This Is What Consent Looks Like at a Kink Festival

The annual Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is a time to take your sex to the streets. The event that started in 1984 largely as a celebration of leather culture is now a massive converge of alternative sexualities of all stripes, with an estimated 400,000 people crowding Folsom Street in marvelous regalia. It’s not unusual to see someone dressed as a slutty Sailor Moon staging a bondage demonstration on the asphalt while onlookers decked out in leather body-suits and crotch-less police uniforms applaud.

An uninformed observer at Folsom Street Fair might suspect that people separated from each other by only a smile and a pair of sneakers would be struggling with keeping their hands to themselves. But one thing that’s often misunderstood in mainstream coverage of kink culture is that BDSM has consent at its core. Learning the rules of consent is important for everyone trying to get kinky in a shared space. Non-consensual touching is strictly off-limits at the Folsom Street Fair.

Amid all the chaos of the street fair this past Saturday was a booth full of bright yellow stickers and temporary tattoos that read, “Ask First.” Volunteers handed out 10,000 stickers and 2,000 “Ask First” tattoos over the course of the weekend.  Porn performer, sex worker and educator Maxine Holloway first got the idea for the “Ask First” campaign a few years ago, after a long day of selling soiled panties in lingerie and heels at Folsom. “I was astonished but actually not very surprised at the amount of people who felt that they had permission to grab and touch my body,” she reflected on Facebook the next day. The sexually open atmosphere at Folsom makes people forget that typical rules of consent still apply, making what should be a liberating experience disheartening. “I was giving the public permission to interact with me, which I wanted to happen,” continued Holloway. “But I didn't agree to be touched, fondled, and grabbed by complete strangers.” She decided to launching the a crowdfunding to cover the cost of the stickers and tattoos that her posse—comprised mainly of other Bay Area adult performers and sex workers—helped distribute for free at the fair.

This year, it felt like every where you looked, someone was sporting some “Ask First” flair on their boobs, alongside their dick harness, or on their neoprene puppy suit. “Thank you so much for this booth,” said man who was naked except for a cock ring and a pair of running shoes. “The stickers are really keeping people from grabbing my dick in the crowd. It’s amazing!”

I ran an “Ask First” photobooth at the event and had the honor of documenting the many faces of those that support consensual interaction, even while we’re celebrating our sexuality. I took hundreds of portraits and asked permission to share their photos online.These photos documenting consent in the kink community are posted here with their permission.

Holloway is currently working with pervs from Ontario, Texas, and New York to spread the word. If you want to get involved with the Ask First campaign, she is always looking for contributions to the Tumblr where you can see the rest of my photos from the 2015 Folsom Street Fair booth.

by Caitlin Donohue
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Mexico City-based freelance writer and photographer. Co-founder of 4U Magazine.

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