Trigger warning: Sexual assault, mentions of rape
All images by Stephanie Lee for Rice Media
One opportunistic afternoon (“Eh, your parents not home ah?”), Jasmine and her partner Eric decided to spice up their sex life at his place.
Jasmine lies immobilised on the living room floor. She whimpers and pleads with Eric to stop as he forcefully yanks down her shorts.
The forceful desirability is what turns her on—all part of a roleplay script.
“He made me want sex and be pleasured by it, though I acted like I didn’t want it at the start.”
At first glance, 22-year-old Jasmine looks like your typical Singaporean Chinese girl. Courteous, bubbly, and studying life sciences and psychology at a local university. The atypical bit surfaces in the self-assurance she displays when asked to share about her sexual kink.
She hasn’t always been this confident—at least not when she first started exploring Consensual Non-Consent (CNC). Still, she had her doubts.
“What if I’m actually raped one day, and I like it? I felt psychotic.”
With a trusted partner, she initiated the conversation. She wouldn’t outrightly call it ‘rape’ though—that’s too strong of a term, Jasmine says. “I want to act like I don’t want and am unwilling to have sex, but actually, I do.”
To her surprise, the conversation turned out fine. Eric, too, wanted to be seduced into bed against his will.
Getting Definitions Clear
My first brush with this concept was over drinks at Holland V with a few girlfriends.
“It’s a thing, okay. It’s called Consensual Non-Consent,” my friend retorted in response to my shock.
As the name suggests, CNC is a sexual kink emulating rape or sexual harassment. Upon further research, I found out that the kink, while shocking for some, is consensual, pre-discussed, and has agreed-upon boundaries.
The reflexive mortification resonates with many who are unaware of the kink. After all, putting a horrible act in positive light begs the question of immorality—the mere thought of enjoying rape play is forbidden, right?
But this desire is more common than you might think. Based on a survey on American sex fantasies, more than half of the respondents have had a rape fantasy, regardless of gender.
Star is another Singaporean CNC practitioner. The 22-year-old, whose pronouns are they/them and is male-presenting, proclaims: “My whole life is taboo—Muslim, non-binary, bisexual. And now, CNC.”
Understandably, not everyone is a fan of something as contentious as a rape kink. Some argue that CNC romanticises rape as alluring, taking away its horrors. They ask what happens when such bedroom fantasies turn into reality.
“Specifically, for women and the gay community, rape is a genuine fear,” Star remarks on the resistance and apprehension around CNC, even for those who are interested. “So I can understand if people become too afraid to explore this kink.”
The C in CNC, Explained
The CNC kink is typically associated with BDSM play, where a violent scene is simulated between a dominant and submissive party. The exhilaration comes from the act of suspending consent.
The fantasy exists as an enigma. Practitioners voluntarily engage in play that seemingly fulfils the definition of rape when the actual encounter would be otherwise traumatic and abhorrent.
For Star, their first exposure to CNC was through TikTok. It was a video that they chucked to the back of their mind—a brief sex-ed nugget during a mindless scroll.
Upon further sexual exploration, Star was gradually drawn to CNC. “I’ve always had a thing with control,” Star, who enjoys both the roles of dom and sub, explains.
Regardless, consent in CNC is essential, they remind me. Everyone’s turn-ons and boundaries must be fully and wholly communicated in advance. To that end, Star (a “soft dom”, as they inform me) explicitly asks for an exhaustive list of likes and dislikes before the act.
Star remembers one threesome involving a sub and a voyeur, where the preliminary communication was done via text.
“My hole is rly tight,” the sub wrote, “and it will hurt, but it’s okay dont worry, just use and manhandle me however u like, even if i resist.” That was Star’s cue that the sub was into CNC too.
Other ways to set consensual boundaries include using safe words, which Star highly recommends.
“It should be something that you would otherwise never say during sex… like ‘pineapple'”.
Interestingly, besides the BDSM association, CNC is an erotic power play that applies to any sexual experience. Beyond penetration, it can also be incorporated into foreplay or other sexual kinks.
An umbrella kink, if you would.
In Star’s threesome, CNC falls under exhibitionism. The sub pretends to be bashful while being watched by the voyeur. But in reality, he was turned on.
CNC and Reclaiming Control
Sexual preferences are diverse and fluid. There’s a slew of reasons why people could be into CNC. This can range from liking the aggression to an affinity for the thrill and fear of the unknown.
The forbidden nature of the kink can also be enticing. Of course, it can just be a straightforward kink.
For most of the CNC community, control is a recurring theme. Childhood trauma, as expected, is one of the culprits.
Star tells me that they grew up with “dictator” parents—referring to their stepmom as “the spawn of satan”.
“Because of how much control I was under at the age when you’re supposed to find yourself, it suffocated me. I didn’t know who I was. I tried to reclaim whatever I lost. That’s what lead to the CNC kink,” Star explains.
Star’s motivation parallels 32-year-old Celine, who had an emotionally-absent father growing up. Clad in a body-fitting black satin dress for our interview, she held an alluring black feline aesthetic.
“I’m very much a people pleaser—I always want my partner to be happy,” Celine explains.
“I enjoy the power play dynamic where I’m a damsel in distress. ‘Oh, I’m so weak and helpless.'” Celine’s demeanour momentarily turns into one of a princess waiting to be rescued.
On the surface, a sub like Celine may seem defenceless in the act. Yet, it is, in fact, empowering for them to choose to relinquish that control.
Is This Truly a Liberation?
Unsurprisingly, feminists are left in a conundrum.
Submissive women could be lauded only because their preferences happen to serve male needs. Are her desires and intention to submit genuinely taken into account? Does this sexual liberation ultimately enable or impair women?
For Celine, the sheer expression of her sexual desires is empowering.
“I know this sounds very ironic, but losing control makes me feel more in control.”
Celine tells me that contrary to the outward power difference, the sub stands equal to the dom. Subs also have a say in the tempo and direction of the script.
“‘Oh no, please don’t cum on my face!’ is obviously a sign for him to,” Celine illustrates.
Ultimately, both parties can orchestrate the scene and withdraw their consent at any time. They can do this, for instance, with a stoplight system: “Yellow” to slow things down and “Red” to stop entirely.
I ask Celine what her stoplight system is like with her partner. “We don’t have safe words because there’s a lot of trust in the relationship.”
She went on to explain that her partner is to be able to differentiate between playful resistance as part of CNC versus genuine disinterest based on her words, tone, and body language.
“Of course, this will only apply to a relationship with a solid foundation and will not apply to everyone,” she cautions.
A Contentious Approach to Therapy
Besides the power dynamic, CNC appears to hold a sense of psychological healing for some sexual assault (SA) survivors—at least according to the community.
For Star, it happened when they first started their sexual exploration at the age of 20.
They met a man in his early 30s through Grindr and agreed to a non-penetrative hook-up at his place. However, he disregarded Star’s boundaries and took advantage of their naivety.
“It made me feel powerless,” Star describes the emotional aftermath.
“There was a brief period after the SA where CNC played a significant role in my sex life. I think it’s common for SA victims to be drawn to CNC.“
On the flip side, CNC can also amplify the guilt and disgust surrounding sex and self-identity after the incident.
“Your past experience of non-consent has tainted your perception of sex,” Star elaborates. “So when you crave CNC and act on it, it feels like you are reliving your SA experience.”
Still, Star recognises that it’s all part of the process of facing trauma. “After all, there’s still ‘C’ in CNC, you know, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
But as a dom, the kink affirms Star that there is a consensual way to evoke such desires.
“I can do it right. I am better than those who abused me,” they declare.
Having experienced the trauma, Star is also exceedingly respectful of the sub’s boundaries. “I’m careful not to play the role of my abusers.”
Not a One-Size-Fits-All
Granted, there’s very little discussion and research on CNC as a therapeutic kink. Dian Handayani, a sex therapist and the director of trauma-informed psychological therapy service Nambani, cautions that this might not be fitting for all SA survivors.
“Especially in the early phases of trauma recovery, PTSD symptoms such as dissociation and flashbacks might be present. They can be very destabilising,” Dian cautions.
She went on to forewarn that the last thing anyone wants is to recreate those triggering scenes that an SA survivor and their play partner might not be equipped to deal with.
“However,” Dian admits, “it can be empowering and cathartically fulfilling at later phases when done right.”
With informed consent, negotiation, clear insights around their trauma triggers, and the ability to cope with them, Dian believes survivors can even navigate potentially triggering scenes.
Star likewise mentioned that they do experience flashbacks during CNC. However, having processed the trauma, roleplaying does not trigger extreme emotions in them and is ultimately still pleasant.
Still, Dian emphasises that survivors should exercise extreme caution with CNC—taking into account both the potential cathartic impact and emotional triggers. “Most importantly, be transparent, lucid, and communicative about your boundaries. And choose your play partner carefully too.”
The Thin Line Between CNC and NC
Given its close associations, the concerns about CNC turning into or abetting rape are undeniably legitimate.
Star clarifies, “CNC is not rape. You can say no to CNC anytime. If they’re not respecting it, that’s non-consensual (NC). That is rape.”
Still, you’re not alone if your internal alarm bells are going off and wondering if CNC doms are potential sex offenders. I admit I had my reservations too.
Dominant parties of CNC are often seen as ‘red flags’ in online conversations. Specifically, men who have not experienced SA trauma.
By design, the dominant party typically possesses physical leverage to act out the hostile scenario. This can leave the sub in a vulnerable position and in danger of boundaries being crossed.
Nevertheless, the principle of finding a trusted partner and safeguarding yourself stands for any sexcapade. Boundaries should never be crossed, and the offending party must be taken to task when they do.
What Our Discomfort Reveals
Understandably, this kink can come off as abrasive and a culture shock for most of us who grew up in conservative Singaporean households.
If we counteract awkward sex talk with things like lanjiao and kuku bird, how can we have mature conversations about something as atypical as rape play?
Jasmine rationalises why mainstream reactions to CNC might be antagonistic. “Without proper understanding, the public might misinterpret CNC as condoning and fetishising rape.”
“Even people who enjoy CNC feel this shame when misinformed,” she adds.
“Still, the conversation around destigmatising sex and celebrating our sexuality has to start somewhere. Generally, I feel that society is increasingly receptive. It must be done sensitively to others’ preferences and thresholds.”
Regardless, Jasmine cautions against projecting one’s sexual kink preference onto others.
As Dian cautions, “CNC is not a license for rape and sexual assault.”
If rape and sexual assault happened during a CNC act, the fault ultimately still lies with the perpetrator, not the victim who enjoys the kink.
“In the end,” Jasmine intones, “it’s not just a kink. It’s about you owning your identity and figuring out your interests.”
Similarly, Star champions this iteration of sexual liberty.
“If it is a deep psychological thing that can serve you, good for you. Suppose it’s just for fun, good for you, too. The bottom line: It’s your choice.”
Unpacking this sexual kink has been a moral whirlwind for me. It contested all my preconceived notions of what is and isn’t permissible.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t be too quick to embrace our initial aversions. Instead, hold that space and have the curiosity to dismantle our beliefs, challenge perceptions, and be open to understanding that sexual kinks go far beyond what we know and are used to.