Resource: Demystifying CNC: A practical, usable, unashamed framework for discussing and exploring Consensual Non-Consent Kink

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This is the product of countless hours of editing/writing/redrafting/constantly thinking about it, and around a dozen beta readers and reception is very positive. This is not a list of fun scene ideas–it’s an actionable, practical, unashamed framework. I was dissatisfied with existing resources on this topic I’m very passionate about, with many of them being relatively useless (buzzfeed-like articles listing scene ideas) or actively harmful (presenting misleading and confused ideas like CNC being absent of consent or communication) or just meant to be erotic to read and filled with vivid descriptions of scenes and play or waxing poetically about the author’s partners. I’m one person–but I’m very confidently comfortable presenting my perspectives and experiences in a way that I’ve been told has been productive and led to introspection or personal insights. “Beginner-level” resources are tricky to write, but I feel comfortable posting this as a tool to help organize your own thoughts or as something to use to talk to partners with!

This was a live presentation, adapted as a resource. While incomplete in written format, it lives as a useable tool. If you’d like to hear it live or have me present for your group, feel welcome to message me.

Demystifying CNC

Demystifying Consensual Non-Consent (CNC) and clearing-up some misconceptions.
Trigger / Content Warnings: Discussion of coercion and consent violation. Some discussion of specific CNC activities including interrogation, punishment, consensual blackmail kink, emotional masochism, and more. Rape role-play is mentioned but not a focus (despite the misconception of CNC as another term for rape role-play, it’s just one of many things under the umbrella of CNC)

Purpose and Audience, Disclaimers and Caveats

  • The goal of this presentation is to demystify Consensual Non-Consent (CNC) and clear-up some misconceptions. This is a non-comprehensive overview of CNC within kink and ways it can manifest in dynamics, and frameworks it can be discussed with.
  • My goal with writing beginner-level resources is to recognize that the truths within will always be partial in nature, but to make the resource more helpful than harmful or misleading.
  • It is NOT the goal to equip you to jump into trying a CNC dynamic or scene with no experience or knowledge. Discuss at extreme length with your partner(s). This presentation is one tool to communicate. Intimately understand topics like negotiation, aftercare, affirmative consent, and your unique risk profile.
  • Consent is always an ongoing collaborative effort and not just simply granting permission. Even in CNC, it’s affirmative consent. Keep in mind when reading this presentation that while the way that ongoing collaborative effort of consent looks may vary, it’s always affirmative consent.
  • Fight, flight, freeze and fawn are critically important things to be aware of in all BDSM. In CNC, the likelihood of encountering this is quite a bit higher and sometimes for some people even the goal. Always be aware of this process. Here’s one brief write-up I like: https://mcasa.org/newsletters/article/trauma-and-the-brain-understanding-tonic-immobility
  • No one is an “expert.” I’m one person, and this is one framework. There are many other valid frameworks and ways to look at things which I also value.

What is CNC?

  • The term Consensual Non-Consent (CNC) is understood differently by different people. I interviewed many. Here’s some highlights that show how varied answers are:
    • “Negotiated scenario that includes a dynamic that otherwise would be non-consensual.”
    • “You have my consent to violate my consent. I love feeling like my consent doesn’t matter.”
    • “Consenting to a dynamic, not activities.”
    • “Here is the sandbox we are both going to play in. Here are the rules and limits of this dynamic. You can play in there without asking or if I say no.”
    • “Difference between a session (like an abduction fantasy) or CNC as in “free use” or play without asking first.”

What is CNC?: “Don’t stop if I say to”

  • Many people describe CNC simply as “you don’t have to stop if I say ‘no’ or ‘stop.’” While this is a description that is superficially representative of one type of CNC scene or dynamic, it is pretty reductionist. By being so simplistic, it risks stopping further conversation and negotiation, and risks not discussing emotional drives. Some people may also say this because they are uncomfortable or unsure of how to ask for the specific things that they want, or how to ask for how they want to feel.
  • The framework being presented here helps to refocus conversation to emotional motivations. By categorizing CNC activities and dynamics into emotional motivation categories, it may even help to discuss specific acts with less potential for shame. That means being more likely to experience what you want to, feel the way you want to, and generally have hotter, better CNC!

Wait, what actually is “usual” consent?

In our community, we often put qualifying words in front of consent, such as ongoing, enthusiastic, sober, risk aware, affirmative, and freely given.

  • Ongoing: Consent isn’t giving permission once or at the start of a scene. It’s given in a fluid, ongoing way similar to an emotional headspace, and can be withdrawn or end at any time. Consent is also collaborative, not just coming from one person.
  • Enthusiastic: Consent isn’t saying “maybe we can try that”–if someone tells you maybe when negotiating or during a scene, take it as them saying no. “Enthusiasm” can look different in some types of play, such as emotional masochism–but this term represents, at the end of the day, a genuine desire.
  • Sober: Consent isn’t given without a clear head. You can’t consent while very tired, stressed, emotionally vulnerable, or while anything but completely sober.
  • Risk aware: Consent requires knowing what you’re signing-up for and consenting to. But this isn’t a legal exchange; in BDSM, there can often be risks or consequences unforeseen by anyone involved.
  • Affirmative: Consent isn’t “they didn’t say no”–not saying no isn’t saying yes. Yes is saying yes.
  • Freely given: Consent isn’t something given under pressure, when afraid or nervous to say no, when there’s a benefit or bribe to say yes, or when power dynamics create imbalance that forces a yes.

What is “usual” consent?: Breaking that down

  • So many things can impact ongoing, enthusiastic, risk aware, affirmative, freely given consent, that some modern progressive discourse questions if this ideal consent can truly be achieved.
    • Put another way, one could argue that all kink is consensual non-consent. Even if the play doesn’t intentionally impact those qualifying words, there’s inherent risk of them being unintentionally impacted.
  • All play carries risk. Most of the time when things “go wrong” in BDSM, there was no malicious intent, but the harm and impact is there. Acknowledging this inherent risk is not an excuse to blame someone that is harmed. Play with willingness to accept consequences, and to offer support if things go wrong.
  • Some types of activities or play may inherently or intentionally impact those qualifying words about consent. That’s where CNC comes in.

What is CNC?: So in general, what is it?

  • Essentially, Consensual Non-consent is a BDSM kink with power exchange.
    • Yes, that is extremely general and seemingly comprehensive of nearly all BDSM.
  • Consensual Non-consent is NOT consenting to “surprise” in a relationship.
    Proper consent is ongoing, enthusiastic, affirmative, and freely given without pressure. (Consent as similarly compared to an emotional state or fluidity and flow, and not just permission, is what I mean by ongoing consent.)
  • What makes CNC different? Ongoing enthusiastically consensual, but there’s an element of non-consent:
    • The non-consent is “this activity or dynamic inherently compromises or damages usual, properly gained consent and the ongoing affirmative consent is less direct.”
    • The non-consent is NOT “we didn’t negotiate or agree to this.”
  • CNC is often present in D/s dynamics, but doesn’t have to be.
    • …which is why I’d like to start by discussing CNC and D/s.

CNC and D/s

  • CNC is a type of power exchange, but not all D/s dynamics are focused on CNC. CNC should be a negotiated aspect of a D/s dynamic.
  • A lot of harm happens when a sub does something or feels pressured to do something “because their dom told them to” and there’s confusion around consent in a D/s dynamic. You never have to do anything you don’t want to do. Unless that’s specifically what you’re seeking, and the point of the dynamic or play you’ve negotiated. And if you have, you’ve also negotiated strategies for check-in, communication, and safewords.
  • This is not “we communicate so well” or “it’s just how negotiation is for us I guess” or “it just feels easy to initiate and start scenes with my partner.” All of that is compromised consent. Initiating compromises consent. Asking after you start is not consent, even if they say they consent, as pressure was applied.

CNC and D/s: CNC is Negotiated, not Assumed

  • In most D/s dynamics, the s-type doesn’t have to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. It’s generally pretty good advice to say this, too! But, in most ongoing CNC dynamics, discomfort may be a primary goal.
  • One more time–If you are in a D/s dynamic you don’t need to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. Do not assume CNC dynamics are the “default.” Do not assume your sub has to listen to what you say, or that you have to obey your dom even if you’re uncomfortable. CNC is something you negotiate, not assume.
  • Ongoing collaborative affirmative consent to the dynamic, rather than to individual actions–but often also to individual actions.
  • Limits still exist in CNC, but for many limits are conceptualized differently.
  • Thus, motivations matter for understanding what consent looks like. Read on…

Types of CNC: Coercion vs Violation

  • One framework to understand CNC is the motivations for wanting it–I’m presenting this as coercion or violation. Both drives are valid to feel or want!
  • Coercion: “Making someone do something they don’t want to do to avoid something they want even less. Or, being pressured into things.”
  • Violation: “Breaking someone’s boundaries through dynamics or acts that inherently compromise consent.”
    • The dom who wants to do rape roleplay and/or break limits is seeking feelings of violation.
    • The dom that wants to threaten the sub with things they don’t want to to do, to control them and make them do other things, is seeking to control someone via coercion.
    • The sub who wants to be “broken,” or have limits or boundaries passed is seeking violation.
    • The sub that wants to be controlled by threat or use of things they do not want is seeking coercion.
  • You don’t necessarily need to be aligned on these interests to have a scene or dynamic. But in some cases, motivations may clash. (For example, if a sub wants the dom to follow-through with a threatened act and the dom only wants to gain control via the threat, it may be incompatible).
  • These are imperfect categories–it’s just one framework for organizing thoughts.
    • Each category can be present in the same dynamic or scene at different times.
    • Types of play or dynamics within these are categories may also overlap.
  • Understanding the drive is insightful for better communication in kink, and having a framework can assist with brainstorming and organizing thoughts.
  • To follow are a bunch of examples, and then examples applying this framework and seeing how consent may look in an activity or dynamic. How do these activities make you feel? Do they fulfill or threaten any needs? Emotion wheels! “Uncomfortable,” “comfortable emotions,” and “needs.” https://minkymn.org/emotion-wheels/

Types of CNC: Coercion

What does consent look like? Within this category, consent is compromised (it’s “non-consent”) because pressure is being applied. Ongoing affirmative consent is being given to have that pressure applied.

  • Punishments and discipline that are actually undesirable (not “funishments”)
  • Bribery (As opposed to punishments, coercion through positive reinforcement. Not always a CNC context. But, can compromise consent in similar ways.)
  • D/s, M/s largely fall here, but can fall into other categories.
  • Orgasm denial as part of a dynamic usually falls here–it’s used as a reward as coercion, and teased to apply pressure.
  • Consensual blackmail kink. (Following orders to do something you don’t want to do is valued over the threat of information or pictures being exposed).
  • Interrogation roleplay and scenes.
  • Coercion or use of fear, threats, during negotiations or commands

Types of CNC: Violation

What does consent look like? Within this category, consent is inherently damaged or compromised (it’s “non-consent”) by the act itself. Ongoing affirmative consent is being given to do these activities prior to, after, and sometimes explicitly expressed during* via check-ins. (*Consent during is compromised and should not be the only thing used)

  • Emotional masochism, fear play, and panic (cannot consent in these headspaces)
  • Limit breaking/engaging with limits as a form of play/degradation/emotional masochism
  • “Somno,” including even just touching a partner you fell asleep in the same bed with (cannot consent)
  • Privacy violation (tech dom, consensual viruses, cameras, “inspections”)
  • Rape roleplay (even if negotiated, the same fight-flight-freeze-fawn responses can kick-in)
  • “Free use” (“you can do XYZ things to me in these specific circumstances or times)
  • Exposure kink (wanting pictures or info shared publicly)
  • Gaslighting (manipulation damages consent)
  • Play surrounding sleep deprivation (intentionally damages judgement)
  • Anything to do with alcohol or other drugs.

Types of CNC: Examples of these categories – Coercion

Coercion Play / Acts / Scenes

  • Interrogation play–Classic example of doing something you don’t want to do (provide information) to avoid something you want less (continued torments)
    • Ongoing consent: To the acts before & after, but also during–consent is compromised by pressure.

Coercion Dynamics / Arrangements / Relationships

  • D/s with Punishments and threats–Being told to do things or be punished is coercion. But the punishment is, essentially, a form of violation.
    • Ongoing consent: To the dynamic itself. Limits can still exist; some things may be okay or not.
  • Consensual blackmail kink–Not wanting information, pictures shared/exposed (Coercion). But, may still want feelings of violation. So the dynamic is based on coercion, but the play may involve acts of violation.
    • Ongoing consent: To the dynamic itself. Often features scheduled check-ins, safe chats, debriefing.

Types of CNC: Examples of these categories – Violation

Violation Play / Acts / Scenes

  • Hypnosis–I would not consider Hypnosis itself CNC, but induction (guided meditation) can lower inhibitions and affect judgement, and triggers can have effect regardless of desire for them to when thoroughly practiced. Thus while it’s an imperfect fit, hypnosis would be mostly under violation in this framework, as induction follows a traditional pattern of ongoing affirmative consent but any play after it does not.
    • Ongoing consent: To the scene, or to having triggers used. Consent is compromised during trance.
  • Emotional masochism–If headspaces involved that couldn’t normally consent, it’d be under Violation in this framework. But, emotional masochism can also be a form of coercion (Example: “You’re only good for <insert thing being pressured to do here>” to gain compliance)
    • Ongoing consent: To having this sort of play in the dynamic. Debriefing is very common and valuable.

Violation Dynamics / Arrangements / Relationships

  • “Free use” arrangements–Explicitly negotiated actions that can be done without asking, at negotiated times. Consent is damaged by initiation itself–”they didn’t safeword” is not indicative of consent, may feel unable to via fight-flight-freeze-fawn.
    • Ongoing consent: To the dynamic, and having this a part of it. Often features active and scheduled check-ins, debriefing. This is not “we communicate well and I don’t have to ask first!”–that’s not good communication, it’s damaged consent.

Safewords?

  • Yes, safewords can still exist in CNC. No, this doesn’t make it “fake.”
  • Some people say they play without a safeword. Ultimately, another form of communication will be used first long before a safeword because they have layers of communication.
  • If it’s a dynamic or type of play centered around feeling uncomfortable, frequently communicating your current level of discomfort is both healthy communication and basic day-to-day flirting. Same with the dom asking the sub how they are feeling, most sadists want the masochist to express it–It’s not “immersion breaking.” But, sometimes there’s a need to “highlight” something to be taken extra seriously and with extra weight.
  • There are many types of communication in all kink, and some that may be specific to or especially useful in CNC dynamics. Let’s talk about some of them!

More than Safewords: Types of communication

  • Safe chats– Idea of having more than one method of communication like texting or DMing your partner with different apps. Have a text chat that’s “no protocol, dynamic is paused” and things communicated as “equals.” Also a great way for subs to flag “green” or offer reassurance and make it clear something is genuinely OK to push.
  • Protocol/Dynamic “Pause” Safewords– Similar to safechat. Safeword not to stop a scene, but to stop protocol and communicate as “equals.”
  • Active check-ins– Both ways! Subs can check in with their doms. This doesn’t need to be a big thing, just creating a relationship culture of communicating openly.
  • Scheduled check-ins– Some dynamics or scenes may have additional, designated pre-scheduled times to discuss how things are going.
  • Debriefing– Discussion after scenes about how things felt. May not always take place immediately after. Notes, journaling, open discussion, things you may want to experience again and things you don’t, no matter if you were top or bottom (in CNC, this might not be the same as things you “liked” or “disliked.”) Great way to foster culture of communication in your relationships–make a habit of debriefing when it goes well, and it’ll be more comfortable and feel safer to do when things go wrong.
  • Negotiation– This is big, so let’s break it down!

Negotiation and CNC

  • In all of kink, negotiation is essentially just talking and mutually deciding what is going to happen in the scene or what rules will be implemented.
  • The prior strategies like debriefing and safe chats are also part of negotiation, especially in coercion dynamics like D/s and blackmail.
  • Negotiation in CNC is often for things outside of scenes, or more general in scope.
    • Can I put a virus on your computer to stalk you? Can I have a rule to control my spending habits/food/sleep/exercise? Is it OK if I grope you without asking first each time?
  • Depending on the tone or type of dynamic, negotiation may be the dom gathering preferences or limits to take under advisement, with other communication used if there’s a serious problem, rather than mutually deciding what is going to happen.
    • For many, “immersion” is broken if their dom “wouldn’t actually publicly post my lewd pictures or wouldn’t really break that hard limit I said I don’t want touched.” Solutions:
      • The dom lies saying they would even if they wouldn’t.
      • The dom genuinely would, and many want to be in a dynamic where they would.
      • It’s all okay to want but communicating here matters. Which leads to…

Role-Playing?

(also see: Is D/s Power Exchange Roleplaying? Is Roleplaying “real?” Finding alignment with productive conversation.)

  • Some people say that CNC, and/or all kink, is role-playing. Others do not. Some say role-playing “isn’t real” or is “fake.” Others do not.
  • Tends to be a real hot-button issue for many, with a lot of immediate emotional response towards people who are on the “other side.” Some people who view it as role-playing see those who do not as inherently problematic or dangerous, and some people who don’t see it as role-playing act elitist towards the people who do.
  • Talk about this topic with your partner–Do you see this as role-playing? Why or why not? Discussing this can lead to valuable insights!
  • Alignment on “is it role-playing or not” may not be needed to have a dynamic. But, communication is.
  • Regardless of how you feel on this topic, all actions are real in their effects. Kink can have psychological effects. Role-playing or not, “real” or not. Acknowledging this is critical for risk aware kink.

Conclusion–Risks

  • CNC has lasting psychological effects; These may be wanted, or unexpected.
    • Repercussions in your relationship with your partner(s) can include negative emotions outside of scenes. Discuss how you’re going to navigate that.
    • Many of these kinks can be draining on the top as well as the bottom. Know aftercare needs for all! (When I bottom for serious scenes I still thank my top for facilitating it, even if I’m not able to say “thanks so much for making me have a panic attack”
    • A writing I generally appreciate on this topic about emotional masochism in particular: https://fetlife.com/users/3055227/posts/5489251
  • Most kink is illegal; CNC kinks can have legal repercussions “if they go wrong.” (Anything from accidental physical harm, to accidentally viewing a confidential work file while consensually RATing someone’s computer)
  • CNC ads mental pressure, and can activate existing or new mental health struggles.
    • Safewords alone are not reliable. Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn are so likely you should prepare for them. That responsibility is not only on the top. Fawn causes significant harm to the top; bottoms need to be aware of their responses, too, and ensure they can engage in these activities safely.
    • Panic is desired by some. But, unexpected panic can happen. Be aware of your risks and triggers and ensure you are in a setting, and relationship, that can support unexpected mental health episodes.

Conclusion

  • CNC is just as much a collaborative ongoing affirmative consent as all kink, but the dynamic or play changes how consent looks and can compromise consent during play or a dynamic.
  • CNC is not “it’s okay to initiate without negotiating.” That can be a part of it!–Within this framework, that falls under the Violation category. But all activities should be discussed–CNC is not an assumed part of a D/s dynamic.
  • If this is your only exposure to CNC, you are NOT now prepared to engage in CNC. This presentation is a tool to help organize your thoughts, exploration and communication with partners.