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.
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.