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Tips for Negotiating Risks in BDSM Relationships

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BDSM and sadomasochism are by their nature about risk, pain, danger, and power—and their intersection with pleasure.

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Here are common-sense guidelines to negotiating risk within kinky relationships and activities.

True consent is informed consent.

Negotiating risk in kink means the constant presence of consent at every turn. We don’t go past another’s boundaries, even as we push boundaries.

Even if a person HAS consented, it’s important to understand that consent must be informed. I might say, “Yes, do what you want to me,” but if I have no idea what your desires are before you tie me up, I’m not really consenting to anything. If a newbie isn’t experienced in a certain kink or fetish, they may consent without fully understanding what they are consenting to, and that’s not consent at all.

Honesty is always the best policy.

Kink is not about sneaking something by someone. Indulging our fetishes and fantasies is about full surrender, and one cannot surrender wholly to something if one is not aware of what it is or what it entails. Most kinky people learn very quickly that the most satisfying sessions come from full disclosure and honest discussion with their partners.

Engage in cost-benefit analysis.

Negotiating risk within sadomasochistic acts or relationships means an honest, open analysis together of what the costs, cons, and risks are, and how any fires might be put out. Comparing costs and risks to benefits is part of that conversation.

It’s no one else’s business, unless it is their business.

Can a private fetish be a public concern?

The obvious answer is no. But what about extreme kinks, where a person’s life or health is at risk? There are laws, after all, or precautions and boundaries, that reduce people’s freedom from the dangers of impulse or compulsive self-harm. For example, if a person is suicidal, a therapist’s usual confidentiality expectation is nullified. No one is allowed to drive as fast as they want to, even if they are the only ones in the car.

There are kinks where edgeplay is at the edge of death, not just pain or harm. Should people be able to contract HIV or other diseases on purpose just because the idea turns them on, when they can in turn infect other people later? Is it okay to cut off a leg to fulfill an amputation fetish, or eat oneself to obesity when you would become dependent on the state or other people?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but responsible kink lovers will consider them carefully and make reasoned, informed decisions in their practice.

Moral considerations are important.

Some people think kink lovers are slaves to their degenerate desires with no control over their lusts, but I think BDSM folks actually have complex moral systems and are MORE likely to think about moral issues like consent and public health, than other sexually active people.

We respect each other as adults, we consider whether our sexual desires and acts are life affirming, we honor our internal conflicts by giving them ritual and performative exorcism, and we obsess over the minutiae of consent and boundaries. We embrace all kinds of bodies and see them as deserving and capable of giving love and pleasure.

Have any thoughts or experiences you want to share on negotiating risk? Please comment!

Tell us what you think!

Tell us what you think!

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