Some want their power-dynamic play to be pretty much scene-only, with a beginning, middle and end; and some want it to extend into day-to-day life. For me, wanting the latter is just how I’m wired. When so much of the world is beyond my control and I spend so much energy wishing so many things were different, I crave this little arena with another enthusiastically consenting person in which I get to have my way. It lets me accept everywhere I don’t.
For me, these power dynamics are essential to my kink life. That’s not to say that questions or guilt don’t sometimes come up, but I understand the trust that flows between me and my submissive, and in playing these all-encompassing games we feel alive and true. When rife asks permission to sit on the furniture, or waits to start eating until I do — two examples of our protocols — I feel a thrill every time. I know he is voluntarily and with fully informed consent handing the authority he has over himself to me, to our mutual benefit and boners. I get a flash of desire to be the kind of person my submissive sees me as: worthy of his trust and vulnerability, and deserving of his admiration.
Not everybody wants to be in this kind of relationship configuration. Not everyone is interested in the psychological elements of dominance and submission. But whenever I encounter those who are, protocol — a particular thing that should be done, and a particular way to do it — is one of the first pieces that comes up.
For me, protocols are an important scaffolding around which to build my D/s relationship, so I spend a whole lot of time on them. They’re also a great tool for folks who want to take their D/s from scene-only play into their day-to-day lives. Maybe they want to be lifestyle dominants and submissives who see the D/s as the foundation of their relationship. Or maybe they want to ease into it gradually, add a few more areas of control, then a few more, until they find the place that feels good and sexy and fun for them.
Whatever the goal, the kink worlds have lots of ideas about the protocols in which dominants and submissives “should” engage. And when I was first learning, it was hard to disentangle those ideas from ones I actually liked. Sometimes it was hard for me to figure out how to let go of the protocol that was “required” to be a legitimate, recognized D/s relationship by the leather and kink communities, which are full of handouts and books and guiding dirty looks. There are protocols like a submissive never making eye contact, not speaking unless spoken to, or walking two steps behind the dominant and to the left. Some of these protocols are fun, but most of them didn’t fit me or my style. Still, it took me a while to let go of others’ expectations.
What helped was getting clear about the areas of control my submissive wanted to concede. In the beginning, and especially since we were then long-distance, it was easier to define which areas I could have control over rather than which areas I couldn’t. As our relationship progressed, we started experimenting with more. Can I control my boy’s sleep schedule, what time he goes to bed and gets up? What clothes or underwear he wears? How he keeps his hair — both his hairstyles and cuts, and his body hair? I made lists of all these areas, then more lists of everything related to them. We started with one and, as we found the sweet spots of surrender and authority, taking and giving, grew from there.
Finding more folks whose philosophies and perspectives better matched mine helped, too, as I explored amping up my protocol. Raven Kaldera, one of my favorite theorists on power, wants his protocol to be incredibly practical. He doesn’t like silly displays of submission; instead, he likes things like keeping the car full of gas, or doing household chores. In Dear Raven and Joshua, he writes that whenever he feels annoyed or something goes wrong, he asks himself, “How could my submissive have helped me prevent this?” Then he creates protocol from those situations.
I am maybe not quite so practical — I still like the somewhat showy but nonetheless very boner-inducing protocols, such as having my submissive sit on the floor while I sit in a chair, or having him ask permission to go to the bathroom. One of the ways we thrive is on these everyday tiny moments where we both get to be reminded of our agreed-upon power differential — after lots of trial and error, I’ve figured out that’s just how it works for me, and grateful I found someone else it works for, too.
It took me a while to figure out that building a relationship’s protocol, rules, service and tasks involves more than just assigning chores. (Which can sometimes just feel tedious.) There might be sex protocols, or beauty protocols, or protocols for how often to be in contact, or what kinds of things to say. What really gets your engine revving? What gets you swooning and inspired? What brings you joy and pleasure and makes you feel close to each other? Go after those things relentlessly. Lean into those areas and experiment by building protocol around what already works incredibly well.
That’s the way I want my dominance and submission to work: to mutually create gifts for each other, to inspire each other, and to engage deeply in this process of come alive.
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