Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fawn
Most people have heard about the fight or flight response. It’s a physiological reaction to whatever we feel is stressful or scary, and we get our bodies ready to either fight or flee.
But is that all we are capable of? Are we sure?
That’s right, we are not basic. We are capable of so much more. Actually, we are capable of at least two more: freeze and fawn.
In sex and kink, understanding the intricacies of consent is essential. Most importantly because, if it’s not consensual, it’s abuse or assault.
But how does that fit with the F words?
Understanding fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, particularly in the context of your partner(s) or play partner(s), can make a real difference when getting clear and enthusiastic consent before any interactions in more intimate settings or any type of play.
Picture this: You’re in the middle of a sexual encounter or a play scene, and something doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe your partner is pushing boundaries or crossing lines, or testing your limits outside of what you negotiated.
In such moments, some people tap into their inner warriors and embrace the fight response.
This is about asserting boundaries, refusing to compromise on autonomy, and reclaiming power in the face of adversity.
I am in no way condoning fighting, but do remember that this sort of reaction is a defense mechanism and it can take very different forms.
Forms or fight are anger, bullying, and intimidation.
Now, imagine the air feels heavy and you are uncomfortable. Something went wrong with your partner during a scene and you felt the urge you to seek refuge from the storm.
The flight response drives the person to remove themselves from the situation and search for alone-time. Whether it’s physically distancing or emotionally detaching oneself from the moment, it allows them to regroup and reassess boundaries from a place of safety.
Recognise this behaviour and respect your (play) partner(s) response. Pushing them to do something they’re not comfortable with can makes things worse and undermine consent.
Forms or flight are panic, worry, and rumination.
The freeze response is basically a temporary paralysis in response to danger. The individuals become physically or emotionally numb.
Feeling pressured or coerced into doing something they’re uncomfortable with, like pushing limits in a scene or having sex before being ready to do so, might make the person feel overwhelmed, intimidated, or powerless.
Understand and recognise signs of freeze in a kink or sexual context is key because it means the person might not be able to vocalise boundaries, take action, or even safeword their partner(s).
Work on creating a safe and supportive environment together, where you both can feel empowered to assert boundaries.
Forms or Freeze are disassociation, feeling numb or stuck.
This might be the trickiest of them all. The fawn response involves falling into the trap of appeasing or placating behavior as a response to threats or coercion.
In the context of kink and sexual encounters, this can manifest as compliance, submission, or people-pleasing behavior aimed at avoiding conflict or harm.
For example, if a person feels pressured or manipulated into engaging in kinky or sexual activities they’re uncomfortable with, they may use this mechanism to maintain the relationship or avoid confrontation.
Recognise the signs and prioritise mutual respect, communication, and enthusiastic consent. Always.
Forms of Fawn are conflict avoidance, people pleasing, and repressing oneself.
In conclusion, understanding the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses is essential for navigating consent and promoting healthy kinky and/or sexual relationships.
Recognise and respect these reactions, so you can foster safety, trust, and mutual respect in your relationships. Prioritise clear communication, and enthusiastic consent (check consent practices in The ABC of BDSM). And have fun 🙂
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