Facts & Info

Implied Consent or Expressed Consent?

Couple Pulling Sheets in Ecstasy

We all understand safe sex, and how consent is key. But it doesn’t hurt to review, reaffirm, and check in every once in a while on what our most essential values mean and how they play out in the real world.

There are some important consent issues and questions. One is whether consent should be implied or explicitly expressed.

Implied consent is when there is participation, desire, pleasure, and a lack of “no.”

Expressed or explicit consent is when consent is specifically referenced and voiced.

It is a common complaint that a technical, legalistic interpretation of sexual consent can really dampen seduction. This is something I sometimes feel myself. For example, I was kissing a new partner and with every step he pulled back and asked, “Are you comfortable with me opening my mouth? Are you okay with me touching your face? Is it okay to put my hand on your waist?”

It really got in the way of the arousal process, and made me feel like a baby. After all, no one was forcing me, and my participation showed consent. If I grew uncomfortable or wanted to stop, I would say so and make my boundaries clear.

I also wondered if I should be asking the same questions—was HE comfortable with me putting my hand on his chest or other moves I was making? After all, the message with the one-way consent approach is that sex is something terrible for women and that we are helpless and not capable of wielding our power to allow what we want and put a stop to what we don’t want. It means men are never vulnerable and always predators. I reject this view of sex myself.

This doesn’t mean permission for anything goes—but for me it means if I go along with it willingly, that is my consent.

I see nothing less sexy than signing a contract in advance with expressed consent. Attraction can be spontaneous, or revoked, and I also feel these kind of motions that have been popular lately can be dangerous: if someone signs a consent form, but then finds she isn’t enjoying herself or changes her mind, such measures can have the opposite consequence of their intention. She signed, see?! They also baby adults and suggest that sex is in and of itself is something horrible, not a beautiful, necessary human act.

On the other hand, when it comes to BDSM, we are not always talking about the basics! There are times when a person is not able to speak up because they are gagged. They may desperately want to try something but find they’re not ready, but they can’t walk away or lash out because they are bound. They may find themselves experiencing revulsion or fear rather than pleasure or catharsis. There is also the issue with power dynamics being very extreme in some forms of kink, and those issues all need to be fully communicated and openly considered in advance of action.

Some folks feel it makes sense to play things out as they go, sensitive to each other and committed to stopping at the first signs that someone is uncomfortable. This is especially true with long-term lovers who have had time to build trust. Milder kinks may make more sense in the moment unfolding spontaneously, and stopping if they aren’t working. Many couples express that they will speak up as needed, or choose to use safewords.

For fetishes that involve power and pain, explicit consent may be a good idea, not just to protect yourself, but to protect your partners.

How do you express consent in your kinky relationships? Is it ever written? Please share!

Tell us what you think!

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