Standing for “consensual non-consent”, CNC is an extreme form of a Total Power Exchange (TPE) dynamic in BDSM play. It’s where two or more people agree that when the submissive(s) says “no”, they actually mean “yes”.
CNC is readily confused with rape play (in which consenting adults pre-agree that the Dominant partner will overcome the submissive for sex acts) but CNC also encapsulates activities beyond sex. Is the submissive not keen on socialising this evening? Bad luck, the Dominant wants to and their power exchange relationship incorporates CNC, so they’re both heading out to see friends. Did the submissive say they weren’t going to wash up the dishes this evening? Well, the Dominant doesn’t fancy doing them, so off to the sink the submissive goes.
When you consider that the dynamic may result in the Dominant seemingly forcing the submissive to do something they refuse to do, it’s clear to see how this kink might be regarded as a taboo sexual preference. The critical thing to remember with CNC is this is consensual between adults who trust each other and prior negotiation has taken place for the power play to occur in most circumstances – the specifics of which are also discussed before CNC play begins. As with all forms of BDSM play, having a safeword and action is advisable. (An action?! Yes, because it’s tricky to articulate a safeword with a ballgag in your mouth…) When the safeword or action is given by the submissive, “no” really does mean “no”.
There’s an emphasis on consent in CNC arrangements because there has to be a barrier between permissible and non-permissible sex. When we consider whether a sexual act was consensual, we are thinking about sex in regards to the law (and morality but that’s harder to police). How does the legal system view sex? Did sexual activity between two or more people happen because they both (or all) agreed to it, or did (at least) one person not give their consent?
And yet sex is undeniably more complex once we look at sex within the realms of consensual sex. Sometimes people have sex to appease a partner when they’d prefer to roll over and go to sleep. Others agree to try new experiences (sex parties, impact play, adopting characters…) because they care for their partner and want to explore their partner’s fantasies even though they might not share that same fantasy. And sometimes trusting adults agree that one can overcome the other even when they say “not tonight, Darling”.
How do we distinguish when one party concedes to their partner’s pursuit of pleasure from when they’re willing to do something because it’s their desire, too? I feel the answer lies somewhere between those involved. CNC isn’t just a once-discussed arrangement. The most successful relationships are rooted in open communication, regular self-reflection and sharing with a partner. It can be a good idea to schedule a time to honestly discuss your power dynamic: What’s working? What’s not? Are your life circumstances affecting how you feel about CNC?
Reflect, talk, then talk some more.