Good question, Rough! And also, thanks for giving me something to say for “Q”, as I was almost driven to the last resort of “qlitoris”…
The Problem with RACK
For those unfamiliar with the term, “RACK” is an acronym which stands for:
…and indeed, I used to subscribe to this as a motto. It solved the problems of “safe” and “sane” that I outlined with my PRICK post, it included “consensual”, so why wouldn’t it be better? Why the need to change it to the cumbersomely polysyllabic “Personally Responsible Informed” prelude?
The answer lies in the point of a needle.
Let’s Take a Trip in the WayBack Machine…
She’s lying back naked on the bed, trembling, sweet soft skin over young strong muscle, her moans mingling with sweet giggles and breathy “oh gods” under the ministrations of my hands and mouth. I’ve kept her distracted while I put on the latex gloves, and I see her smile as I swab the technicare disinfectant over her mons. This is edgy for both of us – she’s played with many needles, as have I, but never in such a sensitized spot. The angles are different, there are curls of hair here and there, but it is also framing a warm wet pussy and I am about to fuck her with the steel tip of the needle…
I push in one along the V of the pudendal triangle, hearing her hissing intake of breath as it pierces her skin once, then again from the inside pushing out. There is no blood, these are relatively average needles, but blood is not the point. It is penetration, it is pinning her down with my touch, my will, and for her it is the rush of dopamine and endorphins that will soon have her in a giggly happy haze. I push in a needle on the other side, both pointing straight down towards her clit. I know that she can feel the tips of the needles lightly grazing her hood if she moves too fast, and that is thrilling, too – bondage with slivers of silver instead of rope or leather. It has a cruel elegance to it, and I smile.
I prepare for the third needle, to go horizontally across the top of her pubis, completing the triangle. I grip her skin, feeling the roughness of the hairs through the thin latex of my gloves, pinching a fold of skin up. She moans, hyperstimulated and sensitive. I breath out, pushing the needle into her skin, watching it travel under the layers of dermis and subcutaneous tissue, and I push down at just the right point to let the beveled tip drive up, out of her skin…directly into the tip of my finger, slicing through the glove and about 1/8th inch through my tissue.
“Whups…” I murmur. “I just got a needle stick.”
“Oh,” comes her murmur, sympathetic at first. And then, a moment later, she goes ballistic.
Some of you will be scratching your heads at “huh?” Others will be nodding sympathetically, understanding why.
Needle scenes are scenes without safewords. At least, not safewords the way they are popularly understood, where everything stops the minute the magic word is spoken. And in particular, needle scenes must have at least two parts: the needles going in, and the needles coming out. So if you safeword after the first part…sorry, the second part still has to happen.
And in this particular case, since that needle had gone into my finger, it now had my biomass in it – blood, skin tissue, etc. embedded in the tip. And my partner realized that the needle was going to be traveling back under her skin, which meant that my blood and hers would mingle. We would be, in those tiny bits, fluid bonded. And since we were emphatically not that way in our sexual encounters, she was upset.
The Blame Game
She was furious, in fact, and more to the point, she was furious with me. How could I be so careless? Why hadn’t I been more careful? When she had laid down on my bed, she yelled, she had not consented to a needle stick!
This was many years ago, when I had not yet turned into the curmudgeonly old kinkster I am now. I was still going through my SNAD phase – Sensitive New-Age Dom – and so I was doing my best to placate and comfort her while at the same time castigating myself inside. How could I have been so careless? I was obviously not suited to this – no one should ever risk playing with me again, because I had overstepped the boundaries and put her in mortal danger (along with all of our other partners, since we were actively poly). I had forever betrayed her trust and left her crippled in terms of being able to ever fully trust a man, a top, or indeed another human being ever again.
Then at some point I suddenly, internally, slapped myself across the face and dunked my head in a metaphorical bucket of ice water and in general woke the fuck up, saying Wait one minute here…
My partner had consented to a needle scene. She believed she was aware of the risks involved. She knew about cross-contamination and bloodborne pathogens and Hep B and C and HSV-1 and 2 and the hormonal responses of pain and pleasure. So did I.
But somewhere in that list of risks, she had missed the risk of a needle stick.
I did a bit of research. According to OSHA, the riskiest health occupation for needlesticks is nursing. According to studies, 75% of nurses report needlesticks during the course of their work. However, the report goes on to state: “Available statistics probably underestimate the severity of the problem because many workers do not report their injuries.”
Meanwhile, of those three out of four nurses who get stuck by needles? Rates of infection for HIV: .3% Hep-C: 1.8%. Hep-B vacillates between 1% and 40%, but this is usually on the low end if you’ve been immunized against it. Which, as a former EMT and Marine, I have been.
And those rates are for people who hang out with sick people all day long.
Was my partner actually risk-aware? I would argue, no. She knew some of the risks, but not the actual probability of them occurring, and one of the most basic risks – the risk of a needle stick, something that is incredibly common among health professionals, was not even on her radar.
Personal Responsibility Means Asking Rough Questions
Go to any rope rigger’s forum and at some point you’ll have someone say something along the lines of As a top, I must always be fully aware of all the risks involved in suspension and in complete control of the situation. Or there’s a bottom who will insist that they will only trust a top who can provide that kind of assurance.
I always shake my head at these. The hubris! The idea that you have some Godlike ability to completely understand all of physics and biology and materials science. Or the ignorance! The amazing belief that someone else is completely in control, and that you have no need to worry about silly little incidentals like gravity. Now, that’s faith.
Some people can pull it off for a long time. That’s because they’re mistaking probability for certainty, and confusing cause and effect. “I’ve done this, therefore it is a good suspension!” as opposed to “It was a good suspension, therefore I did these things.”
If you’re one of those who insists they have complete control over the environment and dynamics of…well, of anything, I envy you your faith. But I also see how it leads to accusations (external and internal) when things do go wrong. How it can shake the foundation of belief in yourself, in your kink, in your relationships. Not realizing that shit happens means that you are in for a rude awakening, because happen it will.
Risk-Aware? Such a final statement. It implies the idea that all risks can be identified and mitigated, and frankly, I don’t believe that’s possible. Instead, I believe that whether you’re going to be a top or a bottom you should do your best to be as informed as you feel comfortable with, and then being personally responsible for the chance that it might go wrong.
I’m not saying that if the top doesn’t tie something right, it’s your fault. Or even that you should have been more careful in selecting your top. But you have to also understand that accidents happen, and it may not have been in control of the top, either. You have to accept that by agreeing to go up, you are risking falling down. You consent to the possibility of falling every time you defy gravity, whether that’s standing up or hang gliding.
A top has to accept the risk that things can go wrong. Or that things can go right, but it’s not as good as you hoped. Or that it will be so much better than you hoped. A huge amount of my class on Defining Moment focuses on the “post mortem” of a scene. What went right? What went wrong? What could have gone better? What might have gone worse? Ask the easy questions, and then ask the rough ones. Every honest answer makes you more resilient, more capable of dealing with new situations that come up.
It’s not about blame or credit. It’s about coming together, acknowledging what you or others have contributed to the situation, and reaching a place of understanding about what happened. That’s being informed. That’s personal responsibility.
Add in “consensual kink,” and I’m all in! When’s the party?