I recently wrote a musing on consent as feeling together, and this week the follow-up question is, can I consent to not “using” consent? And what does it mean to “use” consent? I first encountered consensual non-consent in my early years of BDSM when living in Montreal. It was part of the old-school, or old guard, acting out a fantasy of the Victorian household, much like the Story of O (a book), in its investigation of erotic enslavement. The basic idea is that the submissive is surrendering all control over the play. So there are no safe words. I’ve met countless submissives claiming that they can only truly let go if there is consensual non-consent. Because if they continuously need to evaluate the situation by asking themselves if this is what they want, then how can they ever surrender? So they dream about trusting and dedicating themselves entirely to a dominant.
I’m on a continuous journey to understand kink and sexuality. In this work, I dig around in various subcultures, philosophy, psychology, religion and spirituality to find models that explain why I and others behave as we do. The abbreviation BDSM(F) is one way that splits kinky sexuality into bondage, dominance-submission (DS), sadism-masochism (SM), and sometimes adding an F for fetish. It is a helpful umbrella to gather under as a subculture, and it is kind of clear because it tells what is in focus. For example, DS on the power dynamic, while SM on the pain and suffering. But I think it’s less helpful in explaining why. Acting as a gateway teacher, I sometimes simplify it into kink, that everyone has something that makes them tick, maybe a taboo, that they are excited and curious about. Or maniac, as they would say in Japan. And I think everyone does, and it’s healthy to honour that inside oneself consciously. Anyhow, I’ve recently found another way to look at things when reading the book, The Essential Papers on Masochism. It’s a condensed summary of 900 academic pages outlining what psychoanalysts have been writing about masochism from 1915 to 2005. While I don’t think psychoanalysis is the best tool to build a society, I think it makes a brave attempt at understanding the human psyche. It is hilarious that Freud said that only a few percentages of humanity are possible to analyze and change, while the rest, I assume, are a fixed product of the environment. Okay, enough taking distance from Freud and co, because I think the seed they planted in me is valuable after all.
When talking about consent, I often claim that trust is more important than consent. The modern usage of the word is to agree, often by defining the terms of the agreement. I’m okay with this, but not with that. The Swedish word we use is ‘samtycke’; ‘sam’ means together, and ‘tycke’ is ‘opinion’ often related to thought. When people practice consent, it often seems to be defining what I want and what I don’t want because it’s important to get what one wants, right? Looking at the origins of the word, I think it offers another usage. The English word has two components; ‘con’ that means with or together, and ‘sent’, from the Old French ‘sentire’, that is to feel. To feeling together and I find this so much more beautiful.
Pain is both personal and relational. Let me explain what I mean. It is personal because it is subjective. No one can ever feel your pain. They can empathically imagine your experience but never actually feel it. In this way, we are all utterly alone in the end. But it is also relational because how we experience pain is greatly influenced by how we relate to its source. Therefore the relationship between the dominant and the submissive is fundamentally essential. In this musing, I want to write about three archetypical pain relationships.
Sometimes I wonder how my sessions and workshop are or can be a step on a personal development journey. BDSM and kink offer a safer place to pause and play outside everyday life, as I have written about many times before, for example, in this text. I often encourage my clients and participants to set an intention in the form of a persona: someone or something they want to explore being in contact with. What they pick varies wildly. Some people want to be more connected with their pleasure, so they go for maybe a greedy whore. Others want to let go of control and stop the non-stop doing, so they decide for almost an object, like a slave or a good boy. Or they might be curious about a gender-role they left behind and pick something traditional and super feminine, like the princess waiting for her knight in shining armour. I find it refreshing that people often choose a persona with a negative connotation to it. Maybe it is a way to defend who they are, or perhaps it’s a sign of them feeling safe, so they dear to be drawn to this other way of being.
In this episode, we talk about a project that is very dear to Andy: The amazing conscious kink event series “Salongen” (“The Parlour”) where BDSM and art meet. These play parties will be taking place in a theatre setting and are a co-production of Andy Buru and colleagues from theatre and opera. Listen to the interview to discover some of the secret ingredients of this playful artistic project.
I recently finished the book Deviant Opera: Sex, Power, and Perversion on Stage by Axel Englund, a literature professor at Stockholm University. It examines the triangular relationship between opera, BDSM and non-consensual power games. I don’t know much about opera; I attended one classical opera in Venice fifteen years ago, and more recently, Satyagraha (1985) by Philip Glass. Axel tells the story about two forms of opera, classical and directors opera. The latter being a modern interpretation of the originals, sometimes deviant, sometimes flirting with BDSM symbolism. The reason for doing so is to shine a light on the often non-consensual power games of traditional opera that tell stories of sex and violence in a glorifying and eroticizing manner. Opera can be seen as the musical journey of many orgasmic crescendos in brothel-like golden-velvet-red interiors.
I often face this question in my work, either from someone curious or from someone claiming to have the answer. Or from myself, asking was this really “good” after an intense session. Two common ways of answering it are consent and addiction, but I think neither of them is good enough, by themselves. In this weekly musing, I want to break the two down and then provide a third option.
This weekly musing is a short follow up on my popular text What do you surrender. That in short describes a four-step model of what a submissive surrender to a dominate, and how it affects the trust required for the power dynamic to function. The steps are the physical body, pain and pleasure, ego and shame, and finally devotion. The text points out that another kind of trust, maybe a deeper one, is needed to act like a dog than to follow in a dance. You can read the text for more details. But it also suggests that devotion is the pinnacle of surrender because then one moves their attention from oneself to another altogether – like worshiping a god.
I’m planning for a new monthly BDSM-club in Stockholm. The pandemic is giving me oceans of time to figure out what I want to bring into this world. My thoughts circles around performativity. Over and over again. So in this weekly musing, I want to write about performance in relationship to BDSM-clubs. Many people I talk to are scared of performing. There are thoughts like they are not good enough, or that their kink is not kinky enough. When I was studying theatre, I spent a lot of time thinking about what one performs – is it telling a story, a display of a hard-to-acquire skill, or something only eye-catching beautiful, or even a political statement. I think what BDSM offers are presence and emotions.
What does it mean to be perverted? Or maybe a better question, when does something become perverted. The word has a pretty negative feel to it, but why is that? In a way, it’s a word that I love, because it describes a feeling, or behaviour, rather than “a thing”. The abbreviation BDSM feels technical in comparison. I’m reading a book called Deviant Opera with the subtitle Sex, Power, and Perversion on Stage. It talks about why acts of BDSM is becoming a part of modern stage performance. I just started it so won’t say too much, and probably write more about it later. But it brought back the word deviant to me – to deviate from the norm.
I just came back from Gothenburg, where I taught a workshop around the question – can BDSM be spiritual? As a way to introduce power play beyond bedroom bondage, spanking and 50 Shades of Grey. The key pillars where power, space and ritual. As most of the participants were new to the subject, I reconnected to three common pitfalls. I like to see them as hidden traps, as they are the kind of mistakes that one doesn’t notice directly.
This weekly musing is a thought experiment on consent and the meaning of no. I write this as an invitation for contemplation on the grey zones of human interaction. If you are looking for a more concrete and practical first approach to consent in BDSM and tantra, then I recommend reading the text “Playing safer” instead.
This week I want to share one of my most valued things in life. That is insecurity. Or the idea of not having to know. Or to be sure. And it is reflected everywhere. It is the fundamental pillar of my life philosophy. Maybe and maybe not, says the businessman that turned into a Buddhist monk. I find it funny that I, a person that makes my living from teaching about polarities, put such a value of being in between them. Why is this? Maybe because of the mystery. To allow life to be a mystery. To be exciting.