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Guest post: A Feminist Defense of Consensual Nonconsent

Posted in Guest Bloggers, and Sex & Relationships

Rape is undeniably one of the worst crimes. Yet many people, women and feminists among them, have fantasies of sexual force. Kinky feminists often struggle to reconcile their desires with their belief in gender equality.

Since we began dating at Christmas last year, Mizz Honey J and I have explored our mutual love of consensual non-consent. Honey not only enriches my life as girlfriend and play partner, she is also a talented writer. As her first contribution to the blog I asked her to talk about her feminism and how it intersects with her sexuality.

Mz Honey J, sex-positive feminist and guest blogger on Approximately 8,000 Words.

In the 2009 article “Beware the Anti-Feminists,” Cath Elliot oversimplifies the idea behind consensual non-consent by likening it to anti-feminist groups that champion female submission. She questions why on earth women would knowingly choose such lifestyles in a post-feminist world. I am a loud and opinionated Bitch-reading feminist myself and many of the groups Elliot talks about in her article remind me a little too much of the Promise Keepers, but I am not one to condemn a woman who seeks to satisfy herself by losing control. Why? Because I am one of these women.

How does a woman who identifies as a feminist reconcile her desire to submit to her partner during sex? Being somewhat new to kink, I had some trepidations about how submission seemingly went against my ethics. However, I soon realized that I had more power than I thought. Here are five personal responses to the many misconceptions I hear about consensual non-consent:

1. Despite the essence of consensual non-consent being the loss of control, ultimately the situation still depends on my ability to assert control. The key to this is trust and communication. Before we play, my partner and I talk about our boundaries and agree on safewords. During scenes, my partner will make sure that I am not approaching a limit that will endanger my mental or physical well-being. On my end, I know I am expected to communicate when an act becomes too intense. Spokewench points out that “the extensive negotiations engaged in by BDSM people prior to playing are able to counter-balance the extra danger kink can create. Personally, I can think of more times I was pressured into vanilla sex I didn’t really want than times I had kinky play under those circumstances.” Which leads me to reason number two.

2. Consensual non-consent does not necessarily mean rape play. Dusk, in an article for Eden Cafe, suggests that using this phrase instead of anything rape-related is more inclusive of everything consensual non-consent entails — both the physical and psychological domination — and it’s also less traumatizing when talking to a rape victim. Although I have never been raped, I have had sexual relations with strange men while my consent was impaired by drugs. Yet, my craving to lose control remains, because the physical and psychological context is not one of being victimized, but one of fulfilling a need. Outside of this context, I would never compare my experiences with consensual non-consent or rape play to someone’s traumatic experience.

3. Domestic discipline is not the same as consensual non-consent. Cath Elliot oversimplifies the idea of consensual non-consent by likening it to domestic discipline that Taken in Hand uses:

Taken in Handers practise what they call “consensual non-consent,” which basically boils down to physical and sexual chastisement, up to and including rape, as punishment for the woman’s transgressions. It apparently doesn’t matter if she screams and cries throughout her ordeal, no amount of pleading is going to make the “punishment” stop: by dint of the fact that she’s in the relationship in the first place she’s deemed to have consented to any mistreatment and abuse her husband doles out.

Is feminism incompatible with fantasies of rough sex? Photo by Emily.

I can see how many people get the concepts of domestic discipline and consensual-non-consent confused. However, there is a distinct difference. The groups Elliot wrote about are patriarchal in nature. In these relationships, women are not seen as equals but rather lesser beings, incapable of making decisions or asserting power. Although I am engaging in consensual non-consent, outside of the moment’s context my partner still considers me his/her equal.

4. My sexual activities are not how I define myself. Consensual non-consent is something I enjoy, but it is no more a part of me than my love for my cat or my ability to write fiction. Consensual non-consent and submission are how my id works out the stress that is constantly being dumped on my superego. Allowing myself to let go, having my partner take control over me physically and mentally is an amazing release. Furthermore, as someone who constantly struggles with depression and social anxiety, consensual non-consent allows me to take a break from the struggle over control that my mental illness causes me.

5. Ultimately, the way I use my body is my business. It is the reason that I am both pro-choice and pro-sex worker. When feminists team up to castigate other feminists over the choices they make, it mirrors the paternal condescension we face from non-feminists that negates a woman’s ability to make choices in regards to her body.

Of course, these are the reasons why consensual non-consent works for me. I welcome the input of other women who consider themselves feminists to tell me their opinions about consensual non-consent. Hopefully opening a discussion will serve to educate others before they make universal assumptions about what is good for every woman.

Mizz Honey J is not only a bottom and a feminist, but also a fiction writer. She even makes Julienne fries! Find more of her work on The Vagina Zine and The Lipstick Pages.

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  • Corrvin

    Choosing not to talk about non-con fantasies doesn’t make those thoughts go away. It just means that when people are in a relationship, that one person has to hide their thoughts from the others instead of sharing them.

    (I like roller coasters. I like movies with good car chases. I like tackle-tag with tickles. And I like non-con play. And I like having someone I can share each of these with.)

    • Kit

      @Corrvin: Great comment, thanks for sharing! I agree — openness about this, as in so much else, leads to more happiness.

  • Dusk

    Hey there! A fabulous article that mirrors many of my sentiments. Thanks for the shout out as well :)

  • As you can probably guess from my name, this post really resonates with me. I struggled with this for a long time and often feel at odds with feminists who assume that BDSM and consensual non-consent are inherently patriarchal.

    However, point #3 makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it seems a bit like you’re saying that what you do with your partner is ok because it’s confined to certain scenes. Which marginalizes those who consider themselves feminists and who have power exchange dynamics that extend outside the bedroom, or that don’t start and stop with specific scenes.

    I agree that a lot of domestic discipline stuff out there on the internet is deeply sexist and gender essentialist. But there are a lot of different kinds of relationships between “totally egalitarian couple who negotiate discreet scenes” and “traditional marriage where the husband’s word is law because he’s a man.”

    • Kit

      @FeministSub: Thanks I am glad this resonated with you. I’ll be asking Honey to drop in and reply to this in detail.

      Thanks everyone for your comments!

  • Mizz Honey J

    @Corrvin – Exactly! My needs for non-con (as you call it) will not go away simply because I ignore them and being afraid to be judged by feminists won’t make my urges go away either.

    @Dusk – Thanks! Your article was a great inspiration as well (obviously).

    @FeministSub – Thanks for your input! I can see how point #3 makes it sound like my approval of consensual non-consent applies only to scenes. However, if you have a dynamic that extends into your everyday life, there is no reason why anyone should think there’s anything wrong with that. My point is simply this: feminism is highly subjective and because of this, the way in which we express our independence is also subjective. You are right; there are a lot of shades of gray between complete patriarchal male dominance and the discreet arrangement between an egalitarian couple. Although my type of submission is tempered by context, someone else’s may be tempered by comfort. Of course it is far easier for me to write about my own experiences than guess about how others experience consensual non-consent, however, just because my experience differs does not mean I believe that a feminist who lives a submissive lifestyle 24-7 is completely wrong.

  • I think I interpreted point number 3 differently. I think it does indicate that non-consent is acceptable within scenes and not outside of scenes and I agree with that. I think the difference is how you define a “scene.”

    People in 24/7 relationships weren’t always in them. At some point, they negotiated their relationship wherein all parties made their need/wants/desires/limits/etc. clear and that negotiation took place outside of a “scene.” Now they are simply inside of a scene and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

  • Stacey Langley-Watts

    Thanks for writing this. I agree with you.

  • Miriam

    One thing I’d add to Honey’s list is pleasure. IMHO, this is the fundamental difference between consensual non-consent and abuse. In abuse, pain and discipline are employed to obtain obedience or non-healthy sadistic pleasure for the abuser. The abused is neither expected nor intended to enjoy the abuse. In healthy consensual non-consent, pleasure is the goal. Discipline and pains are means to achieve that goal. I think that’s where non-kinky feminists get thrown… it’s hard to understand how pain, humiliation, service, submission, etc. can be employed for the goal of pleasure if you’re not wired that way.

    • Kit

      Thanks for your continued comments. It makes me happy to see this article resonate with so many. Honey is running errands but I will ask if she wants to stop in again this evening when she returns.

    • alex

      Of course, but what happens if a woman has a fantasy, but its not in the mood or is regretting the scene, can she change her mind, under what circumstance, its not an easy answer, so there are number of ways a woman should mitigate the scenario as I’ve mentioned above, nevertheless woman should have that choice and men too.

  • Mizz Honey J

    @Molly Rene – Thanks to your comments I’m seeing that I didn’t word what I meant correctly for number three. Thanks for pointing that out.

    @Miriam – Yes! That is probably the most important difference. Thanks for your input. I probably missed that when I was looking for the finer points.

    And @Stacey – I’m glad you enjoyed!

  • sweetie

    As a feminist and a masochist, I have no problem reconciling the two. Feminism teaches me that my enjoyment is paramount, that my exploration of my sexuality is important and worthwhile to me. What arouses and attracts me is not something to be ashamed of. However, also as a feminist, and as an existential, Simone de Beauvoir loving-feminist, consensual non-consent is too close to bad faith for me. I own my actions – I own my submission, I own my masochism. I choose them and I control them. Why did I do it? Because I chose to do it. Why did I allow him to inflict pain on me? Because I chose for him to do that. Why do I submit to him? Because I choose to, and I can choose not to at any point. There is never point at which I have not consented to what happens. So for me, BDSM is cool, but I personally would never use the term ‘consensual non-consent’ because it suggests that something about the play is non-consensual and cannot be opted out of.

    sweetie xxx

    • Kit

      @sweetie: Thanks for your comment. I have definitely known some masochists, submissives and bottoms who did not engage in “rape play” for reaosns like yours. So I am curious — are you saying you prefer another term for this kind of behavior — calling it perhaps rape play or resistance play — or are you saying that you do not agree with BDSM that includes elements of resistance or fantasy force?

    • alex

      Well its not so simple, because it depends what you are consenting too, some woman are scared and react and chicken out to certain scenes so they must use consensual non-consent to do it. Recall a video of a woman being afraid to jump off the cliff so her partner pushes her, that’s of course dangerous, but you get the idea, or a lifejacket is put on a person and the person is still afraid they will drown despite folks being around them who are swimmers, a person’s hand is held and then the person let’s go the hand, in that circumstance its hard to continue consenting but if its agreed beforehand.

      Bondage in itself can be a form on consensual non-consent it prevents easy movement and leaving the scene.

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  • Jacinta

    Whilst I consider myself an egalitarian, not a feminist, I agree whole heartedly. I have often had people ask why I would allow someone that kind of power over me. What they don’t realise is that I am the one giving the power and can just as easily take it away should it be abused.
    I also suffer from a mental illness and relish the opportunity to ‘let go’ of the constraints I place on myself in order to get through day to day life.
    I find it disappointing that it is often misguided feminists that are doing the most damage to their own cause these days.

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  • alex

    Here is the problem with consensual non-consent, its hard to know when it was consented too, suppose a woman consents to something a week ago, then changes her mind, or she is not in the mood, consensual non-consent eliminates this.

    On the other hand a women who is scared of certain things and wants to be con-sensually dominated may wish to exercise this right, of course we trust the partner would trust and care of that person, but since it is “non-consent” with no safewords,etc its hard to know.

    One idea to mitigate this is explore what you specifically “consenting to a non-consent of”, if its an entire scene it can be an issue and the circumstances, a women for instance who isn’t gagged or water bound, or has electricity used on her may be able to communicate with her partner and is not consenting to something radical.

    However, if a woman is scared of something and wants to surrender power, its an issue, so some compromise must be there, perhaps no gags if no safeword and no waterbondage. Perhaps allow safewords but allow its use for a number of times, perhaps make consequences of a safeword that are not directed at the person, ie something spills and you have to clean it up (aka self-bondage), perhaps allow a safeword only if the person screams over and over again, but then if the scene is repeated again a few times in the future, don’t allow the safeword.

    Still, I agree that woman should be allowed to exercise some sort of consensual non-consent, only that risks while they can’t be eliminated should be mitigated and planned out, in other words more planning and informed consent, bondage in itself can be consensual non-consent, it prohibits escape while being played with assuming the bondage is not too uncomfortable and restricting.

    Perhaps of course, a team of professionals can use consensual non-consent if they are well trained and versed in bondage and the like, in porn there are safewords but its not consensual non-consent usually.

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