What is Consensual Non-Consent?

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**Trigger warning:
This article contains discussions involving rape fantasies. Although we will be focusing on consensual actions, the content you’re about to read may be triggering for you. 

Consensual non-consent (sometimes referred to as “rape play”) involves two consenting adults participating in a fantasy where one adult pretends not to consent to the sexual activity that’s happening. 

I’ve highlighted two words in that sentence because they are extremely important when talking about consensual non-consent.

The first word I want to highlight is “consent.”

What is consent? Well, it’s giving permission for something to happen. Plain and simple. Although there are many discussions in today’s world about what consent is and isn’t, in its most basic form, it’s that “yes means yes”. 

For ages, the rallying cry amongst consent advocates was “no means no”. This ideology was soon thought of as too vague because it could really mean that any sexual pass is warranted unless someone says no or declines it.

“Yes means yes” is the new term, and it simply means to say that no permission is given or assumed until you hear that “yes.” 

You can read our straight-forward guide to consent here - but the gist on consent is that consent is not something you have until it’s taken away, it’s something you don’t have until it’s given to you, and even then, it can still be taken away. 

It’s a fluid conversation.
An ever changing one, too. 

The second word I want to draw attention to is “pretend.” 

The emphasis on pretending, roleplaying, and fantasizing is important when we’re talking about dangerous sexual activities like consensual non-consent. 

This is a fantasy. One that has been discussed at length, with boundaries set beforehand. Safewords are chosen and limits are put into place, and the actual scene itself takes place afterward or at another time. 

Although someone may be saying “no”, it’s not a real “no” because the terms of this scene have been discussed beforehand. In CNC scenes, the “struggle” is part of the fun, so saying “no” or “trying” to get your partner away from you could be considered part of the scene. 

If the person really wants to end the activity, a safe word (other than “no”) is put into place and if this safe word is used, everything stops immediately. 

What is Consensual Non-Consent?

Consensual non-consent (commonly referred to as CNC, which I personally prefer to the crude “rape play” term) occurs when consenting adults agree to perform an act of non-consensual activity that has been talked about prior to (and actually consented upon). 

Why are “rape fantasies” a thing? 

Some may wonder why on earth you’d want to imagine being raped. As a survivor of sexual violence, I totally understand why many people find this sexual desire very confusing.

Although you are fantasizing about being “taken” nonconsensually, there is so much more at play during a CNC scene. 

While I will dive more into why people like CNC below, let me tell you this: so much of the time, it’s about surrender. As with any submissive sexual activity, there is a kind of freedom that comes with “giving up” your power in the bedroom and there is an incredible connection between two people who are able to maintain fantasies like this.

It’s about the flood of hormones and emotions that come from feeling like someone else holds your pain and pleasure, and everything in between in the palm of their hands. 

“We all deal with power-related situations every day. Like it or not (mostly not), we find ourselves in circumstances where someone has power over us or vice versa, such as with our parents or children or bosses at work…” clinical sexologist Sarah Melancon of the Sex Toy Collective tells Sofia Gray. 

“Combine the psychology around power with a general cultural taboo around sex and it is not surprising that the fantasy of being forced to have sex is appealing.” 

Melancon goes on to explain that fantasies about non-consent can mean many different things to people: “For some, fantasies of forced sex may be appealing because it feels ‘wrong’ - for others it may be about being so desired that their partner simply can’t help it.”

What is RACK and why should I know that acronym? 

RACK stands for “risk-aware consensual kink”. This is a term that was created to cover some gaps in the SSC (safe, save consensual) lingo, which is the more popular model of consent in BDSM communities. 

RACK asks: 

  • Is everyone giving consent?
  • Do all participants acknowledge and accept the risks involved in the scene(s)?
  • Does everyone take personal responsibility for their role in the scene(s)? 

RACK is about taking responsibility and understanding that there are risks to what you’re doing. In consensual non-consent that can be something physical (like understanding there is a chance you could have bruises from being pinned down, for example) to something more mental health-related, such as potentially being triggering or damaging to your mental health afterward. 

Destigmatizing the Appeal of CNC Play 

I’m going to say this once, loud and clear: there is nothing wrong with consensual non-consent if it’s done properly. In fact, you may be surprised at just how common this fantasy is. 

Research has shown just how common these types of fantasies are: 

  • 61% of women have had fantasies about forced sexual activity, with 21% of those women saying it’s a fantasy they have often. 
  • 54% of men have had fantasies about forced sexual activity, with 11.5% saying they fantasize about it often. 
  • 68% of non-binary individuals have fantasized about forced sexual activity before, with 31% of them saying they fantasize about it often. 

You’re not a bad person for fantasizing about consensual non-consent and you’re not crazy for fantasizing about being forced to have sex. 

However, there is a very real separation that needs to be there between actual non-consensual activities (such as rape or sexual assault that is completely non-consensual) and roleplaying scenarios of rape where consent has been given prior to the event. 

CNC can bring up some unexpected emotions...

And if you do participate in CNC roleplays, you may be surprised that this may bring up some difficult feelings for everyone involved. Of course, it doesn’t always - but it can, so you should be aware of that before getting involved.

If you find that you have been triggered during a CNC roleplay or are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, stop immediately using a safe word that has been agreed upon beforehand. If you find that you are having mixed feelings about the scene afterward, take special care to connect with your partner (we’ll talk about CNC aftercare at the end of this article). 

If you, at any point, find yourself having impulses that involve non-consensual rape, these are things you should speak with a mental health professional about. Similarly, if you find yourself fantasizing about real rape scenarios (and therefore putting yourself in dangerous situations - a kind of self-harm by proxy), this is also something a mental health professional can help you work through.

With all of that being said, there are very valid reasons people find CNC play sexually arousing…

  • It’s about control.
    Being in a position of “power” over your submissive is a very intoxicating feeling, even though consent has been given before the activities have begun and a safeword can be used at any point throughout the scene. You may find yourself drawn to CNC play because it takes the role of “dominant” to another level. 
  • It’s about trust.
    The kind of trust between a dominant and submissive is never more intense than during the middle of a scene where one partner is completely vulnerable and the other completely responsible. Having this intimate bond with a partner is one of the reasons many people find CNC play so arousing. It can even be considered an emotional bonding experience because there is so much trust between the two parties. 
  • It’s about being taken off guard.
    Although things have been agreed upon before you begin, it doesn’t mean CNC play can’t take you by surprise. Say you’ve agreed and decided on all the things you want to happen in the roleplay but you’ve told your partner that you want the roleplay to happen at a time when you least expect it, making it feel like a very real situation. This kind of anticipation and the false sense of danger that comes from being “surprised” by a forceful partner can be really thrilling. 
  • It’s about surrender. 
    Giving yourself to someone in this kind of way is, some might say, the ultimate form of surrender. Allowing your partner to take control in a way that puts you in a very vulnerable and “helpless” position is the ultimate “letting go” experience that many submissives crave through their sexual activity. 

To better understand the desire to engage in CNC, Dr. Justin Lehmiller found some personality patterns in those who enjoyed these fantasies. 

All in the imagination.

People with overactive imaginations and those who reported fantasizing most often (about anything sexual) were the people who were most likely to want some kind of forced sex play. This suggests that fantasies like this may be nothing more than the products of a wandering mind, says Lehmiller. 

If you can separate sex and emotion, this might appeal to you. 

One of the other things Lehmiller noticed in his studies was that people who had unrestricted sociosexual orientations (in other words, people who were able to see sex as a physical thing instead of an emotional one) were people who enjoyed these types of forceful fantasies. 

Thrill-seekers are drawn into this kind of thing. 

People who see themselves as adventure and thrill-seekers also fantasize about CNC more often because of their heightened need for excitement. 

Are sexual assault victims more likely to be drawn to forceful sex fantasies?

One of the things people think first when they consider CNC is victimization. Are people wanting this simply because they have experienced sexual violence before and it made some sort of psychological imprint on them?

According to Lehmiller, people with a history of sexual victimization were more likely to report forced sex fantasies.

“This finding was somewhat surprising to me because it was contradictory to previous research which found no link between sexual history and forced sex fantasies. However, most studies finding no linkage were based on small student samples,” Lehmiller explains. 

The samples used in Lehmiller’s studies were of a much larger, more diverse crowd (ages 18-87), which could explain the discrepancy. Of course, not all sexual assault survivors would find this kind of fantasy intriguing. 

As for why some people who have been sexually victimized may find themselves fantasizing about forceful sex, Lehmiller says: “I suspect that forced sex fantasies may be a way that some people with a history of victimization try to take control of a previous experience over which they had no control, because, in these fantasies, it is them who is in control.”  

How to Maintain Consent During Non-Consensual Fantasies

Maintaining consent during a fantasy where the words “stop”, “no” and “don’t” as well as gestures that mimic fear, pain or a struggle to get free are happening all at once can be difficult. How do you know what’s part of the fun and what is really your partner saying they need to stop? 

A strong sense of self is required. 

Sarah Melancon chimes in with the idea that the submissive partner in a CNC situation needs to be deeply in touch with their personal sense of boundaries. To be able to assertively say “this is the line and we can’t cross it” and stick to the boundaries you’ve made for yourself in the heat of the moment can be difficult. 

Along with that, she explains the importance of accountability on the part of the dominant partner.

“The dominant partner needs to be very open to hearing when they have taken missteps and that is something very hard for many people to do. Most of us feel about insecure about our sexual behavior underneath the surface, so it can feel really bad to know you have crossed someone’s boundaries.” 

Safewords, of course. Oh - and gestures (in case your mouth is...busy). 

Safewords and gestures are absolutely critical when it comes to dangerous BDSM play and that includes CNC roleplays. A safeword should mean all activity stops completely and immediately. 

Many people use the “stoplight system” - with RED meaning “stop”, YELLOW meaning “slow down” and GREEN being an assurance to keep going. 

If you’re looking for some safeword and gesture ideas, check out our ultimate guide to safewords

Talk about this (a lot) before it happens. 

To participate in CNC fantasies, the communication level between you and your partner must be at an all-time high. The submissive must give full, informed consent to every single thing that is going to happen during the roleplay. 

Discuss this, again and again, even when it feels like you’ve hammered out every last detail. Go over boundaries, hard and soft limits, safewords, and signals (more on that later). Be as specific and honest as possible during these conversations. 

Listen to and respect what your partner is saying and feeling about the CNC fantasy. Although talking in-depth about this kind of roleplay takes some of the “allure” out of it, it’s absolutely essential in maintaining a healthy fantasy going forward. 

If you do want to add an allure of mystery and anticipation, you can set the rules and boundaries in place and allot a certain amount of time within which the roleplay can be conducted. 

For example, the submissive (or bottom) in the situation can say that they want to be taken by surprise and this roleplay should happen spontaneously between Monday and Thursday of this coming week. This way, you are still able to have the thrill of being caught off guard and the security of the boundary conversation. 

Describe the scene ahead of time. 

During these talks, describe the sexual activities you’re going to force your partner to do in as much detail as possible. This can even be considered a type of foreplay for some people. 

The most important part is to allow your partner to agree or disagree with anything you propose and (if you’re the submissive one), be sure to speak up about your limits and make them known. 

Stay sober and clear. 

While drugs and drinking can make a rowdy night even kinkier, during any type of dangerous BDSM play, your mind should be clean and clear. Avoid alcohol or drugs leading up to the CNC roleplay so both you and your partner are going into this with a clear head. 

Be mindful of your partner’s past experiences. 

If your partner has participated in CNC before, they may have some things they enjoyed and some things they really didn’t enjoy about the situation. Similarly, if your partner has a past that involves sexual violence of any kind, they may have certain things that are very off-limits when it comes to CNC play. 

CNC works best between two partners who know and trust each other completely - so if this is you, be mindful of your partner’s past and take it into consideration when staging the CNC scene. 

Aftercare for CNC

If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘aftercare’, it can best be described as exactly what it is: care and connection (whatever that looks like for you and your partner) that happens after you’re done whatever it is that you did. 

“Reconnecting in a loving or caring way afterward can be very helpful to decompress and process the experience you’ve just shared. The BDSM world calls this ‘aftercare’,” explains Melancon. 

“After a very intense sexual experience [like CNC], hormones like endorphins and adrenaline can crash, which is often termed as a ‘drop’. This can include both physical and emotional symptoms that range from tiredness or irritability to deeper feelings of hopelessness or emptiness.” 

Given the nature of CNC, it’s particularly important for the dominant partner to offer care and reassurance to the submissive as well as caring for themselves. 

“Sub space” and the drop. 

A sub drop refers to the sadness or conflicting emotions a submissive partner may feel once the rush of the experience has ended. One 2015 study explained that 46% of the 230 female participants experienced feelings of tearfulness and anxiety after sex. 

To counteract these feelings, actions can be taken - but they vastly vary depending on each person. Some people just need an extra few moments of affection after sex, some people like to listen to music, others like to journal or have a snack. All of these are valid forms of aftercare and after a CNC scene, both partners need to do what they feel is needed to level themselves (and each other) out. 

“Dom space” and the drop. 

Dom space (sometimes referred to as top space) is an intense, altered state of being that a dominant person may feel during or after a BDSM scene (such as CNC, for example). People who have experienced it recall that it’s similar to being high on drugs - there are amplified sensations and maybe even a feeling as though you’re out of your own body. 

Dominant partners must say in control (even if they are in dom space) during a scene to be able to respect their submissive’s needs and boundaries. Coming out of dom space is considered a drop, similar to what submissive’s feel in their drop. 

Talking it out. 

There’s no magic formula for aftercare, there is no “one cure fits all” when it comes to reconnecting and leveling out after an intense experience like CNC. The more intense the experience was, the more time and effort you both may need to come back down. 

Consider just talking with each other. 

Asking “what did you like about that experience?” or “what did you not like about that experience?” can be really helpful. Moving past the experience, it may also be helpful to just take a few moments to reconnect and chat about life, love, or what you want to have for dinner.

Care for yourselves and each other in the ways you both need, and allow yourselves a few moments of calm and connectivity after your CNC experience.