Consent has become something of a buzzword over the last few years, and rightly so, really. It’s super important in everyday life, let alone when you’re tying someone up.
My thoughts and feelings about consent have developed a lot over the time I’ve been exploring kink. I’ve written about it many times, for various reasons, but my understanding is continuously evolving.
And while I am generally wary of “shoulds”, I firmly believe that anyone who engages in kink or shibari needs to be willing to spend time educating themselves about consent. The popular tea analogy is a great start, but it falls far short of an understanding that includes the nuances and complexities kink inevitably throws up.
The purpose of this blog post is to share a resource that I think is fundamental for an in-depth understanding of consent. A resource that was shared with me in my training (as a clinical sexologist) but that I wish I’d had access to when I was starting out: The Wheel of Consent.
Let’s talk about the Wheel of Consent
The Wheel of Consent is a tool that was created by intimacy and touch expert, Betty Martin.
There is a lot to say about The Wheel of Consent, so I’m going to give a super basic introduction to it. This is a great starting point, but it’s worth spending some time watching the videos too, as they go into a lot more depth than I will here.
It’s useful for understanding interactions, as well as our own tendencies, when it comes to consent.
What is the Wheel of Consent?
This is a simplified version of The Wheel of Consent:
It is split into halves: who is “doing” (you or the other person) and who the act is “for” (you or the other person).
It is then split into quadrants depending on who is doing/ who the act is being done for or to: giving, taking, accepting and allowing.
You are doing, and the act is for them. It’s an action to benefit someone else.
Example: You’re a rigger and you know your bottom likes a certain type of tie that you’re not so keen on. You offer it to them, as a gift, because you know they like it.
They are doing, and the act is for them. It’s an action to benefit yourself.
Example: You’re a bottom and you really like a certain kind of tie that your rigger doesn’t enjoy. You ask them to tie you like that and they agree to tie you for your pleasure.
They are doing and the act is for you. You are benefitting from the actions of someone else.
Example: You are a bottom, and your rigger offers to tie you in a way that they know you like, but they don’t enjoy. You accept their offer.
They are doing, and the act is for them. You are allowing someone else to act as they wish.
Example: You’re a bottom and your rigger likes a certain type of tie that you don’t particularly enjoy. You allow them to tie you this way for their pleasure.
While it’s easy to think that some of these are “better” than others, they are all perfectly valid reasons to do something.
How can The Wheel of Consent help?
Rather than placing value judgments on the different quadrants, The Wheel of Consent requires us to be radically honest with ourselves. However well we align with our partners, it’s unlikely that we align so completely that we are able to say an enthusiastic, “Hell yes!” to every single thing they enjoy, every single time they want to do it.
Informed consent is much more complex than “Hell Yes, or No!” and the Wheel of Consent gives us a tool to help us navigate, and communicate, when we’re not feeling a “Hell yes!” but still want to play.
It’s also useful to notice where we sit on the wheel at different times. The different quadrants only really become an issue if we find that we’re sitting in one of them more than any of the others: Are we most often taking, or allowing our partner to act the way they wish? Or are we always the one giving, or constantly accepting our partners’ gifts without reciprocating?
The Wheel of Consent is a great tool to bring into relationships of all different kinds as it opens up conversations that otherwise might be had.
However, in order for the wheel to be useful, it’s super important to understand yourself first and foremost.
Some other great consent-related resources
- Critique of Tea and Consent Video by Justin Hancock
- The Consent Checklist by Meg John Barker
- The Wheel of Consent by Betty Martin
- The Wheel of Consent website
- @thewheelofconsent on Instagram
- The Art of Giving and Receiving book
- Mia Schachter, AKA @consent.wizadry on Instagram