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Consent is shorthand.
"No means no" is shorthand. "Yes means yes" is shorthand. "Hard limits" and "consent checklists" are shorthand.
At (present), we know that consent is complicated. It's a conversation, a dance in a field of land mines, a piece of improvised music with beautiful harmonies and wrong notes weaving together. It implicates trauma and dysphoria and mental illness and disability and anxieties and fears and systemic power dynamics and it activates incredible intimacies and vulnerabilities and trust.
We can't talk about consent to sex without talking about power. Asking for what you want, expressing boundaries, and seeking mutual pleasure is an act of trust committed within a tangle of violent power structures, differing communication styles, complex trauma histories, and fraught embodiments.
Here are some tools that we use to dance this dance with grace and resilience. We hope you find them useful too.
Building a space where every person is and feels supported in asserting their needs and boundaries isn't just about the conversations that precede sex and play. At (present) we are committed to a space infused with the kind of care for each other that is expressed through positive communication and non-sexual consent.
Social consent often relates to touch. Different cultures and communities have varying concepts of what kinds of social touch are understood to be acceptable and non-invasive. For example, hobbits might often touch conversation-partners on the arm as they chat, while elves might touch this way very rarely, and so an elf might perceive a chatting hobbit as very rude and physically invasive.
It's important that we be mindful when we decide how to touch — sticking to the lowest level of touch is often best in an unfamiliar situation or with a new person. Feeling safe feels good and feeling unwelcome pressure against physical boundaries is a turnoff, so it is in everyone's best interest that all touch in these spaces be mutually wanted.
(present) is about delving deeply into the sensations of the moment you are experiencing. To do this in a sexual context takes careful checking in with your partner(s) and yourself.
Take the time to be present with your desires. Instead of giving the answers that you think are wanted, consider consciously and somatically: what possibilities branch before me in this moment? How does each one feel in my mind and my body? What next step feels the most full of joy?
Communicating these desires and boundaries is not always easy. We've been taught our whole lives that asking for what we want and saying "no" to what we don't is unsafe and forbidden -- especially if our desires don't fit what our culture tells us sex is supposed to look like. Practice this discomfort and identify the obstacles inside and outside yourself.
Keep in mind that developing this process, while it may seem small and self-indulgent, is a revolutionary and healing act. It works against rape culture, trauma, and the dominant cultural paradigm, and that results in comfort (and pleasure!) for you and others. How does that feel?
Metacommunication is the practice of navigating these things as we prepare to collaboratively explore our queer pleasures. Metacommunication is communication about all parties want to approach communication with each other; it facilitates empowered and vulnerable negotiation.
Metacommunication can include questions and statements like: "Do you prefer that I ask before I kiss you?" "Do you like when I initiate sex, or would you rather I wait for you to initiate?" "When we're fucking, I feel able to communicate when I don't like something, so I don't need you to ask verbal permission before trying a new thing." "I'm anxious about playing with a cis person and I need you to make sure that you're being careful to use gender-affirming language." "When I'm in bondage, I have trouble making sentences. If you're not sure whether something is okay while I'm tied up, please assume it's not, and ask me about it once we've done some aftercare and I feel like a person again." "Do you have any triggers or landmines that I should know about? Things that make you dissociate, or go nonverbal, or just feel awful?" "When I'm in subspace I feel like I don't need to have boundaries, so I need you to hold them for me when you're topping me." "It's really hot for me when partners tell me what they want — where they want me to touch them, what things they want me to do. How do you feel about telling me things like that?"
There are many reasons to alter our consciousnesses and many tools to do it. Common ones are intoxicants like alcohol and other substances, but for many of us, submission and surrender, dominance, spiritual practice and magic, and other intentional behaviors also lead to altered consciousness. Many of us also experience involuntary altered states of consciousness due to mental health experiences or triggers.
We acknowledge the value of these altered states for pleasure, for healing, for liberation, and for joy. We also recognize that they can affect our ability to communicate effectively with other humans, and we encourage you to include them in your conversations and in your consent.
This kind of dangerous intimacy is a big responsibility, and that responsibility doesn't end when you put your pants back on. We encourage you to let the conversation of your consent continue for a while after you're done, as everybody returns to earth. How are you feeling about how that went? Is there anything you want to talk about? Is there anything you wish had gone differently, or that you particularly liked? By keeping these conversations ongoing and open, you're making yourself a safe person to talk to and signaling to your partner that you care for their well-being beyond the boundaries of your play.
We support and take pleasure in the ways that you care for each other deeply, bravely, and dangerously. If you have questions or need help around any of these, please reach out.