Can we stop with the “SSC” already? Please?

Is it time to retire “SSC”? I think so.

SSC Risk awareThere is a prevailing tendency within our community to look at milder BDSM activities as Safe, Sane, Consensual (SSC) and the rougher/tougher practices as Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK).

I have said it, myself. “I am a RACK player“. But what does that mean?

Am I saying that I engage in edgier play? Well, I do, but that isn’t what I mean by the words “I am a RACK player”.

I am a “RACK player” because I acknowledge that there are risks inherent in everything that I do when it comes to BDSM.

As a somewhat experienced participant, I would really like to see us move away from SSC altogether. I feel that putting that out there as a representative of what we do is irresponsible. I am going to be looking specifically at the “safe” notion. Sanity is subjective and Consensual should be a given in any activity we engage in (including Consensual Non-Consent … see the consensual there? It is there for a reason!).

Nothing is completely safe

BDSM is not “safe“. Sex is not “safe“.

We can, however, make them safer, but the risks are still there … the fact that we take precautions to ward against possible harm is evidence that the potential for harm exists.

Touting the mantra that BDSM is “safe, sane and consensual” gives a false sense of security. We often present play as SSC to new people, which compounds the risks. SSC is treated as an entry-level form of play and those of us who are edgier progress to deeper levels, moving into another class called RACK.

BDSM is risky

Bondage is a RACK activity. If you go further than strapping leather cuffs to someone’s wrists, you are putting them in potential harm. If you contort their body or immobilise them with cuffs, chains or rope, you are exposing them to risk. And it is a risk that can be mitigated if you are aware of those risks and understand that there is a potential for things to go sideways. People who are skilled in bondage have an understanding of pressure points and circulation. In other words, they are risk aware.

Discipline is a RACK activity. It incorporates punishment, sometimes of a corporal nature, into a relationship for behaviour modification purposes. It is playing with someone’s psyche, and if you do not understand that, you really shouldn’t be doing it.

Sadomasochism is a RACK activity. By the very nature of what we are doing, we are traumatising the body. Pain, while it can be quite pleasurable, is actually an sign that our body is being stressed. It is a signal that our body sends the brain to tell it that something isn’t right. And, sometimes it isn’t right … we have “good pain” and “bad pain”, but it is all pain … and there are risks associated with that pain, or our body wouldn’t be registering it at all.

Deep end of the pool

As I said before, I am a RACK player. I am also an edge player. I am a deep end of the pool player. What I am not is an SSC player. I understand and accept that what I am engaging in can cause harm, even when it isn’t intended. Mistakes happen, accidents happen, fail safes can fail.

I have done some pretty crazy, fucked-up things 1)well, they might seem fucked-up to anyone outside of my brain or the scene. And, I have suffered injuries because of some of my play, beyond the bumps and bruises that are associated with impact play. Surprisingly, the worst injuries … the ones that had a lasting effect on me … were sustained during what could easily be classified as “entry-level” sorts of activities.

  • A partner jarred my back because a hit landed incorrectly during a beating while bent over a bench.
  • I lost sensation in my hands because my arms became fatigued while cuffed to a cross.
  • I had my ass split open 2)okay, it was actually several small bloody cuts during a hands only spanking.

These are real risks, ones that I was aware of when I started playing, and they all occurred during scenes that would be considered rather mild in comparison to some of the activities I enjoy. In each of these cases, the scene ended and I turned my attention towards aftercare and recovery.

“But, BDSM is supposed to be SSC!”

Whenever something goes wrong, and someone writes about that something that went wrong, one of the things that I can almost guarantee is that someone will wander into the discussion and utter the words “BDSM is supposed to be SSC“. And, I cringe. I also make a mental note that if I was ever to meet this person, I do not want to play with them. Ever. Why? Because they obviously have no understanding of the inherent risks in what we do.

Life is a risk. Getting out of bed in the morning brings a myriad of challenges and potential hazards. As adults, we assess those risks as we navigate our daily existences. We understand that driving a car is hazardous without having a proper education. We are aware that the people we meet may not be benevolent. So, we get to know people and gauge our trust levels. 3)This is another thing that needs to be taught, it seems. Too many are affording trust without getting to know the person! We need to approach BDSM with the same level of reverence.

Best time to teach about risks is at the first opportunity

New people do not need to be coddled into a false sense of security … they need to know that there are risks. We need to teach them the hazards and give them opportunities to learn the skills necessary to find and mitigate harm. Classifying anything we do as safe is misleading and could potentially lead to unexpected harm.

I was once asked when I thought it was best to expose new people to RACK activities. My answer? The day they express an interest in BDSM because risks are all around us and we should be upfront about the realities of what we do. Do I think we should introduce them to blood play or extreme degradation the first time they attend a party? Probably not (unless they have expressed an interest), but I would like to see us go back to using the term Edge Play when we talk about parties that go deeper into those dark woods.

All BDSM play is risky and anyone engaged in it needs to be aware.


The origins of “Safe Sane Consensual”

A FetLife reader reminded me of an essay written my David Stein (the person accredited with coining the phrase “safe, sane, consensual”. An interesting read.

I would like to draw attention to the following (taken from that essay):

The “safe, sane, and consensual” formula was put forward as a minimum standard for ethically defensible S/M, because that must be the basis for any defence of S/M rights. Today, however, and especially in the heterosexual and pansexual communities, S/M itself (or “BDSM,” which some find more palatable) is often defined in terms of SSC, while the SSC slogan was treated with quasi-religious reverence and even explicitly referred to as a “credo” or “creed.” Instead of asking people to think about what it means to do S/M ethically, and to make the hard choices that are sometimes necessary (if only between what’s right and what’s right now), many organizations today act as if these issues have all been settled, assuring us that sadistic or masochistic behavior not deemed SSC isn’t S/M at all but something else — abuse, usually, or domestic violence or poor self-esteem.

And, an essay on the origins of RACK as an alternative, by Gary Switch

Camille Beaujolie
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Camille Beaujolie

On-Air Personality at Stereo-Typed on TPOK Radio
Host of Stereo-Typed on TPOK Radio, an educational, research-based internet radio show/podcast that seeks to challenge beliefs about and within the Alternative Sexuality cultures. Contributor to the TPOK Monthly newsletter.
Camille Beaujolie
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References   [ + ]

1. well, they might seem fucked-up to anyone outside of my brain or the scene
2. okay, it was actually several small bloody cuts
3. This is another thing that needs to be taught, it seems. Too many are affording trust without getting to know the person!