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What is Consensual Nonconsent (CNC)?

two black hands with yes and no
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels

Recently, I came across a problematic post by a social media influencer slash erotic author on Instagram talking about taking advantage of their partner when they’re asleep. And while they may have blocked me and the other folks who commented on the post for being problematic, they can’t block me here.

So let’s talk about consensual nonconsent:

A Quick Refresher on Consent

Before we can understand something like CNC, we need to be crystal clear on what consent is. Here’s a quick refresher, using a modified version of Planned Parenthood’s FRIES model:

  • Freely Given: Consent must be freely given. If someone uses manipulative or coercive methods (such as guilt or shame) to get someone to “yes,” they’re not actually getting consent.

    Someone who is being coerced cannot give consent.

  • Reversible: Consent is always reversible. Just because someone says yes now, does not mean they can’t change their mind. Similarly, just because someone says yes now, does not mean they always agree to something.

    Someone who says “yes” always has the right to change their mind and say “no.”

  • Informed: Consent can only be given when someone is fully informed and has the full story of what they’re saying yes to.

    Someone who doesn’t know what to expect cannot fully consent.

  • Embodied: Formerly “enthusiastic” consent, embodied consent is a less ableist approach to saying yes.

    Whereas enthusiastic consent paints a picture of shouting “yes!” with a smile on our face and really, really looking forward to a sexual experience, embodied consent is more nuanced. Embodied consent means we’re staying present in our body, we’re listening to what we truly want and don’t want, and our yes is something we can feel. It’s ongoing and develops over time.

    Someone who says “yes” when their body is telling them “no” is not giving embodied consent.

  • Specific: Consent is specific. When we give consent, we’re generally not giving an everlasting or all-enduring “yes.” More often than not, we’re only saying yes to a specific experience, scene, or encounter.

    Someone who says “yes” to one thing is not saying “yes” to all things.

  • Sober-ish: In a perfect world, none of us would ever be in a position to give consent while under the influence of anything. In the world of safer sex, however, we try to account for realistic situations and realize that there are times when folks may feel comfortable giving consent while not totally sober.

    Someone who is intoxicated past the point of being able to think clearly and on their own cannot give consent.

So What is Consensual Nonconsent (CNC)?

No matter what the scene is, consensual nonconsent is a type of consent that is given by a person who is okay with certain scenes playing out no matter how many times they say “no!” or “stop!”

And believe it or not, consensual nonconsent is valid—as long as it actually adheres to the rules of consent!

Here are just a few ways people practice consensual nonconsent:

  • Rape play
  • Forced orgasms
  • Sleep sex
  • BDSM scenes 

At the heart of CNC lies one core truth: the person saying “no” has already said something along the lines of “yes, but I would like to pretend I don’t consent” or “yes, and you don’t have to ask under these specific conditions.”

yes and no one two white hands
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Why Do People Like Consensual Nonconsent

As with all fantasies, there’s a number of reasons why someone would want to engage in CNC.

For some folks who have been through assault or violence, consensual nonconsent offers a way for them to take back the control they were robbed of. In this instance, consensual nonconsent gives them the ability to experience aspects of their trauma in a pleasurable way, with the ability to say no.

Other folks simply like the taboo! Most of us are taught that “no means no” from an early age; challenging that idea and being able to keep going when someone says no can be titillating.

Finally, consensual nonconsent just might be fun and pleasurable for some folks simply because it’s another way to enjoy sex. When you really think about it, CNC requires infallible trust in someone not to actually take advantage of you. Hot, right?!

Keeping Consensual Nonconsent Safe

If you’re going to give CNC a try, there are a few key components you need to plan out in advance:

  • What exactly is being consented to? If your partner says it’s okay to go down on them when they’re asleep, that doesn’t mean you get to turn it into penetrative sex. If you want to be able to, you need to get consent first.

    And this remains true for no matter what the scene is; if your partner agrees to be consensually raped but not bound, don’t show up with rope or handcuffs. Respect your partner’s consent by only doing what they’ve agreed to.

  • Have a safe word. In a world where no momentarily means yes, you need a new word or gesture that means no. If you don’t have a way for your partner to say no, your CNC is not consensual.

    If the ability to speak is a part of your scene, choose a word to replace “no.” Go for something that’s a total mood killer and would never be said during sex. If speaking isn’t an option, however, find a tactile gesture that the “nonconsenting” partner is able to do at all times throughout the scene.

    If and when you hear that word or see that gesture, stop immediately.

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Plan for Aftercare

No matter what the reasons are for enjoying CNC, it’s a mentally involved sexual activity that warrants aftercare for all involved. Before you’re in the thick of it, make sure you know what your partner(s) need for aftercare:

  • Does the “nonconsenting” partner need to cry? Do they want to be held? Do they need you to remind them you respect them or take care of them another way?
  • Does the other partner(s) need to be validated or reminded that they haven’t crossed any lines? Do they need some sort of affection? Space?

    All of these (and more!) should be discussed and planned for ahead of CNC taking place.

Say “Yes” to CNC

Consensual nonconsent can be a beautiful addition to your sex life if you engage with folks you trust and have all the actual elements of consent in place.

When all parties involved know what is allowed, what is not, and how it can be stopped, CNC can be an opportunity to build intimacy, heal trauma, and more!

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