I had a situation occur that has me thinking about the nuanced difference between “permission” and “consent.” Consent, of course, is a complex, complicated concept that roughly comes down to an understanding of limits, boundaries, and activities that people mutually agree to engage in together. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but the focus of this isn’t about defining consent, so I’m going with a rough, blanket idea for now.
But permission feels like something else. Permission- asking permission- feels like a request to do something that is already within the bounds of consent. For example, in a dynamic in which someone must ask before they cum, both parties have already consented to a D/s dynamic in which one person has control over the orgasms of another, but inside of that dynamic, the person must then ask for permission each time they want to get off.
Permission feels like a much more intimate exchange than consent. It feels like power and control. “May I…(do this thing that we have already agreed to within the parameters of consent)” feels like a much different beast than negotiating out consent and limits and boundaries in general (or even within a specific scene). Because you have to have consent to ask permission. It needs to be within the parameters of the dynamic or scene to introduce the idea of asking permission.
So what does any of this have to do with fearplay? It occurs to me that I’m sometimes lackluster in tackling the things I am afraid of because I genuinely like the feeling of being afraid. A part of me doesn’t want it to get easier to ask for what I want because a part of the thrill is the churning feeling of humiliation and shame and terror.
In thinking about this, though, I realized that, while I may have someone’s consent to play with my own internal sense of fear, I may or may not have their permission to. Which is to say, sometimes, it’s ok that I’m scared of something and want to explore that sense of fear, but sometimes, that might not be ok. Because allowing myself to sink into fear automatically creates the same kinds of power dynamics as asking permission to come, for example. And maybe the person I’m with isn’t in a place to want to have that kind of control or power.
So I’m trying to figure out how to renegotiate my relationship with fearplay because it needs to be something that I actively choose to engage with, rather than a default place I go to. Because I like being afraid. I like the threats, the insinuations, the shaking terror and pushing through it. And I like giving up control (hi there, control freak talking. Losing control is terrifying. See: fearplay). I like the commands to do something because someone asked me to. I like the pleasure of the humiliation of trying to take a picture of whatever thing I was instructed to do. The anxiety that maybe I’m not doing it right. The ways it feels like reciprocated and mutual desire (you want me, and you show me you want me by directing me to do a thing that I do solely because you asked me to).
(This is also one of those theoretical desire things, since I don’t think I’ve actually had a relationship in which this has been a thing that has actually happened. So there’s that, too.)
Also, I like using people as fucktoys and watching them struggle in rope. I like cathartic impact and the struggle of good rough body play and the way a good knife feels in my hand when it’s moving across someone else’s skin. I like the idea of telling someone to do something, just for me, just because I asked them to. I like the idea of turning someone on at inconvenient moments, like during meetings at work or while we’re out to dinner. I’m a switch. I want to give up control, but only sometimes. I want to sink into fear, but only sometimes. I want to be told what to do, but only sometimes. And when I’ve created this link in my head between arousal and fear, it becomes the easy place to default to, and I dislike the one-sidedness of that.
Because when I want to top, and wanting is connected with fear, and fearplay is a place I like to go, things get tricky. My instincts are versatile; my reactions aren’t always. I need to get a little better at swallowing fear (or not letting my head get into a place) so that I can play with fear when I- or we- choose to, and not as a default brain setting.
All of this being said, I also need to think about how I negotiate fearplay a little better. It’s all well and good for something to cause a fear response and to choose to play around with that internally, but if I don’t communicate that to the other person, then it feels a little unreasonable for me to expect them to know/understand/care for me in that state (unless that’s an ongoing, set dynamic, which I have exactly zero of). So it feels like two separate questions: do I have your consent to play around with fear in my head (in general, with the understanding that you may or may not know that’s happening and I don’t expect any care around it unless it’s discussed beforehand), and do I have your permission to play around with fear (in this moment, or this scene, right now, are you ok with that level of control and power)?
The distinction feels small, but I think it matters. Because the things that scare me are specific and a little strange and easier to trigger than you might think. And I want to find more ways of playing with fear and control and power responsibly. Because I want to find ways to create space for permission within the consent models I work with. Because I like giving up control, but only in spaces where someone else wants to pick it up.