illustrating verbal negotiation of consent in sex scenes

There is a meme going around amongst some SFF writers, where they share exerpts from their work to illustrate that explicit verbal negotiations of consent don’t “ruin the mood” of a sex scene or make it “unsexy”. (They are calling it Consent is Sexy, which is a loaded complex name for it.) It’s a complex thing to try to intervene in, this idea that explicit negotiation is not needed in erotic fiction writing, or in life. As someone who reads and writes kinky erotic fiction, I personally am invested in illustrating consent to the reader, because I want the reader to know that consent is there. That said, I don’t always have the characters verbally negotiate before they play or fuck, particularly when the story takes place within the context of a long term ongoing relationship, where the scene and the dynamic have been negotiated prior to the story’s beginning–the characters clearly know they are consenting, even if they explicitly discussed that consent prior to the beginning of the story. But I do make an effort to give the reader that context, for two main reasons. I find it deeply disruptive to my own erotic engagement as a reader when there is no clear consent or quasi consent, and read that as real world violence, and I don’t want to create that experience for the reader. And, I value consent deeply, in many aspects of life, not just sex and kink, and take it seriously that the culture I create in my work has the potential to influence people’s erotic lives.

So, it is not suprising that I believe illustrating explicit verbal negotiation of sex is a useful aspect of writing sex scenes to illuminate. So, I am gathering the posts on this here.

So, far, I’ve found five examples posted:

(TW: these examples describe sex, including sex with power exchange)

Beth Bernobich

Martha Wells

NK Jemesin

J. Kathleen Cheney

Lane Robins

Here is an illustration from my own work. (As a heads up, this scene includes power exchange, descriptions of sadism, and knife play.)

I chose a vampire story to keep with the SFF theme of the other work I linked to above. This is from my story “Willing” which is about to be reprinted in Coming Together: In Vein, and can be found in these collections: Leathermen: Gay Erotic Stories, edited by Simon Sheppard, Blood Sacraments, edited by Todd Gregory, and Men at Noon, Monsters after Midnight edited by Christopher Pierce.

I pull out my blade and show it to him. His eyes widen and he whispers, “My safeword is chocolate.” I am surprised. Most who frequent the fetish scene know nothing about real BDSM. That these are the first words out of his mouth shows that there may be more to this boy than I thought. I stand still, watching him. He is older than I had first surmised, at least 24. The little leather he wears is well kept, his belt clearly conditioned and his boots cared for by a loving hand. He is motionless, knees slightly bent, shoulders back, offering me his chest. His pulse is not rapid, but his eyes eat up the knife and his lips are slightly parted, as if all he wanted was to take my blade down his throat.

His brown eyes stay fixed on the knife as I move toward him. I tease his lip with the tip of it and then speak softly.

“How black do you flag?”

His eyes stay on the blade. He swallows.

“Very black, on the right, Sir.”

“Is there anything I need to know?”

“I am healthy and strong. My limits are animals, children, suspension and humiliation, Sir.”

“And blood, hmmm?” I am teasing. I know the answer. It is why I found him here, and not at the Lure.

“Oh please, Sir. I would gladly offer my blood.”

“Why?”

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes a moment, and then opens them. The pulse in his throat starts racing, but his voice is calm, and matter-of-fact. I tease my blade against his neck.

“I have been watching you a long time, Sir. I have seen how you play. I see the beast inside you. I know what is missing. Those boys at The Lure don’t know how to give you what you really need. They don’t see that they are barely feeding your craving, and not touching your hunger. The boys here don’t see you. They just see their own fantasy. They are simply food. I am strong, Sir. Strong enough for you. I can be yours. My blood, my flesh, my sex, my service. Yours to take however you choose, for as long as you want. To slake your hunger. I would be honored, Sir.”

I take a deep breath, stunned, studying him. This boy who would offer what I never really thought was possible. He has surprised me again. That alone shows this boy is more than a meal. He just might be able to be all that he has offered.

I almost leave him there. I am ready to walk away. Fear creeps along my spine. With the centuries I have lived and the things I have seen, this boy is what scares me. There is nothing more terrifying than hope. I rake my eyes over him. He is standing quietly. He looks like he could stand in that position for hours. He has said his piece; he is content to wait for my response. Oh he is more than food, this one. What a gift to offer a vampire. Can I refuse this offering when it’s laid out before me? I step back, looking him over, and decide.

I breathe in possibility, watching the pulse in his throat. My senses heighten further as I focus my hunger on him, noticing the minute changes in breath, scenting him. I want to see him tremble. I want to smell his fear. I want to devour his pain, without holding back. Forget this public arena. If there is even a possibility that I might truly let go and move with the beast inside my skin, his growl on my lips and his claws grasping prey, I know exactly where I need to take this boy.

10 thoughts on “illustrating verbal negotiation of consent in sex scenes

  1. Whoa! (as in the Neo/Matrix I’m-totally-blown-away-by-this “Whoa” as opposed to whoa-as-in-stop. Seems appropriate to clarify that since this post is about consent, and I think I’m in love with you… I mean, with your writing, after reading this.) I’ve been catching up on N. K. Jemison’s blog posts, followed the link here, and now feel like I just unwrapped the most amazing Christmas present. I received a Kindle for Christmas and can’t wait to read the rest of this story as I begin to discover more of your incredible writing. Thank you for posting this. I look forward to reading future posts (as well as previous ones).

    P.S. After a quick glance at your list of publications, I’m wondering if you’ve published a collection of your stories somewhere, and I’m not seeing it?

  2. JJ,

    Thanks so much for you comment. It made my day.

    I do not currently have a collection of just my work, though I’ve been contemplating that for the last little while. If there is something in particular that compelled you in the excerpt, I may be able to steer you in a related direction in my work.

  3. Well, I must admit that it brings me no small amount of pleasure to learn that my comment made your day.

    As for the “something in particular that compelled [me] in the excerpt….” You mean, beside the poetry of your prose and the deeply evocative eroticism of your words? The pristine writing that makes my editor’s heart sing? Gee, let me go back and reread it—again (like that’s a hardship LOL)….

    I’d have to start with the vampire motif. From Saint-Germain to Gilda to Lestat and beyond, I’ve been reading vampire stories for a long time. Combine this with my more recent exploration of BDSM and M/M erotic fiction and I feel like I win the trifecta with your story.

    Basically, what it boils down to is that I now want to read everything you’ve written. Immediately, if not sooner (thus the reason for my question about a collection of your stories).

    Going back to the topic of the post for a moment, I do want to add that it has also caused me to reflect on my own writing (derivative fiction), and how well (or poorly) I have conveyed consent therein. I think that’s one of the things that draws me to BDSM in fiction (and I’m not really sure whether it’s the B and D, the D/s, or the S-M—or some convoluted combination of all three): the notion of a consensually negotiated space for intense experience (sexual and otherwise), involving a level of communication that I personally have never known in any of my admittedly vanilla relationships, but one that I’d like to believe actually exists (and not only in fiction). I’m just grateful to have an opportunity to savor it vicariously/voyeristically.

    Any steering that you’d care to offer after this long-winded response would be much appreciated!

  4. JJ,

    I do kink education as well as write, and have been active in kink communities for over a decade. I can tell you that I know that level of communication can and does exist (though not all the time, to be sure) in the world, and in my own experience. It’s one of the things I love about BDSM, that it is so much more common and accepted to communicate and negotiate about sex and BDSM and relationships (esp. amongst polyamorous identified folks for the last). You may be interested in this blog post of mine about putting kink in context, that discusses consent at some length: http://tgstonebutch.livejournal.com/1130530.html

    “Willing” is my only published vampire story. I have another that is in my mind but not yet on paper. Most of my published work is not speculative fiction, though I have published a time travel story. So, putting that aspect aside, I see in your comment a desire for explicit communication about consent, and poetic M/M BDSM fiction. Given that, here are my stories I’d recommend:

    Explicit communication about consent:
    “Nervous Boy” in Love at First Sting: Sexy Tales of Erotic Restraint edited by Alison Tyler, reprinted on http://www.tbrotherswrite.com, and in in Bondage By the Bay: Tales of BDSM in San Francisco, ed. by M. Christian.

    “Please” in Best Women’s Erotica 2008 edited by Violet Blue (not M/M, but has very explicit consent negotiation)

    “Facing the Dark” in Backdraft: Firemen Erotica edited by Shane Allison

    “Kneeling for Him” in In Plain View edited by Shane Allison, and in in Bondage By the Bay: Tales of BDSM in San Francisco, ed. by M. Christian.

    Poetic M/M BDSM Fiction
    “First Time Since” in Hurts So Good: Unrestrained Erotica edited by Alison Tyler (story was named honorable mention for 2008 NLA John Preston Award, Alison Tyler won the 2008 NLA Anthology Award for this collection)

    “Knives” in Men on the Edge edited by Christopher Pierce, reprinted in Best Gay Erotica 2009 edited by Richard Labonte (this collection won a Lammy)

    “Missing Daddy” in DADDIES: Gay Erotic Stories edited by Richard Labonte and in Best Gay Erotica 2013 edited by Richard Labonte

  5. Thank you for the recs — can’t wait to sample them all! I have since read “Willing” and I loved the surprise ending. I also was moved by the autobiographical aspects of the story.

    I hope your workshop went well last week. Wish I could have been there. Good luck on your move to SF, and thanks again for taking the time to provide such a detailed reading list in the midst of this major change in your life.

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