Same But Different – SSC versus RACK in BDSM

THE BEAUTY OF RISK AWARE CONSENSUAL KINK AND THE SAFE EXPERIMENT OF SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL

Since 1983, SSC or Safe Sane Consensual has been the mantra of the BDSM community. On any online forum, the mere mention of any activity that involved suspending the safeword or roleplaying a non-consensual scene (rape and interrogation fantasies are two that spring to mind) was inevitably met by what the online community affectionately calls “safety nazis”, who would hold SSC up as a sacred tablet delivered to the community by God. “It’s not safe!” or “It’s not consensual!” they’d cry.

And i’m not saying that Safe, Sane and Consensual are not excellent words to live by. No-one wants to play with a lunatic. But, in the real world, they’re not the way all of us play. Or, to be more accurate, they are (hopefully) the way we play, but the words have taken on an interpretation that no longer accurately reflects what some of us do. As Wikipedia explains, this has led to a a new acronym, RACK or Risk Aware Consensual Kink:

“RACK was coined in reaction to dissatisfaction within the BDSM community regarding SSC. According to David Stein, the man who coined “Safe, Sane, and Consensual S/M” for New York’s Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA), SSC was only intended to be put forward as a minimum standard for ethically defensible S/M play, to establish a distinction between play between loving S/M partners and the public perception of sadomasochism which would be more accurately described as abusive behavior.

 

Over time, as the phrase started spreading through the larger community and appeared on bumper stickers and T-Shirts, people started to associate “safe” with “risk-free,” diluting the message. “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.

 

In 1999, Gary Switch posted The Eulenspiegel Society‘s USENET list “TES-Friends” proposing the term RACK out of a desire to form a more accurate portrayal of the type of play that many engage in. Noting that nothing is truly 100% safe, not even crossing the street, Switch compared BDSM to the sport of mountain climbing. In both, risk is an essential part of the thrill, and that risk is minimized through study, training, technique, and practice.”

The fact is that what we do is not always risk-free, but we are aware of the risks. And we do not always sit down at the beginning of each session and negotiate what will happen. Often it develops organically, often it’s a surprise, and often that’s the point.

Many of us also engage in total (TPE) or partial power exchange. we give control over our body to our Dom and we trust him to care for it responsibly. we might still have a safeword, but we can agree to moderate the power of that safeword. we can agree that instead of the safeword stopping a scene immediately it is more of a suggestion – a warning to our Dom that we are at our limit. we can agree that whether he goes further or not is up to him. Partners who are deeply comfortable and familiar with each other may play with no word at all.

The “safety nazis” would now be screaming at that last paragraph, but that’s where SSC and RACK differ. we’re allowed to play outside of the sanitised safe playpen of SSC if we want to, and for many of us, that’s an important part of the experience. we’re aware. we know what we want.

I CHOOSE RACK, WHAT’S YOUR CHOICE?

i love the idea of everything as a spectrum. Things are seldom black or white. So for this example, maybe i can put kinksters who enjoy trying out a bit of bondage and experimenting with the spice of losing control as an eroticism on the left of my spectrum, and someone committed fully, submitting their body and soul to their Master on the right. On the left you have kinksters who think it might be exciting to be slapped around and dominated a little, and on the right you have a Master who wants every part of his slave. It’s a continuum. There are infinite degrees in-between the two poles.

So, there’s no one formula that works for all. As guidelines, both SSC and RACK allows people to start questioning and thinking about the complexity of BDSM practices, and reflect on their own desires.

SSC, as it’s interpreted these days, sets clearly that the sub/slave is in charge of the scene. At any time during the scene, the sub/slave can call out the safeword to stop what the Dominant is doing. But for many subs/slaves, that’s not what they desire, and it hinders the power dynamic and makes TPE impossible. RACK, on the other hand, opens the door for TPE to be achieved.

i personally believe that if one desires to experience the dense spiritual, sexual experience structured around the Power Dynamic, SSC hinders that deep connection from happening, and hence sets up boundaries and limits for the exploration of BDSM. Although i am a RACK advocate, that doesn’t mean RACK came easily and can be achieved by simply choosing it. RACK requires an in-depth trust and understanding between the Master and the slave, down to the psychological and psychic level. That takes time, there’s no formula, there’s no simple button to push

i think both SSC and RACK are great acronyms that open up reflection. personally, RACK works for me and SSC doesn’t, because at the end of the day BDSM for me is about Power Exchange and Power Dynamics. All the ropes, needles and whips are just magic wands for my Master.

you need to make your own decision about what you want, and at the very least SSC and RACK can help frame that thinking.

HOW DO YOU PLAY?

How safe is safe enough? And how aware is aware enough? Do you feel more comfortable with a Dom who believes in always staying within SSC, or do you need to feel a loss of control?

FURTHER READING

• slave david stein – The Origins of Safe Sane Consensual
• Keeping It Kinky – Safe, Sane,, Consensual vs Risk Aware Consensual Kink
• Leather N Roses – SSC vs RACK
• |X|C|BDSM – SSC vs RACK
• FetLife – Consensual Nonconsent
• FetLife – Total Power Exchange

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