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[Content note: Kinky sex, consent play, consensual non-consent]
I am, as regular readers know, a big fan of various types of “consent play” in sex. A lot of people who hear “consent play” think “rape role-play” or “consensual non-consent” or “resistance play,” and don’t get me wrong, all of those things are fun, and a regular part of my sex life.
But what I really enjoy, the siren song that really calls to me, is a little different: it’s the consent play that comes from navigating that space where I give my lover consent to do something to me, then deliberately and intentionally remove my own ability to withdraw consent. Once the activity begins, I’m in it for the ride—there’s no taking it back.
Before we get going, let me say up front a lot of folks consider some of the play my lovers and I explore “edge play,” and there are a lot of people, including veteran BDSM enthusiasts, who flat-out won’t even consider some of the things I do. And that’s okay. I freely admit these tastes are unusual even in the kink scene, and with good reason. They require an iron-clad, unparalleled trust, a deep foundation in trusting both your partner to know and understand how far to take things and, just as importantly, trust in your own resilience in the event you have an unpleasant experience. (People talk quite a lot in the kink scene about the first kind of trust, but not so much about the second. I might write more about that in the future.)
And I get that high resiliency is a privilege. I also get that I haven’t grown up in an environment that tells me I’m supposed to have sex I don’t want, that I’m expected to have sex I don’t want, is a form of privilege, too. I’ve had sex I didn’t want to have, but always by my choice; it was never forced on me. So, yes, I completely understand the emotions I’m describing aren’t necessarily available to everyone.
That inability to withdraw consent, the knowledge that when I start, I’m saying ‘yes’ to my lover knowing that she’s going to do whatever it is and once it starts I will be unable to say no, is absolutely delicious to me.
What does that look like?
Part of it is somnophilia—the taste for sex with a sleeping partner. I don’t wake easily, so when I give a lover permission to use my body whilst I’m asleep, I do it knowing there’s a good chance that I won’t wake up quiiite enough to be able to communicate a ‘no’ even if I decide I object to what’s going on. That’s part of what makes it hot.
That inability to say ‘no,’ that idea that the yes, once I’ve uttered it, can’t be recalled, is intoxicating to me.
The Passionate Pantheon novels Eunice and I write, our far-future, post-scarcity philosophical erotica, explore this theme of consenting to things you can’t take back a lot—it’s a theme we keep returning to.
I wrote a scene into the fourth Passionate Pantheon novel Eunice and I co-authored, Unyielding Devotion (due out later this year), that plays on that idea:
“What’s happening?” Kaytin asked Chasoi, who stared at Lanissae and Royat with bright, hungry eyes.
“They’ll each take two Blessings,” Chasoi said. “The first one ensures their bodies will remain physically aroused no matter what happens to them. And the second, well, that’s the magic.”
“The magic? What does that mean?”
“One of them,” Jakalva said, “will become desperately horny beyond all reason. Are you familiar with the Blessing of Fire?”
“Yes,” Kaytin said.
“It’s like that, but more violent. It removes inhibition and obliterates self-control. The other does just the opposite, causing intense aversion, repulsion even, to the idea of sex. The cage makes sure neither of them can escape.”
“Oh.” Kaytin blinked. “So whoever gets the first vial will…”
“Yes. But that’s only half of it.”
“Half of it how?”
“That’s the beauty,” Chasoi breathed. “The moment either of them has an orgasm, they switch. Whoever was needy becomes averse. Whoever was averse becomes wild beyond control. They stay in the cage until they collapse from exhaustion.” Her eyes glittered.
This scene has been in heavy rotation in my internal fantasy library for years. If I were to live in the City, I might very well volunteer to be in the cage with Lanissae, at least once.
We included a scene that explains why I find it so attractive:
“Okay, let me try to explain,” Lanissae said. “It’s…” She paused, regarding Kaytin through hooded eyes. “I like…I like the tiny spaces. I like that little moment of clarity that happens when you switch, you see? There’s that one second when you know what’s going to happen. You see it in their eyes. You know that when that second is over, they will want you so badly that nothing you can do will stop them.” She shivered, eyes half-closed, and slipped one hand inside the plunging neckline of her shimmering, lacy dress. “Mmm. To be seen with such desire, to know that when the moment passes you will not want it and would do anything to make it stop, to know that it will happen anyway…there’s a delicious inevitability to it.” She cupped her breast. Her eyelids fluttered. “It’s such an exquisite surrender. You exist only to be ravished.” She exhaled in a soft moan. “You can’t get away. You lose yourself in how much you don’t want it, but it doesn’t matter. You stand on the brink and for one instant, you see it all so clearly, and you know what’s about to happen, and you also know that you chose to be here. You walked into the cage yourself, of your own free will…oh!” She leaned back on the couch and caressed her nipple beneath her thin dress.
Kaytin stared at her with desire and revulsion roiling within her. “And then,” Lanissae went on, “the violation is over, and the change happens, and you have that moment of clarity again. You feel the heat in your body. For that one delicious second, you know. When the heat reaches your head, the need will take you, and nothing in the world will matter except the person you are about to ravish. Everything stops. You balance on that edge. You recognize each other. You see the humanity there. In that instant, you share a connection that’s absolutely magical. For that one brief second, you see each other, really see each other—not as predator and prey, but as two people sharing an experience. You know that when the moment passes, you will not be able to stop yourself any more than you could stop what was coming when you were the object. You can feel your mind going…mmm.” She caressed her neck with her fingertips. “You embrace that moment of humanity, before it all slips away. It’s…uh! It’s so magnificent to stand on that cliff and feel yourself about to fall.” Lanissae arched languidly, running both hands down her arms. “When I’m in the cage, I live for those moments of connection between the moments of madness.”
I totally, 100% get that most people would take one look at that scenario and say “oh hell no.” And I get why, and that’s okay.
We don’t actually have the technology to do that, of course, but I’ve experimented with things that get as close to that feeling as I can.
For example, I learned when I burned my foot that cannabis edibles work really well for pain management on me—better, in fact, than the oxycodone the burn clinic prescribed.
I also learned that I get extremely suggestible when I’m high. and I’ve incorporated that in my sex life with some of my partners. I know that once I take that edible, my ability to withdraw consent will become impaired. That’s the point. That’s part of what makes it hot—that inevitability, that sense that once I’ve taken it, I will not be able to do anything about it. The drug takes about half an hour to start working, and that’s half an hour to really savor the knowledge that I have already passed a point of no return: that my ability to withdraw consent will soon fade and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
Image: Nicholas Sampson
In principle, yes, consent to sex exists only in the moment and cannot be withdrawn.
In practice, the idea I like to explore is, can I give consent that is irrevocable? Can I deliberately create a situation where once i have given my lover consent to do something to me, I have also given away my right (or my ability!) to change my mind?
Is it ethical to do this? I think it is. We do it all the time in areas that aren’t connected to sex. Contracts, for example, don’t usually have an “oops, I changed my mind” clause—once signed, that’s it, no taksies-backsies.
Can we do the same with sex?
I think the answer is yes. I also think that’s super-hot. Other people might not agree. The thing about autonomy, though, is that people who value consent and agency must also respect that I have the right to say “yes, you can do this to me, and I explicitly give you permission to continue doing it to me even if I change my mind.”
Is this everybody’s cup of tea? No.
Should it be permissible in the context of sexual ethics? I think the answer is yes. I do believe that basic autonomy, the notion of “my body, my rules,” extends to me choosing, if I want, to give someone else consent with the explicit understanding it can’t be revoked.
In fact, I’ll even go one step further. Ready?
What we find sexy often varies with our mood. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already learned that there are things that sound sexy when you’re aroused, but as soon as you’re sexually spent, suddenly seem a whole lot less interesting.
I’ve had a lover where one of our dynamics is we would negotiate new things to try whilst in the middle of having sex, when we were both ramped up and horny…things I would give this sort of irrevocable consent to. Then she would get me off, or I’d get myself off, over and over again until I was completely d-o-n-e done and not interested in sex anymore…
…at which point, then she’d do the thing.
And that is quite a potent head trip, let me say.
Now: Do I believe that it’s ethical to do this? Yes. Do I believe it’s ethical to give irrevokable consent and then change your mental state, for example with drugs or change in mood or arousal? With fully informed consenting adults who understand exactly what they’re getting into, yes.
Do I believe it’s ethical to do this for an indeterminate amount of time, as in “now and forever you can do whatever you like to me even if I say no”? That’s…a different thing. I think healthy relationships are always voluntary, and you cannot reasonably make promises of access to you or your body that continue past a relationship’s end. Not gonna tell you you’re a bad person if that’s your jam, but I am aware of ways that could easily become problematic.
And yes, I can see where even limited irrevocable consent might become problematic. Like I said, edge play.
But here’s the thing:
Playing in this way is beautifully, powerfully, intoxicatingly intimate.
Intimacy is about letting someone in, about letting them touch you, about allowing access to your deepest and truest self.
Part of the bewitching beauty of irrevocable consent for me is, as the character Lanissae says in our book, the connection. I am granting someone access to me in a literal, visceral way, allowing them to touch me, and giving up my ability to throw them out, to shut the door.
It’s an exquisite kind of intimacy, an intimacy that says “here, in this space, with you, right now, I promise not to take this back.” It’s an embrace of intensely deep trust.
How can it be anything but connective?