Editorial

What can London’s Fetish and BDSM community teach us about consent?

(Credit: David Len/Unsplash)

‘I think even people who just walk past, they have quite negative reactions towards stuff, and you realise that a lot of people’s views are entrenched in a 1990s idea of what fetish is or what the leather man is’, says Philip, an employee at Prowler Red in Soho – one of the UK’s oldest sex shops.

That reaction is often emblematic of how people think about the fetish or BDSM – Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), Sadism and Masochism (SM) – community.

At least, that was the case until October 2017, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal propelled debates about consent onto a worldwide stage, giving birth to the #MeToo movement.

Harvey Weinstein at the 2010 Time 100 Gala (Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the New York Times, since Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey first broke news of the Weinstein scandal on 5th October, more than 201 men have lost their jobs after public accusations of sexual harassment.

Now, people are beginning to look to the BDSM community and their practice of affirmative consent – explicit, informed, and voluntary agreement to participate in a sexual act – as one possible solution to the problem of sexual harassment.

‘Consent is the most important thing,’ says Athena Blank, an ex-dominatrix who has been active in the BDSM community for more than 20 years. ‘Within BDSM if you don’t have consent, it’s abuse. It’s a very, very clear line.’

The simplest way to set these rules, says Athena, is through open, honest communication, ‘You need to have a face-to-face conversation and you need to set out your rules and your boundaries in a very clear and structured way.’

For Athena, a discussion about what is and what isn’t allowed, is hard-baked into BDSM – it’s not strange or unusual to have a frank conversation about consent.

Philip, at Prowler Red, agrees, ‘it’s obviously a more prevalent conversation that’s harder to gloss over.’

Whilst still widely viewed as something of a curiosity, in many ways the BDSM community has solved a problem the rest of society is still grappling with.

As Philip says, ‘With BDSM stuff, if you’re interested in it, you might read up on it. There’s literature or tools available to identify consent and with regular consent, maybe not so much?’

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