RACK vs SSC — Kink, Consent, Ableism, Agency

This is a brief(?) elaboration on why I consider Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) a vastly superior slogan to Safe Sane Consensual (SSC), and a bit of history on the two.

[content: kink, ableism and “sanity,” medical institutionalization and legal discrimination, brief discussion of abuse]

This 2010 article does an excellent job summarizing the history of both terms: how SSC came about in the early 1980’s and was used to counter anti-kink sentiment by insisting that kinksters were responsible, and how in 1999 RACK arose to counter internal community policing.

The article makes some excellent points about SSC as subjective, as reifying “experts” who declare things “safe” or “unsafe” (often regardless of an individual practitioner’s skill, instead calling an activity inherently un/safe), and as ultimately being a useful sales slogan, but not a useful internal practice.  I wholeheartedly agree.  This other article discusses how SSC is often about judging and un/safe binaries, rather than about tips to reduce risk and be safe-r.

Questions of “safe” lead to things like Jay Wiseman’s “proven” condemnation of breathplay, and the kink communities shouting down any mention of it as reckless, too dangerous, giving kink a bad name, how dare.  …y’know, instead of recognizing that people are going to do it anyway, and could benefit from some non-/less-judgmental risk-reduction guidelines (here’s the one I found for breathplay, and if you aren’t familiar with risk-reduction as a philosophy, I know of it through HIV/sexual activity/substance use, and through self-harm/suicidality models).

And wow but “safe” is relative, and gives a false veneer of 100% certainty, doesn’t it?  Things can go wrong with the simplest, most careful activities.  I greatly like the metaphor of kink as rock-climbing or a contact sport: there is inherent risk, of varying levels depending on what you’re doing, and it can be mitigated, but also maybe the risk is part of the fun. And there are many ways to participate: bouldering without ropes, climbing a sheer cliff face with maximum safety gear, climbing without a partner, and so on.

This may seem pedantic, but consider all the talk of “hurt not harm” and so forth.

This is the big one for me.  It leads to things like “sane is generally considered to be of a healthy mind and free from psychological derangement” on kink sites which see zero problems with that.  Or on this one, “able to distinguish fantasy from reality” or “not intoxicated,” and “if you go around constantly reassuring folks that you’re not crazy, they’ll start to wonder” (as if that is a bad thing). Being “in control of yourself” is another piece.

The idea that mentally ill people (or folks with developmental/intellectual/etc disabilities, who are often lumped in or overlap like myself) cannot consent–fully or at all–is not new and is not revolutionary.

This includes consent to sex, to kink, to marriage, to parenthood, to healthcare, to where we live.  We are assumed to be “not in control” of ourselves (and I wonder, are stimming and compulsions considered “out of control” no matter how beneficial they are to us?).  We are institutionalized, legislated as “incapable” and “incompetent” and “unfit,” force-medicated and controlled by doctors “for our own good.”  We make 2013 headlines on Fox about “whether the mentally ill can consent to sadomasochistic sex” (never “mentally ill people,” mind you), and even the Washington Post gets in on “should we, though, leave the question of consent to the conservator.

People are scared to have sex or kink with us because we’re “crazy” or the r-slur, because we’re dangerous, because we can’t consent, because it’s illegal (??) or might be.  Because we can’t make informed choices.  Because our brains are different.

I’ve heard people literally say, “You can’t have sex or kink with that person, they can’t consent, they’re mentally ill/disabled.”  Under the guise of responsibility and “protecting” people, they strip our agency away.  We too have the right to make choices, without coercion, with accommodation to enable us to make the best decision without hampering us.  And we have the right to regret, to make mistakes, to grow.

Yes, we are more vulnerable to abuse.  But the disability community has long been fighting to stop being desexualized without our consent.  We are just as much people, with varying sexual orientations (including asexual) and kinks and identities.  It is not an oxymoron to protect us from abuse, but empower us to consent.  In fact, stripping away our consent is a form of abuse.


I support RACK because I believe in informed consent: for surgery, hormone therapy (and blockers), sex, kink.  I believe in informed risk-awareness, and I believe in risk-reduction without stigmatization or pathologization of riskier activity.

I support RACK because I value edgeplay as incredibly powerful, especially for processing trauma (including trauma from marginalization and from the medical establishment, as a mentally ill and mentally disabled person).

I support RACK because I am against reifying authorities and elders in the kink community as the bastions of knowledge about what is “safe” or “unsafe.”  I am against that binary, and I believe in the ability of novices to explore within their limits, especially if they are given non-judgmental resources and assessments of risk.  I believe making something kinky taboo makes it more appealing and more dangerous than it ever would have been before.

PRICK stands for Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink, and is quite new.  I like it, minus the dick joke.  Informed consent is to me the keypin of RACK, and is already about the person’s choices rather than the somehow inherent immutable nature of the activity.

I understand the usefulness of SSC as a means of saying “not all kink is abuse!” but I think it falls into the trap of “no true, SSC kink is abuse” and becomes a rigid self-policing cycle.  I think it is innately ableist and is used to discriminate against and shut out mentally ill and mentally disabled people in the name of protecting both them and, more, the kink community from any accusations or confusion.

I believe we should promote the model of informed consent for goddamn near everything in healthcare and sex/kink between adults (while mitigating effects of ableism/lack of care and overavailability of “right to die” doctors).

I believe in pragmatism and accepting the reality that people do risky things you don’t approve of, and shaming them for it only pushes them away from accessing risk-reduction techniques or social support, and increases the danger.

I believe in transparency rather than respectability politics, and that we the kink community should be open about our risk and what we do about it, and our consent and how it is informed, rather than shoving the less-acceptable parts of us into corners and saying they don’t represent us or aren’t even part of us.

I believe using SSC to represent us to the vanilla mainstream will ultimately hurt us in the end–especially mentally ill and mentally disabled people like myself.  It will be a slippery slope of assimilation, much like the LG(Bt) community has left behind trans folks, especially drag queens of color and non-binary people and those of us who don’t pass or want to.

I believe we need to start using informed consent, risk awareness, and personal responsibility in all of our models, and ditch the subjective, all-too-easily oppressive ideas of safety and sanity.

I believe we can do better.

3 thoughts on “RACK vs SSC — Kink, Consent, Ableism, Agency

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