Understanding Consensual Non-Consent
Fantasies of being taken have nothing to do with real-life rape- and they’re a lot more common than you might think.
I don’t remember the first time I had a fantasy that involved dominance and force. I was about 12 when I started to discover my sexuality, and in the years between 8th and 10th grade I bent down the pages of novels to mark the sexy parts.
Then came the internet, and access to erotica. I read sexy stories far before I ever discovered video based porn. I’m sure I still have a folder somewhere full of the bootleg erotica I printed out when my parents weren’t home, crossing my fingers they’d be gone until I had it safely spirited away from the printer.
I didn’t know that there were other women that got turned on by movies or dreams that involved kidnapping or rape.
At some point, I discovered non-consent/reluctance stories. For over a decade, I never told anybody how those stories piqued my interest. I didn’t know that there were other women that got turned on by movies or dreams that involved kidnapping or rape. Even now, 25 years later and with a wide base of knowledge about sex, kink, and fantasy, it feels risky to type it here.
If you have fantasies about being taken, you’re not alone.
I have a distinct memory of driving through town with one of my friends as she admitted that non-consent erotica was her genre of choice. My relief that I wasn’t the only one with those feelings and fantasies was palpable.
For women who don’t have an outlet or a place to talk about sex, having fantasies that society views as taboo can be scary. Many women who have these types of fantasies worry it means something is wrong with them, or that they aren’t normal. One of the biggest reasons I talk and write about sex and kink is to help those people feel less alone.
Rape fantasies are mistakenly named — it is an imaginary act of being taken by a passionate male, free from any possible assault. As it is happening in our minds, consent is out of question. No harm comes of it. It’s about nothing but surrendering to our lizard brain, giving up power. These “rape” scenarios are arousing because they are creating the illsuion of danger without actually being in danger.
It is a desire for submission, that can be lived in safe BDSM Dom/Sub scenarios — with full consent, without the fear of being hurt.
What she’s referring to is a specific kink beyond power exchange called consensual non-consent.
What is Consensual Non-consent Play?
Consensual non-consent is a type of BDSM play in which the participants engage in play that mimics non-consensual behavior. Often abbreviated to CNC, it may also be referred to as resistance, reluctance, or rape play. Scenarios for how people engage in these activities vary. Some examples include:
- An orchestrated “kidnapping” in which a participant is taken by force
- A participant being tied up or otherwise restrained while they are taken
- Sex that takes place while someone is asleep or drugged (real or pretend)
- Play that implements a safeword so that words like no, stop, and other begging can be used during a scene without ending it.
Kinks can run the gamut from fairly tame to what’s referred to as “edge play,” activities like rope suspension and bondage, knife play, needles, and things that inherently carry more risk to the participants. CNC is a type of edge play, for both the physical and mental aspects it might present to the players.
The first C is the big C!
The first and most important thing to understand is when it comes to CNC play, all of it is truly consensual. Participants have discussed how they will play ahead of time within the framework of negotiating and consent that they have settled on.
Above everything is agreeing on how consent will be communicated and, if necessary, withdrawn.
Negotiating a CNC play session, or scene, must involve discussing the fantasy, setting boundaries, and agreeing on how the scenario will be ended if anyone involved changes their mind. Discuss safe words or signals, and whether normal words like no and stop will end play or be part of the role-play. Above everything is agreeing on how consent will be communicated and, if necessary, withdrawn.
Do normal people really do this?
For folks who lack exposure to sex outside the vanilla, this may seem a little crazy, and to be fair, it’s not for the faint of heart. But sexuality comes in an almost infinite spectrum, and it is possible to understand other people’s desires and preferences without sharing them.
Kinksters come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and genders.
To people outside the kink community, this type of play may seem extreme or shocking. Even inside BDSM communities, there are plenty of people who do not engage in CNC. However, there is a widely used saying: your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay. The ways in which people get their freak on vary widely, and everyone has turn-ons and turn-offs. The people who play this way are just normal people. Kinksters come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and genders.
But rape isn’t erotic or a turn on! How can anyone want that?
People who fantasize about rape or CNC do not want to be assaulted. The first thing we have to recognize is that real-life rape is anything but erotic. Dr. Leon Seltzer clarifies:
It’s crucial to recognize that real-life rape is anything but erotic for a woman. Being at the mercy of someone who’s so outrageously violating your will, holding you down, threatening you with bodily harm (or even death), and physically forcing himself upon you induces arousal all right. But not that of sexuality, but of utterly petrifying anxiety and panic. Contrast this to most imagined rape scenes, which are so electrifying precisely because they’re expressly designed by their female creator to stimulate the illusion of danger — which can, in fact, be positively arousing.
So, in such idealized “pretend scenarios,” a woman can experience her rawest, most unconstrained sexuality as fully, wondrously, even miraculously expressed — in no way impeded by any viscerally felt sense of peril. Diametrically opposed to actual rape, the fantasy really isn’t about losing control as such. It’s about willingly surrendering it.
Women who are aroused by the thought or suggestion of being taken are not fantasizing about being raped. They’re fantasizing about a lustful experience that they want to have and are willing participants in even if it starts out as something else.
Why do people have these kinds of fantasies?
Why does anyone fantasize about anything? It can be a lot of fun to imagine or playact things that you would never want to do in real life.
Tons of research has been done into different types of fantasies, preferences, and sexual desires, and there is no simple answer for why people like the things they do. Human beings and our brains are complex. Some of the reasons that have been suggested for why people enjoy CNC play include:
- Escaping from the guilt society places on women in particular about wanting sex (guilt avoidance).
- The fantasy of being so attractive/irresistible someone can’t help but lose control and take what they want.
- From the other side of things, letting go and giving in to pure desire/primal lust.
- Pleasure found in the addition of adrenaline and heightened awareness/arousal caused by fear, even when it’s a controlled experience.
- Removal of the pressure to perform.
- Working through past trauma.
Many people have these kinds of fantasies without ever figuring out why, and are able to enjoy CNC play. However, if you are having these types of thoughts and fantasies and it bothers you, it’s worth talking to a professional to delve into the underlying feelings and ideas to resolve your discomfort.
It’s not actually about rape, it’s about releasing control.
Understand that CNC play is not about rape. Rape is a violent act in which the victim has no control over what’s happening. As one reddit user pointed out:
I’m sure there are exceptions but generally speaking noone literally wants to be forced into sex by someone they don’t know and don’t trust. Giving in to sex, giving up control, it’s an amazing feeling, but with someone you trust won’t actually harm you. Just like any other fetish. I also like to watch men masturbate, but i don’t want some guy coming up to me in the subway and whipping his junk out to fap. There are boundaries. Rules to discuss beforehand. It is in fact all consensual, even if you decide to “play” and pretend it’s not.
To the contrary, CNC is all about the fantasy of being controlled- basically the creation of an elaborate illusion. In an article on Rebelcircus, one anonymous user explained:
I like to be dominated. If at any point I feel like the experience is not within the confines of what I deem acceptable, my libido is completely turned off. So I love being dominated, bossed around and basically just someone else taking control… but all with consent.
So it’s hot when it’s wanted, so really, it’s not actually a big deal. If it’s asked for it doesn’t bear resemblance to rape. It’s just relinquishing control of the situation while still being in control.
Relinquishing control is powerful.
Many of us go through life every day being in control of everything around us. We don’t have the ability to hand over control to other people. When I first started dabbling in kink and power exchange, I was a single mom who worked full time. I ran my own household and managed myself and my kids 24/7. Submitting to someone else meant relief from the pressure of having to be in charge of everything all the time.
In How Rape Play Saved My Sanity, Michon Neal describes how she found catharsis and healing in the act of fighting her partner:
And as the days passed I felt a new source of power well up within me; my own sense of control, of autonomy. He got rougher and so did I. Eventually I was damn near tossing him across the room. I’d hit him, I’d reach for objects to protect myself with (I never actually used them on him!), and I’d push him away and growl. He told me to tell him what they did and would reenact it as closely as possible. In my mind the moments melded into one. I changed the past by fighting back in the future. I saw what I could have done if only I’d had the strength. I forgave myself for freezing, knowing that at the time it was the best I could do. I cried with him as I came face to face with that terrified little girl and let her express herself.
Cathartic experiences are so rare. Recovering from trauma is hard, but not impossible. Role-playing painful memories isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But we did it. I grew my fangs and rediscovered my bite. I felt my heart and rediscovered my vulnerability. I saw his soul and saw my mirror. Across the years mirrors sprang up, echoes of all the people I’d ever met. Reflections shone as the diamond cleared and all that was left was a rainbow. I’d survived. I’d fought. I’d loved. I’d enjoyed. I wasn’t dead as I had feared. I was alive. So alive. And I was finally able to talk about all of it. To let it out in the open. To take leaps and bounds forward instead of baby steps. I was free.
For victims of past abuse or trauma that involved having their control taken from them without their consent, being in charge and having the power to make it stop at any moment can be extremely potent. I experienced this after my marriage: playing with submission and the illusion of loss of my self-control was one of the things that really facilitated healing.
How do people negotiate CNC?
Once you’re lucky enough to find a partner who shares the same fantasies you do, how do you negotiate the scene so that everyone involved comes out of it without being actually harmed? It’s going to involve a lot of talking, planning, and honesty.
Rules for CNC
Safeword “red” immediately stops all activity.
Safeword “yellow” necessitates a switch in activity, possibly subject to brief discussion.
Dominant partner’s goal is to have PIV sex.
Submissive partner’s goal is to meet the escape condition, to be decided on an environmental basis. For example: touch the doorknob.
Either partner’s success condition will end the scene and a new one can be initiated with the same or modified conditions.
Wear clothing that can be destroyed.
No stiletto heels.
No glasses or jewelry.
No skin biting. Only deeper tissue biting is allowed.
No face punching.
No playing with piercings.
No ropes on necks (softer material, such as a cotton shirt, is allowed).
Discuss all weapons and restraints ahead of time (blades, gun facsimiles).
Anal with pre-approved toys only.
This is just an example of rules that worked for one game. Some of the items on the list, like no ropes on necks, no oral, and no playing with piercings, are the types of things you’d want to discuss with any new kink or sexual partner in order to communicate your boundaries. Others are specific to rough play or to CNC play in particular.
If you are negotiating a CNC scene to take place at a club or gathering within the BDSM community, they may have guidelines or resources to help you negotiate scenes with new partners. Talk to event planners, community members, or dungeon monitors about what is and isn’t allowed, or to get tips and ideas for things to cover during negotiations.
The type of relationship you have with the person you’ll be playing with also contributes to how you plan and negotiate your fun. If you’re just playing or hooking up, it’s a good idea to set express limits on the activity or time period during which you’ll play. Within an ongoing relationship, talk about things before each individual instance since things can change from day to day.
What could go wrong?
As with any type of non-vanilla sexual play, there is a chance something might not go as planned. Really, with any type of intimacy there’s that chance. If you’ve got known triggers or physical limitations, they should be discussed during negotiations. But, the thing with triggers is that you don’t always know them. This is why it’s a good idea to talk about contingencies.
If you’re in the middle of things and something just doesn’t seem right, stop and check in.
During the scene, pay attention to your partner. Talk about what might happen to you if you get triggered so they can watch for those things. Sometimes if something goes wrong and someone is upset or scared, they find themselves unable to communicate it. If you’re in the middle of things and something just doesn’t seem right, stop and check in. If it breaks the mood, and they didn’t need the check in, you can get back into it or try again another time.
Make sure you consider both the top and bottom when thinking about how plans could go awry. Different types of domination and power play can evoke different, powerful psychological responses. If someone hasn’t played this way before, it’s probably not a good idea to plan a super elaborate scene the first time out. Even though it’s not real, pretending to do violence or harm to another person is a lot of responsibility.
This seems like something I’d enjoy- what do I do now?
As mentioned earlier, CNC play is definitely an edgier type of kink play. Depending on how playful you want to be, how much you’ve dabbled with it before, and how much planning you do, it can get very dark. If you think you might be interested in exploring this type of play, the first step is to get educated.
CNC is a huge topic: what you’ve read here just skims the surface. Some of the areas you might want to explore are risks, examples, scenarios, ideas, and information about this type of play and the different ways it can be done. I’ve compiled a list of resources I found helpful in explaining and understanding CNC.
You may also want to read about people’s experiences of how they planned and carried out this type of scene. Pete Riggs has a wonderful post on Rope Connections that outlines a scene from planning to aftercare and how he and his partner felt afterwards.
Like with anything new, the best thing you can do when exploring consensual non-consent is to take it slow. It can be really hard to hold back when you find something new and exciting, but remember that you have all the time in the world. It’s always better to be left in anticipation of the next time than to do too much, too fast.
Consensual non-consent isn’t a simple topic, but if you find yourself interested, know that you are not alone. There’s a reason so many romance novel covers feature a Fabio-esque strongman holding a limp woman’s helpless body with just one enormously muscled arm. The fantasy of being under someone else’s control is nothing to be ashamed of, and you should feel free to fantasize or play with CNC to your heart’s content.
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