Knowing Your Limits: Risk Profiles

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Kink has dangers. Dangers to our social standing, to our health, to our sanity. Anyone who tells you that BDSM is “totally safe” is probably lying, or is too ignorant to play with. But something being risky doesn’t automatically make it bad. After all, people bungee jump and sky dive and swim with sharks. It all comes down to what activities you are willing to do, even when knowing all the risks involved, which is what we at XCBDSM refer to as your Risk Profile.

We talk about risk profiles a lot during presentations, and don’t always have the time to really get into details about what it means. So we decided to put together something here for reference.

Your risk profile is a way of describing the types, severity, and likelihood of various risks and how they relate to your willingness to participate in certain activities. Risk profiles are a vital element of RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink), and is enormously helpful in determining whether to say yes or no when someone invites you to participate in play.

At its most basic, a risk profile is a concrete way of acknowledging that anything you do could go wrong. It is not necessarily important that you have something in writing as I will discuss below, but at the very least, you should spend time thinking about all the things you like to do or that you would consider doing in the future, and the potential risks associated with those activities. Be sure to think outside of the box with types of activities (as simply as wearing a collar out in public), and to consider the worst-case scenario that could result (sure, it may not be likely that you will bump into your boss while on vacation in Amsterdam, but if you do, what will be the result of him seeing you being led down the street by a leash?)

Both tops and bottoms can have risk profiles. If you are a switch, your risk profile may be different as a bottom than as a top. Your risk profile should include all potential risks, not just those related to physical injury.

In what follows, we will show you our method of putting together your risk profile.

HOWEVER, please remember that you will be confronted with situations that you had not considered before. Those things will not be part of your risk profile and you will have to make a decision on the spot. If you have invested the time into thinking about these things, though, you will find it much easier to quickly assess the risk of a situation and make a decision that is consistent with your risk profile.

MAKING A RISK PROFILE

To start, begin assembling a list of stuff you like to do or would consider doing in the future. For the purposes of this activity, we are going to limit the list to things which

  1. Fall within the boundaries of kink/bdsm, AND
    1. Would be observed and considered unusual by the general public, OR
    2. Bears at least some reasonable risk of physical injury or emotional distress

For instance, a dominant telling a male that they have to wear heals to work would certainly be noticed and could have some risk, but a dominant instructing you to wear something red each day, while it might be a part of your D/s dynamic, does not rise to the level of being unusual by public standards. However, if you are generally upset or averse to the color red, and wearing it everyday has a reasonable risk of upsetting you, then it could certainly be included in your profile. Why? Because if it is that upsetting to you, it bears the risk of distracting you at work or while driving. It could raise an already high anxiety level to the point of being dangerous. But if wearing red doesn’t bother you, or have other associated risk, there is no point in putting it on the list.

Here is a short list of things you might consider for your list, if they apply to you. This is only meant to get you started, be sure to spend a lot of time thinking about everything that should be on your own personal list.

  • Spanking
  • Choking/Breath Play
  • Hair pulling
  • Cross-dressing in private
  • Cross-dressing in BDSM spaces (like a dungeon or club)
  • Cross-dressing in public spaces
  • Wearing a collar 24/7
  • Not being allowed to wear underwear, ever
  • Being required to wear women’s underwear at all times (for men)
  • Temporary play piercing
  • Permanent piercing
  • Tattoos
  • Fire play
  • Electrical play
  • Using titles, such as Master or Slave, in public
  • Chastity play
  • Shaving your head
  • Consensual non-consent (rape play)
  • Rope bondage
  • Rope suspension bondage
  • Being handcuffed to the bed while they go shopping
  • Sex with someone other than your partner
  • Being tied up naked at a BDSM club with a sign that says “Fuck Me”

 

Once you have your list, take one of the activities from it, and write it on it’s on piece of paper (or new page in Word, or however you are doing it).

Brainstorm all the possible negative consequences of that activity. Here are an example:

Activity – Man wearing women’s underwear 24/7:

  • In a medical emergency, some emergency staff or others might see it.
  • Arousal could distract from concentration while driving or working.
  • Embarrassment when changing clothes at the gym
  • If visible to the public (black bra under a white shirt, or large sup size), consequences could include
    • Embarrassment or emotional distress
    • Damaged reputation or uncomfortable situation if someone you know sees you
    • Lowered standing and inability to advance at work
    • Ridicule or exclusion from family and friends

 

Once you think you have a complete list of potential risks, take a look at the list and think about how likely each thing is to actually happen. You can simplify that to a 1-10 scale or some other system if you prefer.

In some cases, like the risk of infection from a temporary piercing, you might have to do some research to find out how likely the risk is.

Also, some of the risks might be conditional. In the example, there are some risks that are only present if the activity is apparent to the public. This is where you will find that your initial description of the activity might not have been specific enough. In this case, perhaps “underwear” was not defined well enough. If you only meant “panties”, some of the risks might not apply. If you discover an issue of conditional risks, simply mention it as I have in the third and forth examples below.

Activity – Man wearing women’s underwear 24/7:

  • In a medical emergency, some emergency staff or others might see it. (1)
  • Arousal could distract from concentration while driving or working. (5)
  • Embarrassment when changing clothes at the gym (10)
  • If visible to the public (black bra under a white shirt, or large sup size), consequences could include
    • Embarrassment or emotional distress (8)
    • Damaged reputation or uncomfortable situation if someone you know sees you. (8)
    • Lowered standing and inability to advance at work (6)
    • Ridicule or exclusion from family and friends (4)

 

Next, mark (highlight, star, whatever) those risks that would be considered, based on type and likelihood, to indicate how acceptable that risk is for you. I use this system:

  • Green = Acceptable risk, as is
  • Yellow = Unacceptable risk as is, possibly acceptable with risk mitigation (lowering the likelihood number)
  • Red = Unacceptable risk

Example:

Activity – Man wearing women’s underwear 24/7:

  • In a medical emergency, some emergency staff or others might see it. (1)
  • Arousal could distract from concentration while driving or working. (5)
  • Embarrassment when changing clothes at the gym (10)
  • If visible to the public (black bra under a white shirt, or large sup size), consequences could include
    • Embarrassment or emotional distress (8)
    • Damaged reputation or uncomfortable situation if someone you know sees you. (8)
    • Lowered standing and inability to advance at work (6)
    • Ridicule or exclusion from family and friends (4)

 

If you find a risk that is unacceptable as is, simply note what would make it acceptable. In the example above, this might be simply wearing “boy” underwear over the top of the “girl” underwear so that it is not seen while changing. This could reduce the likelihood number to a 2 or 3 and make it acceptable.

Now let’s try an example with more physical risks involved. You will see more conditional risks here. (These are not actual risk assessment numbers, just examples.)

Activity – Temporary Surface (Play) Piercing – Location: Chest and upper arms

  • Bacterial/viral infection
    • When all recommended best practices are followed (1)
    • Fresh needles, but other factors, such as skin prep or use of gloves, is neglected (3)
    • Previously used needles, not sterilized since last use (7)
  • Bleeding (7)
  • Significant Blood Loss (2)
  • Bruising (4)
  • Permanent Marks (Scarring)
    • Small Gauge Needle (20g or smaller) (2)
    • Medium Gauge (19g-15g) (4)
    • Large Gauge (14g-10g) (6)
    • XLarge Gauge (9g or bigger) (8)
  • Pain (9)
  • Lasting Pain (after 24 hours) (3)
  • Damage to organs or major blood vessels (1)
  • Damage to minor blood vessels (3)
  • Allergic Reactions (0)

 

As you can see in this example, the person who created this is ok with taking on significant physical risks, but draws a hard line at re-use of needles or with the use of very large needles. The person also wants certain precautions taken to reduce pain, marks, and health risks in certain circumstances.

If any of the non-conditional risks, such as bruising, were to be marked as red, than this activity should be considered as a hard limit for you, and not participated in.

Using that techniques, you can visually assess the risks of any given activity on your list and begin to establish your total risk profile.

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