One of the biggest challenges we face in the kinky community is the acceptance of kinks that 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 an individual who enjoys hanging others by their ankles and cutting on them into that group. Chances are someone in the group will throw some red flags onto the playing field. The conflict does not necessarily arise from their differing interests but rather from their interpretation of the rules of the community they belong.
The mantra “ Safe, Sane, Consensual” (SSC) is one of the first things 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 (M/s) 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 called Keeping Your Voice, which advocates new submissives to the scene to have limits. A sub who feels unsafe or uncomfortable in a relationship can always address their needs or walk away. The article received a lot of backlash from slaves in the community, who argued that they were the property of their masters. They don’t have (and don’t want) the freedom I describe. Again, the issue here is not one of being more or less correct, but rather the perimeters of their relationships were not safe, sane, or consensual to me. To the respondents, however, their relationships fit well within the confines of their philosophy of SSC.
Each of us has our limits. The problem is that no one’s limits will perfectly align with another’s. Therefore in each relationship, we strive to push past our limits, grow into our roles, find new interests, and develop new levels of intrigue. With the ever-evolving nature of our interests and limits, the concept of SSC is insufficient to describe an individual’s expectations and limits within the community. What I considered interesting and uninteresting five years ago may not align. My limits have shifted; my Dom has much more control over my life than she did when we began. This doesn’t make one’s past self correct or incorrect; it merely means that one has developed a better understanding of their environment and interests.
As our interests and limitations will never be perfectly aligned with another’s, our experiences and growth rate will also differ. So a person who has never been spanked for erotic purposes might say: “Spanking doesn’t sound safe to me.” A response might be, “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 handling knives might say, “Cutting on a submissive isn’t a safe thing to do.” In contrast, a Dom who works in the medical field might say, “These cuts are shallow, well placed, and will be dressed properly afterward, 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” is highly limited by our own opinions, interests, and limitations and 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, RACK stands for two principles designed to allow you to move outside your comfort zones into a place of interest.
The first phrase is “risk-aware.” Generally, it means being aware of your risks 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 means you should be prepared to combat the risks in basic but effective ways. Monitor the color and temperature of the appendages being bound. Prep your bottom about the best way to breathe when gagged (and remind them 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. We are risk-aware every day; we look both ways before we cross the street; we drink water before and after we exercise. We put on sunscreen to minimize the risk of burning. Our willingness to do these basic things allows us to take risks and enjoy ourselves. Likewise, the ability to assess risks in the moment and limit yourself to actions you’ve prepared for can keep a scene safe and sane. If you didn’t prepare the aftercare for a scene that included knife play, don’t do knife play in the middle of a scene because of a whim. If, however, you didn’t intend to have knife play in a scene. Still, your general aftercare kit contains the appropriate materials, including knife play spontaneously is a calculated risk.
The second phrase is “consensual kink,” which should generally describe the participants' attitude regarding the activities being invested in. By communicating our interests, we can find people who have similar tastes to our own. We watch out for ourselves by explaining what we each desire, our limits, and what we are willing to do in a particular scene. Before embarking on a scene, we can create a consensual environment for each other.
How RACK works with SSC
Often, those who address the philosophies of Safe, Sane, and Consensual 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 complementary terms to describe both your position and the positions of others.
Safe, Sane, and Consensual can only be followed by individuals who have first considered Risk Aware Consensual Kink. After all, awareness of the risks involved will make a situation safe or unsafe, sane or insane. The preparation, communication, and shared interests between interacting individuals create the air of consent and the joy of experiencing kink.
Ultimately, I like to think of the two this way: any time you step outside your safe zones, 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.