consent

On Justice and Community Policing

Several months ago, I let a guy named Jefferson host a party at my house. A prominent figure in the kink, blogging, and spoken word spheres, we ran in the same circles and were both members of a group with a pretty high barrier for entry– one that prides itself on emphasizing consent to ensure the safety of its members. Because of this, I felt comfortable opening my home to him and his friends for a night.

The party was a disaster– the agreement was that I’d provide the space and invite a couple of my friends, and he’d do the legwork. Despite initially agreeing to a men’s only party, the original invitations said that though the party was “focused on male-on-male action,” all were welcome. He said some deeply misguided shit regarding trans people, but I chalked it up to ignorance and dismissed it. When the day came, Jefferson arrived late, fucked up, and alone– none of the men he’d invited ended up coming. I wonder whether he invited them at all, or just expected my friends to carry the party.  Determined to have his dick sucked by 50 different people throughout the month in honor of his 50th birthday, he unceremoniously waggled his cock in front of each attendee’s face to add another notch to his belt. He’d been there maybe an hour, but I was already regretting my decision.

The last straw came when he interrupted a scene of mine and punched my bottom. I told him to ask the bottom’s permission. He ignored me and did it again. Louder this time, I told him to ask. He tried for a third time, and I had to physically intervene and tell him to get the hell out of our way.

The following Monday, I shot an email to the moderators of the group that introduced us. To my surprise, they replied that they had received multiple emails about him and they were investigating. He’d violated the consent of other members at different parties (yes, plural) throughout the weekend. Upon further investigation, we found evidence that suggested he’s been at this a long time. There’s an internet trail alluding to consent violations as far back as 2005 (see here and here from 2008, Jefferson’s own long, narcissistic diatribe from 2010 in which he gaslights his former partners, an anonymous account of a different consent violation on a kinky blacklist, and an incredibly difficult to read account of a scene in which he gave his bottom a third degree burn). The moderators decided unanimously to boot him from the group and withdraw their support for his sex-related storytelling night.

Some members notified the venue of his storytelling night of his history, and the venue decided to discontinue hosting the event.

Months later, the event reappeared at a different venue. Jefferson gets away with his behavior by establishing himself as an authority figure within sex positive communities and drawing in new people who may not have experience with the kink scene and enforcing their boundaries. It’s an M.O. I’ve seen before. They start “fresh,” never mention their backgrounds, and continue hurting people.

We notified the new venue and they withdrew their invitation. He found another, and we repeated ourselves. We’ll continue to intervene as many times as we need to before he gives up and accepts that he and his events are not welcome in our city. We won’t accept him as an authority figure anymore, and we won’t let new faces to the scene see him as someone to be trusted because of his status and connections.

We can’t protect everyone. We can keep him away, but there are dozens like him. The best we can do is to share information freely and keep these men and women out of positions of relative power and make it clear to the scene that abusive behavior won’t be tolerated. We are a community, and we need to protect our own.

Extracurricular Activities: Opening Your Monogamous Relationship

As with all posts on this blog, I’d love to hear others’ experiences. If you have any tips to add to this post, I encourage you to share them in the comments.

I come across a surprisingly large number of people interested in opening their monogamous relationships but aren’t sure how to get started. If you’re one of them, this is for you.

Self-evaluation

Credit: Rhapsodisiac on DeviantArt

You’ve been happily involved with your partner for several months (or several years), and you love them to death. But lately, you find yourself a bit constrained by monogamy. Maybe you’ve seen friends successfully navigate open relationships, or read about them on the internet. Whatever the case may be, you start to think that exclusivity is no longer right for you.

Before you bring it up to your partner, you need to figure out why you want to open your relationship. Why now? Has something changed? Did you transition from living locally to a long-distance gig? Have you recently discovered or come to terms with your bisexuality? Was your partner your first and only, and you’re feeling the need to see what else is out there? Do you have incompatible kinks or mismatched sex drives? Do you have a crush on your coworker that you want to pursue, even though you still love your partner? Is your partner a homebody, and you’d rather go out and party?

The answer to “why” is important for broaching the subject to your partner. There are as many ways to do non-monogamy as there are non-monogamous relationships, and understanding why you want out of an open relationship will go a long way toward figuring out what set up will work for you.

Broaching the Subject

You probably already have an idea of how your partner feels about open relationships. If not, though, now’s the time to figure it out. Mention non-monogamous folks you know and send your partner links to articles about open relationships and poly families. Gauge their response.

Our culture has made monogamy a synonym for commitment and treats love as a zero-sum game. We’re expected to spend our days searching for a monogamous lifemate who is “the one”: someone who can fulfill all our emotional, social, and sexual needs. In reality, that rarely happens and most monogamous relationships require a bit of sacrifice. No one, or relationship, is perfect, but we’re bombarded by the idea that we need to find a match (singular) and live happily ever after. Given the cultural context we live in, when you first say, “I’d like to try opening our relationship,” your partner may hear echoes of things like:

  • He doesn’t love me anymore.
  • I’m not enough for her.
  • Our sex life is inadequate.
  • I’m not attractive enough.

Sounds like a bit of a minefield, right?

Having a solid grasp on the “why” makes it easier to put the proposal into context and helps prevent your partner from jumping to those erroneous conclusions.

With that said, if your partner is happily and inflexibly monogamous, don’t try to convince him or “make her come around” to your point of view. There’s nothing wrong with asking, but be ready to take “no” for an answer. If you truly believe that monogamy isn’t for you and your partner can’t imagine non-monogamy for himself, you may be at an impasse and it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a deal breaker. You need to be on the same page.

Hashing Out the Details

If you both decide that you want to take the leap, sit down with a pen and paper and consider the following questions together. Alternatively, do it separately and then compare your responses.

  1. Do you want to remain emotionally monogamous, or are you open to additional romantic relationships?
  2. If you’re planning on emotional monogamy, how will you handle it if one of you develops feelings for a sexual partner?
  3. If you’re open to other emotional/romantic relationships, do you want other partners to be “secondary” to your current relationship, or would you rather not make that distinction?
  4. Do you want to pursue other people separately, or would you prefer to come as a package deal?
  5. Are there any acts or dynamics you wouldn’t be comfortable with your partner playing out with someone else? What are they?
  6. What does “safer sex” mean to you? What is an acceptable level of risk? What are your expectations for STI testing and barrier protection (Condoms for penetration? Condoms/dental dams for oral? Gloves for manual stimulation?)?
  7. How much information and when do you want to hear about your partner’s extracurricular activities? Do you want him to ask permission before hand, or is an FYI after the fact sufficient? Do you want to know what she did with her other girlfriend?
  8. How much contact do you want to have with your partner’s partners (also known as metamours)? Do you need to meet them? Do you want to be friends with them?
  9. Do you have geographic limits? Would you rather your partner only see people who live out of town, or while they’re traveling?
  10. How much discretion do you need/want? Are you comfortable with your partner posting about his date on Facebook?
  11. How jealous are you? Do you anticipate jealousy putting a strain on your relationship? How will you address/handle jealousy? What can your partner do to help?

If you haven’t gotten the message yet, the most important part is communication. Be honest about your feelings and assume good intentions. Keep the lines of communication open long after you finish the initial discussion. Check in with each other often, and periodically reevaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

Beware the NRE Monster

New Relationship Energy, or NRE, is a familiar face to everyone who’s ever been enamored with another. It’s the euphoria-inducing drug that makes it nearly impossible to think about anything but your new crush. You know the feeling. You know the symptoms: checking your phone every five minutes, itching to leave work and head home so you can get ready to meet up with him, talking about her non-stop to anyone who will listen.

NRE is beautiful and dangerous. It can plant stupid ideas in our head that are hard to resist. For those of us in open relationships, it can be devastating if not handled carefully.

I doubt there’s been research on it, but I wouldn’t doubt that unbridled NRE is the most common cause of failure in newly-opened relationships. I can’t stress this enough: Remember the partner waiting for you at home. Maintain your date nights, and when you’re spending time together, put away the phone and give her your full attention. Don’t cancel plans with your long-term partner to spend time with the shiny new one. Share the joys of your new relationship, but keep your excitement under control.

Moreover, don’t let NRE impair your judgment. Don’t get carried away and forget the rules you laid out. If you told your boyfriend you’d be home by midnight, be home by midnight. If you and your girlfriend agreed you’d always use condoms with other people, use them. If you agreed to ask permission before anything sexual transpired, keep it in your pants until next time. You will have another chance. I promise.

Relationships only work if they’re supported by a solid foundation of trust, and proving time and again that you mean what you say will demonstrate that you respect your partner and your relationship. When it comes to sex with other people, your partner is putting his health in your hands with the safer sex rules you agreed upon. Don’t fuck it up.

Have fun! Enjoy each other, respect each other, and view non-monogamy as another piece of your adventure together.

Essential Reading on Non-Monogamy and Polyamory:

On Consent and Community

Let’s talk about consent and making our communities safer.

When you first join a sex-positive community or the kink scene, the first thing they tell you is that consent is of the utmost importance. But stick around a while longer and you’ll encounter a huge number of people who have had their consent violated and their boundaries crossed. You’ll hear stories about well-respected community leaders crossing others’ boundaries. Sometimes, these are the same leaders who stressed the importance of consent to you in the first place.

Why the disconnect? I do believe that most people in kinky/sex-pos communities are well-intentioned and practice what they preach, but the “community” environment lends itself to becoming a safe haven for predators. The kink scene especially, in its efforts to differentiate between BDSM and abuse, has a tendency to overlook the problems within.

What You Can Do to Avoid Violating Someone’s Consent

I’m serious. Fuck those guides on “how to protect yourself.” I think the single biggest cause of consent violation is a narrow understanding of what consent means. If you define consent as “(s)he didn’t say ‘no,'” there’s a good chance you have violated (or will violate) someone’s consent. Consent is:

  • Uncoerced: Consent given under pressure, threat, or intimidation is not valid consent. If he initially says “no,” but relents after the seventeenth time you asked, you are coercing him. If she agrees only because she’s afraid of harm or your disappointment, you’re coercing her.
  • Unimpaired by drugs, alcohol, or sub space. Do not wait until she’s intoxicated to spring an idea on her, because you think she wouldn’t consent to it otherwise. Yes, I do consider sub space a form of endogenous intoxication: I’ve played with people who go non-verbal in sub space and who lose a concrete understanding of what’s happening to them or who’s doing it. They’re less inhibited, their pain thresholds are elevated, and they’re less aware of their bodies. Sound familiar?
  • Unambiguous: The absence of “no” does not mean “yes.” I don’t believe that consent must always be verbal, but it probably should be unless you know your partner very well. Consider his body language: if he hasn’t said “no,” but he’s covering himself, pulling away, or blocking your touch, you don’t have consent.
  • Specific: Consent to sex with a condom is not consent to sex without a condom. Consent to bondage is not consent to sex. Consent to sex is not consent to bondage. Consent to spanking is not consent to anything but spanking. You catch my drift?
  • One-time-use: Similarly, consent does not extend beyond the end of an activity. Just because you had mind-blowing sex with him tonight doesn’t mean you can jump him in the morning and assume it’s OK.

If you’re unsure, don’t do it. If he really, honestly wants to fuck you when he’s drunk, he’ll want to fuck you sober. If you didn’t discuss punching beforehand, but you think she might be into it, mentally file it under “maybe” and ask her when you’re negotiating your next scene.

How to Protect Your Communities

First and foremost, do your part by following the above rules and not violating anyone’s consent.

Then, listen to others. Support community members who have had bad experiences. Never blame the victim or suggest what he could have done to prevent the consent violation. Don’t vouch for anyone you aren’t 100% certain is safe, and if you do serve as a reference, be careful to speak only about your own experiences. Encourage second opinions, because your positive experience may not be universal.

Have a direct impact on safety at parties in your area by learning how and volunteering to be a dungeon monitor . Some groups offer classes in DMing, but if not, there’s more than enough literature on the net to get you started.

Don’t support known predators. Don’t attend their classes. Don’t attend their parties or events. Don’t invite them to your parties or events.

This is where things get sticky. I know this one is controversial, but share what you know, while respecting victims’ privacy. If you know that John Doe had a bad experience with Jane Smith and Sally Jones is considering inviting Jane to her party, speak up. Say something like, “I’ve heard that Jane sometimes takes advantage of her bottoms when they’re in sub space.” Don’t mention John by name without asking him.

Prepare for backlash if you do this. There are some in the scene who brush off these accounts as hearsay, and may accuse you of “causing drama.” It’s up to you to decide where you stand on this, but personally, I think that if “drama” is the cost of safety, I’m willing to pay it.

Like sex, no community is 100% safe. Still, fostering an environment that values consent, supports victims, and condemns predators goes a long way toward helping a scene live up to the moniker of “community.”