Negotiation and consent are hot topics in the community at the moment (they’ve always been important, of course, but it seems that the conversation is more heated as of late). For me, these issues come down to limits (respecting the limits of the person you’re playing with), and ALSO considering limitations (that those playing are not omniscient/omnipotent).
I think examples are the easiest and best way to discuss this. Let’s say a top is negotiating with a new bottom. They’ve done a pretty succinct negotiation where they’ve established that the bottom is generally healthy, the top is going to tie him up and give him a spanking/paddling, and they’ve had a basic discussion based on this. Then during the scene, the bottom starts asking (begging!) the top to touch his cock. The top didn’t ask about sexual contact during the negotiations, because they weren’t thinking the scene was going to go that direction. There are various opinions on dealing with this type of thing- my view is that the top should carry on with the scene AS NEGOTIATED and should NOT do any sexual touching. I don’t think it’s appropriate to stop the scene and re-negotiate, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to just “go with the energy of the scene.” Why not? Well, among other reasons, a bottom who is now potentially in “sub space” and all turned on or endorphin high might not be thinking clearly. Even if the top tries to “stop” the scene, it’s hard to say how much he’ll come out of that space. If the top wanted to touch the bottom’s cock, they could/should have asked about it before the scene started, when everyone (presumably!) had a level head. In a kink context, omission is most definitely not permission- this is an issue of trust. And hey, if the bottom REALLY wants the top to touch his cock, then that’s an instant second date where the top can negotiate for a tie up-spanking-sensual touching scene!
Regarding state of mind during negotiation, it was stated in the comments that some “prominent kink educators” have advocated for doing negotiations on limits while excited/aroused. I haven’t heard this before, and I’d be happy to discuss it and hear the reasoning, but to me that sounds rather like going to the grocery store while hungry… not the best plan, from my perspective, for me personally.
Another example- let’s say during negotiation the top DID ask about sexual touch, and the bottom stated that they didn’t want to be touched in the groin area. Then during the scene, as above, the bottom starts begging the top to touch his cock. First off, could/would this happen? Could/would a bottom set a limit about something during negotiation, then during the scene ask for that very same thing? The answer is an unqualified YES, I’ve had this happen to me, more than once. Why? Perhaps, as above, the bottom is carried away in scene, high on endorphins, and inhibitions are lowered. Perhaps the bottom trusts that the top won’t touch his cock, since that was the negotiation, and gets off on having his requests refused. There are certainly other possible reasons. As above- the pre-scene negotiations must be respected, and cannot be changed mid-scene, IMHO.
What if it’s the TOP who starts making requests to modify limits mid-scene? For example, if the top had been told “no sexual touching” but mid-scene starts saying something like: “I can see how hard your cock is, you know you really want me to touch you, come on…” and then feels they have carte blanche to touch the bottom sexually. Or if the top, who knows the bottom has a limit about giving blowjobs, starts pulling a teenage boy, going on about “oh, my cock is so hard for you, you can’t leave me like this…” Do these things happen? Certainly. Both those examples are based on situations I have personally seen/heard about, and not just once or twice. And that, to me, is some pretty egregious shit. Tops who do that kind of thing at the very least need intensive re-education about negotiation and consent, IMHO. (Note that there is a time and place for pushing limits in a respectful, RACK way, particularly within established relationships and with advanced players, which is outside the scope of this particular writing.)
So that’s the “limits” part- respecting them, both articulated (“don’t touch my pussy”) and unstated (the top didn’t ask if touching the bottom’s cock was ok, so don’t do it). Even within those fairly black-and-white examples, I’ve tried to show that there are certainly some violations that are worse than others- limits violations are not an all-or-nothing thing.
Another example: let’s say the top has the bottom tied up and is flogging them. The top kneels down to get something out of their toy bag, and some random nearby asshole sees an opening, reaches over, and gropes the bottom. The second the top sees this, they get the asshole off their bottom, report it to the DM, and the asshole is kicked out of the venue in question. The bottom is (justifiably, of course) very upset, because this was a violation of their limits.
What are we to make of this? The bottom’s limits were violated… do we hold the top responsible? Tops are not omnipotent. Unfortunately, even taking all appropriate precautions does not constitute a guarantee that problems will not occur. This, to me, is an example of a limits violation that is not the fault of the top- I’ve had this exact thing happen to me when I was tied up, and I was certainly upset, but at the asshole who groped me, not at my top. Now, what if the top invited someone else into the scene to touch the bottom, without this having been discussed? Or what if the top was negligent- they had the bottom tied up and then decided to go get a cookie and left the bottom there, bound and unguarded? In those latter examples, yes, the top fucked up royally, violated the bottom’s limits, and should of course be held accountable. But I feel I’ve been seeing an attitude of “a limits violation is a limits violation, period”… and this article is intended to show a few shades of grey. I think lumping all the examples above together as limits violations and examples of BAD TOPS (all equally bad) doesn’t represent reality.