SSC or RACK … Why Not Both?

So, SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) has been a topic of discussion in a Dominant group that I am part of. I know I’ve talked about it before, in terms of it being dismissed completely from the individual mindset in BDSM. This latest conversation is more about how SSC is applied, not dismissing its use completely. Instead, the concern is how SSC is used to pass judgement on things that we don’t like – specific kinks – rather than its application to a relationship as a whole or the philosophy of the BDSM community.

A fair complaint. It does get used that way, and no that is not proper to do. I did a little more research into the correct usage and philosophy behind SSC and I found a few interesting resources. I’m going to share them here, and talk about my own evolving ideas about SSC and something that one of the links proposed (about four years ago) should replace it: RACK.

Wikipedia’s Pretty General Definition of SSC, with respect to the controversy between its usage and RACK.

Wikipedia’s Pretty Good Definition of RACK that will come into play with what I talk about below.

Replacing SSC with RACK for personal dynamics.

How a submissive applies SSC to her own dynamic and life.

One of the takeaways I got from reading – SSC and RACK both have a place in the BDSM community. The question, then, is how to reconcile the ideas and tackle one of the problems presented in how SSC is used – judgment of others.


While some controversy remains about its exact origins, one thing is pretty clear about SSC: it was originally intended to be a guidepost. The term was simply meant to differentiate consensual S&M activity, primarily in the gay/leather scene, from abuse and unhealthy, self-harming activities. As the Leather scene grew into the wider and more open BDSM scene we have today, SSC was used to differentiate between all kinds of responsible kinks that can/do fit the guidelines, and the activities that are harmful and abusive.

I won’t go to much into the application of SSC, since I’ve already discussed it for the purposes of evaluating relationships and specific activities. What I will expand on is that it is primarily used as a kind of overview. It is something to bear in mind when negotiating terms with a prospective partner. It is something to keep in mind when considering the types of activities one will take part in. From a community standpoint, it is also for determining the types of activities that the community will support and educate members on.

By community I mean the online communities many of us participate in at places like Fetlife and Facebook. I mean the local BDSM communities that organize Munches and kink activities for people in the lifestyle. I also mean those rare, but apparently existing, secret societies, whether they be on college campuses or across the world, who offer their members privacy, exclusivity, and kinky participation.


Risk Aware Consensual Kink. This I haven’t really discussed here. What is the difference between SSC and RACK?

Well mainly – application.

Where SSC is your philosophical overview as a community and a dynamic, RACK relates to your attitude within the dynamic and most especially during a session. In simplest terms, it is being vigilant and aware of yourself and your partner. It is knowing how to safely perform an SSC activity, how to look for warning signs, listening for your partner to safe word (or using your safe word if you need it), and looking for signs of sub/Dom space that indicates that things could move into pleasurable, but risky areas. A slave/submissive/bottom in sub-space is less likely to safe word as a limit is approached, because he or she is experiencing the euphoric feeling brought on by the pleasure they are receiving in their role. A Dominant/Master/Top in Dom-space experiences a similar effect that can make them slower to respond to safe words and less aware of signs that indicate they are close to their partner’s limits. Both “spaces” are possibilities, and are not bad things. Both partners, however, have to remain focused and aware of what is happening between them and around them.

Combining the Ideas

Both SSC and RACK have important roles in BDSM. How do we look at them together, then?

Suppose we have John and Jane. Jane is the Dominant, and John is the submissive because I’m a female Dominant and want to look at it that way. The two of them are in a negotiated dynamic, where they have evaluated their limits together and agreed to the types of activities they will take part in and what amount of power that John will hand over to Jane. This practice is encouraged in creating a dynamic between partners as being safe, sane, and consensual, and very likely the communities that John and Jane are part of have resources to help them create strategies to approach the negotiation successfully.

One of the activities that John and Jane both want to explore in the SM aspects of their dynamic is knife play. John had an ex-girlfriend once pull a knife on him, unexpectedly, during sex. That ended the relationship, but sometimes he remembers her fondly and wonders what it would have been like, had he been prepared for what she was doing. Jane enjoys inspiring fear during intimate encounters, but is unsure of actually cutting someone for obvious safety reasons. John and Jane turn to their community to learn more about knife play and the extent to which they can safely play in this activity.

Their communities are, shall we say, divided. Some members immediately decry that knife play, especially knife play that leads to cutting, is not SSC. Others say it is SSC, since both are consenting to it, so go for it. In their local community, the more experienced leaders of the community decide to hold a class on knife play and cutting so that those interested can learn how to play safely with a high-risk activity. After attending the class, which includes how-tos, safety measures, warning signs, and allows for some limited hands on activity for learning-application purposes, Jane and John decide to move forward. John sets some extra limits before play begins and he and Jane both are mindful of his safe word, their respective “space” states, and warning signs that something may be or go wrong. Because John wants to explore a little bit of cutting, Jane invites a trusted community member to also attend the session as a watcher, for an added degree of safety. The person is another submissive whose Dominant Jane is friends with. She will just be a service submissive in the session, and will not be otherwise involved in any play.

In this example, John and Jane both apply the SSC philosophy to their overall approach to BDSM and RACK to their specific session activities. The local community correctly applies SSC in deciding to host a class about knife play and cutting, and RACK in the class itself, demonstrating safe play and providing opportunities for practice. The other community members, both decrying the activity or simply saying “play on” are not demonstrating RACK (neither provided any safety tips or demonstrated how knife play and cutting where not SSC activities) or correct application of the SSC philosophy.

SSC is not for simply putting down another person’s kink just because you don’t like it or it is a hard limit for you. While following your limits is safe for you, your limits will not be the same as another person’s. Unless you can demonstrate empirically why an activity is not SSC, using the philosophy to discourage an activity is simply improper and in the long run, potentially harmful and dangerous. It is also not an umbrella for giving wide approval for an activity, without advice or instruction for how to make said activity safe for inexperienced participants.

Are there times to draw on SSC when discussing activities? Yes.When? When those activities, at face value, do not fit the guidelines of being safe, sane, and consensual. Again, I go into that in my previous SSC post, so I won’t repeat myself. As a community and when building and evaluating our dynamics, it is important to bear those guidelines in mind when deciding who we will play with, what we will do, and how we will do it. RACK comes in when we are doing the activity, keeping ourselves and our partners safe.

Think of the combination of the two this way.

SSC guidelines are traffic laws, your speed limit, where you can make what types of turns, traffic signs, etc. RACK is then the actual activity you do in driving. How you hold your hands on the wheel, your pattern for checking mirrors, your guidelines for answering calls. How you signal stops and turns. How you monitor your car for maintenance needs and when you need gas.

In other words, SSC is a guiding principle and philosophy. RACK is how you actually act.


Limits, Boundaries, and Why You Don’t Just Do What I Say

I mentioned briefly in Submission and Respect the need for Dominant and submissive both to respect limits. I wanted to touch on that just a little bit more.

A great question was asked on a forum: Should an s-type do whatever the D-type wants, if pleasing the D-type makes the s-type happy?

I Said No

The reason I answered no is because the question is, to me, the D-type flip of the “I have no limits” statement from a submissive.

“Whatever” leaves a lot of space for a lot of things, and not all of them are nice. If the answer to the question is yes, does that mean, then, that I can …

  • Command my s-type to stab him/herself in the leg with a knife?
  • Tell my submissive to cut off his/her big toe and pickle it for me?
  • Go to a club and tell my submissive that he/she must go up to everyone and lick their shoes? No asking. He/she has to just do it.

But Holle, you say, those are not safe activities. That can cause real harm to the s-type. The last one – other people may not be consenting to the activity. What if someone decides to kick the submissive or harm them? What if they are arrested for harassment?

To which I say, I am a sadist. I enjoy inflicting pain on people, but even better if the person has to inflict it upon themselves. As to the last, how deliciously humiliating would it be to watch him/her so humiliated …

Now Holle, you say, you know better. We’re talking about things that would be outside of a limit and outside the realm of BDSM. Safety and Consent are cornerstones of the lifestyle. You say that all the time.

And I don’t disagree with you, hence my answer being “No”.

There is what I call a fantasy ideal – that you can look at someone and say “I want you to do whatever I say” and they will say yes. No caveats. No “buts”. Just “yes”. It’s delicious if they hesitate just ever so slightly before answering, of course. They have to feel that little twinge of doubt and wonder.

It has to scare them and excite them.

The fantasy exists for both participants, the D-type and the s-type. This is just a fantasy. If – and I use a big “if” here – if it does happen, it happens between two people who already know and understand each other in very deep and personal ways. That is the only way that something like that could work.

That is not really the fantasy, though. In the fantasy, you don’t spend many, many years getting to know the person before taking that leap of faith. You do it after a few months, a few days. Maybe a few minutes. You’re the new worshiper in the pews getting up to say Hallelujah and offer yourself up to your new goddess.

That is not – or at least should not – be reality. It is certainly not BDSM.

To declare that you have no limits is to not know yourself. You have them. You may not want to admit them. You may not know them or understand them.

Make no mistake. You have them. Otherwise, you would very likely not be alive. Limits are part of our survival instinct. They go beyond merely the “I won’t do this because it could kill me” idea of staying alive, however. They take into account how you were raised, your experiences, your preferences, and your subconscious triggers. You have limits for a reason. Even the ones you want to push and break exist because something happened to put them there. It may be something that you want to overcome.


They still exist. You still have to recognize them, and you still have to admit them to your D-type.

Why are you using D-type/s-type?

While the Dominant/submissive dynamic is a ongoing negotiation of limits and power exchange, it is not the only dynamic in BDSM that uses and recognizes limits. If you are not into power exchange, but enjoy scenes as a sadist or a masochist, giving or receiving pain in different forms – you have limits. The sadist has limits of the type of pain she will inflict. The masochist has limits to the type and level of pain he will receive.

Even total power exchange relationships, the Master/slave dynamics, have limits. Master and slave will negotiate when the scene takes place. Is it 24/7 or a weekend servitude? What are the terms of service? A house slave? A sexual slave? Both? Perhaps the Master has a service slave to assist in SM sessions with another masochist, or in a D/s scene where the slave either assists the Dominant in disciplining a submissive or serves both the Dominant and submissive in varying capacities of equality. Whatever service you can think of, you can create a dynamic to have a slave for it. That slave, once the scene begins, gives up all power within the limits of the negotiated scene. Typically, the negotiation happens once. When a scene is to happen, it is understood what limits are in place, and that the Master’s word is law within those limits. Unless something extraordinary has taken place, there are no further negotiations between scenes. There may not even be a safe word (depending on the type of play, in my personal opinion).

So, limits happen, even in TPE dynamics. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either inexperienced, uneducated, or dangerous.

But I Really Have No Limits

Again, you do.

I harp on it because I see this every day.

A discussion will happen about limits. I will share my piece. Others will share theirs. The experienced, long-time lifestylers will chime in, typically with how yes, limits happen. Limits are important. You can negotiate within your dynamic how you want to treat them, but they are a reality. And still someone will come in and announce that they have no limits. Or yes, whatever the Dominant says goes. No caveats.

If you say that you have no limits, then I ask you, what are you giving me?

In a power exchange, you are handing power over to me. If you have no limits, then what are you handing over? If you have no limits, then why can’t I just do whatever to you, without the need for negotiation and contract? You have no limits, so I can walk up to you and begin flogging you. I found my leather strap. I could use it on you as well.

It’s not a pleasant leather strap. It is thick, stiff, and forked. It hurts. Depending on how much pain you actually like, it is not necessarily a good hurt.

But you have no limits, so what do I care? I can beat you with it.

And we’re back full circle to the discussion. You understand now, I hope, why you have limits.

You have them for your safety. You have them for your sanity. Remember, they formed for a reason, even if you are not aware of them.

You have them so that you have power. Those limits are the “no” you say to people who want to do “whatever” to you. And when you hand power to me, you tell me what of those limits I get to bypass automatically, what power you give up to me.

And then you tell me the rest of your limits. You tell me if the are hard limits, non-negotiable will-never-happen things. You tell me if you want to push them, and when.

And I graciously accept that power from you, and we begin our journey into my acceptance of your submission to me and your acceptance of my dominance over you.

What If I Don’t Know My Limits?

That is a better question that simply stating you have none.

Saying you have no limits shows that you are either reckless or you do not know yourself.

Admitting that you do not know your limits shows that you are trying to explore yourself. Not knowing your limits is okay, if you understand that you do not know them. Dominants have ways to help you explore and find them.




I recommend two steps to exploring and finding limits if you do not know them. These are not the only things you will do. These are … the basis point for this type of dynamic:

  • Set up soft limits for yourself. These will be artificial limits, which is fine. As you push those limits, you will get insight into just how far you can go. When the limit is pushed, negotiate afterward your new limit. Do this until you find yourself close enough to your true limit to set it. This takes a lot of patience from both submissive and Dominant.
  • Use the Stop Light Safe Word System. It may be trademarked. I don’t know. The Stop Light System is simple. The Dominant checks on you throughout the session. You respond Green if all is good and you can keep on. You respond Yellow if you are close to the limit, but not yet breaching it. You call Red if you are close enough to the limit that it is in danger of being broken.

Most important of all, honor your partner’s limits. Know and recognize what limits your Dominant or submissive has, and respect them. This means that you do not ask your submissive do to something that they have stated is a hard limit. If you are a masochist, you do not ask for a type of pain play that your Sadist has told you will not happen.

And be prepared. Exploring limits is a good thing. When you find them, you may find that you and your partner are no longer compatible. How did that happen? Because not knowing your limits meant that you did not know yourself. Yes, it is good to explore and find yourself. Understand, though, that when you know yourself, you can easily find that what you want and need, does not work with the person you have been working with.

Knowing yourself, means that you know what to look for in a partner.


Why Can’t You Dominate Me?

I ran into a very interesting submissive online, and I had to share it here because – well because it ended up being a very good lesson for me to learn.

Primarily, what to watch out for.

The Set Up

So, another Dominant asks her fellow female Dominants what specific challenges they face with submissives. I’m interested in this, since I have not chosen a submissive yet (I’m still in the learning stage, after all). It would be good to know the expectations a submissive will have of me as a female Dominant and what things can go wrong so that I can prepare.

The Bait

A submissive came in and declared the female Dominant to be a fairy tale because she had never met one who could effectively dominate her.

Hook, Line and Stinker

So, my first thought was that this was a submissive who just had a bad experience. It can happen. I had an okay exchange with her, doing my best to be even and respectful. Others were not so lucky. She maintained a belligerent attitude throughout the entire discussion until she was finally banned for breaking forum rules.

Respect. Always respect. Even if you dislike something or have had a bad experience.

And she just could not seem to take that rule to heart.

As I continued to read her posts, something else became apparent: she had poor expectations of what she expected power exchange to be or what a Dominant is actually supposed to do. While she may have had one or two legitimate bad experiences, that she maintained the incorrect expectations of a D/s exchange means that she will be destined to never have the type of power exchange relationship she is wanting.

Mostly because what she is wanting is something no good Dominant will do. In essence, she expected to have a Dominant just tell her what was going to happen in the scene, and do it. No real discussion of limits and expectations. No getting to know the Dominant before a scene. The Dominant, in her mind, is just supposed to go and magically know how to not break limits.

The irony in this is that she did not like to scene with male Dominants because in her experience, male Dominants always pushed limits.

If you’re sitting here silently scratching your head, imagine it from my point of view. The expression of not liking male Dominants was pretty early on in the conversation, before she actually laid out how she expected scenes to go from a submissive point of view.

The Take Away


We talk about how you should sit down and discuss scenes, but what I saw in that exchange just really drove home how important it is to not take answers like “I have no limits” or “I’ll safe word if you go too far” or “I’m sure you can figure it out” as answers when discussing limits and boundaries.

And please, submissives, don’t try to offer up those answers to a potential Dominant. If you have found a good Dom, one who wants to understand your limits, then be courteous enough to offer them up. If you don’t know them, figure them out. If you’re not sure how far you can go, it is okay to set up soft limits for yourself, as long as you make sure that you let the Dominant know. Something like “We’ll, I’m into temperature play, but I’ve not really had a chance to see just how much heat and cold I can take. I’ve set myself a limit of medium heat wax for candles and brief contact with ice. It’s a soft limit because I would like to see what I can take beyond it.”

That is perfectly acceptable. It gives the Dominant an idea of a starting point for you. It also sets the expectation immediately for the potential Dominant that you will want to push the limit. In that one way of limiting your “limitless” self, you have set up a structured guideline that your Dominant will be able to use to help you reach the limits you want to find.

No unknowingly breaking limits.

No frustration.

You see, your Dominant’s job is to guide you through a scene. Your Dominant’s job is to take hold of the power you give over.

Your Dominant’s job is not to tell you what power you will give up. Your Dominant’s job is not to tell you your limits and what you will take. When you sit down with your potential Dominant to discuss, you have to know what power you will hand over. Yes, it can be tedious. BDSM is not the way it is in fiction. It is not even the way it is in my fiction all the time.

In Heather in Haven, Heather and Mistress Victoria have a very quick discussion of limits. In a real, healthy BDSM dynamic, nothing would have occurred the way it does in the book. Heather would have been introduced to Victoria in a more Vanilla setting. The two would have talked about limits, desires, and needs well before Victoria even touched Heather. They most likely would have had several meetings to socialize and talk before ever having a scene together.

But – Heather in Haven is a fantasy. It is fun in the fantasy to have that sudden meet up, the arrangement of submissive being led to her perfect Dominant. It is not how it works in life, and if that is what you expect, then you will never find yourself fulfilled in a real D/s exchange.

Top, Bottom, Side, Side

You have discovered something wonderful.

You like bondage or pain, maybe even both. You might like having your hands bound by your lover. Perhaps you like the feeling of hot wax on your stomach or a flogger across the back of your upper thighs. Your legs being immobile makes you weak in the knees. Whatever your specific interest, you love being on the receiving end of these new, physical pleasures.

Then your partner gives you a command, and your hackles rise.

You wonder what is wrong? You were sure that submitting to your partner was the thing. Are you a bad submissive? A brat?

Is this BDSM even for you?

The short answer to the questions in order: nothing, no, no, and yes. Continue reading

Submission and Respect

Time to continue my discussion about Submission.

This is a tough subject for me because I hold respect to be one of the most important things to have and show in both the BDSM community and within a dynamic.

What does respect mean to me?

On one hand, it is what you earn. You behave in a way that engenders respect from other people. That may be those people listening to you and valuing your opinion. It may be that person seeking you out as a mentor/Dominant/submissive/etc. It may be receiving a title from your peers because of the knowledge and skill you show. What all of these things mean, however, is that you have lived in a way that brings that respect to you.

On the other, it is what we all show. We do not have to genuflect to people to respect them. We do, however, have to remember, even when we disagree with them, that they are human beings. It does not mean that we don’t call out people when we see something wrong, or bad. It does mean that we speak to them like we are both adults. We don’t get petty. We don’t get back-stabby.

We don’t go behind their backs, or do other things that would anger us if they were done to us.

In a way, do unto others is the ultimate lesson of respect. Continue reading

Writing My Submissive Side?

As I have been writing various stories, I have noticed something.

My own inclinations, as I have discussed before, are more toward Dominant and I am currently learning to express that more, etc. In my  writing, however, my main characters are almost always submissive. In my most recent Commission piece, the two POV characters are both Dominants, but one of them enters into submission to the other as the result of a bet.

That is, however, the exception.

I don’t mind this. I don’t think it calls into question my own lifestyle role any more than writing straight/gay characters call into question my sexuality. I do find it interesting enough to write about, however, and I do wonder how many other BDSM erotica authors also write from primarily the submissive’s point of view. Continue reading