Etiquette’s Relevance for Modern Kinksters

We approach the one hundred year anniversary of the publication of the seminal etiquette book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home by Emily Post. I know that many people, kinky and vanilla alike, have decided that etiquette isn’t relevant to them in their everyday lives. Maybe they google how to sign off a business email or what to wear to a smart casual wedding, but in general, most people think that etiquette is a relic of the past that only bears consideration on special occasions. However, Emily Post had important things to say about topics that often top the charts of Kinky & Popular such as consent, relationships, and community. Post’s work focused on the two interrelated topics of etiquette: Ethics and manners. You’ll find that, while you don’t use this exact language, kinksters are quite concerned with the intersections between these ideas. 

According to the 19th Edition of Emily Post, consideration, respect, and honesty make up the foundation of etiquette. While knowing the specific manners of a situation is ideal, when in doubt, it will get you far in life to act with consideration, respect, and honesty. In the original Etiquette, Emily Post declares that “…[e]tiquette must, if it is to be of more than a trifling use, include ethics as well as manners.”  Therefore, practicing etiquette includes both considering the ways to do the right thing, ethics, and performing the actions expected to treat people well in different situations, manners. 

Ethics is an ongoing discussion about how to live a moral life. As the Emily Post Institute puts it, “…[e]thical behavior is simply the right thing to do.” Questions important in ethics include: 

  • What does it mean to be a good person?
  • How can I treat people well?
  • Why do people act in ways that I consider evil?

While outsiders may have ethical questions about kink, our community has important internal questions that are continually examined and re-examined. For example, discussions about consent, from permission to hug someone to how to ban repeat consent violators, are examinations of ethics. Ethical considerations are at the heart of oft-repeated phrases like “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” or “Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.”

Manners are the specific actions that we use to show respect and consideration. These change over time, as well as between different groups. According to Peter Post, one of Emily Post’s descendants, “…[u]nethical behaviors are more likely to be intentional, whereas a lapse in manners is usually unintentional.” Questions important to manners could include:

  • What should I say if I have an urgent task and someone is standing in my way?
  • How should I address my partner’s mother?
  • What do I wear to baptism when I’m not religious? 

These tricky situations that might be the subject of advice columns are often the ones at which people turn up their noses. Isn’t it enough to just act kindly? Well, yes! Manners are descriptions of what people in a specific place and time consider the most kind behavior. Again, in the 19th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, “…[w]hile today’s manner’s are often situational…they remain a combination of common sense, generosity of spirit, and a few…fluid ‘rules’ that help us interact thoughtfully.” 

How does this pertain to the kink community? If etiquette is where manners and ethics collide, here are truly relevant etiquette questions for the modern-day kinksters:

  • If a submissive is owned by a Dominant that I do not know, do I need to ask him or his Dominant permission to hug him? Should I assume that, if I must ask his Dominant once, I need to always ask him?
  • Do I need to provide aftercare? When I top, is it my responsibility to bring this up, or should they? How do I broach the subject if I have aftercare needs?
  • If I get sexually aroused during a play session, am I obligated to tell my play partner? If we didn’t discuss this during negotiation, how do I bring it up to her without making her feel obligated to have sex with me?

As with other questions about etiquette, the answers to these questions will vary – sometimes from community to community. The answers to these questions may be different than they were thirty years ago. While it might seem challenging, etiquette, even if we don’t use that word, will always remain the core foundation of how to treat our fellow kinksters well.

I see that many people join alternative communities because they don’t relate to mainstream society. Perhaps they feel that they can only be themselves in a fursuit or a BDSM dungeon. Often this leads to the distaste for the trivialities of the outside world. I’ve heard more than one kinkster turn their nose up at the idea of high protocol. They came here to escape that silliness, they explained. Why would they want to go back to finishing school? Many kinksters have decided that mainstream etiquette is irrelevant for our culture. 

However, when we consider the fundamentals of treating people well, exercising kindness, and using our best judgement to be considerate, it is clear that there is a place for etiquette after all. 

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