tagReviews & EssaysBDSM: The Nature of Consent

BDSM: The Nature of Consent

byxelliebabex©

BDSM: The nature of consent

Safe, Sane, Consensual (SSC)

VS

Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)


BDSM in some of its many forms has been around since time began, and Og found he enjoyed clubbing his woman on the head and dragging her around by the hair. It has evolved with each passing era into more of what we recognise today in the many facets of BDSM play. Most notably in history, during the Victorian times, BDSM games were indulged in frequently by the aristocracy. It was in this era that the Marquis De Sade, who indulged heavily in Sadism and wrote copiously on the subject of sadomasochism, came to prominence. Known by some as the father of BDSM he was of course a madman who kidnapped and tortured young women without their consent and was arrested for his deeds after several unfortunate deaths. Or was that just society's definition of insane at the time? Had the young women given consent would he still have been arrested? And could we believe that the consent once given was not coerced from the young women in direst times?

Despite his demise, and the questions that spring from that time, it was from this point on that those who recognised their need to dominate or submit came together in a burgeoning BDSM movement. Sadism and masochism were still seen to be mental illnesses so the people in these small communities were not exactly open about their practises. It was much later that these practises were deemed sane but remained largely underground as they were viewed with suspicion and reviled by the newly formed feminist societies. It could not be believed by mainstream society that sane people would consent to what was viewed as torture or being treated like an animal.

The growth in ownership of personal computers and the internet seemed to parallel the boom in BDSM participants and it would seem at the time, in order to make the lifestyle more palatable to the mainstream society, the term Safe Sane and Consensual (SSC) was coined. It is the basis of good practice within the lifestyle and the first thing any new player learns when entering into a BDSM relationship. To over simplify the notion it basically means that the players within BDSM may use whips and chains but they do it safely, with full knowledge of what they are doing and full knowing consent to the use of such devices.

Personally I don't believe that the average guy or girl on the street believe the mantra or understand what drives people to choose this lifestyle but rather turn a blind eye to anything they don't understand. I also have reservations about the Safe Sane and Consensual motto that gets trotted out whenever it is needed to reassure people who become concerned about a player. So let's look at it a bit deeper.

Safe: A standard dictionary tells us to be safe is to be "secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk"

So in a perfect SSC BDSM world a player would ensure any activity had no risk to it, and that all eventualities that might lead to injury, death or mental breakdown had been taken out of the equation. I don't think this perfect scenario was what they had in mind when they coined the term and the vagueness bothers me.

There are things I might do to make myself safe, but which would be unsafe to other people because of different tolerances and triggers. Not every kinky activity is safe. Slap and tickle? Sure. Handcuffs and light bondage? Go for it. Knife play? No way is that safe. The only thing we can do is to trust ourselves and our partners to be aware of the risks. If we want to limit BDSM to what is actually safe, a dominant couldn't do anything more extreme than flog somebody with a wet noodle.

Want to play with knives? Have fun if that's your kink. Want to do a suspension scene? Go right ahead and swing like a chandelier. Interested in wax play? Enjoy, make Madame Trousseau jealous. But be aware that these are not safe activities. They are dangerous. We, as risk aware human beings, need to accept and understand that danger, in order to take the precautions necessary to engage in these activities safely.

In this risk aware context, players see safe BDSM as taking care of their partner so that no matter how intense the scene may be, no unwanted injury or transfer of std occurs and that all precautions have been taken to minimize potential dangers. This means doing the research and being knowledgeable about your chosen kinky activities to protect your partner as well as yourself.

You can see where I am going with this right? There is risk in every thing we do in our daily lives but we measure that risk and decide for ourselves if it is worth continuing on. To me, jumping out of a plane hoping that the thin canvas sheet on my back opens and slows my fall is not safe. Yet it is widely accepted that I have calculated the risks and deemed it safe to hurl myself out of a perfectly good plane. Society agrees that it is a quite sane past time for the average person. Even the simple act of using condoms is not without risk, which is why it is technically called safer sex not safe sex. Living your life is about being Risk Aware and deciding what you will consent to and what you won't.

Sane: A standard dictionary tells us to be sane is to be "of a healthy mind and free from psychological derangement"

This second part of the motto has always intrigued me the most. In the BDSM world though, this means that players act responsibly and exercise good judgment. The ability to engage in appropriate self control is a big part of the "sane" portion of this philosophy. If you cannot control yourself, you should not enter into a situation where power exchange is a key aspect of the activity. SSC advocates preach that all activities are monitored for the sanity of doing what is proposed. Whose definition of sane will we use to monitor said activities? Is there a single definition that doesn't need a psychologist to diagnose the insanity of an idea or a person? I knew I had a moment of insanity when I found myself hurtling toward the ground with a big rubber band attached to my ankles recently but it seems mainstream society would disagree with me as Bungee Jumping is a well accepted past time and no van arrived with a lovely white jacket to take me away once it was over. However, telling someone I love a good flogging from a dominant on the other hand causes those same people who had no problem with me throwing myself of a tower or out of a plane, to raise an eyebrow at me and ask, "Are you insane?"

Within BDSM, it would seem the sanity of what you are consenting to is inextricably woven around the safety of the activity you are involved in. Again I find myself frustrated by the vagueness of the SSC motto for those within the BDSM lifestyle.

Consent: A standard dictionary tells us that to consent is to "give permission for something to happen or make an agreement to do something."

This is unarguably at the crux of any sexual activity, kinky or otherwise. It is probably seen as more so important for the BDSM players because of the element of risk involved. There are no arguments for or against consent, it has to be there, without it the perpetrator has done nothing more than assault a victim and should be penalised accordingly. Having said that, consent given means nothing if the person is unaware of the risks involved in the activity they have consented to. Consent must go hand in hand with the awareness of the risk to ones mental and physical well being when undertaking a certain activity.

In a best case BDSM scenario the Dominant would tell the submissive what was about to occur. He or she would then outline all the risks involved, what precautions had been taken to make it as safe as possible and what would happen if things went horribly wrong. It could only be after this conversation had occurred and the submissive had been given the opportunity to ask questions and set limits that full and proper consent could be given because one person cannot decide what is safe or sane for another.

With many others feeling the way I do about the vagueness of the terms Safe and Sane a new motto emerged thanks to Gary Switch (2001) RACK: Risk Aware Consensual Kink. This mantra was rumoured to be first put forth on the TES mailing list in order to provide a more accurate guideline for the types of play that BDSM advocates engage in. This motto stems from the idea that every activity has a degree of danger to it and "safe" is best determined by the individual; what one person considers safe, another will not. RACK basically incorporates the idea that people can choose their own level of risk within an activity.

To explain I am going to use a quite an inane example, from Bea Amor (2008):

A girl is told not to wear any underwear. The couple go out to a restaurant and sit down. Nothing is covering her as she sits down on a surface that could be infected with germs and bugs a plenty. I have never seen someone wipe down the chairs or wash the upholstery after every meal. How do you know what risks that girl is exposed to? Is it safe? Is it sane? Looking at it from the RACK perspective, one could say that yes the girl has been told to not wear underwear. The dominant could explain how there are risks and explain those to her. he or she could suggest ways of minimizing the risks, such as bringing a towel along that could be placed on the chair in an unobtrusive way, or the submissive could decide that the risks are too great and decide to not participate in that activity and to make it a hard limit.

The difference between the two terms SSC and RACK can be made even clearer when they are applied to a public scene. When watching a scene that may involve some heavy risk you might hear the person next to you whisper to their partner "they shouldn't do that...its unsafe...that is a dangerous Dominant" you could be almost sure they were an advocate of SSC. If you had instead heard "I wonder if he knows the risk involved in doing that....I wonder if he does "this" it could be made safer....I think I will tell him about it later after his scene" you would have been listening to an advocate of RACK.

It would seem to me in recent years that the idea behind SSC has become one of you either are or you are not safe, sane and consensual. And that is completely relative. The intent of RACK is not what others think you should or shouldn't risk, but that of increasing awareness and making informed decisions on what you choose to risk. The difference is highlighted in how each term defines "sane" or "safe". SSC defines these terms separately and leaves them mildly vague and open to interpretation. It can be implied that what is considered "safe" and "sane" is based on common views of the community and society.

In contrast, R.A.C.K acknowledges the differences between individuals views of what is "safe" and encourages the individual players to choose for themselves what level of risk they wish to take. It allows more flexibility for those who wish to engage in play while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (Not that I support that in anyway which is my choice and a whole different debate about consent under the influence of mind altering substances) or certain types of play that have a significantly higher level of risk.

Both terms adequately put across the most important idea: that play should be engaged in by consenting parties who are knowledgeable and taking all precautions they deem necessary for the type of activity; the important intent is put across, the rest is semantics which can (and probably will) be debated at length

There are a lot of different philosophies when it comes to the guidelines for safe BDSM play, not just SSC and RACK. The biggest disasters in BDSM happen when the players involved do not have a clear understanding of who the other player is, if they are a trustworthy person, what that player's history is with BDSM, if they have experience with a chosen activity, and if they truly understand what they are consenting to. Being risk aware minimizes these disasters and is just more rational than believing someone plays by the rules just because they can rattle off the SSC motto at will, like a message of comfort and safety. But in the end both motto's basically boil down to the same message, consent only to what is right for you.

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by Anonymous07/13/14

Thank you for writing this it made me think a bit... I'm a natural born sub lol I'm still looking for my dom and I'm still a bit inexperienced when it comes to BDSM however I have had a few bad experiencesmore...

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by fanfare11/29/13

my limited experience

About twenty-odd years ago, when my wife and I were experimenting. We briefly explored BDSM groups where we lived at that time and soon realized this was not to our personal tastes. While discussing limitsmore...

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