Consent & Boundaries, Part 1

June 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm  •  Posted in From the Staff, In The Flesh by  •  5 Comments

Part 1 Finding Out About Boundaries

Despite our most hedonist fantasies, attending the multitude of sexy events in Vancouver doesn’t mean that anything goes. Some of you are quite fine with spanking or tying rope around the most intimate of body parts at MVK or Rascals but don’t want anything resembling a kiss. Others enjoy hugging and cuddling at burner parties and raves but nothing more than that. Some like to make out thanks to all the sexy energy at Noir, XXX or Sin City but do not want anything hands-on. And at the sexy house parties that happen in Vancouver, some folks just want to be left alone to do their own thing, whether it is chat, dance, observe the crowd, or hang out in the background.

In such sexually-charged environments, boundaries need to be actively discussed rather than assumed, since they can differ widely from person to person and event to event. By building a culture around consent and boundaries, where people work proactively to discover each other’s boundaries, we nurture Vancouver’s sex positive culture and events. And to do that, we need to develop the skills to ask and learn about people’s boundaries and seeking consent in our interactions around those boundaries.

Why is this necessary, some may ask. So individuals can have autonomy over their own bodies. People are not entitled to do whatever they want to others, so we need build a culture where people communicate and negotiate intimacy as opposed to thinking that they deserve it regardless of how the other person feels. Sadly, too many news stories nowadays show we still have a ways to go in building a culture built on consent and boundaries.

You can help bridge this gap by simply asking people what their boundaries are. It sounds simple, but it certainly can feel awkward to ask the first time. Or the first few times. But you build skills and development comfort using them with practice. And this becomes sexy in itself.

A person’s body language might already be speaking volumes before you even begin talking to him or her. If someone is leaning in closer to you, looking relaxed, establishing eye contact, and smiling genuinely, their positive body language means there is probably a willingness to interact. Inversely, if they are leaving away, looking away, or crossing their arms, they may not want to interact right now.

You may think “I can read body language like a boss, I don’t need to ask anything beyond that.” Maybe you DO have exceptional skills at reading body language. But maybe you are not in the best shape to read signals now, or maybe that person is not the best at providing them – alcohol and such can do that to you. Besides, body language is not always 100% accurate and some people send off mixed signals.

The easiest way to check in with someone about their boundaries is by checking in if they are okay with you sharing their space. For example, is it okay if you chat, dance, or watch that hot scene happening on stage next to them? Most people will be just fine with such questions, and by inquiring you’ve broken the consent-asking ice.

Are you connecting? This might be where you can check in with more direct questions. “Those fishnet stocking looks sexy – do you mind if I touch?” “Can I rub your fun fur vest” or “may I kiss you” are great ways to ensure you are reading signals right (if you get a “yes, please”) or moving in too fast (“not right now” or, “no thanks”).

When you ask these questions, you also need to be prepared to receive the perfectly valid answer of “no”. Despite what misguided and outdated lessons may have tried to teach, a “no” does not mean “try harder”. No means no. Maybe means no, as does maybe later. Silence is no. Only a yes – and an informed yes, where the person is in a state of mind to be able to reasonably answer – means yes. Politely acknowledge the answer, talk about something else or give that person their space or whatever feels comfortable.

In addition to asking and respecting the answer, paying attention to boundaries means respecting a person’s personal space. Sometimes we can infringe upon a person’s space without even intending to despite best of intentions. Here are some examples:

  • You may want to chat up that interesting stranger, but you don’t want to interrupt the conversation they are currently having. Your intent is to wait until they are free to give attention to you, but it may appear that you are hovering in their space until that person has no choice but to acknowledge you.
  • You may see something so cool and sexy that you want to immortalize it with a picture. Rather than whipping out your phone to try and take a picture of that hot spanking or shibari, consider if it is your experience to photograph. Asking permission is normally a great strategy, but interrupting a scene is bad protocol. This is why most events will have signage and rules explaining this basic concept.
  • Guys, you may be nervous to approach a woman or women when they are with other gents. However, approaching ladies only after the men they are with step away may be seen as opportunistically awkward at best, predatory at worst.
  • Finally, you don’t have permission to grab, kiss or touch someone for any reason until you confirm it. Check in! This is regardless of if you are the same gender, if you know the people quite well, or if you chatted with them online. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean permission is granted.

Okay, I’ve been rambling for a bit and this may all be a lot to take in. Let’s take a break, shall we, and next time we chat look at dealing with broken boundaries.

(In the meantime, feel free to add to the conversation by sharing your strategies for respecting boundaries in the comments section below.)


  1. M / June 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm / Reply

    Good article- but I am disappointed you missed out on a very key step in all of this. The first thing we need to do is get clear with ourselves about what our own boundaries are, and get comfortable communicating them. As a society we are trained to embrace the status quo- and women especially are often told to not express what they want, and to mold their own boundaries so that they can please their male partners.

    When I started exploring the BDSM world I had no idea what my Yeses were and what my Nos were. When someone would ask me about my boundaries I would freeze up. In fact, many people I’ve talked to experience this. With such a huge range of possibilities, when you’re new to exploring multiple flavors of sexual expression, sometimes you just don’t *know* what you might not like. And you may have no idea how to communicate about it. I’ve found myself saying. “Oh go ahead, that’s great”, even when i wasn’t really 100% in to it.

    Something I do now is embrace being proactive with a conversation around my boundaries, and that counts just as much when I’m being dominant versus when I’m being submissive. Cos, yeah, Tops and Doms have boundaries too! And communication around boundaries has to be a two way street- not just listening and respecting, but *conversing*. So much fun lies in discovering one another’s boundaries and getting creative with how to play within- and if desired, up to the edges of- everyone’s comfort.

    I’ve written more in depth on this topic on my blog here:

  2. Dee / June 6, 2014 at 11:41 am / Reply

    MVK and Rascals focus on BDSM play, which requires unique considerations for consent. You briefly mentioned alcohol altering your abilities connected to assessing boundaries. With BDSM play, the intent is to trigger an “endorphin high” or “subspace” in the bottom. These are phrases we use to describe what is actually a shock response, which greatly impairs a person’s ability to assess a situation and changes the body language and reactions. In BDSM complete scene negotiation to obtain informed consent occurs before any play is engaged in because of this altered state of mind. Negotiating down (deciding to say no to something that was originally put on the table) is fine once play has begun, but negotiating up while still in that altered state is dangerous.

  3. Dave Toxik / June 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm / Reply

    M – there is a reason this is part 1 in a series focusing on consent and boundaries, and a reason I’ve committed to at least 12 columns to the EV team.

    This topic covers a lot of ground,ranging from overall boundary respect and awareness as well as knowing one’s own boundaries. There will be more to come beyond this initial part, so hopefully that can help soothe your disappointment.

    “We Love it All”, the sex positive group I founded with my wife, provided a workshop regarding discovering, articulating and asserting your own boundaries at “Burn in the Forest” last year and will be doing so at this year’s “Otherworld.” I am will be sharing some of the ideas covered in that workshop as well as other thoughts in an upcoming post.

    (For those of you who don’t know about those two events, BitF and OW are regional Burning Man events held near Squamish and Victoria respectively).

    Thanks to you and Dee for sharing your thoughts and strategies for boundaries and negotiation. I appreciate you both adding to the conversation!

  4. Ryan & Co... / June 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm / Reply

    I think this is a very important issue and some of the current discussion/climate about “consent culture” makes me uncomfortable. Myself, my girlfriend, and my wife are all active in the various scenes, we have discussed this at length, and we have some thoughts.

    First, let me just say that I think consent is a very important issue, and that people being grabbed and interacted with in ways that make them uncomfortable are definite “no nos” and things that should be avoided. Manners are important and I feel like people acting WITHOUT manners (in clubs and other situations) have spawned this movement which is trying to fix the problems with a set of rules over something which is hard to rule… I don’t want the overall principles and ideals of an important concept to get thrown out “with the bathwater.”

    I’m going to address some thoughts randomly:

    First, your point above about the consent/personal space violation by the awkward guy who is standing near a girl trying to work up courage to strike up a conversation, struck me as particularly sad and reflective of the tone of the discussion. My girlfriend read that and said “He paid to be in the space just as much as she did and if he’s polite and not rude/aggressive wouldn’t the polite thing to do be to engage in at least a little conversation?” The girl doesn’t have to consent to more than polite conversation but she’s not a victim just cause a boy is trying to start a conversation (probably, maybe some exceptions but not just given those facts). Even if he is awkward, I’ve been in exactly that situation and my girlfriend would attest to the fact that it was rough but we worked our way past it 🙂

    Second, there are legitimate victims, and that sucks and I never want to take away from that. However, there are also victims who were dancing on the dance floor when a hand was placed on their back as a guy was walking behind them carrying a drink and didn’t want them to back up on the dance floor and knock his drink into him (watched that one happen and she ripped into him), and victims who had a hand tap their shoulder (non suggestively) to get their attention to say something. I think maybe some intent analysis needs to happen in some of these situations because I don’t think its particularly sane to close off our bubbles so much that we are offended by things like this. A hand could be rested on a back or shoulder in a creepy/flirty manner, or it could be in an innocent way and I think its important to note the difference and to act/interact with moderation/sanity.

    Finally (and this one is personal preference and should be viewed separately from the above), a buzz phrase right now is that “consent is sexy”, and personally we kind of disagree. We feel that acts being consensual is MANDATORY, but (for both girls and for me), constantly asking and being asked completely takes us out of the moment. In fact, last week C was dancing with a guy at a party and he asked if he could kiss her. She said no because (in her words to me later as we discussed) “If you have to ask, the answers going to be no. If he wanted to kiss me, he should have just followed chemistry and kissed me. Asking me made it weird.” Is there room for some misunderstandings in this? Yes. Is it more open to problems because everything is less negotiated? Also yes, however we feel that chemistry is impossible to “negotiate” and we’d rather not play at all than play like that. Personally, I don’t like asking verbatim like that because it feels like I’m asking permission. I don’t want her to LET me run my hands up her thigh, I want her to need it and want it… The minute it feels like its more me into it than it is her, or the moment feels negotiated and stale, I’m out.

    Anyway, thoughts from us to you 🙂

  5. Dave Toxik / June 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm / Reply

    Ryan & Co – Some of what you mention is covered in part 2, particularly regarding assessing if boundaries have in fact been breached. Sadly, the risk you take when writing multi-part articles is that you cannot fit everything in part 1 and therefore cannot address every thought or concern readers may have after reading just the first portion.

    We have differing takes on “the polite thing to do.” I don’t think anyone should be expected to interact with anyone if they do not want to, whether it is through conversation or anything else. Cover charge doesn’t give you the right to talk to someone if they don’t want to – it entitles you to access the venue or event. While my article wasn’t portraying people who were spoken to without wanting to engage in conversation with the other person as as victim, is WAS aimed at saying that person has a choice in whether they wish to interact, and we should respect that choice. Some people may indeed feel like being friendly or polite – others may not. There should be no expectation.

    And thanks for sharing your personal preferences – we all have them, and some people prefer different approaches whether because of Ds dynamics, flirting preferences or whatnot. If a particular duo, trio etc has quickly determined they are GGG without the need to further inquire about consent, go at it. Sadly, not everyone feels consent is mandatory. My articles, and the conversations I am looking to begin, are aimed at changing that.

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