Consent, beyond all else, is what separates abuse and BDSM. Consent allows each side of the slash a place to safely live out our fantasies. But what happens when consent ends? For most of us, that is an easy answer. When consent ends, so does everything else.
I personally use both the standard colors of Green, Yellow, and Red for general play and a safe word with my wife. Green, for us, means everything is fine. Yellow means that I need a breather. It means I need to reposition, or try a new implement, or simply just need to feel the touch of my Dominant. Red, means everything stops because something is seriously wrong. I use these colors and I teach them to anyone I play with as well. It helps to keep things consistent and easier to remember in the moment when play is intense.
The reason I use a safe word with my wife is because she feels more comfortable using it in non-play activities. If crowds are too intense at the store, she may use the word, so I know to get her into the open air immediately. She finds it easier to use when she gets spooked or frightened.
Then again, one word is far easier to remember when her mood drops, her senses heighten, the hair stands up on her neck, and when she looks at me with a blank stare and sees her past. My wife is a trauma survivor and suffers from both PTSD and bipolar disorder. Each of those comes with their own set of rules and consent.
For many, they wonder why we play. Why would I subject either of us to acts that could possibly trigger my wife into a flashback? Simply said, because she has asked me to.
For many, myself included, BDSM is cathartic. Some use it to reclaim a sense of lost innocence, some see it as a way to rewrite their own traumatic histories, some use it to help with anxiety, and so forth. The reasons people get into BDSM are as varied as the kinks that fall underneath its umbrella. However, it is important to understand your partner and their reasons because there are going to be times where consent is going to come into question.
Here are a few things I have learned over the years about playing with someone who deals with mental health issues:
- Consent can change in an instant and they may not be able to tell you that.
- The first time I triggered my wife during play, we were playing mildly. We were wrestling, and I pinned her arms down and straddled her thighs. She went still. I thought she was fine because she was looking at me. Except, she wasn’t. Her eyes were glossy, and she flinched when I moved. She thought I was going to beat her (in an abusive way). So, I spoke softly and let her know that I was going to move away and step back. I kept my hands where she could see them and backed away until I was against the wall. I slowly sat down and waited out until she came back to me.
- There have been several times I have triggered my partner. It can be as simple as a look given in a half-lit room to as traumatic as having them hit you in defense to a ghost only they can see. Patience is your greatest weapon. You partner will probably be ashamed that they triggered. They will be upset that they harmed you or, as they see it, inconvenienced/burdened you. They need to be reassured that you are alright and that you are not upset that play was interrupted. If you are, you should probably find another partner. Most of all, do not lie to them. If you are upset, then discuss it with them after they are in a better mindset.
- Triggers are a real thing and should be kept track of.
- I have found that most people have more than one trigger related to trauma. Even more so, they often have no idea what they are. So, as you inevitably discover them, write them down. It doesn’t matter if “it won’t happen again.” We all make mistakes, get overwhelmed, forget things, get busy, and such. If they have only been affected once or twice by a certain trigger and you’ve been together the better part of a decade, you may honestly forget. So, keep both a written list, and a set of rules to avoid it.
- Compromise. In our house, wire hangers are forbidden. It is a trigger for my wife to see them. Therefore, we only keep plastic ones. She can also never be touched by any type of hanger without her looking directly at me and taking it from my hand to her hand. Nothing else is acceptable. The same goes for blindfolds. I can use only items that are not knotted and slip off easily. She cannot be restrained while blindfolded. The door must remain open and I am always to continue touching her body that she cannot see. As I am sure you can understand, this impacts play. It does not mean we are not able to play, it just means we make changes to the scenes.
- Adapt. Let’s use my blindfold example. It seems to stump people when I explain the rules of blindfolds with my wife. They ask how we can still use them. I tell them to get creative. I blindfold her and lay her out, her arms folded under her head for comfort. Then I straddle only one leg, so she has recourse if she gets frightened. Then I pour oil down her spine and I start slowly massaging her, to both relax and delight her. Then I move slowly to kisses and so forth. There is still plenty I can do to entice her other senses without feeling restricted.
- Consent changes day to day.
- To be fair, this seems like common sense, but I am going to spell it out for you. Just because she said something was alright last week, yesterday, three hours ago, does not mean it is alright now. You should always reverify. That means that communication is super important—which is why it is a fundamental of BDSM.
- My wife used to get frustrated with herself because she was answering the same questions constantly, so I could assure myself that I had her consent to play, especially if I wanted to try something new. So, we came up with a code. When I get home from work, I look for the three magnets on my fridge. If the purple magnet has moved from the fridge portion to the freezer, I know that she is having a very even day with her Bipolar and I can initiate play without prior discussion (this does not negate her safe-words in any way). If the green magnet is up, her mental health has her in a bad headspace. If the blue one is up, then her mental health is fine but her physical health is not. These allow us greater communication while simultaneously lowering the frustration and allowing more spontaneity in life.
- Have more than one option for communication
- As we do with safe-words, always make sure your partner has an option that fits the situation. If you were to gag your partner, you may use a bell, colored scarf, or other object that your partner can drop if they need to safe out. The same is true for dealing with mental health. It will depend on your partner’s needs and abilities. For my wife, if we are around people she doesn’t know well, such as a play party, she will sign to me using American Sign Language (ASL). That means that I always leave her hands free when at events because I know she is most likely to talk to me that way. It not only helps with her anxiety, but it gives her a sense of privacy around those she may not know well enough to trust. We’ve also used text messaging or written communication in a group of people to help her out.
- Have a code word or sentence. While I don’t believe BDSM needs to be hidden in the vanilla world, there are many times it needs to be discrete. As such, if my wife needs to discuss something BDSM related with me, she will say “May we text instead?” If I feel it is a topic she isn’t comfortable with, I may just outright give her the option by saying, “Would you like to text?” This allows her both privacy and opportunity to talk, no matter the time or place.
- Don’t Fix them, they aren’t broken.
- The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is to never treat your partner like they need to be fixed. There is no WD-40 or Craftsman Wrench that can change the way they are. They are beautiful people who have a chemical imbalance. It might make them paranoid, moody, frighten easily, indecisive, or a hundred other variations. It will take patience, communication, trust, and a little bit of creativity to fulfill both your and your partner’s kinky needs, but I’ve found its worth every bit of time and effort.
About the Author
My name is Joji. I am 29 years old currently and I have been in and around the kink community about 15 years.I am a collared submissive to Magick42. I am also a Daddy to a wonderful babygirl, and have been for more than three years now and I find it very fulfilling. I am being mentored in and being taught electroplay. I am a masochist at heart and thoroughly love impact play, especially caning. I enjoy reading anything I can get my hands on and am a die hard Harry Potter and Doctor Who fan. I am also the secretary for a group in Idaho called Moscow S.P.A.R.K.E (Simply Providing Another Route to Kink Education). It is our mission to teach safe practices to those new to the community and give them a safe haven to ask questions and learn without judgement. We accept all kinks and all we ask in return is respect between all our members.