream of consciousness flow that simply seeks to express where I’m at internally, in my relationship to my body, my heart, my mind: in relationship to Me.

I’ve found that when I’m doing that work- regardless of whether or not I feel like I’m actually making progress- I am so much more connected to myself, honest and authentic with myself, and able to be honest and authentic with others far more readily.

I think I have come a long way in how I say- and how I hear- the words No, Yes, and Maybe. I’m working on making sure that when I say them, that I really do mean them, and really do feel them. And gradually, I’m learning to find out what those words mean for other people, and how comfortable they are saying them to me with honesty. Will I ever get it all figured out? Maybe. That’s certainly something I can work towards. I kinda like the ambiguity that comes with a true maybe. It means- the future’s unpredictable, don’t get complacent. If I want it to be a Yes, I’m gonna have to work on myself to make it a Yes. Heck, some of the most rewarding and enjoyable and meaningful experiences of my life have come about because I took the time to explore the Maybe.

As Miranda has reminded me, sitting in the space of Maybe takes a commitment to the moment, to how you are feeling in that moment, if you want to discover whether it’s a No or a Yes. And, since no two moments are ever the same, it also requires a willingness to embrace change.