One of the biggest challenges that we face in the kinky community is the acceptance of kinks which do not align with our own. A group of individuals can bond over a shared desire to bend over someone over their knees and give him a good spanking, but introduce into that group an individual who enjoys hanging others by their ankles and cutting on them, and chances are someone in the group is going to throw some red flags onto the playing field. The conflict does not necessarily arise from the differing interests of the individuals involved, but rather from their interpretation of the rules of the community to which each of these individuals belong.
The mantra “Safe, Sane, Consensual” (SSC) is probably one of the first things that someone new to the scene learns. What’s the difference between being treated like a slave whose master can do anything to you, and being in an abusive relationship? The Master/slave dynamic is created within the perimeters of “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” while an abusive relationship has no such limitations. Yet, herein lies the issue with the SSC philosophy: even the bog-standard Master/slave dynamic can permeate the realm outside of SSC.
Why SSC isn’t enough
Recently, I published an article on Submissive Guide called, “Keeping Your Voice” which advocates to new submissive in the scene that it is acceptable to have limits, and that, regardless of the perimeters of the relationship, a sub who feels unsafe or uncomfortable in a relationship is always free to advocate his/her needs or walk away from the relationship; the article received a lot of backlash from slaves in the community who argue that they are the property of their masters and they simply don’t have (and don’t want) the freedom I describe. Again, the issue here is not that I or the group of respondents was more or less correct than the other, but rather the perimeters of their relationships were not, to me, safe, sane, or consensual. To the respondents, however, the relationships they were in fit well within the confines of their philosophy of SSC.
Each of us has our limits, as Doms, as subs, as those who fit in between. The problem is that no one’s limits are going to perfectly a line with another’s, and therefore in each relationship that we embark on, we strive to push passed our limits, to grow into our roles, to find new interests and develop new levels of intrigue in old interests. Due to the ever-evolving nature of our own interests and limitations, the concept of SSC in itself is insufficient to describe even an individual’s expectations and limitations within the community. What I considered interesting and uninteresting five years ago is not necessarily what I consider interesting or uninteresting now. So, too, have my limitations shifted; my Dom has much more control over my life than she did when we began practicing BDSM or exploring the power exchange involved. I don’t recall speaking to anyone who has practiced for more than a year and hasn’t undergone some change of ideals in that time. This doesn’t make one’s past-self correct or incorrect, it simply means that one has developed a better understanding of his or her environment and interests.
As our interests and limitations will never perfectly a line with another’s, our experiences and the rate of our growth will also differ. So an individual who has never been spanked for erotic purposes might say to another: “Spanking doesn’t sound safe to me,” and the second individual might reply, “Oh, I’ve been spanked many times, and the worst that’s happened is a few bruises and a sore bottom, so it’s completely safe.” Likewise, a group of Doms who enjoy spanking, but are uncomfortable with handling knives might say, “Cutting on a submissive isn’t a safe thing to do,” while a Dom who works in the medical field might say, “These cuts are shallow, well placed, and will be dressed properly afterwards, my sub is very safe.”
Despite these differences, the delicate nature of our community requires that we strive to understand each other, even when our limits and interests do not align. Because of this, Safe, Sane, and Consensual, which is highly limited by our own opinions, interests, and limitations, is simply an inefficient description of what can be considered acceptable in the community. Therefore, in addition to understanding and utilizing SSC, we should also be aware of the philosophy of Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK).
What is RACK?
In its simplest form, RACK is the idea of being educated, communicative, and careful regarding your interests and their execution. Unlike SSC, which stands for three separate principles outlining a standard you can use to rule out interactions, RACK stands for two principles designed to give you the opportunity to move outside of your current comfort zones, into a place of interest.
The first phrase is “risk aware.” Generally, it’s taken to mean exactly what it sounds like it should mean: be aware of the risks you take in each scene. Are you tying weights to someone’s nipples? Be aware that you risk cutting off their circulation. Are you gagging someone? Be aware that this may impede that person’s breathing. Are you penetrating someone? Remember that in addition to STDs, it’s possible to pass allergens from one person to another through bodily fluids.
Knowing the risks doesn’t mean that you should necessarily be dissuaded from taking the action, but rather that you should be prepared to combat the risks in basic, but effective ways. Monitor the colour and temperature of the appendages being bound; prep your bottom about the best way to breathe when gagged (and remind him/her periodically throughout the scene); avoid eating those Brazil nuts at lunch if your partner is allergic, and use a condom during intercourse. By thinking about the risks of what you’re doing, and educating yourself on ways to neutralize or minimize those risks, you’re creating a safe environment for the activity to take place in. We do this every day outside of BDSM: we look both ways before we cross the street, we drink water before and after we exercise to keep ourselves from dehydrating, and we put on sunscreen when we go to the beach to minimize the risk of burning. It is our willingness to do these basic things that allow us to take risks and to enjoy ourselves. Likewise, the ability to assess risks in the moment and limiting yourself to actions you’ve prepared for can keep a scene within the realms of safe and sane. If you didn’t prepare the aftercare for a scene that included knife play, simply don’t embark on knife play in the middle of a scene because the whim its. If, however, you didn’t intend to include knife play in a scene, but your general aftercare kit includes the appropriate materials, including knife play spontaneously is a calculated risk.
The second phrase is “consensual kink” which should generally be taken to describe the attitude of the participants regarding the activities being invested in. By communicating our interests, we can find people who have similar tastes to our own, by explaining what we each desire, what our limitations are, and what we are willing to do in a particular scene (which should be treated differently than what we are willing to do in general) before embarking on a scene, we can create a consensual environment for each other.
How RACK works with SSC
Often times, those who address the philosophies of Safe, Sane, and Consensual seem to unintentionally indicate that an individual must follow either one or the other. The reality, however, is that they should be used in tandem, as separate, but complimentary terms to describe both your own position and the positions of others.
Safe, Sane, and Consensual can only truly be followed by individuals who have first considered Risk Aware Consensual Kink. After all, it is awareness of the risks involved: the research that an individual does, the practice and care that her or she puts in, and the forethought regarding the impact of each action on his or her partner that will make a situation safe or unsafe, sane or insane. It is the preparation, communication, and shared interests between interacting individuals that creates the air of consent and the joy of experiencing kink.
Ultimately, I like to think of the two in this way: any time you step outside of your safe-zones, the action requires extra awareness and communication of the risks involved; thus RACK is an appropriate guideline. Once you become familiar and comfortable with an activity, however, it can easily fall into what you would consider SSC.