From "SSC" and "RACK" to the "4Cs": introducing a new framework for negotiating BDSM participation.

Author:Williams, D.J.

Background and Introduction

From the time of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's (1886/1978) text Psychopathia Sexualis, BDSM has commonly been assumed to be motivated by an underlying psychopathology. Although biases and misinterpretations among professionals still remain (see Hoff & Sprott, 2009; Kolmes, Stock, & Moser, 2007; Wright, 2009), researchers have consistently shown that BDSM cannot be explained by psychopathology (i.e., Connelly, 2006; Cross & Matheson, 2006; Powls & Davies, 2012; Richters, de Visser, Rissel, Grulich, & Smith, 2008; Weinberg, 2006). Some scholars have recognized that not only is BDSM participation not associated with psychopathology, but that it may be associated with desirable psychological states that are often associated with healthy leisure experience (Newmahr, 2010; Taylor & Ussher, 2001; Williams, 2006, 2009; Wismeijer & van Assen, 2013). Indeed, a widespread shift in understanding seems to be occurring wherein consensual BDSM participation is believed to be an acceptable expression of sexuality and/or leisure.

In light of this shift and in combination with the development of community-based research as a methodological strategy across the social sciences generally, an exciting recent development is the formal collaboration between scholars and communities of people with alternative sexual identities, including BDSM. The Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) was formed in 2005 and combines the knowledge and strengths of scholars and community members to produce high-quality knowledge that can directly benefit the community (Sprott & Bienvenu II, 2007). We welcome this development, and it is in the spirit of mutual benefit that we write the present paper. In fact, we are both scholars and also members of the BDSM community. Hopefully, our discussion here will generate insights among both academics and nonacademics.

In this paper, we summarize the popular BDSM community mottos of Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC) and Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) before proposing what we think is an improved approach, which we call the Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution (4Cs) framework. Since each framework explicitly includes the precise concept of consent, we will discuss a few of the thorny issues surrounding the notion of consent within the 4Cs model a little bit later in the paper, rather than in our summary of SSC and RACK. We do this simply as a matter of retaining a consistent overall structure for readers.

Social Context for the Development of SSC and RACK

Acceptable BDSM, of course, is predicated on careful negotiation among participants. Ortmann and Sprott (2013) reminded us that the concept and practice of consent among participants is what differentiates BDSM from abuse, and they added that "similar to the terms acquiescence and permission, consent is the process by which approval or acceptance of what is planned (often by another) is acceptable or agreeable" (p. 75). They also discussed the development of SSC as a reaction to common beliefs that BDSM is associated with pathology around sadism and masochism. Furthermore, Tuscott (cited in Downing, 2007) suggested that the most frequent accusation toward BDSM practitioners from outsiders is that such practitioners are violent. It is important to note that explanations of violence are also primarily rooted in popular social discourses of psychopathology. Thus, it is not surprising that the starting point for negotiating BDSM possibilities has centered on discussions of psychological stability, consent and safety, hence the birth of SSC. SSC constructs have remained the focus of discussions concerning BDSM negotiation for a long time (Henkin & Holiday, 1996; Miller & Devon, 1995; Taorimino, 2012; Wiseman, 1996). According to Henkin and Holiday (1996), the "commandments" of healthy BDSM are being truthful while playing safely, sanely, consensually, and non-exploitatively.

Despite the popularity of SSC, some BDSM practitioners eventually began to realize that SSC may exclude edgier forms of play that involve higher physical and/or psychological risk, which may be part of the motivation for participation. Risk, of course, is relative and can vary tremendously across individuals. While Danica Patrick or Jimmy Johnson can easily handle driving a car at triple-digit speeds, most of the rest of us cannot do so nearly as safely. Similarly, BDSM participants vary extensively in their physical and psychological capacities and preferences. According to Downing (2007), such a realization shifted a move from SSC to RACK, coined by Gary Switch. Indeed, it is noteworthy that not only was the term safe replaced with risk-aware, but that the term sane (or a similar term) was omitted. In BDSM communities, the term sane seems to assume some standard of psychological health. However, sane (versus insane) is technically a forensics designation, rather than a psychological term, that is applied in assessing causality of a severe mental disorder to the commission of a crime (see Roesch, Viljoen, & Hui, 2003), thus its applicability to BDSM negotiation is of little practical use.

Introducing the 4Cs Framework

While SSC and RACK focus on two shared, essential, concepts (consent and safety/risk awareness), the 4Cs approach retains these general concepts and adds the interrelated dimensions of caring and communication. Of course, any BDSM negotiation framework, which can then be represented as a motto, should be brief and easy for new participants to remember. Like SSC and RACK, the 4Cs of caring, communication, consent, and caution are brief and very easy to memorize. We now provide a brief overview of the 4Cs framework before examining each component in more depth later in the paper. Because consent is emphasized and commonly discussed in both SSC and RACK, we will not address it here in the overview, but will devote some in-depth conversation to it as an essential dimension of the 4Cs.

While there seem to be different levels and intensities of caring that vary between people across their various social relationships, we can commonly acknowledge a basic and inherent caring of people simply for being fellow human beings. Indeed, (alternative) communities often form because of a basic caring, personal identification with, and place to support its members.

The inclusion of caring in a BDSM negotiation motto reflects an ethical stance while acknowledging individuals as unique human beings. The form of caring (i.e., level of trust and intimacy of relationships among participants in a scene) also shapes the qualitative experiences of BDSM. Communication, while often rightly discussed by BDSM authors under consent, is also strongly connected to caring and caution. Although presented separately, these concepts in BDSM are all tightly interwoven. Emphasizing communication should lead to a better understanding among participants regarding individuals' unique identities, needs, and motivations, and thus more fulfilling BDSM experiences. In short, communication as its own entity allows for participants to better understand the subjective realities of those with whom they play.

The reframing of safety/risk awareness to caution appears to be somewhat subtle, but perhaps carries less discursive baggage. We think that this possibility is important because it may be more inclusive of people who embrace a broader range of social discourses concerning how they utilize different forms of knowledge. Currently, we have observed that many BDSM participants seem to defer, knowingly or not, to somewhat strict medical discourses concerning discussions of risk and safety. In this sense, RACK seems preferable to SSC, yet we still realize that SSC has become more restrictive and perhaps codified than was originally intended (see Downing...

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