How To Address Ethical Concerns in BDSM

One of the best things about BDSM is that it inspires a sense of sexual freedom in which we can fulfill and embrace our deepest desires no matter what others may label as extreme, profane and even sometimes hazardous. It’s nice to be able to feel a safe space within the kink community to be able to explore the world of fetishes through power exchange, bondage, impact play, consensual nonconsent, etc. However, is there a point where a line needs to be drawn? At what point does BDSM become unethical? 

But in order to answer the question of when BDSM becomes unethical, we must be aware of what BDSM looks like when it is ethical. 

A solid definition of ethical BDSM is as follows:

Ethical BDSM is sensual and sexual activities involving bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission conducted safely and consensually for the mutual benefit of all parties. Safe, sane, and consensual (SSC) and risk-aware consensual kink (RACK) are two well-known varieties of ethical BDSM. If BDSM is not ethical, it is physical and/or psychological abuse.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms Safe, Sane, Consensual (SSC) and Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK), let me down the set of guidelines for you.

Safe, Sane, Consensual (SSC)

Coined by David Stein in 1983, SSC was one of the first sets of principles that addressed ethics within the BDSM community.

The blueprint for SSC states that BDSM should be:

SAFE – Steps should be taken before, during, and after play to prevent risks to health.

SANE – Participants should agree to and practice BDSM activities in a mentally sound state of mind.

CONSENSUAL – All participants must fully and soberly consent to all activities prior to play.


Some people in the kink community do not necessarily agree that SSC is an accurate or complete framework for alternative sex seeing as it labels certain acts as “safe” and others as “unsafe” when in reality, what constitutes as safe is relative from person to person.

Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)

More than a decade later, the term RACK was coined by Gary Switch and became a more popular policy within the kink community.

The blueprint for RACK states that BDSM should be:

RISK-AWARE – All participants are educated and informed of the risks involved in any proposed activity.

CONSENSUAL – With those risks in mind, participants consent to that activity prior to play in a sober and sensible state of mind.

KINK – The activity in question can be classified as a form of alternative sexual expression.

RACK acknowledges that the spectrum activities done in BDSM are not inherently safe or dangerous. Rather, it’s up to all parties to do their research and consider the degree in which these activities are on the safer side vs. potentially not as safe.

For example, let’s say someone taking on the submissive role wants to embark in a consensual nonconsent scene during sex in which they ask their dominant partner to beat them with a paddle and also tells their partner to not stop spanking them even when asked to. Let’s say the submissive also wants to be paddled to the point where they’re physically bruised.

At this point, the partner taking on the dominant role must decide on whether they disapprove because the submissive could potentially be pushed passed their limits or approve because the submissive is of legal age, consented and is aware of the risks.


The bottom line. 

It’s impossible to completely ignore how some acts of BDSM have implications that can be seen in oppressive circumstances in real life. However, BDSM is personal, so not everyone will completely agree with others’ ethical standards. Overall, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re comfortable following the principles of SSC, RACK, or a mixture of both, and proceed with caution.

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