Why I Chose Irrevocable Consent as a Label, What It Means to Me, and Why I Write About It

TPE, TAT, no safewords, no limits, no way out, no “no”, owned, CNC, irrevocable consent, blanket consent, slave, property— 

There are a lot of words, phrases, and acronyms used to talk about this area, many of which have other definitions, too. 

It’s a lot to sum up.  It can sound simple, but the totality of it, minding any loopholes, can be difficult to cover. 

I use slave, owned, property, permanently collared (physically and mentally), as labels, but they don’t necessarily cover this area, as many use those labels for other pieces of this relationship, with a very different model of consent, so I use them separately. 

Conversations on TPE and TAT that I saw emphasized the all areas part, but some held the idea that there could still be limits—there was just power exchange, or authority transfer—in all areas of life.  Sex, finances, lifestyle, time, service, anything.  Sometimes it simply overlapped strongly with 24/7.   

The PE versus AT conversations focused mostly on the idea of it not being much of an exchange—what power or authority does the slave get back, after all?  Transfer—definition: make over the possession of (property, a right, or a responsibility) to someone else.   

Some got into the idea of personal power and strength versus the idea of the authority to make decisions.  To me, both can be transferred—or at least owned.   

Personally when in search of a noun I err towards dynamic—definition: a force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process.  Mostly because transfer’s definition that includes ownership doesn’t have as neat a translation to nouns. 

No safewords, no limits—is very simple, straightforward, and I like that, but it’s perhaps overly simple.  Bright side, nearly everyone in the BDSM scene for more than a day knows what those words mean.  No way out was a little vaguer—no way out of the relationship.  No dissolution clause.  No exit plan.  Which many don’t spell out to begin with, so—more importantly: explicitly not allowed to leave, by contract, agreement, etc.  For a while I favored the no safewords, no limits phrase, sometimes including no way out.  No “no” was simple, too. 

Blanket consent is a useful phrase, but some definitions leave the possibility of it being revoked.  A standing assumption of consent, for either pre-established activities or pretty much anything.  But perhaps just that—an assumption.  But plenty do use it to mean irrevocable. 

CNC is a lovely acronym that rolls off the tongue and I have to admit that when I talk to people who already know my dynamic that I’m referring to, especially out loud, I use it very frequently.  With people who know me less well, or in a semantics driven context, or in writing—I try to use it carefully, because it can contextually mean anything from a once off rape roleplay scene with both a fake and real safeword to that 24/7 lifelong dynamic with no safewords, real or fake. 

Irrevocable consent is pretty straightforward, I think.  Consent is offered once, not to be revoked.  Safewords, limits, ability to leave the relationship—all are forms of revoking consent, and are nulled by the phrase, as is the potential issue I have with blanket consent.  Using the phrase in isolation I think is enough to imply the total and all areas parts from TPE/TAT, and if in a summary of my dynamic, I’d also be using 24/7, which is often a strong indicator in that direction anyway.  I acknowledge that no label is perfect, and I’m happy to talk more at length, but for now, this is my go to quick explanation. 

Admittedly, this makes some people uncomfortable.

Recently, I was permanently banned from the BDSM Advice subreddit after making my first post, which I thought was polite and would be useful.  I still don’t quite understand how it broke the rules, and I don’t believe it was relevant to my practice of consent, but I got the sense I was not welcome to ask.  Anyway—I laughed about it rather quickly, because I’m aware my opinions on such matters are frequently unpopular and frankly, banned from giving BDSM advice somewhere felt like a strangely suiting badge for me considering I run an informational BDSM blog. 

The very reason I run that blog is because I know I can be a little niche.  On the matter of consent and on the ways Mistress and I do other things.  Descriptions of my dynamic are sometimes met with flattering envy and are sometimes met with horror and declarations of preferring death.  To talk about my uniform means getting a response of either, “So practical; I hate having to think about clothes,” or, “I’d rather die than not be able to express myself with fashion.”  To talk about service as my only full time occupation also meets statements of either envy of the opportunity (and privilege is a factor here) or of death by boredom.  “Oh, me too!” is exceptionally uncommon on some issues, but always refreshing. 

But for those who say—I wish I could do that, but I don’t know all the details, or, I like the idea of that, but I really want to pin down what it means for me, or, I want to live this, but I don’t know what it looks like day to day, or I’m curious, but I don’t know where to start, or I want to be of service, but I don’t know what to exactly do, for those who say, I want to learn more, I want to find people like me—those are who I write for.  I’m not an expert, but I like to think I have a few useful or thought provoking things to say. 

I try to somewhat focus on that niche of things where I know it can be unpopular and that there may be unfriendly tides around it elsewhere.  Or even friendly to the idea tides where it’s hard to find someone who’s done it.  To tell the people who might need it the most that they’re not the only one who wants this, does this, lives this. 

Besides the popular idea that consent is always revocable, thinking about the phrase can lead people to other uncomfortable ideas.  Any other popular ideas of consent can be erased by the irrevocable part.  Aftercare or sobriety, for instance, cannot be conditions of irrevocable consent. 

There’s the popular, “Well, what if they decided to chop your arm off?” argument.  I posed a similar question to Mistress once while discussing this philosophy, to which she replied that I could beg her to chop my arm off and she still wouldn’t, let alone do it of her own desires.   

Chopping my arm off sounds dangerous, expensive, and time consuming, and would lead to some hard questions at the ER, and who wants responsibility for that?  Mistress’ occasional joke about such things is usually something I respond to with, “But then you’d have to get your own coffee,” at least while I was figuring out having one arm, and the joke ends with: 

“Well, can’t have that.” 

Yes, my consent was irrevocable once it was given here—but it was all around carefully considered before it was given, including pondering the mind of who I was giving it to.  She’ll do things I don’t like, things I would’ve called limits if I currently defined them, go past when I would safeword if I would use one—but she’ll only do things she is willing and able to take responsibility for, which doesn’t include chopping off my arm.  This is what really keeps her from things that are overtly illegal or sometimes just extremely risky. 

Still—there’s the claim that such ownership is just a fantasy.  It’s not legal, so what’s backing up the dynamic with this consent model? 

I recently had some M/s characters explore this in my fiction.  The slave says: 

“[Our contract is] honor bound, and it says you own me, and I can’t change that. If I go back on it, I lose that integrity. It’s like a lien. I either honor the agreement or lose something momentous. Telling someone they own me really meaning something, ever again. […] I said that—anything you wanted to do—I’d let you. And if you don’t abide by the law or religion or social pressure, that doesn’t change what I said. So if I break the contract and leave and say it was because you were doing something illegal—I’m still breaking the honor ties. So I forfeit my right to leave with that integrity, to you—because the only way to leave with that is if you release me. You have a lien on my integrity with my debt being lifelong obedience. To include forfeiting all other rights. Unless you release me. If, when, I die, you die, or you release me—the debt is paid; my integrity is something you can’t take at that point.” 

This is generally my own real world philosophy on it.  My honor and integrity backs it up—no small things by my values.  Also, internal enslavement can alter what your mind can truly wrap itself around, to exclude disobedience—this can keep you bound in a way, too. 

Beyond the law, there can be other pressures, lessons built in from preschool and beyond. 

In a previous post, I pointed out something about this:

“If Mistress were to say yes to everything I want, to give in every time I was suffering in any way, we couldn’t have a functional M/s dynamic as we define it. She has to be able to pick her own methods over what society teaches us about courtesy and compromise. She can choose to observe those things if she wants, but if she feels bound by them every time, she’s not actually controlling things.

For my part, I have to be able to deal with it in a way that makes it easy for her to choose her own methods, not fixate on the concept of fair or treating others as you want to be treated. I can’t just technically never say no but try to whine and wheedle my way out of anything and everything I don’t like. It helps to be flexible, able to find things to like in a situation and handle it even if I can’t.”

I think some do picture something slightly different with irrevocable consent to the reality—they picture the screaming no, the being held down, all that.  Realistically, things don’t look like that here—I’m expected to just not say no, not to say it or complain and be overpowered.  It looks a lot more peaceful and the reality is that even if my knee jerk reaction is no, I always want to obey more than I want to say no, and if I can’t quite bring myself to say yes, I want to be pushed there.   

Also, you can’t really effectively hold someone down screaming no when what you told them to do is the dishes or the laundry.  Irrevocable consent goes far past things where holding someone down would work and that underlying desire to always say yes, and to say yes and just do it even when you don’t want to, is an important part.  If communicating about actual wants is desired, it can be done at a time not directly after an order. 

I will also say, I think it’s often valuable and important to read differing opinions on these things, avoid the echo chamber, and it can be thought provoking to read pieces with similar opinions that explain it in a new light.  I spend a lot of free time pouring over anything from academic articles to books to FetLife writings, going to classes, taking video courses, and practicing, on the subjects that interest me, often regardless of the conclusion of another’s content. 

It was this that allowed me to choose the label I felt was right for me—watching others theorize on what possible labels meant, how they were used, why they were selected, when and where and by who.  After that, it lets me figure out more about what it really means to me, how to explain it, how it fits into other pictures.  And if I think I have something to add, I write pieces of my own, like the ones mentioned above, or even this one. 

Shaming of “Unethical” Dynamics Within the Community

The type of relationship shaming I address here happens when a fellow kinkster tells you that your relationship dynamic is unethical, no matter how many logical points they hear from everyone involved, trying to convince them otherwise.

I’m talking about the cases where the real problem is that a kinkster sees a relationship they personally would have problems with, and insists that that relationship dynamic is unethical for anyone, ever, and the relationship should end. There is sometimes a difference between “unethical for someone” and “unethical for everyone”. One doesn’t have to personally practice something to acknowledge that it’s fine for others to do.

The most common thing that I see cited as the cause for such shaming is a lack of safewords. What I hear is, “Safewords are a crucial part of communicating and represent an ability to say no.” However.

While safewords can have a place in communication, having a safeword doesn’t mean ideal communication has happened, and not having a safeword doesn’t mean less communication has happened.

Depending on styles of communication, safewords can be more useful or less. If the person is good at getting out a safeword but not so good at getting out a full sentence right away, it might be useful. If the person is the “always fully verbal or fully non-verbal” type with negligible in-between, it might be less useful; they can either use the full verbal capacity to communicate without opening it with a safeword, or they’re not going to be able to get out a safeword anyway, and communication would likely be addressed in a completely different way anyway.

As for safewords representing the ability to say no… in some relationships, the s-type agrees to not have the ability to say no. And yes, this means they may end up doing things that they hate, things that make them very uncomfortable, things that are very painful for them, and things that they disagree with. What can make it ethical—and fulfilling—is that they do these things under the direction of someone they have reasons to deeply trust.

The second most common thing that I see cited is a lack of hard/soft limits. What I hear is, “Everyone should have self-defined limits; otherwise, anything could happen.” However.

I frequently see “no limits” as a phrase get mocked. To be fair, I see this happen most often in situations where the person saying they have no limits is currently single and new to kink. They might not know exactly what they’re getting into, and having no limits can attract problems as an opening line.

However, I do see a lot of people saying that you should always have defined limits you enforce—even when you’re in an established relationship with someone you have deep trust for. That is the situation I have a rebuttal for.

Does everyone have limits? In some ways, yes. Everyone has things they literally cannot do, and things that would cause permanent terrible damage, physically or psychologically. Some are almost universal to humans and some might be specific to things like medical conditions.

In the case of “literally can’t”, the limits are rather self-enforcing, or in the case of permanent damage coming after, this is probably more about respecting general concepts of health and safety than a specific partner’s limits. (Granted, this can get messy with some medical conditions and other things and a no limits dynamic might not be the best choice in this case amongst others.)

So let’s assume that in a relationship that can ethically pull off “no limits”, reasonable levels of health, safety, legality, and realism are already being maintained—these aren’t someone defining their own limits. Note the word “reasonable” rather than “perfect”.

In this case, the limits that could be defined are more like things that person isn’t willing/wanting to do. Some people want to set aside their own will/desires for the dynamic they are in—this is where “no limits” can happen.

Conclusion: some dynamics don’t include limits, some don’t include safewords, some don’t include either. Those dynamics can be ethical with the right people and circumstances. Different things work for different people; unethical for one isn’t necessarily unethical for all.

No Safewords, No Limits: An Elaboration

One way I describe our dynamic is: no safewords, no limits (no way out). This descriptor has worked better than almost anything that has a broader spectrum attached. On the one hand, that descriptor is exactly what it says on the tin and gives an idea of the root of things easily. But, let me elaborate, because there are a lot of points attached that most people don’t think of.

No safewords, no limits is, for us, the natural extension of me not being allowed to say no. I don’t often specify that, because it’s basically implied in the contexts I’m usually in. If you think about it, most vanilla relationships have no safewords, no limits, but that’s because they just use the word no. I’m not usually using the phrase in that sort of context though.

For us, the nature of this dynamic is that we don’t really negotiate. We might talk about things, and sometimes if I express hesitancy, Mistress takes it into consideration and backtracks, or changes something. Maybe the point of the thing discussed was she thought I would like it, or I provide information she wasn’t aware of, like a specific concern. Sometimes she doesn’t backtrack or change anything.

The point isn’t that she always ignores my preferences, but that she is always well within her rights to do so. It would be hard for her to manage to never do things that I like, and that isn’t her goal. The goal is that she gets what she wants from me without limitations—and sometimes what she wants from me is for me to be happy. Sometimes she wants something else, and she doesn’t need to justify it or negotiate for it.

I sometimes say things like, “That would be a hard limit if I had hard limits.” Because when I say I don’t have limits, I don’t mean I’m so kinky that I would never have objections to anything. I mean that I’m a slave who has given up the right to those objections and limits. It’s the difference between having a favorite ice cream flavor and actually being allowed to choose which ice cream to eat.

Something that I don’t see discussed about dynamics like this as much is… well, anything that’s not play. (And there could be dynamics like this that don’t involve play at all.) While some of the most dramatic sounding examples of this dynamic might take place in a dungeon, there are plenty of things in life people might want to place limits on that don’t happen in a scene.

Let’s say, doing chores. In the most vanilla sense of the word chores. Dishes, laundry, things like that. Maybe putting some clothes in the washing machine hasn’t made a lot of people call a safeword, but if this dynamic is for the rest of your life, there are things to consider. Maybe the washing machine is in a not-temperature-controlled area, and it’s below freezing or it’s a hundred and fifteen degrees outside. Maybe you’re so tired you feel like your body is vibrating in protest of being upright, and there’s a sink full of dishes to be done. No safewords, no limits, no “no” applies to those situations just as much as it does to a type of whip you’re not inclined to.

The same thing goes for rules and protocols. There’s no safewording out of having to kneel on the floor on an aching joints kind of day. There’s no setting a limit to prevent a rule about what you can eat that might eliminate favorites or require foods you hate. Think bigger—life choices. Career, schooling, moving? Suddenly whip types seem like a smaller problem.

Mercies may be granted, but they are not in your control anymore. I actually think that largely, Mistress is easier on me than I am. I’ll be forcing myself through a chore or whatnot, I might not ask to get out of it, I might even reject an offer to be let out of it. She sometimes stops offering to let me rest and starts ordering me to go to bed instead. … And I realize how right she is as I almost black out on the way there. Of course, the flip side is that if I do ask to get out of something, she can always say no.

Also consider some other general good practices of BDSM that no longer apply when safewords and limits don’t. Aftercare? A heads up on certain things? Not guaranteed. Not being able to say no means that conditions can’t be put on things. So you can’t say, “Sure you can hit me with that, but only if we do this kind of aftercare/only if you let me know beforehand.” You can ask. You can’t demand.

A common misconception about this dynamic is that it usually involves yelling, “No! Red!” and being ignored. That’s not how my dynamic works at all. It’s not about saying no and being ignored—it’s more about just not saying no. The reality is that as much as I might want to say no to something in particular, I don’t want to say no to Mistress in general, and that’s better to keep in mind. Not whining is a better goal for me than making her overpower me constantly. She might want to have to overpower me in some situations, but not all the time.

If I don’t feel up to sex, the sex doesn’t look like rape play; it looks like having sex where I’m not aroused, and might not be able to act like it. Maybe it looks like me making a lot of pained noises of the bad sort. Sometimes Mistress will decide to stop, this isn’t what she wants right now; sometimes she won’t, but will hold a water bottle to my lips after and leash me to the bed for a nap. Sometimes, she won’t stop and falls asleep basically immediately afterwards herself.

Big point is that my slavery is not about me, and I would not want it to be. I don’t actually “hold all the power”, we’re not equals “at the end of the day” or “underneath pretenses”, and it would be impossible to “take off our roles” whether we wanted to or not. And internal enslavement means that it’s not just her or external circumstances dictating my obedience, but my own mind.

This all makes consent as a concept messy and complicated, but for us that’s okay. It’s not for everyone or every dynamic. As I said, I’m not universally a no-limits person, nor was I always necessarily capable of having such a dynamic; but now, in the context of my dynamic, I am. It takes having the right emotional balance on both sides, and the ability to keep it within our own dynamic.

If Mistress were to say yes to everything I want, to give in every time I was suffering in any way, we couldn’t have a functional M/s dynamic as we define it. She has to be able to pick her own methods over what society teaches us about courtesy and compromise. She can choose to observe those things if she wants, but if she feels bound by them every time, she’s not actually controlling things.

For my part, I have to be able to deal with it in a way that makes it easy for her to choose her own methods, not fixate on the concept of fair or treating others as you want to be treated. I can’t just technically never say no but try to whine and wheedle my way out of anything and everything I don’t like. It helps to be flexible, able to find things to like in a situation and handle it even if I can’t.

For us, no safewords/no limits works as a style and a quick descriptor—this is my elaboration.

Related:

Sadism vs. CNC

Shaming of “Unethical” Dynamics Within the Community