For the web site, see Informed Consent (website).
Informed consent is a legal condition whereby a person can be said to have given consent based upon a full appreciation and understanding of the facts and implications of any actions, with the individual being in possession of all of his faculties (not mentally retarded or mentally ill), and his judgment not being impaired at the time of consenting (by sleepiness, intoxication by alcohol or drugs, other health problems, etc.).
Not always stated
It should be taken as read that nothing on this site is about abuse or about doing something without prior consent. In some relationships, the consent may be a blanket consent and could have been given many years earlier. A specific activity could be with such blanket consent but be against the person's will at the time (often called consensual non-consent). This is what the person wants in their life and is distinct from the same activity performed without any consent, which is likely to be abuse.
Not every article on this site will mention the aspect of consent. This is no different than a martial arts magazine where every article does not devote space to warning practitioners not to attack the innocent, nor does every article about fast cars need a disclaimer about always following the posted speed limit. Safety and consent are paramount and without them, contentment and happiness within BDSM cannot be assured.
In many countries, people cannot lawfully give informed consent on specific matters until they reach a certain age. The argument is that as a child the person might be incapable of comprehending the arguments and information, and thus could give consent, but even after the act of informing the child the consent would not be considered as based on being informed. The term age of consent is especially applied to consenting to sexual acts.
Some acts cannot legally take place because of a lack of informed consent, e.g. sexual acts, in other cases consent of legal parents or guardians of a child on its behalf is valid.
The question of whether informed consent needs to be formally given before sexual intercourse or other sexual activity, and whether this consent can be withdrawn at any time during the act, is an issue which is currently being discussed in the United States in regard to rape and sexual assault legislation. Consent issues in general are also being address in the United Kingdom.
It may not be possible to give consent to certain activities in certain jurisdictions; see the Operation Spanner case for an example of this in the UK.
UK Home Office Sex Offences Review
In a Law Commission report on reviewing the law on sex offences, proposals are made for lawful consent to require the absence of duress and to disallow both deception and mistake. It further proposes to time-constraint consent such that an agreement made for one scene would not be explicit to another scene. 2.5 to 2.12 (pdf format)
Playing consensually does not mean you need a written witnessed agreement every time you play, nor does it mean that once they consent, anything goes. It means only playing with people who are normally considered fit to enter into a binding contract, and only doing things to them while you have a very sound expectation that, were they requested to explicitly indicate their consent to your actions when in a fit state of mind and being neither cooerced nor misled, they would do so.
The Simple Rules
- Don't play with people who can't be held fully responsibile for their own actions (e.g. the mad, senile, immature or otherwise incompetant).
- Know what your partner's limits are - what they do not consent to.
- Confirm that they understand any physical and emotional risks involved.
- Make sure your partner has an unambiguous way to indicate that they withdraw their consent, if they change their mind during the scene. You are responsible for detecting if they fall into a mental or physical state where they are hindered from indicating or choosing to indicate.
- If you are about to do an action to them which they would have no chance to indicate their lack of consent to before it happened and there is any doubt that they might not consent, ask them beforehand to indicate their consent explicitly.
- If at any time your partner, while in a fit state of mind, indicates that they do not consent to your doing an action to them, or that they withdraw consent they previously gave, then don't do it. If you have already started doing it, then stop as soon as safely possible.
- If your partner is not in a fit state of mind to choose whether to consent or not, which can happen on occasions such as when drunk, asleep, or drugged, then it is your responsibility to make that choice for them. In general you should choose to not play with them, unless you gained their explicit consent beforehand to play with them in this condition. You are very likely to be on the wrong side of the law if you play with someone unfit to grant consent.
- One exception to that would be when a masochist is so high on endorphines that they are in no fit state to judge whether to continue or not, because entering that state was a possibile risk of the play (e.g. your flogging them) and since you confirmed your partner understood this risk (see above rule Know what your partner's limits are) and they consented in knowledge of it, their consent to let you judge when to stop is strongly implicit. On the other hand, in that situation you also have a duty to stop the scene when warranted, even if they are crying "More!".