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Origin of RACK: RACK vs. SSC
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 topside 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.

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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Safe, Sane, and Consensual


Let's take care of each other. And if you find yourself in the position of wanting to warn others about a player you feel is unsafe, be as objective as you can, and give facts whenever possible. There are no entrance exams to pass to get into the community and personal judgments vary. Anyone who has been around for more than a little while has likely heard about someone who is reputed to be unsafe, emotionally unstable, or who doesn't respect limits. You should take these warnings seriously, but remember that such judgments are necessarily subjective. Get second and third opinions if you can. Unsafe Players The time to clarify consent is before a scene, not after. It's dangerous to play with someone who has said 'yes' for the wrong reasons. You can quickly end up in a situation that is neither safe, sane, nor consensual. To protect against this, refrain from pressuring anyone, and if you feel you are being pressured, set limits and stand by them. You should always feel free to say 'no.' Consensual means that you are sceneing because you want to, with someone who wants to, that everyone involved is willing to go ahead with the scene. If you are in the least bit unsure, stop and talk. The best way to get to 'yes' is to make sure that 'no' is an equally acceptable answer. This holds true in every situation, whether asking someone for a phone number or negotiating a scene. The less pressure you apply, the more likely that a 'yes' will come and will be a sincere answer. Everything that happens in a scene between people must be acceptable to all concerned. If you aren't sure that your partner has consented -- has said 'yes' -- then you need to talk until you are sure. Consensual If as the Top you are so involved in your scene that you can't make good judgments, then you are not in control of yourself, and you have no business being in control of someone else. Sanity is about control, and self-control comes first. Power exchange is about trust -- trust that the person who has the power in a scene will use it responsibly. If you are the Top then it is up to you to use the power your Bottom has granted you in a respectful and sane way. Your Bottom has given you a gift of trust, and you are honor-bound to repay it with good judgment. Sane Whether you're driving a car or tying somebody up, safety should always come first. It's especially important to not let your desire rule your good sense, so think about the specifics of your scenes outside of the scene. "Don't think with your groin." What can you do? Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can so that you can do safe scenes. That means read books, take classes, and ask others about specific techniques that interest you. Want to learn to use a cane? Ask an expert. Want to swing a flogger? Practice first on a pillow. "Safe" means that we take care of each other as best we can, that no matter how we want our scenes, however gentle or rough, we do them in ways that do not injure our partners. "Safe" means that we take the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases seriously and use our best efforts to minimize those dangers. Safe You will often hear it said that the first and most important rule in B&D-S/M is that all things we do with each other must be safe, sane, and consensual. What does this mean? Ask any set of experienced players and you'll get a different set of answers. Here's mine.


Copyright©1995Tamar Kay by Safe, Sane, and Consensual

Tamar Kay may be contacted via RCDC, PO Box 1370, Clackamas, OR 97015(A copy of the publication would be appreciated) Permission granted to reprint this article in its entirety with byline. Copyright© Tamar Kay 1995.

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