This is an essay I originally wrote in response to a discussion in an M/s group on Fet. The question that was raised was whether or not a Master could rape his slave (presuming a relationship in which all rights to the slave’s body were assigned to the Master).
I’m reposting it here, because I think it points up a larger issue in how M/s relates to other elements of WIITWD (what it is that we do…a very wide and generic term for ‘stuff you might find on Fetlife’). M/s often seems to involve situations in which consent is given once, in advance, with the presumption that future objections may be, to some extent, rejected. This is by no means true of all M/s relationships, but it does describe many of them, and is a part of the “hype” and “look and feel” of M/s.
I think that’s worth investigating and discussing, and taking a very realistic look at.
In regards to the question of whether or not a Master can rape a slave, I think that you’ll see two extreme opinions on this in the M/s and Alt-Sex Community, and in most cases, extreme opinions are somewhat unfortunate.
1) Rape is nonconsensual sex. Consent is defined as contemporaneous (meaning “right here right now”), so if consent is withdrawn at any time for any reason it’s Rape. You can’t change that in any way any how.
2) M/s involves a one time Consent that covers many future situations. You cannot withdraw consent within the framework of an M/s relationship, and anyone whose dynamic allows the slave to withdraw consent doesn’t have a “true” M/s dynamic, etc.
I think both of those statements are extreme and unrealistic in everyday terms when dealing with power exchange relationships. I thnk to understand the realities, we need to understand
- a) The core questions – contemporaneous consent and the specialness of sex
- b) Issues of semantics – dancing around the meaning of the word “rape”
- c) The Law – where does the law fall on this question
- d) Common Practice – what do most people in M/s actually do
- e) The Morals and Ethics – what is moral and ethical
- f) The Underlying Reasons – why would anyone choose to give a consent that allowed for future rape
a) Contemporaneous Consent and the Specialness of Sex
“Contemporaneous” is a fancy legal way of saying “here and now.” The question of rape in relation to M/s is really a question about whether or not you can consent to future treatment that you don’t want at the time. It’s that simple. If I tell you now that it’s okay to have sex with me tuesday, and tuesday rolls around and I say “no” and you have sex with me anyway, is that okay.
The second issue is whether or not Sex is somehow “special.” We pretty much acknowledge that you can give up some future rights. Is Sex…legally or ethically…a special thing. Can we sign a paper and agree to sell our car, or give up our right to our own image, but cannot meaningfully say that we give up the right to make a decision about sex in the future? To some extent that’s undecidable. To some people sex is a magical romantic thing which has huge spiritual import and is more special than all other things. To others, the right to put a penis into a vagina is like the right to store your goods in the bus station locker for 24 hours…a commodity that can be bought, bartered, sold or assigned to someone else. Where you fall on that spectrum is probably going to have a lot to do with how you emotionalize this issue.
b) Issues of semantics – dancing around the meaning of the word “rape”
So, let’s dispense with the logic loop of “if I gave consent it can’t be rape.” We’ve observed above that the issue is whether or not you can give up your right today to sex you have tomorrow. Let’s just say that generally if you’re resisting or don’t want it, it fits the colloquial defintion of rape. We can also say that if you don’t feel it’s rape it isn’t. But, let’s not get caught up on the word rather than the concept.
In the end, this gives way to a larger question. Can you or I tell someone else he or she was raped? Is rape a matter of personal judgment, or is it an external thing. I’d aruge that we use the word in two different senses in BDSM. One is the legal sense in which, if an act meets certain criteria, it’s rape. the other is the erotic/sexual sense in which someone may either say that a nonconsensual act wasn’t rape, because of previous consent, or may actively identify it as rape, but feel it was hot and be fine with it.
In an ideal world we’d have different words for both. But on the other hand, the word is part of what makes it hot. It’s sort of like the “Zombie Killer” game. It would be less exciting if we called it a “Zombie computer based image remover” game. I’m told there’s a new term which is being put forward to describe this type of play…A.S.E or “Agressive Sexual Expression.” I think that’s a good way to explain it to outsiders, but…it isn’t a term that is going to make most girls wet or most guys hard.
Another term that I’ll make some use of below is c/nc or “consensual/non consensual.” c/nc enshrines the basic concept of giving permission to act in a manner that would usually be non-consensual. How people play c/nc differs…some leave a safeword or escape clause, others work on the theory that once you’ve started…it is the obligation of the aggressor to see things through and not back down.
I think we have to consider that there’s a dichotomy between the legal and bedroom uses of the word, and that it can mean different things in those contexts…an unwelcome assault which is legally culpable, and a…needed or accepted…assault which results in a strong erotic reaction.
So let’s try and live with the dichotomy that we mean different things and assign different values to the word “rape” and move along.
c) The Law – where does the law fall on this question
The law is pretty unambiguous. You can’t waive your right to say “no” to sex. If you have sex with someone when they are saying “no” it’s rape according to the law. That’s just how it is. If you can show a contract and a history of power dynamics, that might get you lenient treatment in front of some juries, but it’s still ultimately rape, you just might not get a harsh sentence for doing it.
However people do things that are against the law all the time. Speed. Smoke weed. Download MP3s. Play cards for money. The general theory is that the law exists largely to allow us to come down on people when they create a problem. So the law tends to run in absolutes, whereas human behavior tends to be shades of grey.
This means that if you are doing something with your partner that is strictly speaking against the law, unless it’s hurting someone else or causing a social problem…or your partner chooses to have you prosecuted for it…it isn’t going to cause trouble.
It’s worth noting that in many parts of the U.S. the law also includes the “specialness” of sex. A consenting adult can sell the services of their hands to rub another adult down, but cannot legally sell the services of their sex to get another adult off. Britain, Canada, and Mexico are more sensible. But the law often regards selling sexual contact as different than selling any other kind of contact.
But…when it comes to the law, there isn’t a lot of tolerance for forced sex. This is why choosing a slave is often a matter of great trust.
d) Common Practice – what do most people in M/s actually do
I think this is a very important point. There is a tendency for people to get very worked up by framing this as a debate between people who believe that consent should always be contemporaneous, and people who believe that people, often women, should be kept locked up as slaves against their will.
While that’s an obvious logical fallacy….tantamount to assuming that anyone who opposes government control on food portions in restaurants advocates everyone being morbidly obsese, many people get worked up over it.
So let’s frame what the two sides in this debate really advocate.
I’m going to allow for a few “troo Masters” who do believe that all women should be locked up in chains a la John Norman. But…there are people who believe in a flat earth too. I see these people post on lists. But…in the Eastern U.S. Kink community I have met and talked at some length with…easily more than seventy people in M/s couples, and none of them has ever advocated anything remotely like that.
So…really the debate is between people who feel that
Consent must always be contemporaraneous and that to engage in any action which goes against contemporaneous consent is inherently unethical.
Entering into a Master/slave relationship with a c/nc dynamic, or any other explicit c/nc agreement is designed to suggest that there is leeway in interpreting consent. The slave has asked the Master to do his or her scene, and allow for some recovery time and hope that in the end everything works out and the slave/submissive is happier for it. The Master may also get some slack on keeping someone from running away suddenly and pell mell.
So really the argument is smaller than it seems, becuase it’s mostly about “how long is a reasonable cooling off, getting your head together and deciding” period. And people never talk about that here because it’s unromantic, it suggests failed relationships, and it’s scary because Masters have to think about the possibility of a slave they restrained who no, really, no shit, in the calm light of day is through. And mostly it’s about looking away and hoping we never really have to make that decision.
But really the issue isn’t “Consent once and never have another choice” or “You can always choose to withdraw consent.” That may be the ideal, but in practice with real human beings the alternate is not “Consent once and never have another choice” but “Consent once and I get to hold onto you and push you through a scene/some period of time and hope that in the end you think it was a good idea.”
I’m hesistant to draw lines in the sand, but I think that is where the M/s Community differs from Human trafficking. Human trafficking does not care about the mental or emotional state of the person involved. M/s presumes overarching consent, while allowing for the concept that consent may be temporarily withdrawn, usually because of the powerful emotions involved, or the very internal conflicts that are a draw to an M/s power dynamic. Conceptually this allows for levels of trust and emotional experience that can’t exist without the overarching trust. I do not think that anybody in the legitimate M/s community wants to see truly unwilling slaves.
I think this is important because…otherwise this argument seems much more overblown than it really is. And a lot of Masters like to talk in absolutes because it makes them seem badass, even though they wouldn’t really follow through on those absolutes. The norm of people who support c/nc situations is I think one scene or one short time period, with some leeway based on how long and well you know the person and what you guess about their future behavior.
e) The Morals and Ethics – what is moral and ethical
Americans in particular are quick to jump up and say “you have to consent to everything always ever…” But in practice we don’t live like that.
I had the interesting experience several years ago of running a game in which people roleplayed a simulation of day to day life. One thing that they immediately complained about was that they were not given enough starting money to buy cars or houses. We explained patiently that of course they weren’t…but for a small amount of money and instlallment payments, they could buy a house or car now. A really startling number of them despite in fact owning both cars and houses that were owned by a bank, chose in the game to adopt unrealistic premises rather than sign a loan agreement to buy a house or car. Americans hate the idea of obligation. Our culture is about options and choices.
So the question that was framed by the OP becomes “is it ethical to take someone’s future choices away from them.” Not “is it legal” but “is it an ethical deal to make.”
In a surprising number of other situations it is.
People can sign up for the military and give up their rights. Not just what to wear, and where to sleep, but even the right to run away from a dangerous situation. While it is vanishing rare in the U.S., the Army shot Eddie Slovik to death for that in 1945.
People can sign up for schools that sharply curtail their rights, and even our housing developments may limit our future choices.
The late Jack McGeorge drew strong paralells to religious orders. And in fact those may be the best example. One who enters a religious order may agree to give up something so simple as the right to speak for five years. No policeman would enforce that agreement, but it is a moral and ethical agreement.
We’d argue that the monk can always walk away, but the soldier certainly cannot. Our society limits giving up choices in order to protect individuals. But that doesn’t it morally and ethically wrong to accept a commitment from them which waives future rights.
But all this only makes sense if we can see reasons for it….underlying reasons…
f) The Underlying Reasons – why would anyone choose to give a consent that allowed for future rape
A friend of mine was talking about her first experience with having sex when she actually did not want it…she qualified that it wasn’t “real” rape…but summarized:
” I told him no, I didn’t want to do it, to leave me alone, and was pretty wholly non-participatory, but in the end I couldn’t help but get fucked. IT WAS AWESOME! I loved not wanting it but having it thrust on me anyhow.”
I’ve found a lot of reasons people seek a c/nc relationship. Often it is expressed as “want” or “need” rather than like. Sometimes it is a product of a traumatic sexual background, but in some cases it isn’t. Nurture may be a factor and Nature may be a factor, but some people end up wanting or needing the experience of raping or being raped.
Psychology Today tells us that:
From 1973 through 2008, nine surveys of women’s rape fantasies have been published. They show that about four in 10 women admit having them (31 to 57 percent) with a median frequency of about once a month. Actual prevalence of rape fantasies is probably higher because women may not feel comfortable admitting them.
Presumably men have about the same level of fantasy of overpowering women, though I don’t know of a good survey on the subject.
Common Chimpanzees are fairly prolific rapists, and also very violent towards each other. So are men. It’s fair to suggest our common ancestor Sahelanthropus tchadensis was a violent rapist too. Sadly, rape is nothing like unnatural. It’s been a pretty good tool for reproduction of the strongest for seven million years. So has killing each other.
In modern civilization, we don’t believe in killing or rape. But…we still need something to do with those instincts. We can’t just back down seven million years and say “well let’s go watch the Food Network.” We need outlets. We have a lot of outlets for our need to commit violence. From football to FPS games. But we don’t have a lot of outlets for being the victim of violence, and we don’t have a lot of outlets for sexual violence.
I do not think anyone in modern M/s is advocating a society where rape is acceptable. I think some people do advocate the right of consenting adults, in the course of experimentation to pre-obligate themselves in a way that leaves thier partner reasonably ethically blameless if they use force to extract sex. I think most people involved in modern M/s would not advocate this as a continual state, but as something that might happen on a transitory basis. It’s advocating the right to give up consent in order to have a peak experience, and while the law doesn’t support that, it’s not unreasonable.
I put it ethically in much the same category as waivers at other dangerous amusements. Whatever the waiver says it does not actually protect the attraction owner against harming you. In many cases what is more important is that it fixes in your mind that you gave the attraction owner the ethical right to scare you endanger you. We presume a jury would take that into account if there was an accident. But we also hope at the end of the day there isn’t an accident and the waiver merely acted to make sure everyone was on the same page about what was going on.
In the M/s Community we are building a new model for lifestyles. That model suggests that consenting adults can choose to make their own power dynamics, not merely follow the confused models of traditional marriage. Over the past hundred fifty years, we’ve ceased to have a clear agreed upon picture of what western marriage means, if it ever did. M/s is one of many lifestyle movements that present options for adults to define their own “tailor made” relationship dynamics, and take them seriously.
It’s worth noting that the idea that you can rape your wife is fairly new. In 17th Century England Cheif Justice Sir Matthew Hale stated, “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband which she cannot retract”
Surprisingly or not that was pretty much the legal picture into the 1970s, and marital rape wasn’t illegal in all 50 states until 1993.
The point here is that history long suggested that it was possible for one partner to give up their right to consent. We’re really just sorting out how we feel about that as a society. I applaud the legal protections accorded to women, and feel that any exceptions must be a matter of private trust and mutual respect. But I think it is ethical for adults to make those exceptions.
For the most part I think that kink, fetish, and M/s are healthy reactions. Rather than covert abusive relationships, partners are able to lay their sexual needs on the table, including needs to be abused or be an abuser. Those needs can’t always be made to evaporate, but they can be evaluated fairly and made an open matter which both parties consider and consent to. This honesty often allows the components of sexual force to be limited to the sexual spectrum, allowing the couple (or triad, etc.) to be “normal” in all other respects. We may think it would be better if these needs did not exist, but they do.
I know at least two individuals who cannot orgasm without some element of coercion or force involved. The more realistic, the stronger their sexual response. Should their choice be a dangerous life of seeking abusive partners, or sexual frustration? Or should they be allowed to give up their right to consent to a partner they trust to use it in a manner that they believe will be exciting to them, but not ruin their lives?
In forging a new ethic for human relationships in the era when traditional marriage has largely collapsed, I think many would wish to retain the right of people to enter into those relationships if they choose, and uphold their end of the “deal” as a matter of ethics, without lessening the legal protections afforded by modern law. This creates a situation in which the qualities of older relationships…which to some may mean love and protection and to other simply meet an aching need…can exist on the basis of formal or informal private agreement outside the law, while the law can afford the maximum protection to everyone.
In a modern era which grants us many rights, some people may choose to give up rights. That doesn’t make it the law and shouldn’t. But it doesn’t make those people immoral or unethical for choosing to accept those relationships on the basis of mutual trust and respect.