Thoughts on Protocol – “The Invisible Leash” by Sir-Marko
I consider myself to be a relatively low protocol Dominant, though with the passage of time and a growing maturity in my D/s relationship, that is gradually changing. There is a lot of debate and even more misunderstanding surrounding what protocol is and how it can be applied in an M/s or D/s relationship. Having said that, there is no one “right” way to implement protocol in a kink relationship but there are definitely some wrong ones. First lets have a look at protocol as I am referring to it so that we have a common understanding from which to build. In doing so, am going to refer to both Masters and slaves and Dominants and submissive in this essay not because they are interchangeable terms (they are not) but because this discussion applies equally to both forms of relationship.
Protocol is a general guide to communication or interaction. It is not intended to be a task or specific procedure, but is rather a guide, a tenet, a principle. In the interpersonal sense, it is a roadmap for how people are to interrelate with one another. More specifically, in the D/s or M/s sense it is a code of behavior that sets expectations and guidelines for interaction between Master and slave, Dominant and submissive and their surroundings.
So why is this important?
Slaves and submissives universally share two common fears as it relates to their role in an M/s or D/s relationship; a fear of failure and a fear of rejection. The strongest desire of a slave is to please the Master. If a submissive does not understand the expectations of their Dominant they will feel lost at sea, tossed about endlessly by the fickle fates of wind and waves. They are set up for failure because they do not know how to please and thus how to succeed. They also then gain a growing fear that they are displeasing their Dominant and thus feel susceptible to being rejected. Neither of these fears must be allowed to take root in a D/s or M/s relationship or it will be irreversibly undermined.
Protocols are much more than a simple way for a submissive to know what their Dominant wants. They are not just a list of tasks with specific procedures for adequate completion. They are a framework to live within, a set of boundaries. They are often actions or phrases that reaffirm each person’s role in the relationship. They are designed to set forth how a D/s couple will interact with one another, in scene, in public, at home, in the community. They are designed to set a mood, teach a specific behavior, achieve a specific goal, or simply because they please the Master to have it that way.
To be most effective, protocols should be in the form of a written protocol manual. At a recent Master/salve convention a survey was conducted of owners and slaves to determine the importance and prevalence of written protocols. Of the slaves that were surveyed, 100% of them said it would be extremely helpful or crucial to their success to have a written set of protocols. Of the Masters who were surveyed, only 25% actually provided such a written manual. This shows a substantial disparity between the needs of a submissive and the direction their Dominants are providing.
Developing a well thought out protocol manual takes significant effort and thought on the part of a Dominant but it can also be a combined product of the Dominant and submissive. Even in a Master/salve relationship this is an area where collaboration and suggestions from the slave should be weighed carefully and considered by the Master for inclusion. Naturally, the final decision rests with the Master, but no one knows the slave better than the slave, and they can provide valuable insight and make important suggestions that should be given a fair audience and hearing.
This inclusion of the slave in the development of a protocol manual and the specific protocols it contains also plays an important role in what I distinguish as a difference between “compliance” and “obedience.” When a submissive is simply handed a collection of rules, regulations, procedures, tasks, and the like, they may do their best to blindly comply with the specifics out of a sense of duty to their Dominant but may not be fully invested in the goals behind them and indeed may not see any rhyme or reason to the list at all. When a slave understands the “why” or goal of having something done a particular way or under specific circumstances they become not only intellectually cognizant of the requirement but also emotionally invested in the outcome. No longer simply complying, there is an alignment of both heart and mind in complete obedience. There is a pride not only in the successful adherence to protocols but also in the beliefs that went into them.
By maintaining protocols, the Master and slave share a connection and with each and every instance of a protocol being adhered to or acted upon a reaffirmation of the dynamic between them takes place. Both the Dom and slave are reminded of their role and place in the power exchange relationship. By providing guidance to a submissive, there is no question how they should behave in any circumstance or surrounding because the decision has already been made by the Dominant. There is clarity in the wishes of the Dom and clear metrics for success on the part of the submissive. But even more importantly, by having clear guidelines to follow, the slave feels the guidance and control of the Master without the Master having to be present or verbally dictate the slave’s every move. This is why Master Tallen refers to protocols as “The Invisible Leash.”
Just like a leash, protocols bind owner and slave together in an ever-present connection and bond. But protocols also serve to create separation. Like the leash, a protocol is a continual reminder that the slave is separated from the Master and other superiors, thus reaffirming the slave’s position in life. An example of such a protocol might be that when in public a slave must walk a half step behind and to the right of their Master, or the common protocol of a prohibition on the use of furniture in private or at BDSM community functions by a slave. It reinforces that Masters and slaves are at opposite ends of the power exchange yet in the obedience to a protocol, the bond between the two is reaffirmed.
In developing protocols I recommend that D/s couples keep them at the level of being basic guidelines for behavior and not a list of specific chores or duties. Think of protocols as guides to how a Dominant wants their submissive to interact and behave in various environments and circumstances. A good way to break this down is to have protocols for being in private, in public, at a BDSM community event, at work, with children or other immediate family. These are social settings where one pattern of behavior or another might not be appropriate. Think about speech patterns, how a Dom should be approached and addressed, what overt and covert signs of the relationship should be displayed, acceptable posture and positions for certain behaviors, level of formality, etc. Protocols for all of these surroundings should have common goals and objectives but may differentiate how they are addressed or carried out depending on circumstance and surrounding company. Even in a 24/7 TPE relationship, there are times when elements of the relationship are not appropriate or acceptable to be displayed. Working all of this out in advance and committing it to a written protocol manual removes the uncertainty and discomfort that can lead to dreaded fears of failure or rejection on the part of a submissive.
Protocols are relevant for all BDSM interactions from casual time-delimited play sessions to 24/7 lifestyle relationships and everything in between. Enforcing protocols should be treated with the same level of importance and timeliness as tasks from the perspective of correction or punishment. Slaves and submissive carry a heavy burden when they realize they have displeased their Master or Dominant and will beat themselves up until it is addressed. Correction and punishment gives closure, ensures focus and should be accomplished immediately and with forgiveness.
It is common for new Dominants to confuse protocols with tasks. Indeed, most new D/s relationships tend to focus on the very thing that attracts most of us to them in the first place, kinky sexual activity. Thus, many new Dominants will embrace a series of tasks or requirements, often sexual in nature, as the means of establishing and maintaining the power exchange. This alone is enough for many scene delimited Doms and subs and can be the extent of their interaction, which is fine. However for some, after a time there can be a dawning realization that there is something deeper and more gratifying to be had within the power exchange. That there can be a recognition of a deep inner drive to be a Master or a slave motivated by something other that sex and sexuality. Deeply rooted desires to serve and be served, surrender and control can become far more gratifying than the kinky sexuality alone. Here the gratification becomes far more relationship based and the need for protocols to describe and maintain those relationships beyond simple tasks and requirements become paramount. Indeed the protocols become the framework of the power exchange itself. It comes time for something more sophisticated and well thought out.
My Muse and I have some protocols between us that describe how we interact with one another and how she is expected to behave, care for herself, speak to me, and so forth. Initially these protocols were more task oriented but with time they are becoming more goal oriented. Protocols are evolving to play an ever greater role in our relationship and will only become more pervasive and comprehensive as our relationship develops and evolves to ever deeper levels of submission and commitment.
I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in D/s to do some research on protocols and the role they play in M/s and D/s relationships. There are several good books available on the topic available through the major online book sellers. Take the time and effort to not only come up with a list of protocols but to communicate them thoroughly, explain their rationale and goals completely, and commit them to a written protocol manual that guides the behavior and interaction of both Dominant and submissive in various aspects of their lives.
You will both be richly rewarded for your efforts.