Comparing the Role of Sexual Practice in Shaping Perception of Consent and Cue Interpretation


  • Sam Smith-Ackerl MacEwan University


Determining whether an individual wants to engage in sexual activity is an essential skill. However, research has indicated that consent information from common sources like sex education, media, close others, and the internet can be ambiguous, lacking or absent. These gaps could lead to underperforming this essential skill. In contrast, research has found that consent is central in BDSM cultures, where opportunities exist to experience consent as more affirmative, less taboo, more practical, more progressive, and more grounded in mutual respect. Scholars have argued that BDSM conceptions of consent may be valuable to improving practices in conventional sexual cultures. The research proposed here will examine whether more sophisticated conceptions of consent in BDSM relative to conventional sexual cultures produces more effective recognition of consent cues. Members of both cultures will be recruited to read through sexual encounter scenarios that vary in their consensuality, and to indicate and discuss all relevant cues. We expect BDSM members will highlight more cues, even implicit ones, and will do so earlier in scenarios. Efficient interpretation of signals is a critical part of regulating one’s behaviour with regard to a partner during sexual activity. If BDSM conceptions of consent enhance this ability, our work would suggest how incorporating those conceptions of consent into conventional cultures could improve consent awareness and practice.

Department: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aimee Skye