I’ve written, at various points, about aspects of consensual non-consent (CNC) and how I relate to it and what it means to me and how that factors into negotiation of safewords and so on. CNC is a pretty big part of my kink, threading through so many of the things that I do, both implicitly and explicitly.
I appreciate there are those who don’t believe that CNC is a thing: you either consent or you don’t. And while I respect people’s capacity to have a different opinion, I believe that this tension strikes at something crucial to CNC that isn’t often talked about: how you define CNC is intrinsically linked to how you define consent.
So let’s talk about consent- or maybe, more specifically, parse out the difference between “dislike” and “non-consent.” For me, personally, (and I absolutely respect and appreciate that everyone’s definitions of consent are subjective and personal to themselves), “nonconsensual” is something that oversteps communicated boundaries (in opt-out) or goes outside of agreed-upon activities (in opt-in). “Dislike” is something that happens that is within the negotiated boundaries of a scene that I just simply… do not like and will probably not do again, and if it’s important enough to me, will add that to my list of no-go things.
For example: if I negotiate under opt-in consent to bottom for a rope scene, and then the top mid-scene, blindfolds me, pulls out a violet wand, and uses it on me, my consent was violated and my boundaries were crossed because I did not agree to electric play (in fact, I never would; that’s on my hard limits list) but didn’t think I needed to state that explicitly because it was outside of the bounds of what we were discussing (rope) and I had no reason to think it was relevant.
If I negotiate under opt-out consent to bottom for a kidnapping scene, and state that needles, electricity, and sexual penetration are hard limits, and during the scene, a top penetrates me with their fingers, my consent was violated and my boundaries were crossed.
If, however, I negotiate an impact scene under opt-in and during the scene, the top pulls out a crowbar and hits me with it, and I really, really fucking hate it, I might (a) communicate that, especially if the top is favoring that toy or I’m reaching my “fuck no” point and/or (b) add that to my limits list for next time: no crowbars. At no point, however, has my consent been violated (unless I communicate no more with that toy, and they continue to use it).
If I negotiate an opt-out scene, and I neglect to mention that I have an insane needle phobia, my consent has not been violated if they tie me down and turn me into a pincushion (up until the moment that I tell them it needs to stop and they continue to poke me). It is up to me to know and communicate my own limits and boundaries in opt-out models; I cannot expect someone else to be a mindreader.
Related: for me personally, it’s also not a consent violation if something brings up something in me that I didn’t know or expect. For example, I really like objectification scenes. Turns out, I only like them when I know the people doing the objectifying- and I learned this through doing an objectification scene with a bunch of mostly-strangers. None of those people violated my consent in any capacity; I just learned something really valuable about the shape of my objectification kinks and have shifted how I interact with them as a result.
I think it’s important to draw the lines between “I didn’t like that” and “I didn’t consent to that” because it shapes not only how we define and discuss consent (and consent violations) but also how we talk about CNC.
I think a lot of people hear CNC and automatically think “rape play.” That’s perfectly reasonable because I appreciate that the types of CNC that are most often talked about include some aspect of sexual force: eg getting fucked while you actively resist and say, “no,” and “stop” (hence the need for safewords to differentiate between consensual resistance and actually needing something to stop).
But when we automatically conflate CNC with rapeplay, it implies that rape is the only form of nonconsensual interaction.
I don’t think a lot of people actually believe this, but when we link CNC and rapeplay as synonymous concepts, it’s a subtle way of conditioning ourselves to not see the variety of grey areas under which consent is (and can be) violated- and limits our creativity when engaging with CNC.
At its core, CNC is the idea of choosing (with full awareness, knowledge, and capacities) to give up the ability to revoke consent. And this is where it gets really important to differentiate between “things I don’t like” and “things I would not consent to.”
For example, I have really weird oral texture issues that makes eating food…an odd experience (and has made me an extraordinarily picky eater). I don’t do foodplay, ever. Getting forced to eat something is not something I would ever consent to do in a negotiated scene. Ever.
And I’ve definitely been in situations where I was forced to eat something, and the only way out of it would have been to safeword.
Sex and kink in non-sober headspaces- at a certain point, I am no longer capable of granting consent. And I have definitely fucked and bottomed to things with people who knew I was not sober.
Getting fucked awake/getting fucked while sleeping: I can’t consent when I’m sleeping. I can consent beforehand, and I’m usually pretty enthusiastically into it once I wake up, but the moment someone touches me, they have no way of knowing whether I consent to getting fucked in that moment. (Also, sadly, this one doesn’t happen much since I wake up notoriously earlier than most people I sleep next to.)
The concepts around playing with control, autonomy, choice, resistance, fear… a lot of them inherently deal with grey areas of consent. I’ve had many interactions with people who don’t do brute force, rapeplay-style CNC. But maybe they enjoy coercive-style interactions, ones that play on the socialized-female people-pleasing attributes, the guilt, the “you owe me because I did this nice thing for you” style interactions.
Maybe they enjoy watching you walk to the edge of your own fears and boundaries, and giving you that final nudge over them that you would never take on your own.
Maybe they enjoy fear, and like to test the boundaries that are drawn in fear and watch your reactions.
I do plenty of things I don’t like doing. “Dislike” is not the same thing as CNC for me. CNC hits at those things that, given the choice in that moment, I would never consent to doing. CNC allows me to walk up to things that I am terrified of and ask for them, revoke consent and go “no no no no noooooooo”, and have that “no” be entirely disregarded.
There is freedom in that, for me. The courage to say yes, the freedom to vocalize how much I need to back out of this thing, and the push to do it anyway. There is freedom to be my whole self there: not just the well-composed, stubborn person, but the terrified person that gets to vocalize and plead and beg to get out of whatever I have gotten myself into, and be forced to accept it anyway.
I can always safeword. In that, I still grant consent. But “red” doesn’t mean anything to my vehement protests of “no, please, I can’t do this thing, no, please don’t make me do this, noooo.” They are entirely different forms of consent revocation. I need to be able to say no. I need to be able to fight and resist and push against and push back and balk and absolutely, 100% not be ok with the thing that’s about to happen. And have it happen anyway.
If we have not talked about or negotiated CNC, my no means no. Always. Point blank, full stop. But when it’s well understood, when it’s discussed and negotiated…sometimes my no still very much, vehemently, means no. And the worst thing you can do, in that moment, is listen to it.
There is more than brute force sexual aggression in playing with the lines of consent and what it means to not consent to something. I want to talk more about these things- not just because I think it creates an exciting landscape to navigate CNC, but because I really want to have better, more nuanced discussions about consent- and consent violations- and conflating all types of CNC with just rapeplay does a disservice to how we think about consent as a whole.
- opt-in/opt-out models: different modes of negotiation and consent models. Opt-in specifically outlines the things that can happen in the scene; opt-out outlines those limits and boundaries that cannot be crossed, but leaves “what will happen” a little more open (staying within the stated limits and boundaries).
- “you” is used generously and is meant to imply a transient, shifting, universal “you.”
- I am writing this predominantly from a bottom’s perspective (I am a switch). This by no means implies that tops cannot have their consent violated; they absolutely can and do and that part is important to talk about as well.