The Importance of Explicit Consent in Kink and Fetish — at SF’s Folsom Street Fair and Far Beyond

The largest kink and leather festival in the world descends on SF this weekend, putting into focus the need to ask for permission before exploring sexual intimacy.

The human experience exists in tandem with sexual expression, regardless of where one falls on its spectrum. 

(Asexuality is, after all, a form of sexuality that exists outside the realm of celibacy, the latter connoting refrain from engaging in sexual behaviors, rather than representing a person’s sexual expression; “aces” — the term used to describe asexual people — may still have interest in sex; their intimate lives aren’t organized around sexual intercourse, but rather emotional intimacy and relationship building; aces often masturbate and remain selective if they do choose to have sex with a consenting partner.)

Kinks and fetishes punctuate that expanse. And each can further heighten both relational and sexual intimacy… when engaged in respectful, communicative, boundaries fashions.

And the role explicit consent plays in those engagements is paramount.

Kink and fetish are inherently different sexual preferences. Kink, for example, is organized around the idea of partner pleasure — an act, a set-up, a situation, a choice of words, a collection of toys, etc. that enhance arousal for either one or both parties. Fetish, however, is about objectification — seeing certain people as objects of pleasure, which can span the gamut of fixation. Kink doesn’t remove personhood; fetish can and often does.

No one person’s kink and fetish are identical, even if they exist under the same topical umbrella. To be human is to experience life as it unfolds unto us; those experiences shape and shift our idiosyncrasies, which include our specific sexual expressions.

Without explicit consent, those exact means of arousal exist in vague currents — drafts that can cause a riptide between sexual partners, potentially leaving a laundry list of traumas behind. Phrases like “Oh, I thought that would be OK,” “I didn’t know you liked that,” and “I’m so sorry I made you feel uncomfortable” are thrown out ad nauseam. And those expressions carry with people — both parties — long after the bedroom or dungeon doors or public bathroom doors close.

Consent to sex is an essential and unwavering must. However, when discussing kink- or fetish-play, explicit consent must also come to the forefront of conversation — for the exact reasons laid out above.

Every consenting party must be aware of what sexual acts are expected to play out; should something exist outside those previously agreed-upon terms, a pause must take place and explicit consent must be agreed upon before said new kink or fetish act is performed. 

As for the Folsom Street Fair, public play, which is a popular kink among the LGBTQIA+ community, is on full display.

(Last year, I ran into a longtime FWB who was visiting from Los Angeles at the 2022 kink fair. After exchanging cordial greetings and finishing a brief catch-up, he asked if he could pull my fishnets down and perform oral sex on me. I smiled and obliged on the corner of 10th and Folsom Streets. In a sea of 250,000 warm bodies, under a clear blue sky, in front of G*d herself, a man first met at The Abbey when I was 25 again swallowed me like a toothless reticulated python.)

Attending Folsom, you, by proxy, consent to the idea of seeing instances of kink — i.e. public play — and fetish—leashed “pups,” for example — play out in front of you. The permission to participate in those acts, however, does not coincide with your sheer presence. 

Though not the norm, instances can transpire where individuals don’t understand those boundaries. That’s where Folsom Street Fair’s team of safety volunteers comes into play. And each member is trained on how to ensure “topics of consent and [respect]” are upheld.

“In years that I have participated in the safety team of Folsom, there has been training for volunteers before the fair,”  Ezra Terman, an SF LGBT Center Volunteer Coordinator who works with Folsom Street Fair’s volunteer safety team, tells Underscore. “Part of our training involves topics of consent and respecting the genders and presentations of all attendees.” Many safety volunteers are positioned all throughout the fairgrounds with radios able to contact volunteer HQ with any issues that arise.

When Folsom Street Fair entrances close at 6 p.m. Sunday, September 24th, kinksters will leave the SoMa festival grounds and travel elsewhere, many of whom are keen to continue the sex-positive festivals elsewhere. And explicit consent will need to continue playing a role in those acts — forever and always. 

Feature Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply