A little excerpt from my shiny new book, The Heart of Dominance.
Many of us love to play with surprise, and for good reason. Information is power, and controlling information means holding power. Blindfolding our partner so they don’t know what we’re about to do to them, or taking them on a trip and not telling them where we’re going, or catching them off guard with a surprise tackle and takedown are all highly effective ways of inspiring feelings of helplessness in them and putting ourselves in the driver’s seat.
Some of our partners also particularly love surprise. The experience of waking up to a hand clamping over their mouth gives them a huge thrill; following their partner into the bedroom without knowing what’s in store for them lets them experience deep trust.
The danger is that if our partner doesn’t know what’s going to happen to them until it happens, then we have no way to read their reactions to see how they’re going to feel about it—until it’s too late. More than half of all of the accidental consent violations I have ever heard of involved surprise. It can happen when we misread our partners’ hints (that kidnapping fantasy they told us about really was just a fantasy), or are missing some important information ourselves (we have the living room all dungeoned-up for when they get home from work, and they walk in with the coworker who gave them a ride home). Also, some of our partners do not react well to surprise at all, or react to it unpredictably: they might go weak in the knees sometimes, but lock up or panic at others.
This all means that one simple and powerful tactic for reducing your risk of violating consent is to let your partner see you coming, and watch their reaction when they do. One example of doing this is during impact play is the old tradition of making your partner kiss each implement before you hit them with it. It looks and feels sexy to do and it gives your partner a submissive gesture to make, but the deeper purpose of it is that it ensures that they have looked at and reacted to each tool that you’re about to use. That kiss is an opportunity for them to revoke consent if they need to, and an opportunity for us to watch their reaction. Do they kiss the crop eagerly? That tells us something. Do they flinch and grimace before giving the cat the barest of pecks? That tells us something else, and we can adjust our plans accordingly.
Another example is learning to play with inevitability. Rather than waiting until after dinner to suddenly grab our partner by the hair and haul them into the bedroom, we can sit down at the beginning of dinner and say “Enjoy your meal, because I’m dragging you back to my lair as soon as you finish.” It sacrifices the shock of surprise, but in return we get to enjoy the building tension throughout the meal, and our partner has plenty of time to raise objections, volunteer information we might not have considered, or get just get all worked up and excited to be taken.