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. For most, consent is learned from several common sources like sex education, media, close others, and the internet. However, these sources can be ambiguous, lacking, or absent leading to knowledge gaps and potentially inadequate acquisition or performance of this essential skill. In contrast, among BDSM communities, consent has been described as a central construct where members of these communities have opportunities to experience consent as more affirmative, less taboo, more progressive, and grounded in mutual respect. Scholars have argued that BDSM conceptions of consent may be valuable to improving practices in conventional sexual cultures. The current project examines whether individuals with experience in BDSM cultures exhibit more effective recognition of consent cues relative to individuals with experience only in conventional sexual cultures. Members of both groups were recruited to read through sexual encounter scenarios that varied in their consensuality, and to indicate and discuss all relevant cues. We expected BDSM members would identify more cues, especially implicit ones, and might also identify cues earlier in the scenarios as relevant. We describe trends in participants rated consensuality and cue identification and discuss noteworthy observations from their open- ended discussion of both scenarios. In addition, we present considerations and challenges for recruiting participants from special populations, especially during a pandemic. Consent is multi- dimensional and contextualized. In our discussion, we emphasize that consent is perceived in a variety of ways, and this varies across both domains examined in this study.

Department: Psychology 

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aimee Skye