Lance surged forward, suddenly vertical. Alex wasn’t sure how he got there and didn’t move out of the way fast enough. Lance leaned over him. “Don’t think I’ll go easy on you for this.”
Alex shook his head.
“Have you been thinking about me?” Lance asked softly. Deadly.
Alex bit his lip and didn’t respond. He didn’t like that he got off on the pain of Lace’s bite. He didn’t like that he was hard now, thinking about Lance forcing him down on his knees to…to… he to a deep breath through his nose.
D’Angelo smiled cruelly. “You have, haven’t you?”
Inception, Part 14 by Tami Veldura
Consent is not the simple black and white decision most people believe. This is never more true than when dealing with alternative lifestyles that play with power exchange relationships. BDSM is a catch-all acronym for several types of power exchange that are practiced in the world and it has become a thriving genre for writers and readers alike with the advent of e-readers.
Generally, the acronym can be broken into three categories: B/D for Bondage and Discipline, D/s for Domination and submission, and S&M for sadism and masochism. B/D play includes things like erotic restraint, cuffs, floggers, spankings, and similar. D/s encompases a relationship between a dominant or alpha partner and a sub or slave partner. S&M is pretty straightforward. Sadism = enjoying inflicting pain (emotional, physical, etc) and masochism = enjoying receiving pain (fun fact: this may be a physical difference in the brain for some people).
Consent Isn’t Optional
The BDSM community has a slogan you’ll find everywhere as soon as you start looking into these types of lifestyles. It is: Safe, Sane, Consensual. At the highest level of interaction, a BDSM relationship is no different than any other. It requires willing participants, trust and respect. Without these, dysfunctions can easily tear the relationship apart. But when dysfunction destroys a BDSM relationship, there may be physical or emotional repercussions far greater than a traditional (or vanilla) relationship.
No one should ever engage in sexual play without mutual trust and respect, but people will always be people. They make bad decisions, emotional or drunk decisions, they succumb to fear, greed, pride, or the desire for revenge. When something goes wrong, it can go wrong badly. Unfortunately, it’s these situations that often make it to the press, giving the BDSM lifestyle as a whole an appearance of danger or rampant abuse.
A spanking gone wrong may result in bruising, but a whipping gone wrong can draw blood and tear muscle. Blindfold a partner and they might kick the wall or roll off the bed, but gag them without doing some research and they might not be able to tell you when something hurts that shouldn’t.
Knowing that the BDSM lifestyle can be dangerous, the issue of safety and consent has been brought to the forefront by the community at large. Contracts that define hard limits (never going there) and soft limits (not comfortable, but willing to be pushed/experiment) are common, especially in D/s or long-term relationships. Classes on safety, aftercare, and how to properly use and stow equipment can easily be found. Information is the key to a fun and healthy BDSM experience.
Dubious Consent and Consensual Non-Consent
The grey area of consent is a very slippery slope. Things can quickly go from questionably uncomfortable to rape and combining the situation with a gag or fear/psychological influences only makes things worse. Safewords are one solution to the question of consent. All participating members agree on a word that won’t be said accidently in the middle of play (like a cooking ingredient, car type, or simply ‘red’) that signals everything needs to stop immediately. A safeword can be used for any reason and must always be honored; that’s the only way to ensure the situation won’t get out of hand. Some people choose two words, a ‘warning’ word that indicates things are tough, not-quite-fun, or generally uncomfortable but doesn’t require play to stop entirely, and the safeword that stops everything.
Some people enjoy being forced. Some people enjoy being humiliated or made to endure pain. Some want to be forced into enjoying an experience. Many times they want to be able to struggle, fight, say no, or scream while in the middle of play and they want all of these traditional signals of non-consent to be ignored.
Consent in advance (or consensual non-consent) is a way for these people to establish the boundaries (or lack of them) in a scene and trust that all parties are aware of their desire for the situation. It allows people to interact with each other in a different way they want to explore without damaging the relationship they’ve built otherwise. Scenes like this can be time-based (for the next half hour, two hours, etc) or action based (until X happens). They’re usually negotiated in advance.
Even stronger D/s relationships such as 24/7 or Total Power Exchange (TPE) relationships do not have a time or action limit. Contracts are common and each relationship is vastly different, but when practiced, common consent signals are often irrelevant to the situation. When observed from the outside and without context, these relationships can appear to be abuse. When participants do not trust and respect each other, the relationship can easily become abuse.
‘It’s complicated’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Aftercare in these sorts of relationships and scenes is vastly important and can cover a wide range of responses. From hugging and backrubs through relief crying all the way up to medical care for hard canings and knife play, aftercare is a way for both parties to reconnect and calm down. This extends to protecting a submissive or slave from themselves if necessary. When a submissive has had a powerful experience it can echo for days psychologically. Like someone heavily drugged, they may be unable to say no and the need to determine consent, physical ability, and mental health falls upon the more dominant partner. Everyone is different and it takes time for submissives and dominants to process a scene and return to a sense of equilibrium.
BDSM In Fiction
Fiction stories offer a safe place for writers and readers to explore and experience shades of consent. It’s often the first place some people realize they might want to play with lighter BDSM elements like fuzzy handcuffs or a blindfold and feathers. It’s a place to dip a toe into heavier aspects like blood play, dubious consent, and breath play (erotic asphyxiation) that are not for the feint of heart.
Like any subject, there are writers who understand the topic and writers who don’t. Those who don’t may be writing abusive relationships into their fiction. Flat characters with no goals or motivation are no better, all a reader sees is someone begging to be hurt; an abusive situation by any definition.
Below are a list of books and short stories I’ve read and enjoyed in the BDSM genre that I believe are written with a solid understanding of the subject and as such, a respect for it. These stories are not all rainbows and bunnies.
Indeed, BDSM fiction is often willing to tackle heavy subjects like rape, torture, abuse, and the after-effects thereof. Content and trigger warnings are common in this genre, I’ve included them. Stories are listed in order from lighthearted (top) to darker (bottom). All links are SFW, they go to goodreads.com.
M/M, D/s, shifters, Ugly Duckling retelling. HEA
M/M, D/s elements, torture, HEA
Mind Fuck (series)
M/M, D/s, HFN
M/M, BDSM, thriller, HEA
M/M, B/D, D/s, Dubious Consent, HEA
Power Play (series)
M/M, BDSM, torture, consent triggers, HEA
This story is all about exploring the nature of consent.
The Flesh Cartel (serial)
M/M, BDSM, rape, physical torture, psychological torture, stockholm syndrome, non-consensual incest, HEA
This is a brutal series that pulls no punches. Trigger warnings for everything.
It is powerful, heartbreaking, and the most compelling story I’ve ever read.