One of the biggest challenges that 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 into that group an individual who enjoys hanging others by their ankles and cutting on them. Chances are someone in the group is going to 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 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 new submissive in the scene that it is acceptable to have limits. A sub who feels unsafe or uncomfortable in a relationship is always free to address his/her needs or walk away. The article received a lot of backlash from slaves in the community who argue that they are 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, 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 other roles. The problem is that no one’s limits are going to perfectly a line with another’s. Therefore in each relationship, we strive to push past our limits, to grow into our roles, to find new interests, and develop new levels of intrigue in old interests. 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 line up now. 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, and it merely 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 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 with 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, 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, RACK stands for two principles designed to allow you 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 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 means that 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 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 are risk-aware in our everyday; 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. 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, don’t do knife play in the middle of a scene because of a whim. If, however, you didn’t intend to include 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 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. 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 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 complementary terms to describe both your 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 an awareness of the risks involved 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, 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.