In recent months, there’s been a sharp uptick in debate about SSC kink play, both pro and con, in the Twitter and Tumblr circles in which I run. Having first been exposed to SSC and its usages as a young man in the Chicago swinging scene, I’ve heard the defenses of SSC over and over again. It’s a nice-sounding acronym, three sibilants in a row if you only use the letters; spelled out, you end up with four sibilants broken by a single hard consonant. It sounds comfortable, almost friendly, unlike RACK and PRICK with their harder consonant starts and guttural ends. It sounds a bit like falling onto a fluffy feather bed supported by a steel bedstead.
SSC, for those of you who may not be aware, means Safe, Sane and Consensual. In its simplest terms, this means:
- Safe: Don’t break your toys or let yourself be broken. This means no STIs or lasting injuries, among many, many other things.
- Sane: Make sure you’re all in a headspace where you can properly interact, communicate and stop the scene if necessary. Don’t ever involve kids, critters or corpses in your kink play!
- Consensual: All parties to the scene should have granted enthusiastic consent, and such consent should be ongoing throughout the scene.
Now, if people had just left it there, SSC would be a perfectly fine and valid way of looking at kink play, especially for novices.
The problem I have with SSC as it is commonly used among experienced players is twofold. In one dimension, it fails to go far enough in conveying the rights and responsibilities among the players in a scene and thus loses a great deal of its intended meaning. In another dimension it goes too far in allowing others who are not involved in the scene to stick their noses where they don’t belong and ignores one of the ruling precepts of kink, My Kink Is Not Your Kink, which to my mind makes it hopelessly broken. Because of these failures, I want to really drill down into this one and evaluate the misconceptions which I perceive in the definition of SSC as it is currently used among the cognoscenti in the kink community.
Before I go on, let me stop right here for a moment to note I do believe SSC has its place. It both protects novice players from getting over their skis to a degree and the public perception of the wider kink community by packaging kink in an easily digestible form for vanilla minds. That being said, it does have some very serious inherent problems which deserve to be considered.
We all do several dozen to several hundred things a day which are allegedly “safe.”
- Driving a car is considered a relatively safe activity. Approximately 40,100 people died in 2017 as a result of their own or someone else’s actions behind the wheel, and roughly 3 million people are injured in accidents each year in the US, 2 million of them permanently. Contrast the statistics above with at least 15,549 people killed by guns in 2017. (Note: This article is NOT about gun control, pro or con. This statistic is included to emphasize a point and for no other purpose. Any comments attempting to get on a soapbox about gun safety and control or lack thereof will be deleted and ignored. Let’s keep on point, folks.)
- Think your house is “safe?” The CDC says 31,959 people died in 2014 as a result of accidental falls, and another 42,032 died as a result of accidental poisoning! Just getting into your bathtub or shower, or out again, could kill you.
From these data points, we see “safe” is highly relative. In the kink community, it becomes even more so every time another Fifty Shades book or movie is released. A Washington Post article from 2015 indicates that although people were certainly letting their freak flags fly as early as 1991, the first year for which data on sex toy and kink injuries were gathered, and had already already increased sevenfold from 1991 to 2007, the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey nearly doubled kink-related injuries!
Here’s where things get a bit thornier, though.
I often see people at events and online tsking and shaking their heads about “unsafe” activities. Well, yes, some of these activities do certainly walk a very fine line. It is up to the individual players to make sure they have fully and properly evaluated the risks and understand what to do or how to communicate to ameliorate those risks. Thus, the goal in the kink community should be “safer,” not necessarily “safe.” The players in a scene have mutual and equal responsibility to determine whether an activity is sufficiently safe or worth the risk to be worth engaging in, and to communicate clearly and immediately if symptoms of a problem emerge during play.
As a real-life example of this, I saw a submissive in one of the threads I follow on Tumblr weigh in with the fact she has an entry on her kink bucket list to experience a broken bone as a result of kink play. Her Top is a medical professional, and therefore, we could argue she’s probably going to be about as “safe” as one can possibly be when doing oneself an injury which may lay them up for six weeks to three months plus, with all the potentially catastrophic consequences which may flow from it. She’s certainly risk-aware…but breaking a bone is by definition not safe.
In the above example, I don’t feel the submissive’s desire to experience a broken bone is “sane.” I most certainly would not care to be the Top whom she chose to deliver such an injury, with or without medical training!
Aaaaaaannnnnnnnnd…therein lies the problem, and perhaps reveals just a teensy amount of hypocrisy in my own thinking. I never said I was perfect, folks!
My biggest issue with the word “sane” as used in the SSC context is that it imparts a value judgment upon the players and their activities by outside observers who don’t have a horse in the race. The submissive I mentioned above has every right to do whatever she and her Top feel is appropriate, even if I personally find it insane, distasteful, over the top or just a flat-out “HELL FUCKING NO!”
Likewise, I would generally not care to engage in activities which require contact with urine, fecal matter or blood, nor would I wish to do anything which may go wrong enough that it damages my partner to a point they will never fully recover, such as scarification, branding, needle play, cutting, breaking bones or similar activities. Many, many people do these things because it’s an average Tuesday. Okay, that’s your kink and you do you. Doesn’t mean I want to see, hear about or participate in (many of) these activities. Needle play is probably the lone standout here, and since the idea of letting blood outside the parameters of a self-defense situation kinda squicks me out, I enjoy and appreciate the marks a well-done needle scene can produce, but NOT watching the actual activity.
“Sane” becomes a problem at the point where a given, uninvolved party’s version of desirable or appropriate kink infringes on the rights of the parties involved in the scene or dynamic to participate in otherwise legal or quasi-legal forms of kink which they find best suit their needs as individuals and actors in their dynamic.
This is where I feel “sane” falls down badly within the kink community. Because it carries with it a deeply individual value judgment, it also limits the freedom of the players to express themselves as they deem fitting. This dichotomy contradicts the spirit of the kink community as well as its intent.
Author’s note: None of the foregoing applies to dungeon monitors! When they intervene in a scene, they are doing so at the behest of other concerned players or the proprietors of the dungeon in the interest of ensuring everyone stays safe and there isn’t a problem. Please, PLEASE!, if you decide to go to a dungeon after reading this and you find a DM all up in your Kool-Aid, don’t even THINK about trying to use this article to rules-lawyer your way around the DM’s judgment or commands. Everyone’s met that asshole; PLEASE DON’T BE THAT ASSHOLE!
Of course, any scene the players go into should be consensual. But this isn’t as simple as saying, “Yeah, okay…sounds like fun!” Consent is one of those words which is way too small to properly bear all the shadings of meaning and intent it carries, like “trust” and “love.”
Here is what a good version of consent looks like, by my own lights.
- The players have each independently educated themselves on the potential risks of the sort of play they want to engage in;
- The players have each independently assessed the risks and assessed those risks against both their own and the other player(s) hard and soft limits;
- Determined they both or all wish to proceed with this sort of play, and that the risks and rewards are acceptable to them;
- And mutually, enthusiastically agree this is a thing they should do, acknowledging and accepting their own personal responsibility to themselves and to the other player(s) to do this thing with as much safety and risk reduction as possible.
From this, we see consent is not as simple as “Hey, let’s do this thing what I saw in a porno movie!” and having your partner get all starry-eyed and say, “Okay, Cletus!” Because of the load of possible meanings it carries, and because people tend to get hung up on the simple yes and no paradigm of consent, this ties back into my argument that “safe” really is nothing of the sort, only “SAFER;” “sane” is very much in the eye of the beholder and more a reflection of the onlooker’s own perceptions than the state of mind of the players themselves, absent unlawful or immoral usages by the players such as I described earlier; and “consensual” is far more complex than a broad-stroke treatment like SSC allows for.
Unfortunately, Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, or RACK, and Personal Responsibility, Informed Consent Kink, or PRICK, don’t have the same friendly sound as SSC, even if they are far more accurate and better equipped to encapsulate what really goes on in a kink dynamic or scene. Acronyms are by definition limited and forced to carry more weight than the letters or words should really allow. They’re a verbal shorthand, and any shorthand usage is by definition going to overlook a lot of important nuance.
We don’t generally deal in black and white in the kink community, aside from the “kids, critters, corpses” rule. We embrace, in theory if not necessarily in practice, every race, creed, color, gender and form of sexual expression. The very phrase MKINYK illustrates this beautifully, to my mind; it says, “My kink may not be right for you. That doesn’t make it wrong for me. Your kink may not be right for me. That doesn’t make it wrong for you.”
If we as a community would start pairing SSC and MKINYK, thereby decoupling the value judgments involved from the intended sentiment, I feel we would be better served as individual kinksters and as productive members of the kink community.
Just my own personal, as always.
However, this does leave me curious: What are YOUR thoughts on SSC/RACK/PRICK? As always, I welcome reasoned, rational debate and discussion in the comments, so long as it’s kept respectful. Also, I know I mentioned the G-word early in this post; this is not an invitation to debate on the Second Amendment, guns, gun control or any similar topics. Keep it on point, be respectful to the others who comment and we’ll get along just fine.
A final note: I discuss this and other kink-related matters in more detail in my new book, Fantastic Dominants and Where to Find Them: A Player’s Guide to the Ultimate RPG. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll consider purchasing a copy for yourself or a friend whom you think might benefit from it!