Because you say I can

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I dominate you because you say that I can. This is the idea of consent. Of course, consent can be a very nebulous area and the most treasured variety of consent, namely fully-informed consent, can be hard to come by because it requires an awful lot of experience (rather than a lot of awful experience, but maybe not) plus study to actually reach the point where you are fully informed.

But what actually happens in a wider sense when you or I consent to engage in some BDSM activity or relationship?

Let's start by considering an encounter at a play party. Maybe two people who don't know each other - a dominant and a submissive - meet up, start chatting and realise that they have complementary animalistic urges. They agree that the next step might be finding a quiet room, unpacking the dominant's toybag and proceeding towards some, er, mutual stimulation.

Anyway, the point is that they've talked and they've agreed on what they're going to do.

Each of them has also implicitly decided to commit resources to this activity, resources that they can't easily recover if the agreed-upon activity goes south. This is because when you go to a play party you often only have one shot at doing something serious with someone. Certainly if you're only talking about a few knots or a few quick taps of a cane then you can easily do multiple light scenes in an evening. But unless you have a lot of experience it's hard to mentally rewind and start again with someone new if a more serious scene gets aborted such as a complex suspension bondage or military interrogation scene. And if it was a heavy impact play scene that didn't work out then the fresh canvas of your unbruised body might not be available again for a couple of weeks.

The thing is that negotiation and consent almost always mean that both people involved are going to be committing time, energy, emotions or their bodies. And they're probably consciously or unconsciously hoping for some return on this investment.

This is starting to sound like a sort of contract. When you enter into a contract with someone you spell out what each party to the contract puts in to it and what each gets out of it. When we talk about contracts there's also the explicit idea that we're talking about two people.

When we talk about consent in BDSM the understanding is more that it's about one person - often a submissive or bottom. In reality, of course, there's a dominant or top involved too, and the dominant or top is going to have their own expectations of what they want or need to get out of the scene or relationship once there's been consent. They're not going to be devoting time and effort for zero return.

Even the heroic dominants and submissives who actually put themselves in the firing line for disappointment when they volunteer to play with or teach newbies are doing so because they find it rewarding.

Probably the biggest disappointment though is when they give their time to someone who doesn't take it seriously.

It's not always going to be the case that a scene or even a relationship pans out. There can be entirely legitimate reasons why a scene is cut short such as a cramp, illness or some unavoidable outside disturbance and this is just life. Relationships also sometimes don't work out despite best intentions.

I think my point is that even when we're not talking about a contract, anything we consent to or agree to - whether we do it as a top, bottom, master, slave, dominant or submissive - is going to create expectations or hopes in our partner. This is the case even for a casual partner. And they're going to commit their time and energy based on that agreement.

It's something we shouldn't take lightly.