Rape is undeniably one of the worst crimes. Yet many people, women and feminists among them, have fantasies of sexual force. Kinky feminists often struggle to reconcile their desires with their belief in gender equality.
Since we began dating at Christmas last year, Mizz Honey J and I have explored our mutual love of consensual non-consent. Honey not only enriches my life as girlfriend and play partner, she is also a talented writer. As her first contribution to the blog I asked her to talk about her feminism and how it intersects with her sexuality.
In the 2009 article “Beware the Anti-Feminists,” Cath Elliot oversimplifies the idea behind consensual non-consent by likening it to anti-feminist groups that champion female submission. She questions why on earth women would knowingly choose such lifestyles in a post-feminist world. I am a loud and opinionated Bitch-reading feminist myself and many of the groups Elliot talks about in her article remind me a little too much of the Promise Keepers, but I am not one to condemn a woman who seeks to satisfy herself by losing control. Why? Because I am one of these women.
How does a woman who identifies as a feminist reconcile her desire to submit to her partner during sex? Being somewhat new to kink, I had some trepidations about how submission seemingly went against my ethics. However, I soon realized that I had more power than I thought. Here are five personal responses to the many misconceptions I hear about consensual non-consent:
1. Despite the essence of consensual non-consent being the loss of control, ultimately the situation still depends on my ability to assert control. The key to this is trust and communication. Before we play, my partner and I talk about our boundaries and agree on safewords. During scenes, my partner will make sure that I am not approaching a limit that will endanger my mental or physical well-being. On my end, I know I am expected to communicate when an act becomes too intense. Spokewench points out that “the extensive negotiations engaged in by BDSM people prior to playing are able to counter-balance the extra danger kink can create. Personally, I can think of more times I was pressured into vanilla sex I didn’t really want than times I had kinky play under those circumstances.” Which leads me to reason number two.
2. Consensual non-consent does not necessarily mean rape play. Dusk, in an article for Eden Cafe, suggests that using this phrase instead of anything rape-related is more inclusive of everything consensual non-consent entails — both the physical and psychological domination — and it’s also less traumatizing when talking to a rape victim. Although I have never been raped, I have had sexual relations with strange men while my consent was impaired by drugs. Yet, my craving to lose control remains, because the physical and psychological context is not one of being victimized, but one of fulfilling a need. Outside of this context, I would never compare my experiences with consensual non-consent or rape play to someone’s traumatic experience.
3. Domestic discipline is not the same as consensual non-consent. Cath Elliot oversimplifies the idea of consensual non-consent by likening it to domestic discipline that Taken in Hand uses:
Taken in Handers practise what they call “consensual non-consent,” which basically boils down to physical and sexual chastisement, up to and including rape, as punishment for the woman’s transgressions. It apparently doesn’t matter if she screams and cries throughout her ordeal, no amount of pleading is going to make the “punishment” stop: by dint of the fact that she’s in the relationship in the first place she’s deemed to have consented to any mistreatment and abuse her husband doles out.
I can see how many people get the concepts of domestic discipline and consensual-non-consent confused. However, there is a distinct difference. The groups Elliot wrote about are patriarchal in nature. In these relationships, women are not seen as equals but rather lesser beings, incapable of making decisions or asserting power. Although I am engaging in consensual non-consent, outside of the moment’s context my partner still considers me his/her equal.
4. My sexual activities are not how I define myself. Consensual non-consent is something I enjoy, but it is no more a part of me than my love for my cat or my ability to write fiction. Consensual non-consent and submission are how my id works out the stress that is constantly being dumped on my superego. Allowing myself to let go, having my partner take control over me physically and mentally is an amazing release. Furthermore, as someone who constantly struggles with depression and social anxiety, consensual non-consent allows me to take a break from the struggle over control that my mental illness causes me.
5. Ultimately, the way I use my body is my business. It is the reason that I am both pro-choice and pro-sex worker. When feminists team up to castigate other feminists over the choices they make, it mirrors the paternal condescension we face from non-feminists that negates a woman’s ability to make choices in regards to her body.
Of course, these are the reasons why consensual non-consent works for me. I welcome the input of other women who consider themselves feminists to tell me their opinions about consensual non-consent. Hopefully opening a discussion will serve to educate others before they make universal assumptions about what is good for every woman.
Mizz Honey J is not only a bottom and a feminist, but also a fiction writer. She even makes Julienne fries! Find more of her work on The Vagina Zine and The Lipstick Pages.