Safe, Sane, and Consensual – or SSC – is a cornerstone of the larger BDSM Community. It is announced as a rule in most BDSM groups, online and taught to new members.
I have also seen members of groups say that it “does not work in reality”, that it means nothing, and that it is just a slogan. I have also seen these ideas applauded. I personally saw it as a soap box kindly being set out for me, and I happily took my place and spoke my piece. It was suggested that “good judgement” be used in place of such an idea as SSC, and that you go by what feels good. If it does not feel right, don’t do it. While yes, you should always listen to your gut, these are not rules to live by. They are also not rules for keeping a submissive or slave safe.
I chalk it up to SSC being paraded about, but not really explained. Why, I don’t know. Laziness? Irresponsibility? The assumption that they are three simple terms that anyone should be able to understand. Any number of reasons can exist for why the concept has not been properly explained to those new to BDSM.
I am going to fix that.
What is SSC and how can you apply it so that your can guide your actions with good judgement, recognizing when something doesn’t feel right?
Safe, Sane and Consensual – these simple words actually cover a great many things. When you are talking about BDSM, you are talking about a collection of activities that will, at least seemingly, play with each one of them. Luckily, they can still be broken down and adhered to, no matter the type of play you are into, or how hardcore you are.
Safety is extremely important in BDSM. When whips are flying about, when sharp and pointy implements may be used, it is important to not have harm inflicted. Pain is fine. Injury is sometimes sought by the bottom in a dynamic. Even when cutting, piercing, and hard strikes that leave more than a fading mark take place, safety is still important. I want to consider two scenarios.
John and Jane like to use asphyxiation in their play. Jane finds it easier to reach her orgasm if her breath is restricted, so John will push into her throat as she is nearing climax, so that she cannot breathe.
Marty and Diana enjoy candle and fire play. Diana enjoys it when Marty goes from low temp to high temp candles as he drips wax on her skin. After, Marty commands Diana to “shave” him using a candle to burn the hair off of his legs, arms, chest, and back.
Both of these involve two people in a dynamic, each perfectly willing and happy to fulfill the others particular kink. I decided to create a couple of very extreme and dangerous scenarios to highlight where safety is still involved. Many of us, even in BDSM, would look at these and say “no”. I won’t do actually burning myself, or asphyxiation (I have asthma. I don’t need additional assistance with not breathing, thank you). I enjoy wax play, but only low temps because second and third degree burns can be not only painful but permanently harmful.
John can, however, ensure he knows before play begins how long Jane can hold her breath and recognize when she is in distress and not just having an orgasm. Marty and Diana can study up on fire play, so that Diana understands how flammable hair is. Marty can test Diana’s skin to know just how hot of wax she can take, and he can take steps with higher-temp wax to ensure she gets the sensation she wants without injury. They can also have water, aloe lotion, and a first aid kit on hand to quickly deal with injuries. John should know CPR so that if anything ever goes wrong with his play with Jane, he can help her as he calls 911.
And yes, a phone at hand ready to dial is vital for emergencies.
It is not a bad idea for both participants in a scene to know at least basic CPR, especially for intense and high-impact play. The Dominant in a scene should know what signs to look for to know if a person may be having a seizure, stroke, or heart attack. I would even go so far as to say that it would be a good idea for local communities to reach out to hospitals, emergency rooms, and emergency services to discuss with them the BDSM lifestyle so that members of the community can feel safe and confident when and if they need to call on them.
After Care can also fall under Safety, especially when hardcore play results in cuts, bruises, and abrasions.
My male friends have a simple rule that they break on a regular basis: Don’t stick it in the crazy.
In BDSM, the line that denotes where sanity ends can be not only thin, but extremely wavy and sometimes fractured. The question of sane play gets even more complicated when you come to realize that many people within the community, men and women, use BDSM as a form of catharsis in order to deal with past abuse and assault. BDSM can be a powerful tool to help with a number of mental conditions. The professional Dominatrix that I worked for actually received a few clients on referral from therapists who understood the BDSM lifestyle and what it could offer their patients.
That being said, a few things are good to remember.
1. BDSM is not a replacement for actual treatment or therapy.
2. If your partner has a mental condition that needs treatment or trauma that needs therapy, if s/he is not receiving said treatment, then do not play.
You don’t have to question what sanity is, or whether or not it is okay to play with someone who is bipolar, has dissociative identity disorder, has any of the “manias”, or suffers from bouts of depression. No need to read up on consensual verses objective reality. You only need to know that the person is aware of what they are going into going in and aware of what transpired when coming out. That is what Sane means.
You do need to have open communication with your partner. If you believe that they have a condition that is untreated or are dealing with trauma they have not sought counseling for, help them get what they need outside of play, and do not begin play again until that treatment begins. Most mental conditions are not “cured” and you do not have to wait for them to be. You simply need to know that the person is Healthy. Both of you will enjoy play more. Also, be open with the therapist about your BDSM lifestyle. Some conditions require medication that can complicate play in ways that involve not just pleasure but safety. If the doctor knows what you are doing, he can tailor treatment around the lifestyle so that the health is seen to and pleasure is maintained.
Remember to be compassionate with your partner. Make it clear that play is not being withheld as any kind of punishment, and make sure they understand that you want to ensure the best pleasure both of you can receive from your dynamic. Ensuring good mental health will do that. If your partner fears s/he will not enjoy BDSM once they have treatment, remind them that 1. BDSM is not wrong, that 2. Doing it does not mean you are insane or a bad person and 3. That you will, together, be seeking someone to help who understands BDSM and will respect his/her participation and place in the lifestyle.
After Care also serves as a Sane practice. Where physical after care for injuries keeps you safe, showing care and gentleness after an intense scene can help bring a slave/submissive safely out of head space and back to reality. It can also help them process what they have experienced it, which for me means heightened pleasure then, and in later scenes.
If you have spent any amount of time here, you know how important Consent is to me. In BDSM, consent is paramount. You DO NOT do anything to ANYONE, your slave or not, that you do not KNOW you can do to them.
How consent plays out depends on the dynamic.
It always begins with open communication. Each person defines what s/he wants and needs. Limits are set. Compromises may be made, yes. That is normal in anything. Once all this is done, the dynamic is defined. Top and bottom, whether it is Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, Sadist/masochist, etc each know what will happen in the dynamic, what is acceptable, and what is not. Safe words are set (even Master/slave can use them in some situations, but that is based on the need of that dynamic). Agreements are made. Maybe a formal contract is used, maybe not. Collars may or may not be exchanged at this point. Some do it early, some do it later.
Consent continues throughout play. If a slave finds that her Master is not following the agreed upon limits, constantly pushing her to and trying to push her past them, to the point that for not breaking her limits she is punished, then she needs to end play, discuss this with her Master, and very possibly find a new one. A submissive should be using his/her safe word when needed, and the Dominant should be stopping play once the safe word is called. If a Dom notices the submissive is not using the safe word, as I have discussed before, stop play and deal with it.
If you are going to allow something like alcohol into play (I will only touch on this, I want to expand on this idea later), make sure that before play begins everyone understands what play will entail. Alcohol impedes your ability to maintain limits. It is important that if you are going to break a limit under the influence that you are okay doing so ahead of time.
And ONLY play with someone who can, in a fully informed and educated manner, consent. Sit down and discuss BDSM with them. Explain fully what you want to experience and what you want from them. Talk philosophy. Get into the psychology of the lifestyle. Even if they are new and do not know all of the concepts, make sure that they can speak to you about them in an educated manner. Are they demonstrating the ability to show discernment? Are they understanding and processing concepts, or merely parroting back information? If you are talking to someone who cannot grasp the concepts that underlie BDSM or who does not have the mental capacity to give understanding consent, then DO NOT PLAY.
And there you go. Some basic ideas about Safe, Sane, and Consensual that should guide you to apply them as a standard to any decision that you make in any type of dynamic or intensity-level of play. If you have any ideas about these, recommendations for keeping play enjoyable, safe and sane (healthy), and consensual, please feel free to share them here or pop over to Facebook and find me there. I am active in several communities and my page and profile as well.