To Formalise Protocol or No


This post is the third in a series of posts regarding protocol. Put together, they are really, really long. If you have the reading attention span of a gnat on methamphetamines, then the TL;DR version is this: Protocol exists in nearly every BDSM/Kink partnership, whether occasional play partners to full-fledged TPE relationships. It’s not a question of whether to protocol but whether to add degrees of protocol. There’s also a discussion on why protocol != High-Protocol. If you intend to read all of them in one sitting once published, get some water to hydrate and a snack or two — you’ll need both. Feel free to leave us some comments!

~ angi, g, and mynx.

To Formalise Protocol or No

Whether to make protocol formal and establish patterns is not standardised either, and there are many reasons for doing so or not doing so. Some are cautionary examples. The short of it is that protocol requires some work on both parts. Some reasons for wanting to formalise:

  • Establishing and maintaining honesty, integrity, self awareness, and positive agendas.
  • Distinguishing between in bedroom only vs. day to day interactions.
  • Distinguishing between sexual and non-sexual interactions.
  • To increase the dynamic as an individual, couple, or group.
  • Establish an outward “label” to others of who/what the people involved in a dynamic are.
  • Using it to contribute to senses of organisation, safety, and belonging.

Pros of Establishing Protocol:

  • Acceptable behaviour one can live with; generally negotiated.
  • Gives boundaries to individuals / couples.
  • Everyone knows their role, and expectations
  • Allows for feelings of “one’s place” within the sphere of the relationship or relationships in the cases of poly or open situations.
  • May give comfort or provide a little escapism, when other adulting responsibilities need to take precedence. Engaging in established protocol can provide much needed grounding in difficult or ever changing situations, both within and outside of the dynamic, and this applies to both the dominant and the submissive.

Pro-Cons: Say Hello to the Fence:

  • An indication to others of a hierarchy. The downside to this is that certain titles and expectations of behaviour are only welcomed by those within the relationship(s), and outsiders attempting to adopt them without permission can be seen as overreaching.
  • Titles and established protocols such as collars [whether {} or physical], especially online, can be a means to stave off unwanted PMs, messages, or requests, and a way to establish an easy indicator for outsiders to recognise relationships. However, some use collars when no relationship exists to buffer themselves from unwanted attention, which has created a situation where some completely ignore the boundaries indicated, because the boundaries are false and so take it as a challenge to gain favour.
  • A lack of a collar, whether physical or text-representation, can lead to challenges that “a collar is not present therefore it’s acceptable to approach”. Ownership does not always equal collar.
  • Can lead to Dominant-Toxemia. Being addressed by one submissive with an honourific can give a sense of untouchable and entitled to do as they wish with all submissives. This leads to rude awakenings when faced with an assertive submissive.
  • While protocols are useful for establishing expectations of behaviour on both sides, they can be difficult to establish with a new partner. Each party has their own concept of what protocol is and why it is important or useful, so it is important to engage in discussions about how to implement it, to which degree it will be implemented, and then negotiate terms. It is often impossible to simply tell the other person how they will behave with zero discussion. Some try though.
  • If not carefully managed, protocol, especially high-protocol, can be exhausting to all involved. Not everyone is always “on”. Everyone needs breaks now and then. A dominant doesn’t have to constantly feel the need to correct a submissive. Submissives may be in a forgetful zone (subspace/subdrop). If punishment or arguments ensue every time protocol is dropped, it is exhausting for both.
  • Generally, protocol is used to establish safety, expectations, and common ground. If too rigid, especially when the people involved may have day-to-day battling with mental health issues and poor self-image,, it can lead to everyone feeling like they are failing or “doing it wrong” when compared to others.
  • In the same vein as above, while intended to bring stability, some protocols, especially strict or rigid ones, can bring up hidden or unresolved issues that can positively or negatively lead individuals to assess their personal views or the joint situation.

The Cons of Establishing or Attempting to Establish Protocol:

  • Not everyone will have the same standards you do, and you may find that whomever you’re trying to hash out protocol with may desire more or less and not be interested in a common ground.
  • Can be jading to maintain your integrity and sense of protocol when others do not.
  • Can become systematic or make others feel as if it’s a bit of the same old; just recycled rubbish that doesn’t actually mean anything, so therefore becomes viewed as pointless, or “old school”
  • Titles can begin to feel generic, especially when everyone not involved in the relationship insists on using them toward the dominant [this applies online and offline]. If a dominant is not interested in allowing alternate titles to be used, it can feel pointless to the submissive to even bother, since everyone who doesn’t matter to the relationship is also using them, and therefore there is nothing special reserved solely for the participating people.
  • Words intended to indicate respect can easily be used in snarky, disrespectful manner: “Yeah, right, Sir!”, “Yes, ‘Sir’.” or, “If you say so ‘Master.’
  • Not always realistic in a day-to-day setting [can be interruptive of professional/academic/extended family life, and this should be accounted for in healthy dynamic].
  • Can enable relationships to get “stuck in a rut” if the protocols do not evolve with the relationship, and this includes titles, expected behaviour of both/all parties involved, etc. Can become a means to deflect and dissuade discussion on difficult topics — emotions up, forget to protocol, and then be chastised instead of heard on issues
  • Can be used to manipulate by *either* dominant / submissive (as above)
  • Can be used solely as a form of escapism from everyday life. That is to say, some will require it be used when their life is going badly to gain a sense of control and grounding; they proceed to not inform their partner that the only reason they want it at this time is for this reason; and then proceed to drop it without explanation when life is on a normal balance again (for them). This goes against all sense of maintaining honesty and integrity in a situation, and leaves the offended party feeling abandoned and wary of future dynamics
  • Not everyone is a submissive or dominant. Additionally, not everyone will have a positive agenda. It is important to find out what expectations are, what preferences are, and whether the other party’s ideas of protocol are a good match for yours. Unfortunately, we see this as a con, not due to protocol itself, but the overwhelming ability of people to be in denial or dishonest about what they actually want and need. A mismatch of expectations or a desperation to have a relationship with that person at any cost, will, in the end lead to woes.
  • Despite more self-awareness within the BDSM/Kink scene, there is also an elevated rate of individuals who use our penchant for protocol as a means to engage in abusive behaviour. This works both ways. A dominant can mask abuses in protocol by being overly-controlling or changing the established rules on a whim just as easily as a submissive can be abusive toward a dominant either with intentionally breaking protocol or constantly finding “problems” with it, even after negotiation.
  • Self-harming by proxy is a risk, to both, the sub doing it and not having the experience of self awareness and the dominant dishing it out and not having the experience in that particular area to notice it. It can leave the dominant feeling used, and the submissive feeling frustrated when the dominant does not feel comfortable with carrying out their requirements.
  • Too many rules can come across as demanding and lacking warmth, emotion, and sincerity. This applies offline and online.
  • Dominants or submissives can push their protocol on those who have not consented to such, which can lead to awkward situations, a challenge to friendships, and miscommunication from a number of areas.

Next in the series: Why Protocol is not Necessarily Needed.

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