From "SSC" and "RACK" to the "4Cs": Introducing a New Framework for Negotiating BDSM Participation

By Williams, D. J.; Thomas, Jeremy N. et al. | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

From "SSC" and "RACK" to the "4Cs": Introducing a New Framework for Negotiating BDSM Participation


Williams, D. J., Thomas, Jeremy N., Prior, Emily E., Christensen, M. Candace, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


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. …

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