A brief explanation of terms for safer play in BDSM

A brief explanation of terms for safer play in BDSM

If you have been around the BDSM scene for a while, you have likely heard SSC and RACK used. What is the difference? And how about other, less-known acronyms such as PRICK and CCC? What are the variations between them, and what are your expectations when entering into an exchange with a Mistress or other play partner?

This is a very nuanced subject, and I will not go too far into details, but I do want to offer a brief introduction. If you are looking to delve into the specifics, there are endless resources available online and in print.

The four most commonly used acronyms when discussing safer play are:

SSC: Safe, sane, and consensual.

RACK: Risk-aware consensual kink

PRICK: Personal responsibility informed consensual kink

CCC: Committed, compassionate, consensual

One word that appears in all four acronyms is consent, which is the basis for all healthy BDSM (and other) relationships. Merriam-Webster defines it:

  1. to give assent or approval

  2. compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another

  3. agreement as to action or opinion

In the context of BDSM, this is the act of both parties agreeing to participation in certain acts (which may or may not be sexual in nature). If both parties are not in agreement, it is not an act of consent, but of abuse. This is one of many reasons that Mistresses have lengthy questionnaires asking for hard and soft limits before engaging in any sort of play: we do not want to cause any lasting damage to your psyche. It should be mentioned that there are legal issues to consider, even if the sub/bottom consents, but that’s a subject for another time.

Now for the nuances between the acronyms.

Safety BDSM
Being aware how to play safer crucial in BDSM scenes.

SSC:

This terms was introduced in 1983 by David Stein, who wanted “to distinguish the kind of S/M I wanted to do from the criminally abusive or neurotically self-destructive behavior popularly associated with the term ‘sadomasochism’.”

Let’s be real: BDSM is inherently dangerous. Even a so-called soft practice can cause permanent damage when done incorrectly. Not to mention, what one person considers safe, another might consider bonkers. Think of scuba diving. There is no way in hell I’m going to strap on a tank and dive dozens of meters underwater, surrounded by unusual creatures that may eat me. That just doesn’t feel safe to me (and no, you can’t convince me otherwise). But for others, it’s how they spend every weekend. There is no one definition of safe that works for every human on earth.

Sanity is also subjective, and one reason that I lean more towards RACK or PRICK. For example, I have a sub that, when in stressful conditions (which BDSM scenes are by design), has a difficult time expressing himself verbally. He is “sane,” but I have to be on extra alert when playing with him, monitoring his vital signs and non-verbals to avoid sensory overload. Many of us suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other number of disorders that have commonly been viewed as “insane,” despite leading completely normal lives. If I excluded every person that has had a burnout or suffered depression, I would never play again!

Also, if we think that there are non-safe ways to play, what does that mean for those of us who take part in those practices? For the average non-kinky person, even a mild practice like putting a collar on a sub and leading them on a leash may seem insane. I would love to see the look on their faces when I talk about my average Friday night!

In short, I find SSC to be too subjective for my version of BDSM.

RACK:

RACK was coined in 1999 by Guy Switch, who compared mountain climbing to BDSM. For both activities, the risk makes up a big part of the thrill, but one can minimize danger through proper training, equipment, and technique. Awareness and education are key concepts in RACK, and all participants are expected to be able base their decisions on the information that they have acquired about a certain practice. My partner may be willing to be flogged because I (likely) won’t break the skin on his booty, but a single tail is out of the question as the chance of me drawing blood is much higher. With RACK, there is an expectation that the sub is aware of that prior to consenting to a scene.

PRICK:

This is a fairly new acronym in the BDSM scene, becoming popular in 2009, but one that I appreciate as it emphasizes personal responsibility (and not just awareness of possible dangers) of all participants involved. Each person has the right to accept or reject a particular practice, and must live with the consequences of their decisions. As a Pro Domme, I veer towards this, particularly with subs that want harder practices. As much as it is my responsibility to educate and train myself, my subs also have a role to play. I cannot be responsible if someone doesn’t communicate their needs.

One criticism of PRICK is that we can never be fully prepared for a practice that we have never tried before. Indeed, even if you are with a Mistress that has mastered a particular practice, your body and mind may not be prepared for the experience in real life.

CCC:

Committed, compassionate, and consensual is another term that is gaining in popularity in some circles. CCC is generally for TPE (total power exchange) or 24/7 relationships and generally not adapted for Professional Dommes or with play partners. With CCC, the sub does not make their desires known, but rather only discloses their hard limits. The Dominant partner decides everything (when, where, what, how, with whom…). Safe words are often not part of CCC agreements, although conversations between the submissive and the dominant partner are had to ensure that the practices remain consensual. While many people believe that they want to enter into a CCC relationship, often the submissive realizes that there are a plethora of risks involved, including potentially life-threatening physical and emotional damage.

As I mentioned earlier, consent is the backbone of all of these acronyms. If you did not agree to something that your partner does to you, it’s abuse. Despite what it looks like to those who are not involved in the BDSM scene, generally speaking Dommes are benevolent and caring people who strive to provide a safe sphere to explore the magical possibilities of power exchange.

In BDSM, we are flirting with danger (and it’s soooo good), but we can prepare ourselves mentally and physically to avoid risks. I invite you to do some deeper reading and see what works for you. Take elements from each of these philosophies. Each have their strengths and weaknesses; it’s up to you to decide what feels the most appropriate for your current situation. Most importantly, talk to your partner! Communication in relationships, be them with a professional Dominatrix or not, is the key to having beautiful and enriching experiences.

*I use the term “sub” frequently. I could easily replace that with fetishist or bottom or masochist or client or slave or any number of words. See my article on the subject. 

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