Sunday, September 10, 2006


by Gary Switch

During a discussion of SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) on the
TES-Friends list, I proposed RACK (Risk-Aware, Consensual Kink) as an
alternative. Here's my motivation:

Nothing's perfectly safe. Crossing the street isn't perfectly
safe. Remember that it's technically called "safer sex," not "safe
sex." If we want to limit BDSM to what's safe, we can't do anything
more extreme than flogging somebody with a wet noodle. Mountain
climbers don't call their sport safe, for the simple reason that it
isn't; risk is an essential part of the thrill. They handle it by
identifying and minimizing the risk through study, training,
technique, and practice. I believe this approach will work better for
us leatherfolk than claiming that what we do is safe. We want to
foster the notion that we develop expertise, that to do what we do
properly takes skill developed through a similar process of education,
training and practice.

Negotiation cannot be valid without foreknowledge of the possible
risks involved in the activity being negotiated. "Risk-aware" means
that both parties to a negotiation have studied the proposed
activities, are informed about the risks involved, and agree how they
intend to handle them. Hence "risk-aware" instead of "safe."

The "sane" part of SSC is very subjective. Who's making the call?
Person A might think fisting is insane; persons B and C might enjoy
it very much. "Sane" always reminds me of Pat Paulsen's campaign
slogan from the old Smothers Brothers show: "Vote for Paulsen; he's
not insane!" If you go around constantly reassuring folks that you're
not crazy, they'll start to wonder.

I've heard "sane" interpreted as "able to distinguish fantasy from
reality" and "not intoxicated," which are both perfectly valid, though
the latter is similar to the above -- you don't go around constantly
reassuring folks that you're not drunk, either.

"Consensual" is the crux, implying negotiation, which implies
being able to distinguish fantasy from reality, as well as dealing
responsibly with risk factors. If you don't know the risk factors, or
you don't know what will happen in reality, then you don't know what
you're consenting to. Meaningful negotiation must always take place
on the common ground of consensus reality.

The "kink" part went in to make a snappy acronym and because SSC
doesn't tell you what you should be SSC about. Safe, Sane and
Consensual trout fishing? Alluding to the rack, an archetypal torture
instrument, has been criticized, but to me it signifies our
transformation of atrocity into ecstasy, and admits that though we may
enjoy some dark fantasies, we realize them harmlessly.

RACK is admittedly more confrontational than SSC. It's defiant,
the same way the GLBT community uses "queer." RACK allows us the
freedom to have non-PC (politically correct) fantasies. Don't a lot
of us enjoy non-consensual fantasies, either from the top side or the
bottom side? We enjoy them in our literature; we may very well enjoy
them while we play. But we act them out responsibly and consensually.

Originally published in Prometheus, issue 31. Permission is granted
to reproduce and distribute this essay, as long as it's reproduced in
its entirety and is attributed to:

Gary Switch, Contributing Editor, Prometheus Magazine,


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