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

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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.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Image is a selfie of Morgan, a white blue-haired nonbinary person with multiple facial piercings, who appears to have been crying very recently: their nose is pink, their face is damp and their mouth is sort of pulled off to one side because they are too sad to smile. They're holding two fingers up to the camera in the peace sign and their face is framed by the fluffy hood of their coat.

I’m going to have to start this post with a disclaimer. I was referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment as to whether I had BPD in 2017, and their conclusion was that I had borderline personality traits but didn’t meet the criteria for an actual diagnosis. My theory is that this decision was reached in part because my existing diagnosis of autism accounted for some of my symptoms and my trauma-related stuff means that I suppress or downplay some others. Regardless, I don’t want to position myself as an expert on BPD, and I’m using it as a piece of vocabulary which explains my experiences whilst trying not to attribute everything and anything to a diagnosis I don’t actually have.

With that out of the way, here’s the post proper:


I sometimes refer to my BPD as “Big Emotions Disorder”.

If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, you might recall that Tinkerbell, like other fairies, is so small that she can only experience one emotion at a time, and she experiences it so intensely that it clouds her judgement and she seems to forget anything that she has felt or experienced in the past, as well as forgetting the possibility that she might feel or experience anything different in the future. That’s how I feel emotions.

It fucking sucks.

It doesn’t always suck, of course: when I’m happy, I’m Big Happy, and that can be really pleasant, as can other Big Emotions such as Big NRE, Big Stoned and Big Inspired and Determined. But even those have their pitfalls. Big NRE can cause me to lose all sense of perspective, ignore or misread red flags and rush into relationships that are, at best, not well-suited to me and my circumstances (and are, at worst and alarmingly often, abusive). Even plain ol’ Big Happy can be detrimental in that it causes me to forget that I am, in fact, mentally ill, meaning that I over-commit to things, insist to medical practitioners that I’m doing fantastically and am horrified when I plummet back into depression and/or anxiety. This doesn’t just occur if I’ve been Big Happy for a number of days or weeks; a few hours of Big Happy is all it takes for me to become convinced that I was faking the depression, anxiety and PTSD all along.

And then, of course, there are the “bad” Big Emotions. Big Sad feels like an all-consuming tidal wave of despair and can be brought about from something as simple as Tesco running out of my favourite cookies. Big Scared triggers my fight-or-flight response in mundane situations such as visiting a new restaurant. Imagine every unpleasant emotion a human can feel multiplied by ten and made much, much easier to trigger – that’s my constant, day-to-day, exhausting experience of emotion. The one that seems to have the biggest impact on my relationships, though, is Big Insecure (and its cousin, Big Self-Hatred).

When I’m Big Insecure, I cannot see anything good in myself. Even the things I’m usually proud of, like knitting tiny hats for premature babies, are warped beyond recognition in my mind until I convince myself I’m only doing those things to earn praise or to hide my true (disgusting) nature. I grow to firmly believe that my partners only stay with me out of fear of the consequences our break-up might have, even though I’ve tried hard to make clear that they’re not responsible for my mental health or safety, or that they stay with me because I’ve manipulated them, taking advantage of trauma-bonding and their individual insecurities and sometimes-low self-esteem to ensnare them, so they can’t even see how despicable I truly am.

On average, I attempt to break up with at least one partner at least once a month. I explain that it’s for their own good, that I love them so much I could burst but that’s why I have to turn them loose from my machinations, that I never meant to manipulate them but I know that I have done so and that soon, once freed from me, they’ll realise exactly how awful I was and be unspeakably glad to have escaped. And my partners, every single time, have to spend hours reminding me that they are autonomous adults, that they love me, that I am not all that my brain says I am and that I do this all the time. They promise me that if I ever want to break up with them for my own reasons I’m welcome to do so, but firmly remind me that I can’t just break up with myself on their behalf: that’s their call. If I continue to spiral, sometimes they get me to take the PRN medication I keep on my person for acute episodes of anxiety, and sometimes they prompt me to phone my mum or get another partner’s opinion on the situation.

They do all this knowing that in three hours’ time I’ll be right as rain, planning my next sixty blog posts or an entirely new project that will most likely never see the light of day.

My BPD can put a strain on my relationships because I experience my lows so intensely and require so much reassurance to dig myself out of them, but I work hard to make sure my partners aren’t walking on eggshells around me. I remind them that even if they’ve done something that sparked a Big Emotion, it’s not their fault that the emotion is so Big. I tell them often that I want to be told when I’ve upset them, done something inconsiderate or otherwise could change my behaviour, but I also provide them with templates for how to convey that information to me in a way that minimises my unhelpful Big Emotional response. I go to therapy and I do my best to implement CBT techniques in my self-talk as well as teach my partners how they can help me to use them: they often ask me what evidence I have that I’m a terrible person, remind me of evidence that suggests I’m not, and gently suggest I may be misinterpreting evidence so it better fits my schematic beliefs. I also find healthy outlets for my Big Emotions, like baking bread (which is a constructive way to beat the shit out of something for ten-plus minutes), singing loudly, ugly-crying at documentaries or films, long walks, bad sketches and, when all else fails, screaming into cushions until my throat hurts.

It’s a lot of work and it’s never-ending, for both me and my partners, but I like to look on the bright side. My engagement with therapy coupled with my determination not to become the self-centred delicate monster I fear I might be means that I have a huge amount of insight into my emotions and my thought patterns, as well as some sophisticated ways to communicate about them. My Big Emotions make me fiercely loyal, unreservedly affectionate and as emotionally available as it is possible to be. My disordered personality isn’t a bad personality, or even an especially difficult one: having BPD as part of my vocabulary means that I know what challenges I face in relationships and can come prepared with reading material and my own bread flour, which puts me at an advantage over neurotypicals who haven’t done such intense introspection and research. It doesn’t make me a better partner, but it does help me be a more prepared one.

I wanted to write this because so much media regarding BPD and relationships is about how to be a good partner to people with BPD, except for the truly unkind stuff which argues that people with BPD cannot be good partners at all. I wanted to put into the world something from the perspective of a borderline person who is doing their fucking best and who does, whatever Big Insecure says, have a number of fantastic qualities that make them an excellent friend, partner, family member, employee and whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be a voice that says, “I’m borderline and it’s hard as hell but it’s worth it, it’s so worth it to pursue relationships and love people in the unabashed, unreserved and totally unconquerable way that us borderlines do.”

I’m Big Hopeful that I’ve achieved that.