RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink)

In a recent (excellent) post on Eden Café, Rayne discusses BDSM vs Abuse. In that essay she mentions two of the terms often associated with BDSM: SSC (Safe, Sane & Consensual) and RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.)

RACK was a term first coined by Gary Switch in reaction to, and dissatisfaction with, some of the perceived limitations of SSC in an essay that first appeared, and was widely circulated on, Usenet discussion lists. RACK vs SSC has been a heavily-debated argument since that time, and while it’s not really within the scope of this essay to detail that debate, at the crux of those discussions are the notions of “safe” and “sane.” How are those two terms defined and agreed upon? Can any of the activities routinely practiced in BDSM be termed “safe”? Who determines what is “sane”?

As a philosophy, RACK is intended to embrace those elements that practitioners of SSC might find objectionable as unsafe, by stressing the element of “informed consent,” meaning that all parties have assessed the risks inherent in the activity and are accepting and consenting to those risks. Edgier types of play such as knife, rape and breath play fall into this category, as well as playing without safewords, but the real intent of RACK is to allow individuals to make their own determination of what is “safe and sane” based on their ability to assess and willingness to accept the risk perceived.

Following is Gary Switch’s original essay, reposted in its entirety per the instruction of the author, (emphasis is mine):

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 that 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, 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.

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 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.

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, GarySwitch@aol.com.

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