Conscious Kink, Consent, and the Reclamation of True Intimacy
DISCLAIMER: When I use consent in the context of this article, I am speaking about informed consent that is given between adults capable of consenting. I don’t ascribe to the notion that children are emotionally and cognitively developed to be able to confidently communicate non-consent should they feel pressured by someone with more developed size, power, or intellect. Even between adults it is always important to consider existing power dynamics and cognitive/emotional capacities of both parties when assessing whether true consent is happening.
Asking for what we want can be hard. I mean, shit, knowing what we want in the first place can be hard. There is a lot of cultural shaming around desire and self expression. This can be experienced in most any area of our lives, and I’ve found it to be especially prevalent in the realms of emotional intimacy and sexuality.
So what do we do when there are skills that we want to develop that feel hard? We practice.
Kink exploration is a relational practice playground. Emphasis on the word play which, coincidentally, is the way that humans learn first and best. Conscious Kink is an approach to relating with others in our whole humanness, including our erotic and often marginalized facets of self, in a way that is intentional, creative, experimental, and consensual.
I consider Conscious Kink a spiritual practice. For me, the foundation of my spirituality is the practice of being in right relationship. Kink is a practice of relating, first and foremost. The more I explore elements of kink culture, the more I (gleefully!) uncover invaluable tools for conscious relating.
Since the beginning of my exploration of sexual intimacy, I’ve had a proclivity toward creative exploration of sexuality. I remember even as a teenager, with my first sexual partner, wanting to explore bondage, costumes, impact play and role playing.
It wasn’t until years and years later, in my early 30’s, that I began to more consciously integrate elements of negotiation, consent, and the psychology of kink. And WOW, did that open Pandora’s box (wink, wink).
Wrapped inside this gift of human sexuality, are clues that lead to doorways that open into incredible pleasure, wholeness, intimacy and belonging. Not to mention a map that can support us to come into right relationship with personal power.
Power is CHOICE.
When we are navigating relationship, our ability to communicate our choices (or at the very least, to communicate the options that are on and off the table), is essential to be in right relationship. The practice of communication is a reclamation of power. It’s a way of claiming “In this moment, this is who I am/where I stand/what I want.”
It is the opposite of giving our power away.
Sometimes, giving power away looks like waiting for something external to happen, and then either reacting to it or caving in to it. While it’s true that sometimes it’s a delightful experience to pause and see what arises in the moment, and then respond, my question is: where is the origin point of the response?
When we are in connection with personal power, the origin point of our response to another’s action or desire is the same origin point that we communicate from when we take the risk to be the first to claim what we want: it comes from a deep inner knowing. It comes from a place of authentic desire and sovereign creation.
It is the difference between making a choice because I WANT to (internal orientation), and making a choice because I feel as though I SHOULD (external orientation).
Personal power always comes from the inside job choice-making, even in moments when we are responding to external stimuli, or making a choice that is altruistic. Even in moments when the choice we make is to boldly claim “I don’t know yet.”
Communicating from personal power is also a reclamation of our willingness to experience intimacy. It puts us on the map so that those we are in relationship with can locate us. If we aren’t communicating our authentic desire or experience, then we aren’t standing anywhere solid — not really. If we aren’t standing anywhere, then we can’t be found. If we can’t be found in the place where we authentically exist in our truth, then we can’t truly be related with. And that gets pretty lonely pretty quickly.
Fear of intimacy is incredibly common.
That fear can be enough to keep us off the map. I know it was enough to keep me off the map for a very long time. Being overly accommodating, indecisive, perpetually flexible, and without boundaries are all ways to stay off the map.
They are also incredibly intelligent and skillful responses to early experiences when it wasn’t safe to be on the map. We can applaud this intelligence for it’s service, even as we allow ourselves to evolve into what serves now.
As we get older and possibly discover more agency to choose our environments and relationships, we may eventually reach the (often terrifying) threshold of discerning that it is safe enough to reclaim our authentic desires, reclaim our personal power, and reclaim our right to genuine intimacy, even at the risk of exile.
There may be moments where we claim where we stand and experience what feels like a rejection from the other. These are important, albeit sometimes painful, initiation moments. These are the moments where we have the opportunity to discover our willingness to risk all else in order to not abandon ourselves. When the feeling of not standing where we know we must, becomes more intolerable than the fear of standing alone for awhile, we are at the precipice of true belonging.
So how does this all relate to kink? Well, what I’ve discovered is that the most fun, conscious and successful kink scenes are rooted in clear communication.
Basically, if we aren’t communicating about what we want, what we don’t want, what we don’t know yet, and what our authentic body/mind responses are to the experimentation that happens on the way to discovering what we want, then we aren’t very likely to get what we want.
And also, communicating around our wants can be hard. It can help to practice in a container that is committed to non-judgment and using all aspects of our humanness for play, including and especially the bumbling, fumbling, haven’t figured it out yet parts.
A skilled dominant knows how to enjoy the hell out of their submissive’s still developing parts. A submissive that feels permission to laugh at themselves inside a scene has greater access to laughing at themselves anywhere. In my opinion, the best scenes are the ones that end in laughter. Even better when that laughter is at our own endearing imperfections and ridiculous human proclivities.
As I started communicating more openly in the context of kink exploration, it didn’t take long for me to discover that it was SUPER vulnerable to commit to the practice of communicating about my wants, especially given that often times, I didn’t really know what I wanted. Sometimes, especially as a submissive, I knew what I wanted but felt that it was strange or somehow not ok to want it. Sometimes I felt that if I didn’t know where to go and what I wanted at all times, that it would mean I wasn’t succeeding as a dominant.
The thread that I’ve been able to identify weaving through each of these fears is SHAME: The belief that something that I want is not ok, and not worthy of love and belonging.
The practice of consent (mixed with as much shame-dissolving laughter as possible!) created the safety for me to begin to question these beliefs.
Honoring consent — our own and others — is a practice of respecting sovereignty.
This practice creates a relational code of ethics to exist within. Leaning into the consent framework can help us loosen our grip on needing to make moral judgments about the content of our desirous impulses, in order to be in right relationship.
If we are committed to playing with impulses only inside the container of mutual consent, then we are engaging with life in a respectful way. The desires themselves need not be judged as inherently wrong or bad.
Moral judgment is an outdated rubric by which to measure what we give ourselves permission to experience. Given that some desirous impulses arise from trauma, are experiences of empathizing with the collective unconscious, or are energies that are simply stuck and waiting to transmute, it is unhelpful to judge them as wrong and bad. The judgment approach tends to push them deeper into shame and shadow, where they are more likely to pop up and act out unconsciously. It is the non-consensual and unconscious expression of desires that can cause harm.
Consciousness and consent are an alternate framework by which we can discern our experimentation as loving, healthy, and in service to wholeness. The more I abide within the consent framework, the more able I am to experience desires, impulses, and often surprising arousal catalysts without the burdens of fear and self-judgment.
This helps me relate to what arises in my body and psyche as materials to play with; some personal, some relational, some collective, some mysterious and passing through only for a moment, never to be felt again. If I check in with all parts of my self, and all parts of my play partner(s), and find that all parts of all of us are on board, it’s all systems go!
If only some parts are on board, it’s a moment to slow down with a “Pause” or a “Yellow” and assess what parts are not on board, and what they might need to proceed. Maybe they need to breathe for awhile. Maybe they need more understanding of what the activity is. Maybe they need to speak their fears or shame voices and simply feel heard and included. Maybe they need for the play to go super slow with frequent check-ins. Maybe they need to check back in tomorrow. Maybe they will never be on board, and that’s ok. There are usually infinite other options to explore that will fall within consent.
The more comfortable we are with pausing often to communicate the details of our experience, the more we and our partners can stay present with ourselves in our experience. The more we practice communication about our desires inside of containers that adhere to consent, the stronger the muscle of communication gets.
This also means we become more able to discern and co-create safe enough containers to practice communicating vulnerably - about sexuality, emotion, relationship needs, triggers, and so much more. Conscious Kink is a lineage of consent and communication culture, and as such holds a wealth of wisdom and possibility for practicing relational skills.
Whether it’s through kink or another avenue that feels safe for you, the practice of learning to communicate the truth of where we stand and what we want is one that will ripple out into all areas of our life to generate more intimacy and belonging.
And here’s the real bonus: As we cultivate comfort with verbal communication, we may even find that new pathways emerge for greater subtlety, intuitive care, and organic non-verbal communication — ways of being attuned to in our wants and needs — that most all of us craved as children, but were not always met with in our families or culture.
Lucky for us, it’s never too late to guide ourselves and each other into the joys of a world where all relating is based in consent.
How can we know how to find ourselves and each other inside of consent? Through the willingness to stand in the center of our own desires and aversions, and proudly claim, “These are my consent lines (sometimes called boundaries). This is what I want!”
Because, regardless of what messages we may have previously received, the truth is, that as long as we honor our own and others’ consent, there is NOTHING inherently wrong with who we are and what we want. We are strange and wild creatures, us humans, and we are here to learn how to play with each other and all things. Consensually, of course.