Safe, Sane, Consensual

Updated: SEPTEMBER 1, 2022

Safe, sane, and consensual (SSC) is one of the philosophies surrounding ethically acceptable behavior in BDSM, kink and alternative sexuality communities. How the term is defined varies, but it is typically broken down as follows:

  • Safe means that the risk of activities should be understood by all participants and either eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
  • Sane refers to the need to approach activities in a sensible and realistic frame of mind, and with an understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality.
  • Consensual means that all participants have freely consented to the activity and were in a state of mind to do so.

SSC is believed to have emerged in the 1980s as part of a "statement of identity and purpose" drafted by a group called the Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). The slogan aimed to combat the notion that sadomasochistic sexual expression was predatory and deviant. The document never tried to fully define the phrase, but it took on a life of its own in the wider BDSM community and, to some extent, sexual culture as a whole.

In later years, many in the BDSM community moved to using an alternative motto - risk-aware consensual kink (RACK) - instead, arguing that some activities will never be entirely "safe," so it is up to those practicing them to be educated about the risks they are taking. In fact, for those who want to adhere to SSC, that may take certain higher risk types of play - such as breath play - off the table entirely. Those who stand behind RACK also note the large amount of ambiguity present in both the terms "safe" and "sane."

More About Safe, Sane, Consensual

SSC is the best known tenet of BDSM outside of the BDSM community. In fact, the person who is believed to have coined the term, an S/M activist known as slave david stein, was surprised to see it emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers for years to come.

The term arose at a time when little more was known about sadomasochism - and the terms sadism and masochism - beyond what had come out of work by psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, which portrayed BDSM and kink as deviant or psychopathic behaviors. (To be fair, he was studying the behaviors in psychiatric patients, not the population as a whole.) It also arose at a time when there was very little kink-awareness, and some in the community feared that newer, more vulnerable members could be preyed on by more experienced (and unethical) practitioners. Over time, SSC became a sort of code of ethics for the BDSM community - and even LGBTQ community - as a whole.

It is important to note that the way safe, sane and consensual (SSC) is defined varies from person to person and between organizations. Over time, educators and activists have clarified and/or expanded the definitions as they believe they should be applied.


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