Consent: A Problem of Definitions

Once again I say, English is a stupid, silly language.

We assign a more or less random series of sounds, also known as a “word,” which is represented by an agreed-upon series of individual glyphs called “letters,” to an object or idea. This practice has been going on as long as the art of writing has existed, in some form or another. The Egyptians had hieroglyphs; the Sumerians had cuneiform; and so on.

If you’re reading this, and I must assume you are, else why the hell am I writing it(?), you’re reading the Latin alphabet, which has been in use since the Roman Empire “borrowed” (i.e. stole) it from the conquered Phoenicians, albeit in a radically altered format. It is understood that optimally, using this method, I write this thing and you understand this thing clearly as I wrote it.

But wait!

If I write “dog,” what do you see on the screen of your mind? A Labrador? A St. Bernard? A German shepherd? Your childhood pet, or the irritating little yapping wannabe football down the street who’s always threatening your ankles when you walk past her yard or her people?

If I read the word “dog,” and don’t have any context to the contrary, the first image I always see is that of my Norfolk terrier, Munchkin. Most people outside dog show circles don’t even know what a Norfolk terrier IS, and are therefore unlikely to picture one as the default setting for the word “dog.”

This is a fairly low-risk, low-stakes example of how a poor definition can lead to a faulty conclusion. We’re unlikely to come to daggers-drawn over the “right” kind of image a given word should represent. Likewise, if I write the word “house,” some people aren’t going to see an according-to-Hoyle “house” at all! Some people will see an apartment building, a trailer (mobile home), a tarpaper shack or a mansion. I personally see a white ranch-style house with green trim, my childhood home. Again, what you see when you read the word “house” is not necessarily what I see when I read or write that word.

alphabets-communication-conceptual-262572.jpg

We can repeat this exercise with words like “car,” “job,” “love,” “money,” “rain” and so on. By and large, we can all agree that not seeing the same things when we read or write these specific words is, in itself, not especially problematic. This is, after all, the entire point and purpose of using adjectives, isn’t it? Big green house; small, white electric car; working as a bricklayer; etc. Using these, we can start to form a clearer picture of what is meant and intended when I write “house,” instead of leaving you, the reader, to assume or try to guess what I meant with no clues or evidence to help lead you to the conclusion I intend.

This is important because a funny thing happened the other night at the workshop which Scarlet Eva and I put on.

She pointed out, rightly, that consent is largely meaningless unless all parties to a given negotiation or intended act understand what EXACTLY each party means by the language used. (Are we paying attention, Congress?) Thus, if I say I want to spend a certain sum of money on a house, that’s not really a reasonable statement in terms of getting me what I want, is it?

If I say, for example, that I want to spend $200,000 on a tarpaper shack, you’re probably going to tell me I’m out of my goddamned mind and try to talk me out of it. I know the housing market sucks, but outside of Silicon Valley, most places two hundred gees will still buy you SOMETHING in the way of a serviceable domicile. But if I say I want to spend $200,000 on a mansion, you’re probably going to tell me (rightly!) I’m out of my goddamned mind and that there’s no way I’m going to be able to successful at buying a mansion for $200,000 unless I want to invest at least 10 times the asking price in making it fit for human habitation. But at least you know where I’m at now and what my intentions are, no?

The example Scarlet used, fittingly for the venue and topic, was spanking.

Scarlet observed that if both parties say spanking, but one party has over-the-knee spanking with an open hand in mind and the other has a full-on butt-bludgeoning with a paddle on the menu, odds are both parties are going to be disappointed and one party could be very angry, while the other party could be in for anything from an uncomfortable and awkard “No, that’s not what I meant” conversation to going to jail for assault and battery!

The problem is, as a rule, we don’t really think about that. Too often, Doms and subs alike get in such a rush to get into “it” that they don’t stop to think about what “it” actually means as presented by the other party. Now, let’s test out a couple of scenarios:

The sub says, “I need a spanking.” The Dom says, “Okay,” and pulls the sub over their knee. The sub says, “Um. What are you doing?”

The Dominant is understandably confused and says, “Well, I’m doing exactly what you wanted.”

“Oh. I thought you were going to use the paddle!”

The sub has conveyed effectively, albeit belatedly, what they wanted and intended in a way which makes it feasible for the Dominant to provide it. In this scenario, a definition of terms has been set which allows for clear communication and no misunderstandings about what is desired and required. But what if we change an element?

The sub says, “I need a spanking.” The Dom says, “Okay,” and pulls the sub over their knee. The sub takes the open-handed spanking without a word of protest or any indication that something might be amiss.

Afterward, the sub seems petulant and withdrawn. The Dominant is understandably confused and asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Oh. I thought you were going to use the paddle!”

In this situation, the submissive has set the Dominant up to fail to meet their needs. By not conveying clearly what they had in mind when they asked for a spanking, and not explaining what they had in mind before the Dominant got started, there was really no possible way the Dominant could create the scene the submissive needed. So let’s flip the script and see else this might play out.

The sub says, “I need a spanking.” The Dom says, “Okay,” gets the paddle off the wall and pulls the sub over their knee. The sub takes the paddling without a word of protest or any indication that something might be amiss.

Afterward, the sub seems petulant and withdrawn. The Dominant is understandably confused and asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Oh. I thought you were going to use your hand! I didn’t consent to you using the paddle on me.”

We already know how this one plays out, except that in addition to having the embarrassment and upset on both sides of not meeting the submissive’s expectations, we also have the additional question of what the submissive might choose to do as a result of this. Will the sub leave? Will she call the police and have the Dominant arrested? (She does after all have marks to show.) Will she allow them to sit down and have a metatalk about what happened and how to course-correct in future?

Another point to be made is that THIS IS NOT WHOLLY ON THE SUBMISSIVE! It is very much the Dominant’s business to make sure everyone is on the same page too. Assumptions are dangerous at the best of times; in a D/s dynamic, they can be fatal to the relationship or quite literally lethal to one or all parties involved!

The moral of the story: Yes, we have a serviceable language which allows us to employ modifiers on nouns and verbs to get us from a general concept to a specific, concrete ideal which is being asked for. However, it is the responsibility of everyone involved to make sure they convey the right information and ask the right questions so there is no question what is being asked for, consented to and intended to occur. If this doesn’t happen, there’s a very good chance for at best disappointment; at worst, the consequences could be tragic.

This post is going to become important when it’s coupled with the next one, about the Pentagram Theory of Consent, which I’ll be writing about on Monday. Be sure to tune in then to find out more about it. Until then, have a great weekend and stay kinky, all!

All images included herein provided by Pexels.com. To the best of the author’s knowledge and understanding, these images are offered under Creative Commons for private and commercial use with no requirement for attribution. Should an image included in this post not meet these criteria, please contact the author at jerichoswayne@gmail.com and it will be removed promptly.

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