Relationships with authority exchange, using dominance and submission, are usually centered around control: who makes decisions, who dictates what happens, whose standards are upheld, who tells who to do what.
For lots of us, telling someone else what to do — or being told what to do — is the core of the fetish. It’s the thing that makes us feel all tingly and yummy and taken care of and important and good.
So, D/s relationships use a lot of rules, tasks, protocol, and ritual.
These words are often used interchangeably, but have nuanced differences. In my personal relationship, we’ve spent a lot of time ironing out what the key distinctions are and how to use them.
Your mileage may vary here — please, find and use the language that works for you. Sometimes I short-hand these in my work, so hopefully it’ll be useful to have a reference point for the definitions I’m using when I do.
”Rules” Are The Big Picture Guidelines
“Rules,” as I use them, are like a moral compass, like the underlying ethical values in the relationship.
You’ve probably been in a workshop or a classroom where the instructor set some expectations at the beginning, such as “One Mic: one person talks at a time.” (I’m sure you can think of many other examples of these.) This is a way we set community agreements with each other about the values we hold collectively, so we can be clear about the kind of behavior we expect.
Same goes for a relationship — these are the overarching guidelines we are agreeing to follow as part of our foundation.
Sometimes people call these things like guidelines, principles, or philosophies, but we call them rules — sometimes we refer to them as “capital-R Rules.” They are best when simple, clear, and straightforward (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy) — I suggest between 5-10, not very many. Because these rules are often words that have multiple definitions, being very clear about what they mean is important.
Examples of rules:
- Transparency — be forthcoming about what is happening in your life
- Respect — communication expectations, how we treat each other
”Protocols” Happen Ongoing
You can have dozens, even hundreds, of protocols underneath the rules. Sometimes they are directly related to the rules, but sometimes they are not.
Protocols are the instructions that are followed on a day to day basis. They are recuring and time-specific, meaning they have some sort of trigger that makes them happen. If they can be explained by the statement “if this, then that,” then I consider it a protocol.
Sometimes people call this “procedures” or “rules” in a relationship, though D/s folks tend to really like the word “protocol.” Sometimes I use “protocol” and “rules” interchangeably — such as, “rife has a rule that he asks permission to get in bed.” Meaning, that is a protocol. Or, “Whether or not he uses furniture isn’t a rule for us.” But what I mean is, we don’t have that protocol. (Mostly I do this in speech and am more careful in writing, for clarity.)
Most of us have lots of little protocols like this for ourselves, things that dictate our style and habits. Examples are things like, I never wear a blue shirt with blue jeans; I always wash my dishes after I eat; I never go to bed without a cup of tea. (I bet you can think of at least five that you already have, off the top of your head.)
They should be fluid — especially when one person is making protocols for another. They can be added or removed as the needs or desires of the folks involve change and grow. Sometimes they become so integrated that they are invisible. rife and I call our protocol notes a “living document” — sometimes it changes organically, sometimes we need to have a formal check-in about it and assess.
When introducing new protocols in a relationship, do so slowly, and a few (one or two) at a time. It can be so tempting — for all of us! — to pile on the protocols and get hot and excited about it, but that quickly can become overwhelming, which both means it’s hard for the dominant to track what’s happening and it’s hard for the submissive to implement. Make sure to let everyone have time to integrate and practice the new protocol before adding more.
I’m not going to go in to enforcing protocol, but there are many complicated things to say about it.
How do you figure out which protocols you want to make? Well, that’s a process! I have a lot of theories through my workshops like The Protocol Game and the Discipline Unit of D/s Playground.
Examples of protocol:
- Brush, floss, and use mouthwash immediately after you wake up
- No screen time after 9pm
- Always wear matching bra & panties
- Get a manicure once every two weeks with a polish of my choice
”Procedures” Are How Things Are Done
Protocol is what I want to be done, and the procedure is how I want it done. “Do the dishes every night before bed” is a protocol; “wash the dishes with this type of soap; put them this way in the drying rack organized by size; wipe down all the counters, sink, and stove; set up the coffee pot to be ready in the morning” might be the procedures underneath that protocol.
Usually, the procedure can be taught once (and perhaps guided or corrected, as time goes on) and documented clearly, and the submissive will have a point of reference. The protocol might happen daily, but the procedure is explained and then enforced.
Procedures are slightly different than rituals because while they reinforce the dynamic through controlled behavior, they aren’t necessarily intending to generate D/s headspace or a spiritual connection. They do often have multiple steps within them, but they are usually concrete steps.
Often, people include how a protocol is done in the definition of the protocol itself. Nothing wrong with that! I’m just breaking down the two different concepts for clarity.
Examples of procedures:
- “Make my coffee:” add creamer until the color matches this paint chip, approximately two tablespoons; add one dash of simple syrup
- “Make the bed:” military corners, fluff the pillows, put pillows on top of the sheet and blanket
“Tasks” Are One-Time Assignments
Tasks are assignments which are done one time. Sometimes they have deadlines, sometimes they are open ended.
Tasks could evolve into protocols, particularly over time — for example, “Pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow,” is a task, but “Pick up my dry cleaning every Thursday,” is a protocol.
With tasks … the sky’s the limit! Tasks are great when starting out in a relationship, because the people involved can get a sense of what they like and don’t like, what the dominant’s style is, what works, and what doesn’t. Plus, they are great opportunities for rewards (even if the reward is a spanking).
One fun way to do task assignments is to give them a task with the instructions that they will get another one when they complete this one. That way they can take their time with it — if they have an incredibly busy schedule, or if it is very elaborate, it could take a month, but if it is simpler or they have more time, it could take a day.
Some task examples:
- Run an errand and pick up [object] at [place]
- Write me an email with short descriptions of five fantasies
- Clean the kitchen and bathroom before [date]
- Make me [this particular] piece of art
“Rituals” Remind Us of D/s Headspace
This could sometimes be known as “routines,” though I use the word “ritual” because it has a slightly different intention behind it — the word “routine” sounds a little more like being on auto-pilot. I think of the intention as being connection to the D/s dynamic, each other, and possibly a larger purpose — a spiritual path. Either way, rituals are intended to get us deeper into a D/s headspace, to bring more consciousness and intention. Toutines are generally intended to become background habits that propel us through our lives.
Routines are often used more in the day-to-day, and rituals are used for more special occasions, but using the word ritual for the day to day — hopefully — brings more consciousness to it.
Rituals are larger events that usually have multiple steps or aspects of protocol. They also have a particular trigger, such as: when we wake up together, then do the morning ritual.
Rituals might be daily or occasionally. We might have morning/evening ritual, or a New Year’s Eve ritual, or we might have a once in a lifetime ritual of a bat mitzvah upon turning 13.
Examples of rituals:
- When your alarm goes off at 6:30am, get up from your sleeping spot and kneel on my side of the bed until I acknowledge you. I will rise and stand above you, and we will recite our morning poem. I will go to the shower and you will begin cooking
- When someone graduates from school, we go to our favorite restaurant and invite the whole family
- When we have been apart, before anything else, the submissive kneels and kisses their dominants boots
That’s my thoughts — how do you use these words?
Do you use them in similar ways that we do? Or different? Do you prefer to call these concepts something different? Totally cool. These are ideas to jump-start what works best for you, and have clarity in the different categories of control in D/s relationships.
Hopefully, having different categories makes it easier to create and brainstorm protocols to try out.
D/s Playground is a course for dominants, switches, submissives, folks who are curious, folks who aren’t sure where they fall, and anyone in between.
You only have to want to study consensual authority exchange — dominance and submission — in depth from a trauma-informed, queer, nonbinary, intersectional perspective.
Here are the details!
What is D/s Playground?
D/s Playground is an online course. It doesn’t teach you how to be a dominant or a submissive, but rather offers tools, resources, texts, and experiments to explore your own relationship to dominance, submission, and authority exchange, so you can articulate your interests and explore your edges. After these explorations you will be able to better communicate what you’re looking for and desire — which greatly increases your chances of having it!
There is an introduction video & article for the basic agreements and concepts of the course, and then there are four units — Bondage, Discipline, Service, and SadoMasochism (that spells the acronym BDSM).
Each unit has some or all of the following:
- How-to videos by sex & BDSM educators
- Dirty stories to read
- Nonfiction how-to articles to read
- Additional fun, like quizzes & checklists
- Journal prompts to reflect on each of the materials
- An experiment — something for you to do, in person, alone or with someone else, to try out the concepts of the unit
When is this happening?
Each unit will be available LIVE and included with $5+ patrons benefits through Patreon:
- May 25, 2019 – Unit 1: Bondage
- July 20, 2019 – Unit 2: Discipline
- September 20, 2019 – Unit 3: Service
- November 25, 2019 – Unit 4: SadoMasochism
The units on Patreon will be recorded, but only the parts with rife and myself will be made public; none of the parts from other participants will be included later.
Yes, it will be available for everyone — not just through Patreon!
Each unit will be available for everybody the following month. (This will give us some time to edit videos, set up the payment systems, etc.)
- June 30, 2019 – Unit 1: Bondage
- August 30, 2019 – Unit 2: Discipline
- October 30, 2019 – Unit 3: Service
- December 30, 2019 – Unit 4: SadoMasochism
How much will it be?
Each unit will be $69, and all four units can be downloaded for $200. You can preorder them this summer, or wait until the end of the year when they are all available.
A few more questions … ?
Do I have to be in a partnership? Can I do this solo?
Absolutely, you can do this solo, in partnership, with play partners, long distance — in any kind of structure of a relationship. The experiments are all built to be adapted to any scenario.
I’ve taken Submissive Playground before, should I do this one too?
Sure! You will recognize some of the materials, but some of them are new. We had many people take Submissive Playground more than once, and because we are always growing and changing, our relationship to D/s is always growing and changing, so they found new things in the activities. Plus, there are many ways to adapt the experiments and do it differently the next time.
What’s the difference between doing it through Patreon or paying for it later? Is it the same material?
Yes — mostly. All the materials are the same. The difference is that through the Patreon, you will have a community of folks going through it with you, and downloading it later will be more of a solo experience.
Signing up through Patreon also gives you access to a private Discord server, which is like a chatroom. The only people in there are signed up through Patreon, so it’s a small, intimate group of people I trust. There are ongoing conversations in there about dominance and submission, and we’ll have a dedicated space to talk about the materials in the course, have accountability buddies, and share the homework.
How do I sign up?
Go over to patreon.com/mrsexsmith and sign up as a $5+ patron, and you’ll automatically get access to the live webinars starting in May.
If you want to download them after and not through Patreon, sign up for the mailing list and you’ll get notifications when they are available. (Keep an eye on my social media, too!)
Submissives don’t have to wait for a dominant to give them structure, plans, and training! There is a lot you can do on your own to keep yourself connected to your submission.
A training plan involves protocol, goals, rules to follow, and, ideally, rewards. A lot of protocol and training in relationships revolve around sexy kinky things, but sometimes people use it as tools for self-growth and self-improvement.
Even if you don’t currently have a dominant, you can create a training plan for yourself to keep you motivated, connected to your submissive, and striving. These are excellent skills to hone, both for yourself and for your future dominant.
So what is a ‘training plan,’ anyway?
A training plan is a breakdown of the small steps needed to reach a goal. For example, if the goal is to run a marathon, the training plan breaks down the different steps to get mentally and physically prepared in order to do it. For example, a triathlon training plan might include identifying one’s current level of swim, bike, run; increasing capacity for each; targeting biggest improvement potential; and setting a date to do the triathlon in order to dole out the milestone goals between then and now.
Making a goal and working to achieve it combats boredom & complacency, because there’s something challenging to strive for — pushing oneself is not usually boring, and inherently not complacent.
Within the context of D/s, there are dozens of skills that submissives can hone in order to be of greater service to the dominant. Setting a goal to learn or master some of those skills can serve the D/s in the long run, as well as the submissive themself.
Step 1: Identify What Kind of Training to Pursue
Depending on what you want to improve, or what your dominant/household would want you to improve, your training will be different.
Here’s some examples of skills you’d like to increase or parts of your life that you’d like to improve:
- Providing sexual service
- Domestic service: cooking, housekeeping chores, bookkeeping, assistance, gardening
- “Trophy” attributes like dress, grooming, mannerisms
- Entertainment: music, dance, storytelling, producing/hosting events
- Expressions of devotion
Step 2: Vision What You’d Like the Goal to Be
Here’s some examples that (roughly) correspond to the examples above:
- Receive double penetration
- Perfect your favorite Thai food dish
- Do 100 push-ups
- Play guitar well enough to share sing-alongs at a campfire
- Make a photo album (actually print out some of your Instagram photos!)
Step 3: Break the Goal Into Small Tasks
Continuing with the examples above, here’s some of the tasks and experiments that could happen in order to perfect your favorite Thai food dish.
- Go visit your favorite Thai restaurants to order the dish and see how you most like it
- Research Thai cooking classes in your area
- Ask that friend who is a really good cook for some help
- Look up recipes for that thai dish
- Gather the ingredients needed
- Cook the dish for your friends at least 5x to experiment with getting the flavors right
Step 4: Set a Timeline
When do you want to have this task or goal complete? A timeline is essential to a training plan — otherwise, it’s just a someday-dream.
Make your timeline as realistic as possible. You might even check in with friends about the timeline and see if they find it realistic — sometimes it’s hard to tell how long something will actually take.
Step 5: Set Aside Time To Do These Different Tasks
That might mean saying no to things you want to do, or canceling things, or pausing a project or hobby you love in order to make time. You can come back to all those things later. You won’t miss out on that much, I promise. (This is a good time to practice noticing your FOMO — fear of missing out — and not letting that fear overpower your goals and training.)
Put your tasks on your calendar! You could even make a date with a friend to keep yourself accountable.
Step 6: Practice
Anything new needs practice. For a while, it will be a thing to try out (and probably fail, sometimes). The only way to see the progress is with more practice, more diligence, and more trying.
Find different ways to practice. Put your skill in different situations to adjust and practice with different variables. Tell your friends that you’re practicing and ask for their help in supporting you. For example, cook at a friend’s house, cook in a very limited prep time, cook using only what you have in the house and make a range of substitutions.
Step 7: Present! Show Off Your New Skills!
Once you feel confident that you have practiced a lot, show off your skills! Share what you’ve been doing with friends. Offer your new cooking skills by bringing dishes to a leather community event. Or find different ways to share what you’ve been learning, and tell people about your journey.
- Make the Thai dish for dinner for your partners + friends
- Dress up for no good reason, just to look good
- Write down a fantasy about your new DP skill
- Set up a campfire sing-along
This is part of how to reward yourself for a job well done!
Step 8: Celebrate Meeting Your Goal!
You get to decide how to celebrate — you could bribe yourself, you could create a star chart and cross things off, you could high-five your bestie and congratulate yourself.
Set another new goal, break it down, and get it done!
One of the most common questions I get asked from submissives is, “How do I flirt with dominants!?” And while learning some basic flirting tips (like: be curious and ask questions, give compliments, be honest) can be helpful, when you add D/s into the equation sometimes the rules are a little bit different.
Part of the confusion is that we associate flirtation with assertion—someone comes along, declares interest, and asks for what they want. Those can be seen as dominant traits. But it is absolutely possible for a submissive to do them, and to still come across as submissive and respect the dominant’s authority as a dom.
So, assuming that you’ve already established that you are submissive and the person you’re flirting with is a dominant, here’s some tips. (These are some of the things that would work for me.)
1. Establish whether or not they want to be flirted with.
This might seem obvious, but it’s multi-faceted. You gotta figure out if they are available or not—if their relationship allow for flirtation with other people. It might be as simple as figuring out whether or not they are single, but being partnered doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t flirt—it just depends on whether their relationship allows for flirtation or not. And you might also see whether their relationship only allows flirting, and not going any farther than that—which may change your opinion on whether or not you want to flirt, depending on what the goal of your flirting is.
Secondly, you have to figure out if they are available or not right now, meaning if the timing is right. If I’m about to teach a workshop, for example, I am way less likely to respond well to flirtation than if I’ve just ended a workshop. How do you know if the timing is okay? Well, you can always ask—”So, is this a good time to flirt with you?” “Got a minute to flirt with me?” “Hey, if this isn’t a good time, could we set aside some time later and flirt maybe?”
2. If they have a submissive already, befriend them.
While you’re asking around about whether they’re available, also ask whether or not they already have a submissive—then, make friends with the sub. Ask if there’s any service you can do, if there’s some interesting talent or skill you can offer, or what other expression of interest would be welcome. If you establish yourself as aware of the hierarchy in the relationship that already exists, you’ll be a lot less threatening to the submissive, and they are way more likely to hook you up with tips and tricks to get the dominant’s attention.
3. Offer to be of service.
As a friend of mine put it, “May I ____ for you?” This is where your keen observational skills can give you big points: if you notice some of the things they always do and offer to do it for them, you put yourself in the position of being very helpful. If being observational isn’t your strong point, offer some of your own impressive skills or talents: May I black your boots, may I gift you some peanut butter cookies that I made.
4. Use their title.
Using words that remind you both of the hierarchies that you like to play with can be a big turn-on, which is always a bonus when you’re trying to be flirtatious. Do some observation, and ask around, and see what kind of titles this person likes to use.
But, don’t use their relational titles. Some people have titles that they only use with a particular person, and those can be way too personal and intimate to use with a new person. Then again, some folks have “Daddy” or “Mistress” right there on their name tag or in their Fetlife user name, and everybody refers to them as such.
There’s no hard and clear rule about which titles are relational and which are respectful, so you kind of have to feel it out for yourself. In general, I’d say “Sir” and “Ma’am” are the most widely acceptable, but those are not universally liked by everyone. You can always slip it into a sentence and then ask permission: “I’d love to get your drink, ma’am—may I call you ma’am?” Hopefully, they’ll respond with the thing they would like to be called, if you guess incorrectly.
5. Be willing to be wrong.
Be willing to hear no. Be willing to be corrected if you make assumptions or mistakes. You might call them by a title and they might correct you—that’s okay. Say, “Sorry about that; thank you for the permission to call you sir.” Being corrected means you are worthy of correction, and it’s a good sign.
Putting yourself out there means taking risks, and when you’re the person who is initiating the flirtatious interaction, it’s kind of up to you to put yourself in a vulnerable position first.
6. Ask for what you want.
And be honest! Don’t ask to black their boots if that’s not your thing, don’t ask for them to beat you if you’re not into receiving sensation. Ask for what you actually want.
It’s always okay to ask for something, but it’s important that you are willing to hear any possible answer to your ask. Of course, we want the answer to be an emphatic “yes,” but it isn’t always. If you’re going to get a little crushed if they say no, perhaps pre-plan the ask to have a friend around after who is willing to comfort you or perk you up.
Use your keen powers of observation and assess what kind of person this dominant is: Do they have public scenes at parties, or are they mostly private? Do they flirt and socialize a lot, or do they tend to keep to themself and their close people? Tailoring your asks to what you notice about the dominant makes it more likely for them to say yes.
7. Offer your contact information.
Assuming you are flirting now with the intention of following up for even more later, offer your info: Your Fetlife account, your cell number, your email address—however you want them to get in touch with you. Giving them your contact information gives them the power to follow up or not. Plus, it puts your vulnerability into a sexy framework: the potential to continue the flirtation, and possibly even more.
registration is open!
Featured image from Crash Pad Series Episode #188, Valentine & Ember.
You’re right: You won’t ever find a dominant who is your most perfect match.
If you listen way down deep, there’s a voice telling you that. You have very particular needs, desires, cravings, and your submission is demanding, sometimes feeling endless. You want and want and want, and who can fill that up with anything that leaves a mark? You won’t ever find someone as good as your ex. You won’t ever find someone as good as the person who introduced you to submission, who whispered those most perfect dirty things in your ear and told you to get on your knees. You will come on too strong to the next sexiest person you’ve ever seen and they will whisper to their friends about how much you “aren’t a real submissive” or are “topping from the bottom.” You are too much. Too big. Too thick. Too mouthy. Too bratty. You will never get your needs met. You will never find someone who matches your particular specialties in submission, your unique perspectives on service and masochism and giving over your body and will and all the dirt under your fingernails. Your dirty hands are too dirty. Your dirty mind is too dirty. Your next dominant just wants to sit on the couch and have you pour more wine, and where does that leave you? You have to wait, to beg, to crave touch, to sit still with skin hunger that may feel like it will devour you, to be disappointed.
You won’t find the perfect dominant for you.
Unless you Do The Work.
Look at the parts of yourself that are yours and only yours. Excavate some of those unknown places until you can see around them and know why they’re there. Acknowledge what it is that you want and what it is you just won’t settle for, and you will have a much better chance to find (and be) the right partner. Until you know what you want, you may not find it. Until you look deep at your part in your patterns, you will probably keep repeating them. Until you fill your own holes, you may continue to have a bottomless pit of desire and need that you think can only be filled by another person. Define your own cosmology of icons and worship and desire. Define your own dictionary of touch and connection and intimacy. Write the perfect love letter to the universe detailing all of the amazing things you secretly wish hope dream for in a lover and mail it off on the wind to fall and float down a waterfall. You can do it. You have wells of untapped strength.
Submissives are the strongest people I know.
Your demands are reasonable. Your desires are reasonable. Your wants are reasonable. Your unique particular weirdo gender is reasonable, and beautiful. Your too-much-ness is exactly the reason why you will be wanted, why you will be craved when you are not around, why someone who doesn’t even know you is craving you right now.
There is nothing wrong with you, or with the kind of submission that you most secretly, way down in your bones, seek.
I do actually believe that. But you have to believe it, too.
And then you have to go after it, with such vigilance that you won’t accept no for an answer, and your own no is an eager blade to get anything not serving your journey out of the way. Take up arms. Take up protest. Take up your favorite friends as armor, as council, as confidants. Take up your rightful space in the room. Take more dessert than you were served. Take the most amazing gift of yourself to the person who really could use it, right now, today.
Take the next step.