Saturday, 1 September 2007

Safer Communication Practices

EthylBenzene on the Interesting Posts post writes, largely quoting:

    I mean, I came across this quote the other day clicking around the interwebs:
    "Some even have "safe words," they can use to pull the plug on a "scene" if it gets too - I dunno. Intense? Demanding? Whatever? Safewords. I kid you not. Kind of like a veto power over what is happening that pretty much cancels any illusion some dumb soul has about being dominant.

    I don't play at D/s. I don't use "safewords." And fuck the bdsm mantra, "Safe, sane and consensual." It's just a simpering, forelock tugging attempt to convince the vanilla folk that bdsm players are really just like them - it's just a game, see, and we aren't really serious, we're just playing dress up."

    I mean, yikes. Imagine you're just clicking around, trying to learn about this stuff, you run into this. How're we supposed to distance ourselves from this CDD crap when people who identify as "one of us" write such things? Oy. I dunno. Maybe I need more coffee to make more sense or something, but I'm just horrified that some lost submissive woman will find herself in an abusive situation because the silent majority of the "community" isn't speaking up and saying "um, no."


There are these words that get tossed around subculturally, like "safeword" or "safe, sane, and consensual". And sometimes they're tossed around as some sort of talisman to ward off evil, and sometimes they're tossed around as contemptible nonsense, and neither of these things gets into the reasons that the concepts exist, why they were created, what they're attempting to express.

So a little examining is in order.

"Safeword"

I would like to start out by noting Eileen's post at A Place to Draw Blood Laughing, "Traffic Light Colors", because it means that I don't have to write, well, basically all of that about what the purpose behind a safeword is. I will then quote Trinity, saying something very similar:

    I got into some arguments with them about safewords, I remember. Inw hich I came up with an analogy I still use today: Say I'm performing in a play. Does it become the audience's "performance" rather than mine if someone yells "Fire" and I stop performing as we all make our way to the exit?


Okay, so. Now that we're all on the same page about what safewords are, positing that I agree with Eileen and Trinity, I'll go into my perspective on the concept.

I will start out by saying right out: I do not have an official safeword, in the sense of 'verbal stoplight'. This is not because I disagree with any of the previous material, but because I am not personally equipped to use one. I suspect if I ever bottomed, I would pick up the usage, because in that context my limitations would be less likely to come into play.

When I get into a subspace state, my boundaries become intensely fluid. Things which I would not have consented to in advance, and indeed would not be happy with having done, become okay, or at least not sufficiently uncomfortable for me to register them as potentially problematic. This made parts of my life very educational the first time I put d/s stuff into practice, as my partner of the time was much more wide-ranging than I, and we were young and inexperienced enough that we weren't good at negotiation.

It was probably something like in the first week of our actual relationship -- well before we did any discussion of power exchange stuff -- when my liege dropped me down deep into subspace for the first time. And he looked at the state and realised he could get consent for anything he wanted at the time there, and hauled me back out again to ask for consent. (I told him that what he wanted to do would have been okay at the time, but I'm not sure it would have been okay afterwards; he said that that was what he'd thought.)

I'm also one of those nonverbal subs. It's entirely possible for me to get into a state where I am both in a substate altered consciousness and capable of speaking, but these states are fairly fiddly and also not very deep, for the most part. Generally, I can communicate gesturally, and have done so in cases where I needed something; actual language use is not functional for me.

I get stymied on complex or precise subject communications when I'm nonverbal. (Last night, I wound up in a state of trying to figure out if it was worth it trying to express 'geckoes' nonverbally. I waited until I came up.) At this point I have a regular gesture symbolset for expressing limitations and needs -- 'could I have some of the water', or stuff about the one of my shoulder that has sharply limited range of motion and thus cannot be tied or pinned in a particular range of positions, or 'you're bruising my collarbones again'. But the first time, say, the collarbone-bruising issue came up, I just dealt with it until it was verbal (it wasn't safeword-out-level pain, but the bones were bruised for several days afterwards), explained it later, and now it's a known gestural thing. Explaining at the time was outside of my range.

The thing is, strictly speaking, that gestural library is basically a bunch of yellow-level safewords, communications about body limitations and discomforts that have been built up over time and awareness of the range of stuff we do, and as we shift around our interactions to include more and different things, we work out the library further, with a little trial and error. (I still haven't got a good gesture for 'You stopped talking to me! Waaah!' Heh.)

The thing is, knowing my limitations around verbality and communication, we tend to take things very carefully. The first time he pulled my hair during sex, I was completely unable to communicate with other than just the response to sensation; we talked about it afterwards, and I conveyed that no, he had been nowhere near a boundary with that, in fact he had been a touch frustratingly far away from it and could he go a little closer next time maybe? But the cautious approach to new thing. For things where he needs me to be able to give him verbal feedback, we make sure I'm in a state where I'm capable of giving it; I imagine as we get more experienced with those things, we will be able to start from deeper substates.

The critical thing to me with the concept of safeword is being able to communicate critical status information by some means, and to be able to expect that that status information will mean that one's partner will attend to the relevant needs. This can and should be built up from verbal signals, gestural signals, previously expressed boundaries, and familiarity with one's partner and their responses, in the proportions that are appropriate to the situation. I consider it to be my responsibility, as someone who goes boundary-fluid and nonverbal, to express baseline hard and soft boundaries in advance and have some ability to communicate within my limitations to warn about reaching them or actual crises. Someone in a different situation will have to do different work to establish their stuff.

"Safe, Sane, and Consensual"

This is a funny one. My understanding on the background of it is that it was originally coined by David Stein in about 1983, to distinguish BDSM from "criminally abusive or neurotically self-destructive behavior"; he notes that 'safe' and 'sane' originated in a public PR campaign that he interpreted as "Have a good time, but don't be stupid and burn the house down or blow your hand off". The phrase was not originally a slogan, but part of a preamble to a longer piece; Stein regrets the loss of nuancing from the sloganising effect. (For the source on my quotes, read the PDF Safe Sane Consensual: The Evolution of a Shibboleth. In fact, go do it now, I'll still be here when you're done.)

Quoting Stein:

    The "safe, sane, and consensual" formula was originally put forward as a minimum standard for ethically defensible S/M, because that must be the basis for any defense of S/M rights. Today, however, and especially in the hetero and pansexual communities, S/M itself (or "BDSM", which some find more palatable) is frequently defined in terms of SSC, while the SSC slogan is treated with quasi-religious reverence and even explicitly referred to as a "credo" or "creed". instead of asking people to think about what it means to do S/M ethically, and to make the hard choices that are sometimes necessary (if only between what's right and what's right now), many organisations today act as if these issues have all been settled, assuring us that sadistic or masochistic behavior not deemed SSC isn't S/M at all but something else -- abuse, usually, or domestic violence or poor self-esteem.


Remind anyone else of "the personal is political"?

    As a result, some people use simplistic conceptions of SSC to beat anyone whose limits go beyond there, while others think mere lip service to the SSC idol absolves them of any responsibility to act with decency or compassion. The idea has taken root that whatever is safe, sane, and consensual is good, and whatever isn't is bad. [...] ... a well-planned scene may fizzle rather than sizzle. On the other hand, an extremely risky, "lunatic," or dubiously cosnensual scene might provide peak experiences that neither party -- assuming they survive it -- would want to have missed. Being SSC alone is not enough, because it says nothing about why we do S/M in the first place.

    Or maybe it says too much? The idolisation of SSC occurred during the same period that S/M activity came to be almost universally referred to as "play", S/M practitioners as "players", and the tools we use as "toys". [...] But even while conveying that good S/M is more than SSC, the amended formula -- "safe, sane, consensual, and fun" -- reinforces not only the mistaken notion that SSC is a criterion of value at all, but also that S/M is something you do merely "for fun" and without serious intent.


Actually, a lot like reading the original "The personal is political" essay, reading this gives me a lot more sympathy for the origin of the terminology. He talks about the original concepts of why they used those words -- and brings it pretty much into line with the 'slogan' I prefer, RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink). (RACK is, so far as I can tell, more popular among edgier folks; I prefer it just because I don't feel that someone with my intense kink for altered consciousness is necessarily in a good position to evaluate 'sane'.)

So the original intent for SSC was to open up grounds for discussion, to raise the question of examining what was going on and expressing reasonable understanding of consequence. "Safe" was intended to contain discussion of boundaries and limits, reasonable levels of risk, evaluation of consequence and circumstance; "sane" to distinguish between the real world and fantasy; "consensual", which is in both phrases, to acknowledge agreement and chosen participation rather than coercion. (And he acknowledges that it was coined in the absence of knowledge about things like how difficult it is to leave an abusive spouse.) The idea was to say, "Look, we're doing this stuff within these defined, reasonable bounds; can we get you people to stop conflating us with abusers?", with perhaps a bit of sex-pos activism. To paraphrase: If we break away the conflation, will people face up to the sex-negativity of their actual opposition to S/M?

According to Stein's essay, at the time SSC was coined, pretty much all available BDSM imagery was edgy, at least bordering on non-con, and had this aura of the dangerous; the concept of the SSC question was in part intended to start a dialogue that would start developing a language that accepted the possibility of consent. Everything was edgy, or portrayed as such, and part of Stein's group's intent was to create a less fear-driven culture.

From the conceptual revolution of SSC came a strongly consent-based culture which has started to have the dialogue about these things. In the process, though, many people have forgotten that it was started as a dialogue term, something that asked the questions rather than answered them. While it's no longer reacting to non-con stuff, coercion as the absolute staple of the porn because that's the only way people know how to conceptually frame their kink, it's still seen as pushing for something more reasonable, quiet, and not edgy than the default. But the defaults have changed wildly.

So the questions still remain: What is within your sense of what is safe and reasonable, and what precautions are necessary to push those limits? Where is the boundary between fantasy and reality? And, going back to the section on safewords, what is agreed to?

These are dialogues we still need to have.

23 comments:

Trinity said...

Great, great, great post.

Too much to coherently comment on all at once, but

1) I do think it's important to recognize a safeword is not a panacea, particularly when one is going deep. Those are scary waters. One word doesn't protect you from the "Here there be dragons" shit on the map. Especially when you lack the ability to form words or to withdraw consent.

At the same time, I do think a clear word that everyone knows means "This activity needs to end now" is a handy tool to have around. (And not, as I've said and you quoted, one that means the dominant person is no longer dominant.) I think that's how it should be seen. One tool in a toolbox. That wrench over there.

As far as SSC goes, I honestly don't prefer RACK. SSC makes perfect sense to me. I did have some concerns when I was new about very strong power exchanges, and I'm reasonably sure I worded it as "is that SSC?"

but that's shorthand for, y'know,
"people are saying "real slaves can never leave" and I'm wondering if you can consent for your future self, here..."

and I still have some of those concerns (though I'm less likely to see people who espouse that stuff as people who even belong in the same conversation as legitimate BDSMers at all anyway) so, well, it's not about being the BDSM Police.

I don't know. RACK just always struck me as a way that people who play heavy use to look down their noses at people who play light.

I play heavy as heck when I'm with someone compatible with me on that level, and light-ish most of the rest of the time. I'm not doing anything profoundly different or separable such that I'm "not safe but risk aware" or something totally... strange like that.

"Safe" I can parse. "Safe" is half of a very common phrase, "safe sex". Which means "Wear a condom and you're far less likely to contract something that will kill you. But that doesn't mean you won't."

Doing SM in a "safe" way means minimizing those risks in a way that makes sense for the activity I've chosen.

"Risk aware" doesn't say "risk minimizing" and I really don't like that. We're not nodding our head at a risk going "I see you there" and blindly going about whatever edgy kink without learning whatever technique or precaution is sensible.

And I think calling it RACK encourages people to see it that way. If you're a top risk minimization is no longer your responsibility, much less your duty, because you're RACK baby and it's hotter to live on the EDGE!!!

and I'm, y'know, rolling my eyes because I'm perfectly willing to do that dangerous a scene with someone but I consider whatever risk minimization is appropriate to that edgy scene part of my duty, and have no need to brag that I'm willing to be crazy and wild.

So I really don't like RACK. I understand people's worries about SSC and the absurdity of making heavy sadomasochism sound snuggly, but... well.

Risk minimization is not "risk awareness" and my brain can't parse people not noticing that difference.

Trinity said...

It's the difference, to me, between

"I could break bones with this implement. I know that's a risk, I accept it, and so does my bottom. We both love the idea of using such a dangerous implement. Now that that's over, here's our scene!"

and

"I could break bones with this implement. I'm aware of this risk, and so is she. We both love the idea of using such a dangerous implement. However, I've practiced with it, learned about the body, tried it on myself, etc. I can be reasonably sure this unwanted dangerous result is unlikely, because I've done what I can to minimize that risk."

Now many of the RACK-espousers I know subscribe to the latter, but

1) that's not what it says

and

2) I do see some people using RACK to brag, or to suggest that risk minimization of particular sorts is not sexy, is namby-pamby, etc. Which makes me worry that it's easy to miss the point.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I see your points there.

I think my immediate response is the "We like the dangerous yay" attitude is not actually demonstrating awareness. It actually comes across to me as avoiding awareness -- specifically, avoiding facing the extent of possible consequences. I suspect mostly that means I have a fairly holistic connotation on 'awareness'; I can easily see the phrase being parsed in terms much more like, "Yup, I know I could fuck someone up but good with this, whatever, let's go."

I also suspect there's a great deal of perception -- at least partially accurate -- that people who use 'SSC' are inclined to try to shame people for not being mellow, and that people who use 'RACK' are inclined to try to shame people for not playing hard. Which means mostly that the same problem is everywhere -- people using the things as laws, rather than approaches to asking questions about what they're doing.

And the thing about risk minimising -- hm. Let me see if I can get this out in comprehensible English.

When I'm doing the stuff I see as really intense, there isn't a way of reducing the risk. I'm still peeling open my head and pushing some of my cognitive patterns out past limits that I have in other states, and this always has a minimum base risk. I am aware of the possible consequences of this and have safeguards in place, but if I emphasise risk minimisation, I can't get there at all. I can't be in a space I consider 'safe' and something that actually cracks my head open right at the same time -- cracking my head open like that is definitionally unsafe, enough that it takes a lot of structure and controlled circumstance to bring it down to 'safe enough to do at all'.

And this is a connotational difference, as I think you're saying, "Accomplish what you're trying to do as safely as does not interfere with your goal" -- whether that goal is the mindbendy stuff that I do or playing with the implement that could break bones if misused or whatever -- but pretty much whenever I hear "risk minimisation" out in the world, it's frequently in terms of examining whether the goal is worthwhile. Not "How do you do that safely" but "Are you sure you should be doing that?" (What's in my head at the moment is a discussion I'm reading elsewhere about whether or not letting kids walk to school is acceptible in 'risk minimisation' terms, in case some context would help.)

None of this language is clear, and I don't think it's possible to be certain what someone is meaning without context. As I said, I know you don't mean the way I'd read it without knowing you, but I have the personal interaction knowledge to actually bridge that gap. I'm starting somewhere near, "If it were safe, I wouldn't need to try it like this", and you're starting somewhere near "'Safe' means 'conscious of risks and taking reasonable precautions to reduce the chances of those consequences to acceptable levels'", and without talking about it we wouldn't know we're talking about completely different shit.

(I also know a lot of advocates who hate the phrase "safe sex" because they think it promotes the illusion that risk-free sex exists, and insist on "safer sex practices" instead. I have probably been more influenced by them than I was entirely aware.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

On the subject of the last parenthetical, that's why I titled the thing 'safer communication practices' rather than 'safe communication', because 'safe communication' doesn't exist either. ;)

Trinity said...

"I'm starting somewhere near, "If it were safe, I wouldn't need to try it like this", and you're starting somewhere near "'Safe' means 'conscious of risks and taking reasonable precautions to reduce the chances of those consequences to acceptable levels'", and without talking about it we wouldn't know we're talking about completely different shit."

yeah. SSC to me means: Don't be a moron. Know what you're doing. Know how to do it in a way that isn't likely to court disaster.

I do know there are SSC Police in the world, but when I first got into things and the people who were really my first mentors sat me down it was "do you know what safe(r) sex means?" "Yes" "Do you know that doesn't mean no one will ever be harmed?" "Yes, it means doing things to drastically reduce risk of STD's." "Okay. 'Safe SM' is the same thing. There is no magic thing that will make this risk-less, but there are rules of thumb to do basic SM 'safely' in the same sense." "Okay."

And... eh. I think for me the big reason why RACK never caught on with me is that SSC always struck me as something to tell newbies. OKay here you are and you're going to meet with SADOMASOCHISTS!! and for all you know they're all axe murderers. And they take you aside and go "This is safe, sane, and consensual."

And you go "Hey, whoa, these axe murderers care about my safety and my consent! And they promise not to try anything crazy! Maybe I am safe here."

Where to me, saying "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" to some twentysomething who's scared shitless and just walked in the door -- "Risk? Oh crap, this stuff really IS risky!"

and that's exactly the person/people who need the reassurance that there IS a shallow end and it IS a lovely place to swim and you WON'T seriously risk drowning, necessarily, from experimenting if you understand what you're getting into.

I mean, I remember when I first started surfing BDSM websites in earnest. I wasn't at all sure that I wasn't crazy, much less that other BDSMers weren't. Seeing "Safe Sane Consensual" blinking everywhere made me feel better. "Oh, these people care about safety."

Which, well -- my only previous exposure to people who were into erotic pain was teen gothy types who really didn't seem to understand that sharing razors for erotic cutting was not a great idea. Seeing "safe", seeing "safety is paramount" -- it meant a TON to me.

"Risk aware?" I was *aware* that shit was risky, which is why I wasn't doing it. Despite being so desperate to try it that I seriously considered, more than once, throwing caution to the winds and doing bloodplay with some random kid because I NEEDED SM so bad.

The drowny stuff? The heavy stuff? Love it. Can't live without it, actually. But I don't need a slogan that makes the edgeplayers feel better to show that.

We're not -- or at least in my opinion we shouldn't be -- the people who spook easily and have delicate feefees. We know what we're doing. Why do we need the standard buzzwords that explain to newbies that no one is out to axe murder them to be crafted with us in mind?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Part of the difference in perspective is that I'm not looking for catchphrases for newbies; I've always been looking for words for what I do. Even when I was inexperienced, I wasn't in need of reassurance for anxiousness about the scary kinky people; I was looking for words talking about this thing here, the scary stuff in my head.

Trying to deal with that in terms of SSC locks me down completely, actually -- because the only option that has any connection with "safe" for the stuff in my head is "never go there, not even under controlled conditions". The way out of there for me is to accept that this is not safe, to be aware of the risks, and manage them appropriately.

And that's the same thing that you're pointing at when you say "safe", but I can't get there from "safe", I have to use different framing language.

And I suspect it's wise and appropriate for BDSM organisations to talk about safety, for precisely the reason you mention: someone who is looking for community and who is concerned about whether or not interacting with these other people is going to be dangerous will be more readily reassured by talking about safe and sane.

But at the same time, some people will respond well to "This is how you do these things safely", and other people will respond well to, "This is how you manage these risks". If I were magically setting up a BDSM organisation, I would probably put SSC in the big banner text and stuff about risk awareness and management in major subheadings, because that speaks to both sides of things. And if I discovered that some third group of people has a different set of language that gets at the same basic concept, then I'd want to figure out how to put that in too.

An inclusive dialogue that actually gets at the issues needs to have a broad base of language use, so that people have a better chance of being able to grab a hold of something that answers their own private issue that they're not necessarily able to articulate in advance. I don't think I could have told anyone as teenaged-me that I needed information about how to do risk management rather than safety information in order to untangle my brain -- but as soon as I found the *concept*, I recognised it and was able to make progress.

Trinity said...

"And I suspect it's wise and appropriate for BDSM organisations to talk about safety, for precisely the reason you mention: someone who is looking for community and who is concerned about whether or not interacting with these other people is going to be dangerous will be more readily reassured by talking about safe and sane."

And that's the thing for me: when we talk about a community buzzword, the way I parse doing that in my head is "to whom are buzzwords most important?" and the answer to that, in my mind, is "new people" -- they're looking for an easy way to grab hold of what we're doing and why.

The rest of us that move beyond that and say things like "I'm RACK now" -- and maybe this was never you, but I see it a lot when people embrace their inner edgeplayer -- well, that has always puzzled me because I wonder why we need labels for what we're doing.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I see "label" as a fancy word for "adjective". ;) (Sometimes also 'descriptive noun'.) If I want to engage with, describe, be able to talk about what I'm doing, I need words that can be used as handles on that manipulation.

I never "moved beyond" SSC, because I was never there -- it never spoke to me, and I was old enough to be wary of picking up slogans for blind parroting. I think I may have a couple of times said something like, "A lot of people talk about kink in terms of safe, sane, and consensual". But SSC never reassured me, it gave me no comfort.

Certainly it didn't give me the sense of recognition and reassurance that I got when I came across the RACK term; I can actually believe in risk awareness. That speaks my language.

An activist group or a support group or a resource group that wants a full breadth of base needs to have language that speaks to both categories. And it may well be that more people will resonate with 'safe, sane' when they're new, and I'm happy to accept that and put it in the big text, but the medium text should also have stuff that implies that the n00bconcerns of people who don't identify with that phrasing will be addressed too.

Eileen said...

I'm afraid I can't take the time to make this comment as expansive as I wish it were. But, briefly: Trinity, your examinations of the nuances of "risk aware" vs. "risk minimization" are very interesting. But then I don't know if everything we do truly minimizes risk; a lot of how people play seems to be a combination of risky behavior *and* risk minimization, and having an awareness of how to appropriately blend the two.

Although I have never particularly gone out and laid a claim to any of these combinations of letters, about a year ago I was drawn into a discussion about the differences between SSC and RACK, and came out of that with the conclusion that if I had to put letters to my play, they'd be something like RASC. (Risk Aware, Sane, Consensual.) Perhaps in part because of the extreme mental involvement of myself and my partners, and definitely in part because I'm dating a bipolar man, the "sane" part has always struck me as the most important element. I really don't like that RACK drops that word.

But then, that's just me.

Trinity said...

"But then I don't know if everything we do truly minimizes risk; a lot of how people play seems to be a combination of risky behavior *and* risk minimization, and having an awareness of how to appropriately blend the two."

That's a good point. I think you're right in one sense -- we decide which risks to take and sometimes take the risks that look unwise from particular common standpoints.

But I think where you come out on that issue also depends on what you take "risk minimization" to mean.

If you're thinking "how do I minimize risk of car crashes?" you're never going to race cars.

If you're thinking "how do I minimize risk of dying while competing in the Indianapolis 500 and actually intending to win?" you're going to come up with some very different answers.

"Perhaps in part because of the extreme mental involvement of myself and my partners, and definitely in part because I'm dating a bipolar man, the "sane" part has always struck me as the most important element. I really don't like that RACK drops that word."

That's interesting, because for me the most persuasive argument against SSC was the argument against the word "sane" as ableist, because it suggests that people with mental illness (who are often deemed "insane" in the sense it's used in regular parlance) can't be trusted to do SM.

Trinity said...

I guess for me the thing is that before taking a serious risk, well

1) What do I and my partner(s) hope to get out of this experience?

2) What risks are essential to getting the experience we want?

3) What risks are not?

4) How do I minimize 3)?

is what I'm asking myself. But I'm much more cautious than many other people, even though I do like intense heavy stuff.

Juliet said...

I was going to say something, off Trinity's initial comment, about SSC as Safer rather than Safe, but I see you've covered that :)

I dither about SSC vs RACK. I think maybe they both have a place, in various contexts (although that place isn't "to enable different styles of people to take shots at each other", obv). I do interpret Risk Aware as risk-minimising, myself, but I can see that others might not; OTOH I kind of suspect that the people who don't interpret it that way are likely to be paying much attention to SSC, either.

Sane is a difficult word; it's possible for two people to look at the same activity and to differ on its sanity. But I do think that it's important to emphasise it as a part of consensuality - as you say in the post, there are mental states in which consent isn't necessarily valid.

overpowered said...

Really interesting post and comments.

I react instinctively against SSC. I do understand the original point of it - to distinguish it from just going and beating someone up or whatever - but somehow for me it misses the point. For me sadomasochism isn't safe, it isn't really sane, and while it's consensual in the broadest sense, I sort of like that coming into question as well (no, I'm not saying I think it's ok to rape people).

Maybe this is because I've never really been involved in it in an official way (colour-coded hankies, fetish clubs, etc.) but always more ad hoc. And all of my experiences have at the very least troubled the boundaries of safety, sanity and consent.

For me a big part of the kick is seeing someone lose control a bit and get carried away and do things that maybe they shouldn't. I know that might be wrong but ... I dunno how to put it, I suppose the whole reason I like this stuff is because it is wrong. And making it safe, sane and consensual seems to make it - not wrong.

That was very rambling and confused but thanks for a thought-provoking and nuanced post :)

Trinity said...

"I dunno how to put it, I suppose the whole reason I like this stuff is because it is wrong. And making it safe, sane and consensual seems to make it - not wrong."

Hmm. Well I don't know what "wrong" means in this context but I'm not for people doing anything that goes against their own moral sense, honestly... so I don't know what to tell you at all.

devastatingyet said...

At the club I go to, when they do the "bdsm 101" class that is mandatory for newbies, they invariably mention both SSC and RACK as well as the fact that some people prefer one term over the other. I tend to prefer RACK but probably for pretentious reasons but not because I am an edge player. I am not an edge player, especially psychologically (but not physically either).

The issue of prospective, ongoing, and retrospective consent is really important to me. It seems obvious to me that a top shouldn't try to negotiate limits once the bottom is in any kind of space. If you're in doubt about whether they would have, two hours before over dinner, agreed to something, then you just shouldn't do it.

But some people are into SM for exactly that type of edgy consent-boundary stuff (and stuff that is even further past the edge for me). I don't know at what point I'm comfortable saying not just "I won't do that" but "And you shouldn't either, even though you want to."

This kind of stuff is why "sane" doesn't really speak to me, I guess.

EthylBenzene said...

Hmm... I have to say I think I agree with Trinity and do prefer SSC for the very reason that it is a great way to indicate to the newbies "no, we're not insane axe murderers." But that's just me. I personally don't find very much resonance with RACK, and agree that leaving off "sane" kind of alarms me. I don't think it's ableist, but that might be just me -- I read it as saying "are you both in a state of mind, that you would recognize later, where you are capable of giving consent?" I don't think that dis-includes anyone with mental illnesses neccesarily, but (my boyfriend too has mental health issues, eileen! what a fun club, right?) if f'rinstance he's feeling exceptionally bleak and depressed, that may not be the right time to allow him to tie me up and hit me with stuff.

All in all, I don't think anyone is disagreeing about what needs to happen between people who "do" SM. It is all about communicating with your partner(s) about where you want to get to, and what you are willing and able to do to get there.

You know, re-reading what I just wrote, I feel like "respect" should be in there somewhere too. You have to respect people, you have to respect boundaries, you have to respect yourself...

Maybe what we need is a WHOLE NEW acronym/initialization? (An acronym, by the way, forms a pronouncable word, but an initialization is just that -- initials.)

And Overpowered -- yeah, I dunno what to tell you. I'm thinking as long as you have the consent in advance to push boundaries, than go play to your heart's content. I kind of get the impression that that's how dw3t works it. I dunno, though, that's just my impression.

EthylBenzene said...

Oh, yeah, I wanted to respond to devastating:
"The issue of prospective, ongoing, and retrospective consent is really important to me. It seems obvious to me that a top shouldn't try to negotiate limits once the bottom is in any kind of space. If you're in doubt about whether they would have, two hours before over dinner, agreed to something, then you just shouldn't do it."

YEAH. Consent should be the gift that keeps on giving. Overpowered -- read that!

overpowered said...

Trinity said...
'Hmm. Well I don't know what "wrong" means in this context but I'm not for people doing anything that goes against their own moral sense, honestly... so I don't know what to tell you at all.'

I don't mean I think it's morally wrong, exactly. More that maybe part of what makes it interesting and worthwhile (and erotic) is if you're not quite sure you *should* be doing it. I realise 'should' probably isn't much clearer than 'wrong'. It's difficult to articulate.

Of course everyone involved should want to do what they're doing. But you can want to do something and consent to it but still feel in some sense that you shouldn't (want to) do it.

I suppose it's the disjunction between those two different types of 'wanting to' that intrigues me. And the sense of being pulled in two different directions - of there being conflicting desires within one person - which comes across in a lot of people's comments here.

(By the way, I'm also in the 'boyfriend with severe depression' club. And I do understand that there are certain times it really wouldn't be a good idea, even if either of us had the inclination.)

Trinity said...

"Hmm... I have to say I think I agree with Trinity and do prefer SSC for the very reason that it is a great way to indicate to the newbies "no, we're not insane axe murderers." But that's just me. I personally don't find very much resonance with RACK,"

ethylbenzene: this is so exactly it. RACK just never resonated with me at all. So when people are so adamant that SSC *needs* replacing and RACK is true to their heart and soul I'm just like... eruh, okay. I'll just keep patting the nervous noobs soothingly and telling them that they can in fact do light BDSM in relative safety, then, and you can... uh, whatever... over there.

Trinity said...

"I don't mean I think it's morally wrong, exactly. More that maybe part of what makes it interesting and worthwhile (and erotic) is if you're not quite sure you *should* be doing it. I realise 'should' probably isn't much clearer than 'wrong'. It's difficult to articulate."

Okay. I think I get that. You could mean the sense that it's dangerous/risky being thrilling, or you could mean something like, y'know "nice people aren't sadists/masochists/imperious rulers/groveling 'slaves'"

and in that case, yeah, no argument here. :)

But for me a big part of my own personal decision to do this comes from my feeling strongly that it's *not* wrong... that it's in fact a necessary thing for me and others to explore their shadow side, and that it can actually be unhealthy *not* to do so.

I'm acutely sensitive to the people who want to white-light-wash existence. They unnerve me.

hexyhex said...

I hate soundbites. I really do. SSC, RACK, whatever. They all get overused to the point where people forget that an acronym doesn't make your activity safer, or more or less kinky.

Safewords? Useless if you're relying on them to keep your play safe, but a wonderful tool when used between two experienced players in the right way. I know too many subs who take pride in never using their safeword to ever rely on them... but on the other hand, I'm not perfect, and occasionally I'm going to miss the signs that my sub/bottom needs to be brought back up. Hell, I get turned on enough in play that I sometimes find it hard to focus on the other person as much as I should... is that still responsible topping?

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