We’ve outgrown Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC)

This is going to be one of those informative posts where I ramble about things that people who are new to the scene, or people who are outside the scene but curious, might find useful–but I actually hope some people who have been around the block a couple times might find it interesting too.

I’m going to discuss SSC and RACK, two popular acronyms used by people in the scene.

A long time back, around thirty years ago, I think—I’m not entirely sure, but it was before my time, the BDSM community began using the acronym ‘SSC’ as a slogan. It stands for Safe, Sane, and Consensual and it became a benchmark for determining whether something was okay or not.

(EDIT: Hi this is future me from 10/2019 and this post got popular again so I’m adding in a link I found to the origins of SSC, where it came from, why it was created and how it was meant to be used.
Origins of SSC

As you can see it was created to soothe people, as I said, because they were tired of having to explain that they weren’t abusers. It is now used in a much different way from how the creators intended it. The original intention was that it would be much more like RACK, however it was deliberately vague and as a result people have put their own, not always good, spin on it.

I think knowing the origins of something is important so you can make your own informed decision. One of the creators wrote this up, he was there, he was part of it, and he felt at the time he wrote this that SSC was still valid but did note all the problems. I personally feel that RACK corrects those problems and is a much better term for the community to use now with how things have changed. END EDIT)

I think on the surface Safe, Sane, and Consensual was perfect for reassuring the vanilla people of the world that everything was fine and it really wasn’t that strange to do these things. It was an easy way to break things down and start a conversation and more importantly it sounds very organized and normal when you start there.

What we’re doing is safe because we take precautions and have words to end something if it gets to be too much.

What we’re doing is perfectly sane and just because we like to give or receive pain doesn’t mean we’re mentally Ill.

None of this is abuse because we are consenting to have it happen.

Great right? People are still using it years later, and for the same reason. And that’s fine if they want to stick with what they know. I personally don’t think SSC works, and I think we, as a community, and also, we as a society, have grown beyond it. Pre-mainstream kink movies it was necessary to keep things simple and maybe fudge the truth a tiny bit in order to keep society from deciding we were all freaks.

But now more people are aware of kink and how it works. They’ve had multiple movies, shows, and thousands of books to show them what people get out of BDSM and I don’t think the world is as starkly defined as it used to be. We’re no longer kinky or vanilla…but many people are somewhere in between.

Okay, strike that. Let’s be honest—those Johanna Lindsey books filled with spankings back in the 80’-90’s weren’t buying themselves, okay? There have always been a lot of people who secretly fantasized about being kinky, they just didn’t have an easy outlet for it back then.

They didn’t have major motion pictures telling them it was perfectly fine to enter a relationship like that. They didn’t have a fairly open community with a club in the middle of downtown where they could go and explore. They didn’t have Google to give them instant access to enough kinky material to drown themselves in—at least not until people started buying home computers in the 90’s.

What they did have was a whole ton of romance books about dominant men spanking, kidnapping, and occasionally tying up women. Which were mostly placed in a historical context to make people feel better about it.

“Sure, men used to be dominant and spank their wives back in the 1700’s but we don’t do that now,” said the housewife as she eagerly folded down the corner of the page so she could reread that spanking scene again later. It would go on the shelf with the other forty-seven romance novels that she kept in her bedroom. Each one with its own folded pages to mark the domination and sex scenes.

“It’s okay to get turned on reading these things, but no sane woman would actually want to experience any of this,” she said confidently to herself and then she raced off for an extended shower using her brand-new handheld showerhead.

So yeah, a lot more people had these fantasies than would ever admit it back then, but we’ve now reached an age where most people, if they don’t live off the grid, have at least a small idea of what it means to be kinky and people are a lot less afraid to explore. Having access to the online BDSM community has helped a lot to educate people and introduce them to the scene.

(PSA: Please don’t get your BDSM education from porn hub, romance novels, or twitter. Find reputable sites, or non-fiction sources.)

This isn’t a secret to the subs and Doms have been meeting up in chatrooms and rping over the Internet for the past couple of decades, of course, but suddenly the whole community seems to be expanding. There are far more writers of BDSM fiction now, and more publishers too. So many authors are churning out power-exchange books every month that the market is flooded, and some of those even get best-seller status. Not just Amazon best seller either, we’re talking about New York Times and USA Today booklists.

Most of us no longer need to lurk in the toy cupboard and that’s wonderful. But with the expansion and education SSC hasn’t aged very well, at least not in my opinion. A while back someone(s) came up with an alternative: RACK. Where Safe, Sane, and Consensual was a starter bike with training wheels…Risk-Aware Consensual Kink is the ten-speed bike the big kids ride.

You see, while SSC is great in theory, it covers up a few basic truths and leaves little room for nuance. Let’s take this one word at a time as we compare them.

Safe: We like to think that BDSM is safe because we have our magical word to stop a scene if it goes too far, and everyone knows what they are doing and has agreed to do this. But let’s have complete transparency about this—some of what we do has an element of danger to it. In fact, that adds a lot to the thrill of it, but with danger comes risk. Accidents can and do happen fairly often. I can’t think of one major play party I’ve been at where someone didn’t get hurt in some way that wasn’t intended.

Often these are small things. Clumsy accidents that could happen to anyone and no one is really at fault—they were just doing something dangerous. I’ve received small burns during fire-play, even when playing with extremely experienced people who have done it for years. They are putting alcohol on your body and setting it on fire. There is NO way to make that 100% safe.

I went so deeply into subspace once, that when I was released from the cuffs on a St Andrew cross, I immediately slid straight down to the floor before anyone could catch me. Whoops! I saw someone pick a sub up, and then lose his footing and they both fell over. Canes and switches can sometimes cut the skin. Paddles can bruise a lot more than intended. And there is no way to be 100% safe about any of this. You can’t know how fragile someone’s skin is. Or that they are bruising more right now because they are on some medication.

So no—BDSM isn’t safe. Neither is skydiving, skiing, hang-gliding, gymnastic, or anything else that involves you getting off your couch. We make BDSM safer by minimizing risks as much as possible and that’s all we can do.

Sane: the fact is, what counts as ‘Sane’ varies from one person to another. Even in the medical field therapists are torn on the subject of whether BDSM is a good idea for everyone. There are plenty of kink-friendly therapists out there, but there are others who don’t approve or want to encourage it.

At least, they don’t want to encourage it to any great extent. I doubt there is anyone out there who thinks a few slaps on the ass during sex are much of a problem. Like with all things, BDSM can be taken to extremes and that tends to be where therapists and doctors have an issue. I can’t deny that I’ve seen people in the scene who probably badly need therapy—not because they are into BDSM but because they are using BDSM to self-medicate other problems.

But the medical field has trouble agreeing on anything to be honest, and whatever helps people survive is probably better than the alternative, so let’s put that aside. I am very broad-minded about the world of kink out there and even I cringe at some of the things I’ve seen. There is no way you will ever convince your average vanilla person that xxx Insert extreme kink here xxx is sane. You just won’t.

Now we’ve invalidated the first two words of the slogan and there’s not much left. Luckily the third one has withstood the test of time and emerged triumphant. That’s why it gets to move on to the next round!

Consensual: What separates BDSM from abuse is consent. That’s pretty much the cornerstone that the whole scene is built on. You can do these weird things to each other as long as you have permission. The end.

Moving on to RACK now. The genius(es) who came up with this were much more honest about what we do and it’s a lot more accepting of the broader kink world than SSC could be. I can’t be sure, but I half-suspect that SSC was made to reassure the vanillas of the world, while RACK was made for us.

RiskAware: We know that some of the things we are doing are inherently dangerous. We have educated ourselves on those dangers and are doing our best to minimize them.

Consensual: Of course, this stayed. You still need permission to do anything to another person and that’s never going to change. If you don’t have consent you don’t play.

Kink: I think that speaks for itself, right? Well, kink is one of those words that we all kind of know what it means but actually explaining it is really hard. According to Psychology Today kink is: “engaging in behaviors that generate a certain power dynamic, experiencing attraction towards acts with a certain power dynamic, and adopting an identity that conveys a certain power dynamic.” Wow, that’s a mouthful.

Maybe this is easier: basically, kink is something outside the norm that attracts you intensely on some level, possibly sexually, but not always. Scientists actually think that for some people kink is their sexual orientation, especially if you developed those interests really early in your life. You might like men, women, or all/neither but your real orientation is what you keep in your bag of kinks. So that’s something interesting to think about.

Going forward I would love to see SSC phased out and archived in the scene’s history. Change is really hard for some and I see a lot of people who have been in the scene for a long time still using it, but I’ve pretty much only used RACK for years. I think it’s going to be a while before anyone can come up with something better.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

9 Replies to “We’ve outgrown Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC)”

  1. I think this all makes good sense… I have heard references to RACK in passing but never heard a description of what it meant.

    I can say for me kink as a sexual orientation seems accurate… my fantasies all involve BDSM… only a fraction of them include sex!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rack has been around for awhile but it has only recently started to be used more and it’s a trend I’m really encouraging. It cuts down on people arguing that “How can you say that’s safe and sane!” when they don’t understand things that seem dangerous, like fireplay, for instance.


  3. I believe RACK is just communicating what I have always understood SSC to be. I’m 55 and have been in the lifestyle for… well ever. I never thought SSC was directed at newies or people formerly described as vanilla. SSC has just always been the rules we lived by.

    No DOM I ever met would quibble about calling something safe as opposed to risk adverse because those of us enjoying the lifestyle always knew that safely managing the risk inherent in BDSM was kind of the whole point.

    Naturally we’re keeping consent in place, just like always.

    Throwing the word kink on the end just seems superfluous. If it weren’t for the kink there would be no need for any of the rest of either acronym.

    It seems to me like we’re changing things up just to change them up and patting ourselves on the back for clarifying what everyone already knew.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make some interesting points, but I feel like Rack is communicating things that we experienced scene people always knew, but in a more realistic and accurate way. SSC is a simplistic explanation of what we do that’s meant to reassure people. And to be honest it’s not currently used in the way it was originally intended when it was written. You’re right that SSC should already mean taking precaution to safely manage our play, but that’s not how it’s come to be used quite often because it’s vague enough that people put their own spin on it.

      The people who first wrote it way back around 1983 did so because they got tired of constantly having to defend themselves and explain that they weren’t abusers–so yes, at the core SSC was to soothe people. And they have said that they’ve seen it often misused. It’s been used to critique and shun styles of play people don’t agree with personally, and they’ve said that it’s use has gone way beyond what they personally intended when they came up with it though they absolutely still think it’s valid. I think times have changed and I see nothing wrong with clarifying things.

      Personally I’ve grown to dislike the term SSC entirely because I see so many fake Doms trick newbie subs with it. SSC got some huge marketing especially from the crowd who were into the ‘lighter’ kinks like spanking who barely like to consider themselves as part of the BDSM crowd. About … 20-ish years ago it blew up and suddenly you could get the logo on tshirts, mugs and everything else. It’s become so common that the fakes can spout off how much they believe in SSC and sound like they know what they’re doing. SSC has basically become a mainstream catch phrase in other words.

      I like Risk-aware because it doesn’t sugarcoat things. It just says we’re adults and we know the risks in what we do. It’s a deeper, more accurate description too, I think. And Rack isn’t that new. I’ve been hearing it for at least ten years, I’d say, maybe longer and I’d love for it to eventually become the more common phrase, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think people are allowed to keep using SSC. If that’s what works for you than by all means keep using it. I’d just like the next generation coming up to have an option that I personally think is more realistic.


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