Join me in Love

A Community Safe for tops and bottoms

hartmans Wednesday June 28, 2017
Normally, when we talk about consent, something has gone wrong. Emotions are high, and it is hard to find the right answer.

I have an excellent opportunity to explore a consent discussion when everything worked out in the end. I hope that you will join me in exploring and learning from this issue in a situation where we have a bit more room to speak without our voices being drowned by the feelings of those we would like to communicate with. Even though this is a situation where things worked out, and we have a bit more room, real people and real feelings are involved. I ask for your respect as I offer mine.

The Scene

I've always wanted to try ear plugs in a scene. Because I'm blind I was thinking that it might offer some of the same vulnerability that a blindfold offers someone else. We experimented with this a bit in one of the Fires of Venus rituals, but the ritual facilitator working with me was far too conservative for me to get a good understanding of the experience.

I was working with someone I trusted and I decided to go for that. We set up a sensation scene combining flogging, other forms of impact, sensation play, tickling and other elements. It was sexy, although ended up not having much of a sexual component, besides some genital contact. We were working to keep me fully in my body, fully in the moment. We were working to play with vulnerability in a safe space.

I wore earplugs that significantly dampened sound. There was reasonably loud music playing. I could hear talking and often make out words, but my top said he planned not to talk at all during the scene. I could not hear people moving around me. When they were not touching me, they almost completely disappeared from my awareness.

The scene was great. Some parts were intense, but mostly I flowed from one moment to the next, unable to predict what was going on. One surprise stood out above all others. At some point in the scene, I realized that there were more than two hands on me and more going on than one person could account for. My top had invited others to join our scene. This was not negotiated.

Perspective 1

He knew he was taking a risk. But we had talked about the work I've done on boundaries. He's watched me process and explore what I'm comfortable with. He didn't think he could create the scene he was looking for if I was expecting multiple participants. The surprise on that element was a necessary element of the scene in his mind.

we had played before and he had a good idea of how I approach BDSM. I think he's aware that I had done work before in which new people joined a scene and probably even my Beltane class where anyone who wants to can join a scene.

He thought there was some chance I would red out, but thought the risk was acceptable.

He warned the other participants that he had not negotiated pulling others into the scene. He talked a little about our parameters, and worked to make sure my limits were respected as the scene progressed. There were a couple of points where he delegated managing the scene to someone he trusted so he could go read someone new into the scene. So there were times when he was not able to be in a position to intervene if something went wrong, but during those times someone he trusted a lot was there.

Perspective 2

There were people punching, hitting, flogging and whipping me. There were people playing with my cock and rubbing against me. There were people hurting me who I had not given permission to do so. I was in a more vulnerable position than most of my previous BDSM activity. The person I trusted to keep me safe had invited these people to use and hurt me without my consent.

Perspective 3

Before the scene started I walked away to grab some toys. Before I left, I almost said that it would be OK for the top to invite others into the scene if that made sense. However, I felt the negotiations had been long enough and I didn't want them to devolve into a series of checkboxes that didn't matter for the scene we were having. If I actually had opened my mouth and said those true words, we wouldn't be discussing consent now. I would have given sufficient consent for what happened had I been asked or thought it was valuable to do so.

But I did not say those words.

None of these perspectives is a complete view of the situation. They all contributed. The me that was OK with things because I would have consented if asked was not an extension or refinement of the me assaulted with un-negotiated activity. I was a superposition of both. Some significant part of the scene was spent with me working trying to figure out if I was OK. Calling red or yellow didn't seem like it would have helped for a reason I could not articulate at the time. Now I can look back and understand that the damage—if there were any—was not in the inviting others into the scene, but in doing that without negotiation. Using a safe word would have been the right response if I had not been comfortable with others involved in the scene. I elected to defer my reaction to the decision to invite them and to discuss with my top after the scene concluded.

Some Thoughts

  • It sounds like my top believed that the worst that was likely was that I would red out on the scene and be angry for a while. I think the risk was much greater: perspective two is very important. If I had been uncomfortable with others in the scene, the violation would have been acute. It would have been worse than those same people coming up and randomly hitting or flogging me without warning. I trusted him to keep me safe according to my definition of safety.

  • It’s absolutely true that I’ve done a lot of work with scenes where others joined the scene in the middle. I even taught a Beltane class where the goal of the class was to allow people to walk in and get some experience being a top. For that class I worked with a safety monitor I trusted specifically in that situation. We had a long negotiation before the first time we did that. Also, I knew each person as they joined in and knew what they planned to do before they did it.

  • As it was, I spent a significant chunk of the scene trying to process what was going on. I needed to find a way to regain my own power in order to consider whether I wanted to surrender from a position of strength. If I could not find a way to do that, I would have walked away feeling violated. Eventually I realized that I did have power: I could go invoke the event’s incident process and ultimately if I chose press charges. (I have some idea that victims are not often treated well in such processes. The important thing is that I needed to feel I had power and at that moment I was able to believe in those processes.) Ultimately the power I found got me to a place where I could feel safe enough to decide whether I wanted to surrender willingly. Even so I wasn’t sure that I didn’t need to involve the incident response team until after discussing things with my top at the end of the scene.

  • Implied consent is very much a thing. We didn’t negotiate all that happened in the scene, and if we’d had to, it would have destroyed the scene.

  • Affirmative consent is also very much a thing. We’ve decided that for very good reasons, “She didn’t say no,” isn’t an acceptable answer to much of anything. The interesting question here is how can we constructively approach situations where one party believes that negotiations brought things into a space where implied consent is appropriate and another is hurt by that.

  • I did not speak up during the scene. Because of the nature of the scene, my top did not check in on me. I consider myself strong in being able to defend boundaries and speak my mind. I think it’s very interesting that when I was unsure that my trust was betrayed, I did not immediately stop and talk about it. I needed to find my own inner strength first, even if that meant processing during the scene itself. I think I would have acted differently had the question been about whether I was comfortable with others joining the scene rather than a question of comfort with my top jumping to that conclusion.

  • Even when these situations are all resolved and everyone leaves feeling understood and heard, they are messy. I’m nervous that my top for the scene will read something here and it will impact our friendship. I’m worried that there will be fall-out when others involved in the scene learn what happened. I spent hours talking to my fiancee about her strong reaction to this, discussing her disappointment and whether I was living up to the ideal of consent that I had introduced her to as our relationship started. I’m worried that people will be less willing to have fun scenes with me.


After the scene, we had a wonderful discussion where I brought up most of these concerns. I felt understood and heard.

I listened to what he had done to try and balance the risk and look out for my safety. I heard his desire for fun exciting scenes and the importance of surprise in those scenes. I shared my excitement for that desire. We hugged and used the experience to build connection and trust.

Perspective 4

You might dismiss this all and say “So negotiate that explicitly.” We have for the future, both about the specific issue of pulling others into the scene and my desire that we be more explicit about such things in future negotiations.

These mistakes are easy. I’ve been in the position of someone who guessed wrong. In my case, I misunderstood what had been negotiated. I thought I had permission to bring an element into a scene and I did not. Someone I cared about got hurt.

Mistakes are easy to make even when we try our best. The pain is no less real for our best efforts to avoid it.

Concluding thoughts

What do we do? We want to create a culture where people have the safety we need. We want to create a culture where we value consent. We want to create a culture where we have the freedom to experiment and to enjoy the unexpected. We want to face our consequences, but we want mistakes to be something that we can learn from rather than so big that they destroy us and the communities on which we rely.

Part of the answer is that remembering that sometimes healing and compassion are the right answer. We don’t want to tolerate abuse, but we do want to grow people and help them see how their best efforts can be improved.

Help me create a place where we feel safer on both sides. Help me create a community where the risk that my consent is violated is low and where I can get the help I need. On the other side, help me create a community where when I try my best and make a mistake I can grow from that mistake rather than facing ridicule and rejection. How do we do that?

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