View From The Top: Five Favorite Protocols

All relationships follow protocols, whether unspoken or spoken. But within D/s relationships specifically, protocols are explicit, negotiated with the needs and best interests of everyone in mind, subject to change based on reflection and consent.

For rife and I, these include things like:

1. Every day, he calls me master and I call him slave at least once.

When he says “Master,” it makes my cunt clench and my heart ache and burst. I’m flooded with reminders of our many hours of negotiations, the dozens of workshops and discussion groups we’ve been to, our contract, the intentions we’ve set, and his expectations and negotiations that I’m in charge and make decisions and steer his life based on his needs and mine. I’m reminded that I am supposed to use him for my pleasure.

When I say “slave,” I say it with the weight of the deepest desires that drive us, our cravings from way back, from before we negotiated these things, from our impulses to feed and touch and suck. I say it to remind him of the way he has given authority over to me, but I also say it to celebrate him. To share with him the joy of ownership, the thrill in me when I know he is mine.

Exchanging the words “master” and “slave,” highlighting our titles and who we are to each other, is my most precious of our protocols, and I thrill every single time.

2. He asks permission.

Precisely what rife asks permission for has changed over the years, but the underlying protocol is that, because I am in charge, he asks me to do certain things that we agree upon together. Sometimes the purpose is to enforce our power dynamic and build our intimacy and pleasure, like when he asks to use furniture or to use the bathroom. But sometimes it’s more practical and based on his own goals, like when he asks to eat something he’s attempting to regulate.

Over time, we’ve discovered that sometimes his asking for permission can get in the way, and we’ve made adjustments. For example, for a while he asked permission to have a drink when he went out with friends — but sometimes I wasn’t available by text or phone for a quick answer, and it interfered with his social life. I don’t want to involve anyone in our D/s arrangements who hasn’t consented, and this protocol caused too much stress, so we eventually nixed it altogether.

We play with Daddy/boy dynamics in our partnership, and like that sometimes asking and granting permission supports those: he gets to ask for his every desire, and I “know better” and get to grant or deny, even if underneath it I’m not denying him anything he hasn’t asked to be denied. And since one of his major fetishes is tease and denial, asking permission plays right into it.

3. He begins to eat after I do, and other specifics at mealtime.

He waits for me to start. It’s a way of deferring, and of letting me take in the table, ensure everything I need is there and savor the flavors first.

But that isn’t all – I use mealtime as a place to express gratitude and feel the connection between my body and the earth. It feels more like ritual than protocol; the actions may be similar but the intention is different. Ritual reminds me of my larger purpose and connection to the natural world, and to whatever spiritual energy animates all living things (sometimes I use “The Great Big Good,” from Kate Bornstein and Barbara Carrellas). Plants, animals, the seasons, the many people it takes to harvest and process our food — together, we express gratitude, even in a small way (“thanks Earth! Let’s eat”) at mealtime.

There are a few other protocol details about meal-time presentation (table settings are very pleasing) and things I want to be included (salt and pepper, glasses of water, usually hot sauce) — but those are variable and keep changing.

4. He follows presentation guidelines.

Everything on the boy’s body — from the way he dresses to the way he keeps his hair to how and where he shaves to the jewelry he wears — is under my control and guidance.

We have gone through his wardrobe and I have decided which pieces to keep, which to discard, and which to replace. I’ve bought him some particular adornments that he now wears every day: his silver and wood engagement ring, one single bone hoop earring in his right ear, the sterling silver hoop in his right nipple, his steel collar and lock. He keeps his hair and body hair the way I like it.

He has expressed the desire to someday have more of a daily uniform, and guidance for how he dresses based on what pleases me, which I often think about. I’m still working on that one, occasionally buying him clothes and exploring how I would like to dress up my boy.

5. He texts me when he’s on the way home.

Lots of people do this, but I use it for a few different purposes: to inform me of where he is, to allow me to prepare to shut down my projects and receive him when he arrives, to give me the opportunity to ask him for errands while he’s still out, and to ensure that I can change my mindset from whatever I’m involved in back into the Master/slave dynamic.

It reminds me of his subordination, of our agreements to keep him under my care and command. I get to know, at all times, where he is, because he is my property — much like I would want to know, if someone borrowed my car, whether they were taking a road trip or going to the store.

I want to know everything about what he does, where he goes. I want intense intimacy.

Editor’s note: Kinkshaming will not be tolerated in the comments. If your comment is deemed unproductive to the conversation, it will be deleted.

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Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


  1. Ahhhh! Holy smokes, I’m just jumping into this column and it is rad. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. yikes… as a black woman the whole slave/master thing is just so viscerally uncomfortable but you know…I should definitely not ever feel that way because kinks are sacred right?

      • As a bi-racial queer black woman (who often passes as white), I feel like there is an enormous difference based on who is using words like “master” and “slave.” It kind of seems like trauma-appropriation to use those words in play when they are indexing something that has benefitted, rather than harmed you? I’m also not quite sure what it means to consent to being considered “property”—the entire notion of consent relies upon the presence of agency; whereas the state of being property, equated to a car, seems to negate the capacity for consent? I’m not at all sure I’m right here, but rather am asking genuine questions.

        • I don’t have an answer, but your question of agency is so so interesting to me. I studied literature in college, and, legally speaking at least, there are cases where inanimate objects/ property were tried, and even convicted, independently from their owners. Legal scholar Paul Schiff Berman describes the practice as allowing, “the community to domesticate chaos.” As a brat that makes me chuckle, but that’s not enough for me to be comfortable with “slave” or being “property.” Even if I do like being controlled… but that’s just me!

    • I feel the same way as a QPOC..I just..I can’t. I just can’t. I respect other people’s choices but I just cannot find this appealing at all, it turns my stomach automatically—I cannot find *anything* about “master” or “slave” empowering or erotic.

      • Z, when you find yourself so viscerally opposed to kink, consider asking what it is that you’re afraid of? We are talking about consenting adults. Part of power and freedom is being allowed to give it up by choice. No one is asking you to do so. Don’t be scared.

        (Not addressing the QPOC aspect, and glad to see Alaina’s link on the topic)

        • I think it’s a little dishonest to try and interpret my response as fear. I think the uncritical acceptance of behavior that in another domain would be considered morally problematic just because it’s labeled “kink” is not especially cool. So, I’m willing to try and challenge that.

          I also think that I expressed my reasons for opposition already in my comment. And I don’t think “consent” means that behavior gets an automatic OK. People consent to all kinds of behavior that is not good, e.g., drug abuse, self-mutilation, etc. (Of course, drug/self-abuse could be construed as a disease, or a compulsion, but the same could pretty easily be said for someone who needs to submit completely to another person just to make their way around in the world.)

          • Duly noted. I am talking about informed, enthusiastic consent. I am not a member of the kink community so would not be the most eloquent advocate and decline to comment again. But, I do believe people are capable of making these decisions for themselves. Peace

          • if ? a ? type ? of ? kink ? practiced ? between ? thoughtful ? consenting ? adults ? makes ? you ? uncomfortable ? simply ? do ? not ? do ? it ? yourself

            the end

            THE END.

          • Drug addiction/BDSM is a totally false equivalency. The people who engage healthily with the latter do so because it contributes to their quality of life. Drug addiction destroys quality of life. I’m so happy that you live in a free society, V, where you neither have to partake in kink or read about it, since it’s definitely not your thing. I don’t read the sewing articles on Autostraddle because sewing is not my thing. Kinkshaming is coming into articles like these and suggesting that kink is a set of inherently destructive behaviors, a conclusion with which psychologists today simply do not agree.

    • I think the difference between kink boundaries and kink shaming is being accountable and responsible for your own feelings. I feel uncomfortable vs you are making me uncomfortable. Or I feel this is wrong for me vs you are wrong. Are you speaking your truth? Or speaking for other people?

  3. Amazing. Everytime. I cannot get enough. I wish you could write more often for this column. Soooooo good!

  4. I love and relate to most of these, and it’s what I miss about a relationship most. Particularly #1. Thank you for sharing this.

    • some trauma / abuse survivors practice kink. it’s a difficult conversation to have, and absolutely, kink is not for everyone and not everyone even has the info about kink and/or trauma to be able to have that convo. Even for an enlightened community like AS, that would be a really tough topic for an article.

      • i mean, obviously. some [any type of people] do [any type of thing]. i don’t need to be told that, but i appreciate you dumbing it down for me. what i AM saying is for those of us who are abuse survivors, watching people mimic relationships like the ones we have gotten out of and act as though these things are sexy instead of horrifying, is fundamentally appalling. i worry about the people in these relationships and you can’t tell me not to just because “it’s kink and kink is its own type of sacred thing.”


          You can act like we’re “dumbing it down for you”, but IDK, when you barge in and insist that no part of this website can contain triggering content for you even when you have the choice to click or not, I guess there’s no way to state it more plainly.

          I’m an abuse survivor and I also take responsibility for the media that I consume when it’s presented in a way that allows me to opt out. You can do it, too! We all can! Yay, agency!

    • I guess what I don’t understand is why anyone, especially abuse survivors, would read articles they know contains triggering content?

    • Your original comment suggested that there is something wrong with people who engage in a kind of kink you don’t like. Trying to cover up or excuse that kind of personal attack as a “trauma response” is emotionally manipulative and unacceptable.

  5. It is people like yourself that has helped me use kink to break down the years of sexual abuse as a child and take back control of my body as I see fit. To whom and whoever I see fit to give myself to is because of the consensual play I’ve been taught by my previous Dom who allowed me to re-learn what sexual freedom was all about. Bravo.

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