Consent and abuse of power in kink and other sexual communities

My latest project is to write a paper about the conversations about consent that happen in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and comparing these to recent conversations about consent that have been happening in kink and other sexual communities.

One main point of this is that Fifty Shades of Grey represents quite a conventional understanding of how consent happens. Generally Christian suggests something and if Ana doesn’t explicitly say ‘no’ they end up doing it. Additionally to this, outside of their sex life, he often does things that Ana has explicitly asked him not to. It seems that consent is only seen as applying to sex, not to the relationship more broadly.

Several bloggers in kink communities have recently pointed out that such simplistic understandings of consent, along with stigma around kink itself, have conspired to mean that many people have experienced rape and abuse in these settings and have felt unable to speak out about it. This has lead to an ongoing conversation about consent, power and abuse on the internet and at community events which is much more sophisticated and productive than some of those that preceded it.

It seems to me that there is a lot to be learnt from such conversations for those who – perhaps having read Fifty Shades of Grey –  are beginning to engage in kink, but also for people more widely: in a sexual context and in general.

The first step in my investigation has been to collect together a sample of blog posts which have addressed these topics. I hope to pull out the main themes and tensions from these posts in my paper, with a focus on the practical suggestions that have been made for addressing and avoiding abuse within sexual communities.

I’ll list the blog posts which I have found so far here because others may find such a list useful. Also, if people have additional blog posts on this topic to suggest, please let me know. I’d particularly like to include all of the (publicly available) ones that have been integral to these discussions.

I’ll also update this blog further once I’ve had chance to analyse the blog posts in more depth.

Blog posts relating to consent and abuse in kink and other sexual communities

Calls to action

Experience of abuse

Advice relating to potential perpetrators

Developing consent cultures/community guidance

Complicating consent

12 Responses to Consent and abuse of power in kink and other sexual communities

  1. Lisa says:

    One main point of this is that Fifty Shades of Grey represents quite a conventional understanding of how consent happens. Generally Christian suggests something and if Ana doesn’t explicitly say ‘no’ they end up doing it. Additionally to this, outside of their sex life, he often does things that Ana has explicitly asked him not to. It seems that consent is only seen as applying to sex, not to the relationship more broadly.

    Caveat: I haven’t read the books. But can I check this understanding? To what extent does Christian repeatedly attack her boundaries in a variety of settings (perhaps this is the “outside of their sex life” bit?) until her sense of herself as a person who can freely assert boundaries is even more compromised than whatever the “normal” amount of that being compromised is for a woman in her situation, and then that collapsing of boundaries carries over into their sex life as she starts to change or retract her “no’s”? Concluding in, if the books are typical, with one “triumphant” assertion of some boundary or other so she can be portrayed as “empowered”?

  2. Thomas Millar has a really great, epic blog series about this. Here’s Part 1: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/theres-a-war-on-part-1-troubles-been-brewing/

    I also have an even more detailed post here: http://clarissethorn.com/blog/2012/06/16/sm-aftercare-or-brainwashing/

  3. Great article and list of resources; thank you for including me in it!

    I would appreciate it, however, if you would change the url for my article to kinkylittlegirl.net from kinkylittlegirl.wordpress.com. The rest of it remains the same; just the domain has changed.

    I’ve recently moved the blog to a self-hosted platform and am trying to redirect traffic to the new site. For the moment, however, the list of links is still much more useable on the old site as I haven’t had the energy to reorganize them on the new site yet.

    Thanks!

    klg

  4. Thanks very much for the extra refs and amendments – incredibly helpful. Those extra posts by yourself and Thomas are exactly what I was looking for Clarisse.

    Lisa I think that is where I am going with the article (having read the various blogs) – to a point of questioning trying to have consent within sex when the culture in relationships more broadly is not one of consent. I’ll keep you posted.

    • Lisa says:

      I think I’m trying to go one step further than that. Not to the question, “is it impossible to aim for consent in sex when our ability to set boundaries is so compromised?”, but, “What role does so-called ‘consent’ in sex serve within a culture of almost ubiquitous boundary violation?” There are many abusers and other violators who embrace consent talk. I think that’s because consent talk allows them to put a “seal” on their abuse which it’s difficult for unprepared feminists to sustain an attack against.

      It sounds like your work might contribute towards that preparation and help give us a wider variety of tools with which to question that seal, to go beyond its feminism-stopping-power. But I think it’s important to take a step beyond the idea of “good intentions, frustrated by circumstance/structure” (I’ve no idea if that’s where you’re going! But I notice it in other writing on this subject) to look at the use of these structures, including feminist counter-structures, by the huge numbers of people with evil or careless intent – the rapeminded.

      Good luck!

      • Thanks Lisa. I feel I need to read and reread a fair bit more, but I think I am moving towards a similar point re. ubiquitous boundary violation. Btw have you read Simone de Beauvoir? I’d be fascinated to hear what you make of her theories – I can feel them echoing through the more I read of these blogs and I suspect I may return there in the paper (re. treating people as objects).

      • Lisa says:

        I’ve read The Second Sex, though that was a long time ago! Nowadays when it comes to cultural shaping of women’s boundaries I turn to some parts of Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology* (most notably the Second Passage, Chapter Seven, the early parts of the section “The Shrinking of Female Be-ing”).

        I’m also going to be publishing an article which incorporates detailed analysis of objectification and counter-objectification on my blog in the next couple of weeks which goes more into this, using this view of objectification as one of my launching-points. Note that one criterion/effect/process is “violability”.

        To very quickly try to summarise my view of objectification, I think it’s a multifacted society-wide process which has concrete and devastating effects on women’s selves rather than a series of isolated activities carried out with a particular kind of gaze, and that the objectification of women (and others) is key to sexuality in its widest sense as “sex inequality moving as a relation between people” (MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified).

  5. Very useful thanks – I look forward to the post :-)

  6. Molly says:

    I find it interesting that, as far as I can tell, all these writers and commentators are writing about the USA. Am I right in saying not a single one of these people writes about the kink community in the UK? I live within the kink community in the UK…. no community is without it troubles and abusers… NONE… but you know what, in all my years of socialising as an adult in various difference communities I have never felt safer.

    Mollyxxx

    • Thanks for the comment Molly. The answer is that the majority of the posts (particularly the flurry in 2011) are by US based authors (and particularly parts of US with big kink communities), but a good handful of the more recent ones are UK based authors. Also a couple of the US writers also have experience of UK communities.

      It is great to hear of your positive experiences. I think that there are differences in the awareness and level of dialogue in different communities (based on all kinds of things like geography, gender mix, sexuality, age/experience, etc. etc.) My sense from reading these blog posts is that a number of suggestions that are coming out of these discussions will – if put into practice in various scenes and communities – improve things further.

    • No, Molly. Mollena’s piece is about her rape by a dominant in Dublin.

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