Monday, February 6, 2012

Consent At Spanking Parties

Yesterday I read a very well-written post published by Adele Haze about the topic of safewords. She linked to two articles which touched an even more disturbing topic – (real) rape in kinky play. I would like to write down a few thoughts on safety issues, dangers in kinky play and safewords as well, because I think those are very important topics which should be widely discussed in our community. I will need some time to think these things through, though.

But there is a related topic about which I meant to write for a while, so I am starting off with this one. It was brought up by a very thoughtful post written by Paul At North Gare titled Grounding Consent. It was about the more informal style of giving consent in the spanking community compared to the usually more formally negotiated consent in the BDSM world. Paul gave an example of such an informal negotiation process finally leading to a consensual spanking:

Person #1: *pours water on Person #2* [Hello! I'd like it if you spanked me! Is that okay?]
Person #2: “Do that again, miss, and there’ll be trouble.” [That would be fine, but I'd like to confirm I have your consent.]
Person #1: *pours more water* [This is confirmation that I want you to spank me, and am giving my consent.]
Person #2: “Come here!” [Your consent has been received!]
Person #1: “Ouch! I’m being spanked by you!”
Person #2: “I’m spanking you!”

The main problem of this approach, in Paul's view, is that there is a negotiation about the consent to play through this form of flirting, but what is missing is the negotiation about the consent for the flirting itself. As he puts it: "The surface form of flirting carries embedded within it a request for consent, a giving of consent, and an acknowlegement that consent has been agreed. That approach can work, and often does […] but I find I’m not drawn to it. I like the clarity and honesty of clear consent. […] In order to feel free to flirt — never mind to play — I want to know that such flirting is consented to, and what the ground rules are."

I completely agree with Paul in that I prefer to have the explicit consent of someone I want to play with, as well as clearly negotiated ground rules. Of course Ludwig sometimes spanks me spontaneously and I love that, but with others whom I don't know so well I prefer to have a clear idea of what is about to come and about their ideas and limits for a scene. When I read Paul's post it occurred to me that the way consent for spankings is often given at spanking parties even involves a second problem. One that often makes me feel a bit insecure at meetings with other spankos and spanking parties.

The thing is that I love a bit of banter, especially with people I like. In vanilla environments this isn’t a problem. My friends know me and they know that the comments I make are just good fun. But in kinky environments I am sometimes afraid that a spontaneous, teasing comment could be misinterpreted as a flirt and a play request. Since I’m often not in the mood for playing with others (especially people whom I don’t know very well), that sometimes gives me the feeling that it is better to contain and strictly control myself in kinky environments due to their flirting rules, in order to avoid any misinterpretation.

Of course I can tell people in advance that I don't want to play. But, first of all, that means I'm depriving myself of the chance to join in spontaneously if I develop the right mood for it later. And secondly, I still wouldn't be sure whether banter might be considered to be an unfair way of flirting without any real outcome for the others involved.

I would love to hear about your experiences with play events. Do you like explicit negotiations about consent and limits in advance or do you prefer the way of flirting? What kind of experiences have you made with different forms of asking for consent and establishing rules? Did you always have the feeling that your play partner had clearly given his or her consent? And did others always know whether you had given consent to them and to which extend? You are very welcome to join the discussion.


Fred Bloggs said...

This post caught my eye as I had just published a post on my own blog describing a scene where negotiated consent was an important part of the play.

I play with a small group of friends, we have all known each other for a long time, over ten years. Consent was negoitated a long time ago, but we all still go through the ritual of checking out what we intend to do each time we play.

I am not very good at the subtle side of negotiation. You could pour water over me all day and it would not persuade me to spank you. Stand in front of me, look me in the eye, state clearly "I want a spanking" and then talk about the role play or scenario that will lead up to the spanking and then you will get your spanking.

I suppose I am fortunate to have spanking friends who know each other really well, we are all comfortable with each other, understand our personal boundaries and limits. That understanding and trust takes time to acheive and can be lost in a split second if the boundaries and limits are breached.

Ursus Lewis said...

I never spank anybody new before I had an explicit discussion about limits and consent. So far I only attended parties and weekend events of one group, so a certain baseline of rules is set. But I still need to know if there are limits I need to be aware off. Before I play first time I also want to make sure the playpartner is aware of her safe words.

I also like to talk or email with folks I know already and play every once in a while with. It's important to talk about needs and expectations as well as limits and these are subject to change.

On the other hand, with people I have the explicit consent from earlier plays, I like to do the flirting way to get plays. But for me, this only works with playpartner I know already.

PaulAtNorthGare said...

You're right that the main part of my piece was to bemoan the typical absence of consent for flirting, but — even though I touched on it in a couple of places — I could have emphasised more the dangers associated with people misunderstanding the subtexts involved in consent-by-flirting. In a charged party situation — and especially a big party like Shadow Lane, where there are lots of newbies, and long-repressed desires are working against the clock — the scope for misunderstandings turning into emotional or physical hurt are pretty real.

And your description of how the culture of consent-by-flirting makes you feel less able to talk openly sucks. It's another reason I hadn't considered why a culture of more formal consent can be liberating, not restricting.

Kitty said...

Consent-by-flirting is a dangerous assumption, and a difficult one. Particularly when, if someone says they didn't want to play and were uncomfortable, the defense can be "oh, well, you were flirting, so how was I supposed to know?" Ick ick ick.

If someone poured water on me to get me to spank them they would be in the corner writing "I will ask for what I want" 100 times. ;) I'm just that kind of top.

Donpascual said...

I have been attending several spanking events, but all of them had a limited number of participants, and rules were established by the nature of the events.

Since the passive members of the group had consented to being spanked when misbehaving implicitly, there had been no detailed negotiations except for using the "traffic light" rule:
When the spankee called out "yellow", the spanking paused, on "green" it continued, on "red" it was terminated immediately.
I have role played with a young woman I had never met before at one of the events, and it worked perfectly.
But a rather flirtatious approach was successful as well: When we sat together in the evening around a long table, one of the women tried to snip small paper balls into my beer for a while. I was engrossed in a conversation and did not notice until she finally succeeded.
Her flirt with a spanking fate was obvious, everybody was laughing, and I marched her to the horse in a corner without uttering a word.
She mumbled something about her bottom being very sore already, but I lifted her skirt anyway and she got half a dozen with the cane bent over the horse.

Of course, two potential spanking partners have to "find" each other first, calling for some sort of strategy to come together, before a simple rule like the traffic lights may be applied. Flirting seems to be a good playful approach.

Reading in Pandora's blog about playing with a threatening but not altogether unavoidable spanking, the preliminaries can become a very complicated affair. However, in a spanking relationship this sort of verbal fencing will be the normal state of affairs, I guess.

Fenris said...

Although the topic of this post is most interesting for me, I hesitated to comment as I have never visited a spanking party nor any other BDSM or kinky event. So I thought if I wrote about the subject, it would be like a blind man talking about colours, to quote a German saying.
But Kaelah kindly invited me to comment nonetheless, so here are the thoughts of a neophyte:

I have the spanking kink for as long as I can remember, but I had my coming out to the scene only several months ago, when I read the autobiographies of Niki Flynn and Erica Scott. It was also the first time I started to comment on spanking blogs.
Of course, like most other spankos, I want to play with like minded kinksters. So what about going to a party?
There are several reasons why I hesitate.

I am rather introverted, I am really not the person who jumps in the middle of a crowd of strangers and talks to everyone like we were the closest friends. I do indeed like conversations and to meet new and interesting people, but I need some time to warm up.

As my real life friends are all vanilla, I probably would have to go to a spanking party alone and would be afraid that I would just spend the evening without getting to know and play with other spankos.
And then, I really don't know how to ask someone I would like to play with. Just a "Hi, wanna play?". Is asking for a play the vanilla pendant to flirting?
Must there be a explicit consent à la "I want you to spank me" or is the communication more subtle?
Is it more common for the bottom to ask the top for a play session or vice versa?
Should a man wait for the woman to signal she wants to play?
Is there some sort of negotiation before, like spanking on clothes only or not, the choice of implements and so on? Or are things more spontaneous?
As someone new to the scene, I would definitely prefer clear communication at my first party because I really don't want to make others feel uncomfortable and be labeled as a creep.

Ursus Lewis said...

I'm pretty shy with new people too. I had the great benefit to chat with members of the group I finally went to an event. I was happy I could meet with two members before the event, so I was much more comfortable to go.

There is a lot of ways how a play can be initiated. But as I said before, with bottoms I never played, I definitely want to talk about limits and expectations before the play starts.

These are exactly questions you mentioned. Spanking over cloth, implements yes or no and if yes which or which not. Talk about safe words, etc. If these questions are not talked about the risk of miscommunication is way to big.

Communication is key, before and after the play and sometimes during the scene as well.

Kaelah said...

@ Fred Bloggs:
I prefer clear communication as well! I just hope that you managed to put your vanilla friend at ease about the rather severe caning which she watched.

@ Ursus Lewis:
You are right, expectations and limits can indeed change over time or even depending on a person's condition at a special day. That's why even with play partners one knows already open communication is important. I absolutely agree with you, whether it is with a new play partner or with someone familiar – communication is always key!

@ PaulAtNorthgare:
I guess I'm a bit over-cautious when it comes to the “giving a wrong impression by banter” thing. Even when we met Abel and Adele for dinner (when Ludwig and Adele shot their film with Lupus), the thought about etiquette between spankos came up. This was one of the first times I met other spankos at all, and I remember making a joke about the British and soccer after Abel had brought up the topic. Then I suddenly though: Oh, could it be that Abel now thinks I am bratting in order to get spanked? Of course nothing happened, but I was afraid for a moment that I had violated the “spanko etiquette”. I am a bit more relaxed about that today, but at parties where consent to play is given by bratting I am still very careful. It would indeed be easier for me in those situations if banter weren't the way to negotiate about spanking play.

@ Kitty:
Welcome and thank you for your comment! You added something very important that I didn't mention in my post: I think that negotiation by flirting definitely has its downsides for tops as well! I wouldn't want anyone to pour water on me, either. And for example Ludwig and I both aren't huge fans of intense bratting. If anyone tried to get us to play with him or her by bratting constantly, that could become quite annoying, too.

Kaelah said...

@ Donpascual:
Having a safeword definitely is a very important thing in my point of view! With that and in an environment that offers some additional ground rules which are known to the limited number of participants who are attending, I think that the flirtatious approach can work quite well, as your example shows. I assume that events where the bottoms agree to be spanked when misbehaving (or, when a top tells them that they have done something wrong) wouldn't be for me, though. I prefer to negotiate every play separately and I want to get to know potential play partners before starting a scene with them. In an environment where “wrong behaviour” can lead directly to a spanking, I guess I would be on my guard the whole time and wouldn't enjoy myself very much. Unfortunately that rules out many of the big play events like school weekends. Maybe I could attend as a top, but I don't think I would be comfortable attending as a bottom.

@ Fenris:
Thanks a lot for your comment! In my opinion the thoughts and fears that come up when someone is considering to visit a spanking party for the first time are very interesting and very important as well.

When I went to my first spanking party, I wasn't comfortable playing with others, yet. I just wanted to chat with people. Since it was a private party, it was possible to tell the attending tops who didn't know me about my limit beforehand, which helped me to feel a bit more relaxed. But I still was very nervous and scared of doing something wrong.

I assume that many fears one has beforehand turn out to be unfounded, though. When I played with others at a party for the first time (at Shadow Lane), it turned out that there wasn't as much explicit negotiation necessary as I thought. During the weekend I brought up the idea of caning Indy and she signalled to me that she was interested. We found a suitable time and environment and then everything happened without much planning. Indy bend over and pulled her trousers down, so no negotiation about the level of nudity was necessary. Then she suddenly asked: “Have we agreed on a number of strokes?” I knew that Indy wanted to do a lot more play that weekend, so it was clear that the caning would neither be too hard nor too long. So, I answered: “Well, I think we should make it twelve strokes.” And I added: “That allows me to begin with lighter strokes, you know? With six strokes I would have to make them count right from the beginning...” Indy agreed that she preferred twelve strokes then. Of course she could also have told me that she wanted only six light strokes, but I had watched her playing and was quite sure that twelve would be alright. I also made sure not to overdo it and Indy gave me feedback during the caning which helped me to know that she was okay.

The scenes I did were all pretty straight-forward and completely consensual, though. I guess it is more complicated when it comes to role-play scenarios, especially if they involve consensual non-consent. In that case talking about the details in advance seems to be even more important to me.

But no matter which kind of scene you want to play out, I think asking friendly and openly (after some initial conversation) will never make you come over as creepy. And in my opinion it is always better to communicate very openly about expectations and limits than not to mention aspects one is unsure about. I'm not sure whether there are people who consider tops who ask a lot about the bottom's limits or bottoms who want to have a clear idea about what is going to come to be lame, but if there are people like that, I definitely wouldn't want to play with them, anyway.

Donpascual said...


I think, the consent to be treated like a pupil is imminent in such an event as I was describing.
Essential is the common spirit to make the happening a successful one, even if individual consent is not negotiated at all. And - Kaelah - given your "entrepreneur spirit and curiosity - you would have watched the first day. Perhaps not even the whole first day :-). The fact that there were no tearful girls with running noses clutching her behinds when returning from the headmaster's study, would have tipped the scale in direction to try it. As a top, you would have been welcome anyway, we did not have many.
Nudity is something, I will have to think about for a while. We did not even discuss it beforehand. Everybody sent to me in the relative privacy of my "study" expected to get it bare. But I have to confess that denuding the bottom of someone I did not really know, was as awe inspiring as it was quite natural in the given situation of role playing.
Perhaps, Kinksters are far more open at once than people entering in to a vanilla relationship at the beginning.
I also experienced quite a readiness to discuss private problems when sitting together for a beer. Active kinksters are a very closely knit community. Whoever joins in, falls prey to a group psychology demanding intimacy and primeval spirit of joy and carnal desire. Perhaps Carmina Burana brings this into focus on a high level.

Kaelah said...

@ Donpascual:
I guess it would indeed be easier for me as a top. It's not that I'm afraid of being spanked too hard. But I'm not such a big fan of certain common role-play situations and role-play punishment activities like being treated like a little girl or made to stand in the corner. It doesn't do much for me (especially in formal role-play situations with or in front of people whom I don't know very well), and feels rather awkward.

I think you are right, communication between fellow kinksters tends to become quite open very quickly. Which is nice in my opinion, at least with people with whom one feels comfortable.