My Safety Philosophy: Why I Practice (C)RACK

I always listen to Loving BDSM Podcast the day it comes out (Fridays), usually on my way to work. They’re always insightful, frequently hilarious and often make me think.  Today’s episode was all about the different safety philosophies within the kink community. Kayla and John discussed why they personally practice SSC – Safe, Sane and Consensual. As always, they’ve got loads of great things to say and I highly recommend you take a listen.

A cracked wall with flowers growing out of it. For a post on safety philosophies in kink.As I was listening, I realised I’ve written about safety tips for kink, but I’ve never actually written about my own personal safety philosophy before.

In kink, the three safety philosophies you’ll mostly hear cited are:

SSC: Which states that everything we do must be Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK: Which urges us to practice Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

And PRICK: Which asks us to take Personal Responsibility (in) Informed Consensual Kink.

Each of these has their merits and I will never knock anyone else’s safety philosophy as long as it’s based around the cores of safety and informed consent. Personally, though, I practice RACK. Let me tell you why.

What is “safe” anyway?

Very little in life is completely safe. We take risks in our life every day. It would be absurd to think that sex or kink could be completely free from risk. I take a risk every time I use a sharp knife to chop vegetables. I take a risk every time I get in my car (driving, when you think about the size of the machine you’re in and the speeds at which it moves, is fucking terrifying). And I definitely take a risk every time I let someone spank me, string me up in ropes, or get into edgy and emotionally fraught places in my psyche. (Yes, not all risk is physical. Mental risk is just as real).

Risk Aware, for me, doesn’t just mean knowing the risks are there but taking active steps to reduce them. We know driving is dangerous, so we wear seatbelts, don’t drive drunk, and don’t text while we’re driving. And in kink, it’s exactly the same.

Being risk aware means letting a partner know about any physical issues I might have that could impact our play, and keeping an eye on them during. It means letting my partner know about a pinched nerve or pins and needles in my hands. It means, when I’m Topping, getting proper education on the acts I want to do to another human being and not playing beyond my competence level.

So: nothing we do is, or can be, completely safe. Even vanilla missionary position sex with the lights out carries some degree of risk. By being informed, we can meaningfully mitigate risks to the best of our ability.

Who gets to define “sanity”?

I, like approximately 1/4 of the adult population (conservative estimate,) suffer from a mental health problem. Does that mean I’m incapable of doing kink responsibly? No, absolutely not. As a person with mental health conditions, I find classifications of “sanity” to be intensely problematic.

As long as I’m aware of where my mental health is at, and can communicate that to a partner, it’s generally reasonably safe and completely healthy for me to play. Which… circles us back around to that risk aware piece, doesn’t it?

At best, sanity is nebulous and difficult to define. What feels “insane” to one person might be “average Saturday afternoon” for another.

My unease with PRICK

PRICK is a fine philosophy, in so far as it goes. But it makes me feel a vague uneasiness whenever I hear it, and today I finally put my finger on why.

I’ve been involved in various ways in anti-sexual-violence activism for 6+ years. The phrase “personal responsibility” has been thrown at me and so many of the survivors I know more times than we can count. In those instances, unfortunately, it is taken to the extreme of meaning that you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to you.

This means that a generally good philosophy (“look out for yourself, take responsibility for your actions and the impact they have on yourself and others around you”) has been co-opted and twisted to mean “if someone harms you, it’s your fault”.

It’s not that I’ll never play with someone who practices PRICK, but I would need to make damn sure that their meaning is closer to “we are responsible for taking care of our own and each others’ safety and wellbeing to the best of our ability”. That’s what a good philosophy of personal responsibility would look like.

Sadly, I just know too many people who say “personal responsibility” when they mean “if you get raped, what were you wearing how much did you drink why were you out late how did you not know that guy was a rapist?????

It all comes back to consent

Whichever you practice, you’ll notice that the one thing all these philosophies have in common is consent. Consent is at the core of everything we do. However, it occurred to me today that there is one key ingredient which none of these philosophies explicitly address…

The missing piece

Kayla and John so often come back to the importance of communication in their discussions on Loving BDSM. I often find myself nodding along, and am in absolute agreement with them that effective communication is at the core of everything we do. You cannot have safe(r) kink and sex without communication. You cannot have a good relationship without communication! And I don’t think we can meaningfully discuss good philosophies of safety without also discussing the importance of strong communication.

Therefore I present to you my new philosophy, adapted from RACK, which you are all welcome to use if it speaks to you:

CRACK: Communicative (&) Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

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Image from Pixabay and used under Creative Commons licensing.

[Guest Post] Forget Perfection, Bring Me the Glory – Life as a Disabled Kinkster by Pippin Strange

Today I am so, so honoured to be sharing a guest blog from one of my most favourite people. Pippin is my metamour – my sweetie The Artist’s primary partner – and a dear friend. Among many other things, they identify as disabled, queer and a survivor. They are also supremely wise, powerfully compassionate, ridiculously talented, and kinky as fuck in the best possible way. 

Content notes  are: chronic pain, intestinal health, ableism, intimate partner abuse and rape. Please look after yourselves when engaging with these topics.

Buckle in and get some coffee for this one, folks. It’s longer than I usually post, but I devoured every word and you should too.

Amy x
______________________

A person sitting in their wheelchair facing away from the camera looking up at a big tree.It’s a bad pain day. My joints are twinging; something untoward is happening in my lower abdomen; my neck feels like two bars of iron stuck on either side of my spine. And my fatigue levels are high – even sitting forward in my wheelchair is a challenge, and I’ve done well to make it out of the house.

Suddenly we come to a patch of bumpy pavement. The Magician increases their pushing speed ever so slightly, and every little jolt sets my buttocks singing with joyful agony from last night’s caning. It’s exquisite. Once we’re on the smooth ground again, I tell them my arse still hurts and it’s all their fault. Even before they stop pushing, I know they have broken into that devilishly handsome, sadistic grin. I shiver. They bend down and we kiss deeply, leaving me wanting more.

I’m Pippin Strange, otherwise known as the Minstrel. I’m a genderqueer, queer, polyamorous switch in my late thirties, with two delightful partners – the Magician (also known on Coffee and Kink as the Artist!), and the Ranger. My relationship with each of them includes kink – I submit to the Magician (who is my primary partner), and I switch with the Ranger.

I’m also disabled. I have joint hypermobility, and an unnecessarily interesting selection of long-term mental and physical illnesses, the former including Complex PTSD, the latter including ME/CFS and some form of seizure disorder. I’m also neurodivergent, with no formal diagnosis but the strong likelihood that I am both dyspraxic and autistic. I take several forms of medication, I’m housebound a lot, and I usually use my beloved wheelchair when out and about. For good or ill, being disabled permeates every part of my life, including my sex life, and it has done ever since I reached adulthood.

An evening in a university town, nearly twenty years ago. I’ve just come back from the bathroom. My lower abdomen is again in a scary amount of pain. The Saboteur – my boyfriend, later to become my husband – is not shy of expressing his disappointment that I’m yet again not well enough for intercourse. I’ve been close to screaming with the pain, but instead we focus on his sadness that we’re not going to fuck. I assure him, desperately, that yes I really am trying my best to sort out whatever is wrong with my innards so that he can be inside me again. I feel like a failure.

I say “an evening”. Actually this happens several times. On at least one occasion, I decide to give it a go anyway, because I can’t bear the guilt any more. The pain is too much, self-preservation kicks in, I speak out. He stops and withdraws. But he is the wronged party; I get no sympathy from him.

Fast forward to the present. An afternoon in an industrial city in the Midlands. The Ranger is above me, fucking me, and it’s glorious. His hands pin mine above my head. My lips are pressed against his collar bone, moaning words of helpless submission into the his soft skin. I know I’m not going to come like this, not in this position, but I love it, I love it so much, and I’m desperate to keep going, to feel the rhythm change and hear his gasps as he comes inside me. But my thigh muscles are too weak, and my right hip joint is complaining. This is not a sexy pain. I keep going anyway, because it is wonderful and I want it so much. But he notices something, checks, asks if I’m comfortable. I realise that I’ve been foolish, and admit that I’m not. He pulls out of me, shifts aside so I can stretch out. I breathe an apology for having to stop but he tells me I have nothing to be sorry for. He smiles at me, praises me for answering his question honestly, tells me how good I am. And seeing I’m eager to stay in the scene, he starts dominating me in a different way…

Looking back, I’ve been a sub-leaning switch for as long as I’ve had any sexual urges at all. And I suspect that I have being disabled, even more than being queer, to thank for how much I’ve allowed this part of me to blossom. My body is already othered, already weird, already unacceptable. I’m already rebelling against a cultural norm every time I use it in any way that brings me pleasure. So if conforming is impossible, at least for someone with my drives and my stubbornness, I’m damn well going to rebel in whatever way I like best. And now that I’m gnarled and middle-aged (and the hottest I’ve ever been) and I only have sexual or romantic relationships with people who are actively lovely (rather than, say, completely dreadful), kink – as both dominant and submissive – has become a crucial part of my sexual identity. And a crucial part of how I cope with the day-to-day reality of my health conditions and the impact they have on my life.

A winter morning. I’m so fatigued that my arms have mostly stopped working. But I have the Ranger stretched out at my side, beautiful and helpless and mine. I can do so little to him physically right now, but there’s so much I can order him to do to himself – and I do, stroking his face and holding his gaze with mine and enthralling him with words. I have no power to do much with my muscles, but I have so much power over him.

To be a disabled dom makes, I would say, an instinctive sense. I’m someone who feels far too powerless in my life far too much of the time. And here is the Ranger, a man I love, kind and fascinating and staggeringly gorgeous. And here he is handing temporary control of his body and mind to me, calling me “Sir”, eyes widening with pain or pleasure as he falls at my command and I play with the power he’s given me. Yes fucking please, on every level. 🙂

And the flip-side of that: one of the worst frustrations I experience in being incapacitated with fatigue so much of the time is how little ability I have to do caring, lovely things for the people who I love. Put simply, my dominating the Ranger makes him happy, and I love making the people I love happy.

When I’m submitting, it’s more complicated. I already spend far too much of my life feeling powerless and in pain. So why does, for instance, being held down by the Magician’s firm hand while they torture my nipples until I squeal not only make me wet, but also give me a welcome sense of peace, healing, well-being, and even power?

The obvious answer is that in that situation, however powerless I feel, I actually am nothing of the kind. Every instant is something I have passionately chosen. But it’s more than that. While I do struggle to feel powerful in my everyday life, something that I never struggle to feel is responsible. With PTSD, an anxiety disorder, and a mind that is by nature a constant torrent of words, the feeling of falling into subspace and allowing my mind to be quiet, slow, responsive to what is immediate rather than what is ongoing, brings an instant and glorious relief, and, ironically, a growth of true power within me that lasts long after the scene. As an abuse survivor who struggles with low self-esteem, being praised for my submission by a beloved partner is incredibly healing. As a caree who does not always feel at ease about my needs, to have a situation in which I am cherished and guarded and cared for as a submissive, and in which that adds to the pleasure experienced by the dominant, reclaims some of that space for me away from my own internalised ableism.

And the pain? As every masochist and every chronic pain sufferer knows, pain varies, in quality as well as in intensity. The angry bite of a headache, the enervating ache of a stiff muscle, the sickening dragging agony of an inflamed intestine… “pain” is one word for all these things, but they have little in common beyond it. I defy anyone to enjoy anything about having Ulcerative Colitis, but most of the pains involved in sensation play within kink are of a kind that are at least potentially pleasurable, and at no point give the kind of “wrongness” signals that the body is coming to serious harm. Even when I’m being spanked to the point of tears, I know that I’m safe, that no harm is coming to my body worse than a few bruises or welts. It is blessedly different from anything that comes from my health conditions. It’s not uncommon, even, for kink sensations, coupled with post-impact endorphins, to temporarily overwhelm and drive out my chronic pain; especially useful for me given I cannot safely take most painkillers!

The sense of achievement in sensation play is also a mighty difference between kink pain and chronic pain, and gives me a taste of something that I miss. I’ve always loved the feeling of having successfully pushed my body beyond what I believed it could do. To stand, for instance, on top of a big Scottish hill, gazing down at the incredible view, and thinking I made it. Since I now have moderately severe M.E., exerting my body beyond very narrow (and varying) limits is actively dangerous – it can make me more ill for days, weeks or even months. But a hard spanking challenges my body without that risk. And since I’m afterwards able to gaze on the Magician or the Ranger, the view’s not bad from the top of that hill either.

When it comes to sensations that are pleasurable as well as painful (clothes pegs on my nipples, a punch on my butt, a flogger on my thighs, a bite on my shoulder…), my body gets to feel something it can relish, just as much as with sensations that are purely pleasurable. More so, often, since the high background level of tension in my body can make pure pleasure paradoxically painful to me. A mixture of kink pain and pleasure allows my body to relax into the sensations and relish them intensely – and to be able to relish a physical experience in this body is a powerful thing indeed. Like a lot of people with chronic pain, I wrestle with the temptation to hate my body or feel thoroughly disconnected from it. At its best, sensation play as a sub brings me back into affectionate synchronicity with this fractious, fragile, and yet utterly wonderful meatsack of mine. It is beyond precious.

As I write this, the ring and little finger on my right hand are a trifle numb. Two days ago, with the Magician’s own chronic pain flaring but both of us feeling enthusiastic, we tried something new. They sat back on pillows, comfortably, calmly eating an apple like a (gorgeous) movie villain. And I gave them a show. Stripping at their instruction, torturing my nipples, scratching my thighs, pleasuring myself while they watched me and praised me and noted with delicious smugness that turning me into their helpless toy and slave had been so very, very easy…

It was wonderful. Squirmy and embarrassing and hot and beautiful and loving. And I wrenched my neck. It had been playing up for a few days, and the slightly unfamiliar position I was lying in did the rest. I felt odd after I came (I mean, happy! but odd), and the following day I woke up with my neck, jaw, and shoulders a mess, and the obvious symptoms of some mild and hopefully temporary nerve damage, as well as some indications that I’d had a seizure in my sleep. I don’t regret a thing about that scene (although I am thinking that I might need to go to the doctor if the symptoms continue…), but in future I’ll need to take a lot more thought about how I position myself, and ask for some Tiger Balm or ibuprofen gel as part of my after-care…

I don’t want to give the impression that being a disabled kinkster is easy. That, it certainly is not.

Events are a problem. I can’t get out of the house much, and when I can theoretically get to something, worries about access and the likelihood of running into at least some kind of ableist bullshit can be prohibitively exhausting.

Meeting new potential play partners is a problem. I’m horribly vulnerable, and already a survivor of assault, harassment, rape and ableist relationship abuse. Disabled people are on average twice as likely to be abused over the course of their lives as currently-abled people, and to say that I am very wary of the possibility of it happening to me again is an understatement. The kink scene and the polyamory scene are both riddled with ableism, from the usual cultural disdain for disabled bodies, to the fetishising of certain of those bodies in Fetlife groups, to the extreme end of Relationship Anarchy that rejects anything like a carer/caree (or mutual carer!) relationship between romantic partners – or even one that is merely stable and secure and committed, as is essential for me – as intrinsically oppressive. On top of that, anyone I go on an actual date with needs to be someone both the Magician and I trust to be, at least in a small way, my carer for a couple of hours – including pushing my wheelchair if the situation requires it. Thankfully I already have my two wonderful partners, not to mention three superb “kissing friends”, one of whom I may also start kinking with soon; I am quite beautifully polysaturated! But even if I were more interested in, say, casual play with a stranger or acquaintance than I am, it would not be remotely an option for me.

And then there’s the actual impairments. There are some activities I’d love to do that are either physically impossible for me, or which I cannot do for long. Ever tried giving a blow job with your jaw a clicky mass of pain, and when you have both a strong gag reflex and emetophobia? Not the easiest thing. 😉 I actually love sucking my partners’ cocks, both as a dom and as a sub, but my Gods do I have to be having a good day before I can, and deep-throating is most definitely not an option. And sometimes I am just too mentally ill for kink to be safe. Anxiety and depression and even flashbacks are one thing, and under the right circumstances kink can actively help, but on those thankfully rare occasions when my perception of reality is a little porous, let’s just say that telling a partner I’m their helpless captive is not a sensible plan…

But those limitations do come with their own blessings. I can’t have some perfect scene that lasts for hours and doesn’t require extensive in-scene management of my energy, pain levels, and whatever my brain might be up to. And since I can’t have it, I don’t need to try. Instead, my partners and I can get on with doing what works for us on the day – and finding creative solutions to some of the difficulties. After the Ranger and I stopped having PIV sex with him on top in the scene I describe earlier, we found another position that was a lot more sustainable for me, and in which I was able to come really quite explosively. Would we have found that position if my hips had been behaving themselves? I’m not sure we would. My difficulties with stroking his cock for any length of time I have gone some way to fixing, buying him as an anniversary gift a stroker toy that gives me a much easier grip, and which he loves in its own right (not least because it is purple!). The frankness about my body that I have had to develop to survive means that I’m good at giving accurate feedback, vital when trying something new.

The Magician and I, since we live together, engage in a lot of micro-kink: scenes that last literally seconds long and which we fit randomly into our day whenever we’re both up for it. A brisk hand or hairbrush spanking while we run a bath. Their hand closing briefly over my mouth while we’re snuggling. A glare over the top of their glasses that rapidly becomes a contest, with me trying to make them laugh before they can turn me into a subby heap (they usually win 😉 ). Even the very fact that they’re my carer sometimes creates micro-kink situations, as helping me out of bed turns into mutual fondling, encouraging me to rest becomes sternly ordering me to, and helping me undress when my arms aren’t working properly becomes, well, stripping me naked.

Perhaps this above all: every body and every brain has its moments of misfiring. The Magician is disabled too; the Ranger is also not in consistently perfect health. And they both know they can trust me absolutely to understand and empathise when it’s their needs or limitations that mean that a scene has to be changed or halted, or just isn’t possible that day. I don’t want to romanticise the lessons that being disabled has taught me, when the primary lesson it has taught me is that all disabled people live in severely ableist societies with inadequate access, respect, and understanding, and that this desperately needs to change. But I have been forced over the past two decades to teach myself something powerful about how futile it is to search for what is perfect, and how much better it is to build what is glorious instead. And if there is one thing that makes me both a good dominant and a good submissive, it is probably that.

Photo provided by the author. Do not steal it.