On “Safe, Sane, Consensual”

April 2000
originally written for the Sanctuary of Light website under the name M. Lucis

While the bdsm community seeks to sanitize itself to the vanilla world by proclaiming itself “not dangerous” and slapping an “SSC” label on anyone and anything they can, it is a false creed. It remains vital that people engaging in bdsm activities educate themselves on the risks of their activities and communicate carefully with partners to preclude abusive situations. No one wants to see people seriously injured, exposed to legal or vocational prosecution, or subjected to abusive relationships. However, using the words “safe,” “sane,” and “consensual” to describe *all* bdsm relationships restricts the population and activities acceptable to the community and creates confusion in those who crave those activities on the edge of SSC.

There is no safety in life. We can strive to avoid permanent harm. We can act in ways that protect our bodies and minds. We can learn techniques that minimize extreme risk. We cannot, in good conscience, accept the label “safe.” Just as there is only “safer” sex, there is only “responsible” SM–and there are those who choose to practice unsafe SM.

We seek permanent transformation through power and pain, control and pleasure. We leave scars on the body and the psyche that may be permanent. By whose definition is this “sane”? Taken to its extreme, by whose definition is life itself sane? Sanity is one of the single most debatable words in English. How can a community that seeks to push the edges of experience and interaction proclaim itself sane? We are aware of the dangers of our activities. We understand the potential emotional and psychological transformations we are courting. We accept the consequences of these actions.

Only those involved in a specific situation determine the line between consent and coercion. Many people choose to relinquish their right to choose and their ability to leave a relationship. They may be forced into activities that are non-consensual as individual acts, but they enjoy that loss of control and their inability to escape. We push the edge between consent and coercion, but few within these relationships would consider them abusive. It is only those who stand outside and attempt to judge our interactions that would consider us non-consensual.

By accepting the edict of SSC, we are empowering those outside our relationships to determine the definitions of those words and to judge our actions by their standards. While many are comfortable with such a position, others of us are not.

I would not presume to create an alternative creed to replace SSC. Each of us must find our own moral and ethical principles and apply them to our relationships in the manner that best suits us. For myself, I believe in education, communication, responsibility, accountability, and integrity. I work to educate myself on the risks and potential consequences of my actions and to learn the best methods of employing various implements and techniques. I carefully communicate my expectations and intentions as well as the inherent risks to my partners. I accept responsibility for my decisions to participate in these activities and for whatever control and power is given to me by my partners. I hold myself and my partners accountable for the consequences of our decisions as well as for any errors in judgement or mistakes and accidents that result from those choices. I strive to achieve high standards of honesty and consistency and remain faithful to my personal moral and ethical code.

I challenge everyone to look beyond SSC and find principles of your own to guide your actions and create successful interactions and relationships.