Consent & Contracts

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Consent is a topic that’s currently on a lot of people’s minds.  Before diving in to this post I should state that consent is a good thing, there should be consent 100% of the time one is engaged.  How consent is maintained, updated and revoked is heavily nuanced by the circumstances and the people involved. 

What struck me the other day was what relationship there is between consent and an old topic I can rant on for ages, though haven’t yet done so in this blog.  That is the use of contracts in D/s and BDSM.

The particular activities that seem attractive to the concept of a contract are slave contracts and chastity contracts.  Chastity sites can get clogged up with discussions on what a chastity contract should include and there are forums on FetLife filled with examples of slave contracts that people claim to have enacted.  contract-law-compressorThere’s also a sub-genre of blackmail contracts.  A surprising number of people seem to think that these are legally water tight.

For the sake of stating the obvious, they’re not.  There are legal nuances in different jurisdictions (I’m talking Europe and US here) but the crux of the matter is that slavery and blackmail are illegal.  Just because a sub signs such a contract does not protect the domme from legal liability if the law is broken.  A chastity contract almost certainly may not be illegal, however, there’s an interesting thought about any such contracts.

What’s the redress for either party to enforce the contract ?

Do think about that for a moment !!

What court are you going to go to ?  Would you be prepared to see your lurid details ridiculed by the Sunday tabloids ?

And to keep this on topic, what does it say about your consensual relationship that one or other party is seeking to enforce a part of that relationship against the consent of the other party ?

I have to declare an interest here.  When I first entered the world of chastity with an actual live female keyholder  a chastity contract seemed a good idea as a personal safeguard.  I’ll talk about that in another post (The Making (and Breaking) of a Chastity Sub).  Suffice to say that I was quickly educated as to the pointlessness of it.

Given all that, do contracts have any useful role regarding consent ?

To a small degree I think that they do.  The primary positive is that they should be the result of actual discussions between the parties.  It’s the discussions that are important in that D/s requires constant communication.  The discussion required to establish a contract provides some guidelines on what the limits are and what is generally consented to – I shouldn’t need to reiterate that consent can be revoked at any time.

The negatives of a contract at the start of a relationship are mainly twofold.  The first is if the contract is imposed by one party as a ‘take it, or leave it’ proposition without discussion.  This can happen and unwary subs will find themselves in difficulties.  The other negative is that if after negotiating that initial contract, the discussions cease.  To be in anyway useful the contract must grow organically as needs are revealed and understanding of consent between the parties is advanced.  It either grows as the relationship grows or withers away because the relationship can not be contained by it.

To take this further we need to understand why a contract seems to be a good idea at the time.  Very often a contract is a bridge between fantasy and reality.  For the activities where contracts are not uncommon the sub will often have years of accumulated fantasies where he has no free will, is made to do things he doesn’t want to do.  We’ll ignore the inconsistency of him masturbating to the idea of all those things he doesn’t want to do.

The sub appears to have two main concerns when considering what’s in a contract.  The primary concern is usually that he wants certain things to be forced on him, yet knows under normal circumstances he’d back out of it.  He wants to have no option to back out.  The secondary concern provides a bit of contradiction, he wants some sort of safety backstop.

When you run these ideas as to what a D/s or BDSM contract is meant to achieve through the issues of consent, all sorts of red flags pop up.

More often than not, a contract, whether intended or not, negates the concept of fluid consent.  It can legitimise, even formalise abuse.  A slave contract can be an open charter for abuse, once signed it is all too easy for one or both parties to assume that consent can not be withdrawn.

From my own long ago experience I would indeed say that a chastity contract led to some short term abuse.  It certainly flirted around the edges with the ideas surrounding consent as we use them today.  Why it was short term was that I learned to embrace the reality and no longer needed that bridge back to fantasy.  Without the bridge, the contract became irrelevant as I realised how naive I’d been.

D/s type contracts can be useful and an aid to consensual practices provided both parties have sufficient awareness of the limitations and realities.  I would suggest that in such cases the use of the word contract detracts from what might be better termed a mutual commitment or mutual promises.  Sadly, it is all too common that one or both parties have no such awareness and the resort to a quasi legal contract surrounding D/s activities is an open highway to abuse.

If you think that negotiating a contract is right for you, think hard and long.  Think about how you safeguard consent within it.  Contracts as they have historically been used and understood in the D/s world are large incompatible with the evolving understanding of consent.  If somebody is asking you to enter a contract, ask them what they really want from it, can they justify it ?

Safety and consent are the bedrocks of D/s, they trump all the dangerous fantasy language.