Can’t versus Won’t in Consensual Non-Consent (CNC)

The topic of Consensual Non-Consent never fails to get people banging heads with each other. Firstly, you have the “relationship” camp and the “session” camp firing arrows at each other. The term “CNC” is used by some to mean an interaction where the agreed boundaries are not negotiated, or are negotiated to be left entirely to the Top’s discretion “without limits”. Others would call that “no-limits play” and reserve CNC to mean a relationship where it is agreed that the Dom or Master’s decision on anything (sexual, lifestyle or otherwise) is not open to negotiation and is final. In this type of relationship, the sub or slave gives consent once at the beginning, and this consent is ongoing and continuous.

Putting aside the session/relationship differences, arguments are often over what “consent” actually covers. At some point someone will use the rhetorical device of the logical extreme, which pushes the “no-limits slave” off a cliff. It’s something like” “But, if you’re CNC and your Master tells you to poke your eye out with a chopstick, would you?” When the answer is “no, of course not”, then the questioner jumps on it as a victory for the fact that there is no such thing as blanket consent.

In logic, this is a form of reductio ad absurdum and usually gets everyone rolling their eyes (or at least the one good eye that hasn’t been poked out by a chopstick). People don’t give blanket consent to someone they think will ask them to do something that might get them killed. CNC is based on trust, and trust is carefully considered and isn’t given lightly. So absurdist extremes, though they seemingly prove something in theory, don’t really apply to most people’s lives in the real world.

But a conversation that often comes up that is more nuanced is the “right to leave”. Many subs and slaves in a CNC relationship will tell you that leaving the relationship is not a decision they are empowered to make. It is not an option for them.

It’s a statement that many non-CNC people (rightfully) don’t understand. Obviously everyone’s freedom is protected under the law, so what’s stopping someone from leaving?

I think the problem is that quite often in the English language we use “can’t” and “won’t” interchangeably. “I can’t come to your dinner party on Friday, I have to stay late at work” really means “I won’t come to your dinner party”. It’s actually still physically possible, it’s just that a choice has been made.

I have a 5 year old Rottweiler who has never in his life been on the couch. I don’t think it even registers in his consciousness that he could get up onto it. It’s just something that he doesn’t do. But, could he? Sure. All he needs to do is bend his back legs and make the leap. I’ve got absolute faith that he never will, but the correct word is “won’t”, not “can’t”.

The world seems to be fuelled on conflict at the moment, and it feels like everyone has a short fuse. Because you’re “technically” right about something doesn’t mean you should box someone into a corner and pummel then with “the facts”. Sometimes it’s kinder to listen to what someone means than what they actually say.

feature image by Felix D’Eon


• Kinkipedia – Consensual Non-Consent
• Cuff Link – Consensual Non-Consent
• Logically Fallacious – Appeal to Extremes
• Logically Fallacious – Reductio ad Absurdum

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