Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC) vs. Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)

If you’re new to the world of BDSM, you may have heard the terms “SSC” and “RACK”, and you may be confused as to what exactly they mean, whether they differ from each other and which is better to use. So let me start at the beginning: they’re names for schools of thought within BDSM regarding, essentially, safety and best practice.

SSC = Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK = Risk-Aware, Consensual Kink.

There are other versions of these (such as PRICK, which stands for “Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink”, and CRASH, which stands for “Consensual, Risk-Aware, Shit Happens”), but they’re not as commonly used as SSC or RACK. You’re more than welcome to generate your own code of ethics and best practice within BDSM, and it doesn’t even need a cool acronym, but the benefit of terms like SSC and RACK is that lots of other kinksters are aware of their meanings, which makes communication with those kinksters that little bit more streamlined.

I have to confess, I am firmly a RACK person. I understand the appeal of SSC, especially to newcomers. We all want to believe that the things we do, in kink and in life, are safe and sane. The first problem, though, lies in the subjectivity of both of those words. Imagine you’re talking to someone from, say, 1600. You explain to them that we have huge metal carriages, called “cars”, that can travel at up to 270 miles an hour, and that even in everyday use they can exceed 70. You acknowledge that sometimes, the drivers of these “cars” can lack skill or focus, and sometimes they lose control of their vehicles. Then you reassure your new friend that we have crossings in place, where cars are legally mandated to stop, so that pedestrians can move from one side of the road to the other. They’re only slightly relieved by this, and they are aghast when you follow it up with, “But some people just nip across the road where there isn’t a crossing at all.”

To someone from 1600, that seems both unsafe and fucking insane, but to us, it’s Tuesday. Our understanding of safety changes from decade to decade and person to person. Some people won’t eat raw cookie dough because they deem it unsafe. Some people will do several recreational substances in a field with their friends, with no phone signal nor sober people onsite. (Not me, of course; I would never). People do things that they think are safe but that others do not, and some people do things that they know to be unsafe, because we’re all blessed with bodily autonomy, no matter how recklessly we use it.

There’s also the issue that some kink acts just cannot be made safe. YouTuber Evie Lupine did a wonderful video on this topic, citing breath play and the use of restraints as being among the things that beginners dip their toes into without a full awareness of the risks involved. SSC suggests that kinksters should only engage in play that is safe, but that takes a lot of activities off the table, or else minimises the risks those activities pose. Implying that things like choking are safe, rather than fraught with risks that can be mitigated, is dangerous, especially for beginners. It’s for this reason I prefer the “Risk-Aware” label.

Then there’s the “sane” issue. First, as outlined above, our understanding of what is and isn’t sane to do varies wildly. I don’t think that skiing is a sane thing to do (just chuck yourself down a snowy mountain! With some sticks! It’s fine!), but other people either disagree, or do it anyway. The implication that some types of play can be insane is troublesome, because the distinction between sane and not-sane is different for everybody and because if there are not-sane ways to play, what does that mean for the people who practice them?

The thing is, I know I am not a sane person by most definitions. I experience mild hallucinations, some delusions, huge emotional responses and more, and the idea that sanity is a requirement for kink is… troubling. By focusing instead on risk awareness, I can participate in kink so long as I comprehend the risks and can give informed and unimpeded consent (unimpeded meaning not affected by, nor primarily motivated by weird brain things). I’m sure people who prefer SSC don’t have any ableist intentions, but in suggesting that kink has to be sane, SSC runs the risk of alienating people who aren’t, strictly speaking, sane themselves.

I don’t judge people who use SSC rather than RACK – I’m sure they have their reasons for doing so, and everyone is entitled to set their own rules regarding how they approach BDSM. But I’m always going to err on the side of risk-awareness over insisting on safety and I’m always going to shy away from insistence upon sanity, and I hope y’all can understand why.

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