Posted: September 6, 2010 by Isaac Cross in Featured Posts, Learn Something, Philosophy, Resources

Note: This article was published in the November 2010 edition of the NLA-C Link. All rights are reserved. Please do not repost without permission.

A little history, a little opinion
By Cross

So first, a little background. According to some sources, SSC was inspired by public service announcements around July 4th each year, urging people to have a “Safe and Sane Fourth of July celebration” . Others credit Tony Deblase after an unsigned essay that was submitted to Chicago’s “Inferno 10″ (1981) in which he said, “Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community and Chicago Hellfire Club continues to serve its community — striving always to educate and promote safe and sane enjoyment of men by men.”

Regardless of the origen, the term “Safe, Sane S/M” was becoming widely used by the mid-80′s at clubs all over the country.  In 1987, the Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA) organized a Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. The event was coordinated by the Community Involvement Committee, the political arm of that organization. David Stein, who was part of a committee of GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) charged with drafting a new “statement of identity and purpose” recalls discussion about the catch phrase.

GMSMA’s Community Involvement Committee chose “safe sane consensual” as the slogan for the contingent and the conference because we felt these words were the best sound bite to distinguish the kind of sexual expression we were marching in support of from the typical association of S/M with harmful, antisocial, predatory behavior. While no one at our meetings felt that “safe sane consensual” was the last word on the subject, or that it “defined” S/M, we felt it did the job that needed done: to say to anyone coming to us with a stereotypically negative view based on lurid headlines and exploitative movies (we all remembered Cruising), “That’s not what we’re about.”

We had no idea the slogan would have the success it did, or that so many people would take it as more than a starting point. But if it hadn’t been spontaneously embraced by so many people, because they felt it fit what they were doing, or wanted to do, it wouldn’t have had such “legs.” There was no way that GMSMA, or anyone else, could have imposed the slogan on the community if most people hadn’t liked it.

The trouble with SSC, in my humble opinion, is that it is too subjective. I understand it’s roots and I think it was vitally important for a slogan like that to be disseminated during that time. But when it really comes down to it, who’s opinion of what is “safe” or “sane” is the right one?

Use of SSC has led to many self-proclaimed “experts” attempting to dictate what practices are acceptable or not for the rest of us. I have experienced this, myself, on a number of occasions, most recently while I was under fire for a new technique I was using to pierce and some of the practices that I discussed in connection with it on my website. One person, who claimed to be a professional body-piercer, had this to say:

It’s about being responsible. It’s about safety. The first thing I learned about BDSM was this. SAFE SANE and CONSENSUAL. Whats the first word there?



People like this are, sadly, all over the place in our community. People who believe that their knowledge or experience (the person above repeated over and over again that he had been piercing since “before I was born”) gives them the right to tell other people what is an acceptable amount of risk. And they usually do so under the banner of SSC.

However, if you think about it, insisting that I do play-piercing according to industry standards is similar to insisting that I bring my home kitchen up to restaurant health codes before I can make you a grilled cheese sandwhich.

But SSC was never intended to be used as a weapon. David Stein said:

Those with few or no roots in the struggle to bring S/M out of the shadows…  tend to apply the slogan in a simplistic way, even using it as a stick to beat anyone whose style of play offends them for whatever reason. The implication is that whatever is safe, sane, and consensual is good, and whatever isn’t is bad, which goes far beyond what we intended back in 1987.

In 1987, we were trying to draw a line between what is clearly defensible, in terms of both social structures and personal well-being, and what is either indefensible or at least very questionable. It was a conscious, deliberate attempt to shift the debate onto grounds where we thought we could win, instead of having to keep proving we weren’t serial killers, spouse beaters, and child abusers.

SSC continues to be the most used phrase to define that difference between what we do in our community and what those other people are doing. It is serving that purpose well. But many of us have simply grown tired of having the phrase used against us whenever we do something that others view as “not safe enough”. Gloria Brame described it as “this need people have to assert their superiority and place themselves in some imaginary hierarchy of sexual enlightenment. Obviously, over-compensation for insecurity . . . but also something that is very dangerous in a dominant, i.e., Major Ego Problems! It’s used at times to enforce an “us vs. them” mentality . . . . All you have to do is say you’re SSC (whatever it means, whether or not you’ve really given any thought to what it means, whether or not what you think is right or not or has any basis in reality) . . . et, voilà! you’re a top who deserves respect and even kudos for “playing by the rules.”

Due to this major concern, as well as a variety of smaller ones, many of us within the BDSM community have begun to reject SSC in place of RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). We do this, not because we don’t appreciate and respect SSC or it’s origins, but because we want something better and more accurate. SSC is a great slogan to put on the public face of kink. It is simple to understand to outsiders, but for us on the inside, it just isn’t the kind of practicality we need, and can mean too many things. So while we keep SSC as our community’s banner, we use RACK as our motto and our guide in the day-to-day practices of kink.

RACK puts the responsibility, not on supposed “experts” and judgmental community leaders, but on the individual. It empowers each person to define their own risk profile. Author Justin Medlin of says:

I personally think that RACK is a lot more honest and a lot less ambiguous than SSC for the purpose in educating the people who actually engage in BDSM play activities. I think that RACK makes you much more aware of what needs to be covered before engaging in ANY activity with anyone. I also think that we as a community still have a great need for SSC, the theory behind it was very noble when it came about in the mid 1980′s and that theory is still noble today. We as a community need something that is short and catchy and portrays us in a good light. A popular beer commercial advertises its product as “great taste, less filling” and for the people it’s trying to reach is a great slogan. It does not advertise with “drink 6 of these in 15 minutes, get behind the wheel of a car and you may kill yourself or someone else”. That’s the reality of it though isn’t it? Beyond just selling ourselves in a positive fashion to the rest of the world, I think we also owe it ourselves AND the rest of the world to educate one another and ourselves in the best most honest fashion that we can. As far as I am concerned, SSC makes the sale possible and nice, RACK is the warranty that keeps it from ever being portrayed as lemon.

Our community does not need more budding kinksters doing risky things without hesitation or education because some “expert” told them it was safe. We need individuals who take a personal responsibility to research and hone their craft, who know the risks of what they are doing and can explain them clearly to the people they play with. We need teachers who explain the many different ways to do something and their associated risks, not just “the right way”. We need independent thinkers and players willing to challenge the ones who want to tell us what is ok or not to do with our partners. We need people who argue with facts, instead of fear; with insight instead of insults; with thoughts, instead of threats.

SSC is a fine face for our community, but we deserve something better. RACK is better. Is it the best? probably not. Someone, somewhere has probably come up with something better. One person I know uses PRICK (Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink). But RACK is the one that is growing and become popular right now and given the choice of SSC vs RACK, I’ll take the one that empowers me and the ones I love to make their own choices. After all, isn’t that what our community has been demanding from society?


David Stein and Gloria Brame Quotes:

Justin Medlin Quote:

  1. Cameron says:

    “But many of us have simply grown tired of having the phrase used against us whenever we do something that others view as “not safe enough”.”

    It sounds like the beef isn’t with ‘SSC’, but rather with the attitude that some bring to it. I’m not sure how immune RACK would be to any similar piracy of meaning.

    Scolds will be scolds, be it SSC or Rack or whatever.

    • Cross says:

      Perhaps you are right, but I think that subject terms like “safe” and “sane” make it easier. By promoting something like RACK, you promote the idea of personal responsibility, and that’s what I hope to do.

  2. This article was linked to from HERE.

    Sara Testerossa said:

    “If you’d like to read more about SSC and RACK, from a historical perspective, this is a great article by Cross.”

  3. I came across this years after you posted it, but thanks for writing. Will definitely be watching your site from now on.

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