Issue 14: SSC vs. RACK

Issue 14:  SSC vs. RACK

What They Mean And What’s The Difference

By Sue Rozen

Photos By Madison Grayman

SSC vs. RACK Shoot By Madison Grayma

SSC and RACK are terms you’ll often hear bandied about in most BDSM hangouts in SL. You’ll see them mentioned in the rules, maybe hear them spoken about from time to time, but do you really know what they mean? Why are there two terms; what’s the difference between them?

SSC stands for Safe Sane and Consensual. RACK stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink. You might be thinking, “ok. . . well they sound sort of the same, but what do they really mean?”

Let’s begin by explaining the acronyms and looking at the origins of these terms…

David Stein originally conceived the term “SSC” in 1983 by David Stein, working as part of a committee of the GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) in New York. At the time, the GMSMA was a relatively new organisation, and was putting together its statement of purpose.  This purpose read: “GMSMA is a not-for-profit organization of gay males in the New York City area who are seriously interested in safe, sane, and consensual S/M.”  [1]

This statement has since been updated, but the term “safe sane and consensual” remains the cornerstone of this organisation’s beliefs.  Since the term’s  inception, it has infiltrated far beyond this group in New York, and into the wider BDSM community.

In an essay about the origins of this phrase, Mr. Stein reminisces about how the “safe” and “sane” originated from an American practice of urging people to have a “safe and sane” 4th of July celebration.

“As a kid, what I took ‘Have a safe and sane 4th, to mean was something like, ‘Have a good time, but don’t be stupid and burn down the house or blow your hand off’. A couple of decades later, that seemed to fit S/M just fine. What we meant by “safe and sane S/M” in 1983, and what I believe GMSMA and most other organizations still mean by it today, is something like, ‘Have a good time, but keep your head and understand what you’re doing so you don’t end up dead or in the hospital — or send someone else there’.” [1]

If we break down the phrase, and look at the individual words, we get a fuller sense of the meaning behind SSC: tells us that “Safe” can be defined as secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk; free from hurt, injury, danger, or risk; or involving little or no risk of mishap, error, etc.

“Sane” may be defined as free from mental derangement; having or showing reason, sound judgment, good sense or sound and healthy. (In BDSM terms, this is generally accepted to include that people don’t play when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or even when they are angry.)

SSC vs. RACK Shoot By Madison Grayman

“Consensual” may be defined as: formed or existing merely by consent (with “consent” defined as: to permit, approve, or agree). This means that those undertaking a scene together have discussed and negotiated the scene, and have the right to stop at any time, through the use of a safeword, safe-sign or some other negotiated method.

You may already be thinking, on reading these definitions, that some of the activities you take part in as part of your BDSM practices don’t quite fit in with this philosophy – particularly the “safe” or maybe even the “sane” description. That was the motivation that led Gary Switch to coin the term “RACK.”

Mr. Switch believes that nothing is perfectly safe; that “If we want to limit BDSM to what’s safe, we can’t do anything more extreme than flogging somebody with a wet noodle” [2]

The term “Risk-Aware” was proposed in place of “safe.” Risk-aware means that the parties involved in the activity have foreknowledge of the potential risks of what they are about to undertake and have agreed how they intend to handle them.

In an essay about the origin of the term RACK, Mr. Switch says that in his opinion, the “sane” part of SSC is very subjective – what’s sane to one person might be totally insane to another:

“Who’s making the call? Person A might think fisting is insane; persons B and C might enjoy it very much.”

He writes that the “consensual” aspect of such a belief system is important: “’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, if 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.”

Finally, the “kink” was included to give an idea of what this was all about – leaving no doubt about the activities that the RACK acronym refers to. Kink, taking a trip back to our dictionary, may be defined as: a twist or curl, as in a thread, rope, wire, or hair, caused by its doubling or bending upon itself; a muscular stiffness or soreness, as in the neck or back; a flaw or imperfection likely to hinder the successful operation of something, as a machine or plan or, [and this is where the fun starts] – bizarre or unconventional sexual preferences or behaviour.

Gary Switch, in his essay, says: “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 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.” [2]

SSC vs. RACK Shoot By Madison Grayma

In general terms, activities that would be categorised as RACK tend to be considered more as edgeplay (play which may involve risk of serious harm, or death), for example, breathplay, knifeplay, bloodplay, scat [3] and also those involving potential psychological dangers such as rape roleplay, humiliation, incest fantasies and so on [4] .

Definitions of what are considered edgeplay, or RACK vs. SSC activities can be quite subjective, and many opinions differ on the subject.  It’s not as simple as producing a list that says “These are SSC activities, and these are RACK”. In some cases it can be easy to tell the difference, but even activities that begin in the SSC arena – such as simple bondage – can quickly become considered as RACK if, for example, a postural change is introduced that could have the potential for asphyxia.

One of the primary differences between RACK and SSC, is that RACK focuses primarily upon awareness and informed consent, rather than accepted safe practices. [5]

An article on SSC vs. RACK written by Tan T Curtis concisely and lightheartedly expresses the principle of RACK: “So, what does RACK break down to? It means knowing what you’re getting into, what could go wrong, and how to fix it. It means negotiating, ensuring that everyone knows what you want to give and receive. It means K for Kink, baby, and that’s what it’s all about.” [6]

SSC vs. RACK Shoot By Madison Grayma

And just when you thought you were getting your head around SSC and RACK, there is possibly a new acronym on its way: PRICK – Personal-Responsibility Informed-Consensual Kink [7]. PRICK essentially encourages each participant to take responsibility for his/her own actions, as well as being informed (aware of) the risks involved.

The BDSM community sees consistent debate between the pro-SSC and pro-RACK camps. People identifying with one or the other have written numerous articles and opinion pieces on the benefits and advantages of one over the other. A quick internet search, or a brief wander through discussion groups in will provide a plethora of articles written on the same topic as this one. Most will express an opinion – which I am purposefully refraining from doing here. As with most things in BDSM, it is up to each of us to make up our own minds as to where our preferences lie, and act accordingly.

RACK is a newer principle to the BDSM community than SSC, and like any belief system, or thought process, the BDSM community too evolves its thought over time. From SSC to RACK and maybe onwards to PRICK, our community is constantly in a dynamic state of flux to ensure that no matter what your level of experience, or your interest in kink or BDSM, there will be a philosophy to suit you and your activities, kinks or fantasies. In the end, it’s about everyone enjoying themselves and having a satisfying experience, without any un-thought of side effects. So whether you’re SSC or RACK or a little bit of both, the message is: stay informed, be educated about what you’re going to take part in, take any necessary precautions, negotiate and always play with full consent.








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