Protocols. I Want.

Blonde girl bowing
Image by lauren rushing (CC BY‑NC‑ND 2.0)

I love protocols.

Do you want me to call you sir? Yes sir! (And apologies for the non-inclusive language, ma’am!)

Do you want me on the floor? Prod me till I get the position right, please?

Do you want me to heel you, or forget the word ‘but’, or owe every morsel of food to your permission? Seriously?

Then thank you so much for telling me! And thank you even more for figuring it out and correcting me again and again, because that’s the hard part.

You get the idea. I like protocols. They’re a gift from God. A gift from you.

Admittedly, not every rule is fun. I wince at the idea of calling myself “she” as in the Pride Household Servant Protocol. Or worse, “it” as in the Butchmanns Academy Slave Protocol (edit: apparently only SlaveMaster does that). But I think my hard limit is good acting. The Code d’Odalisque says it is proper for a sex slave to be modest, and it is proper for a sex slave to be salacious. I quite agree, but one of those I can’t do.

Oddly enough, it’s not the rules that worry me most. It’s when they try to justify them. I have never seen a satisfying explanation of why we do this.

Yes, protocols help to prevent break-ups and unhappiness, but how? Yes, they’re hot, but then why do we keep going round the clock? Yes, they make your relationship special – but sir, if uniqueness is all you want, I can sew you a very nice set of matching His and Hers purple/chartreuse frilly underwear.

And no, it’s not because subs are lowly creatures who need to be reminded of our place. Or because doms are superior beings who deserve all this. What a ghastly idea. That kind of talk belongs strictly in the haze of subspace/topspace.

There is one and only one reason why I would obey a protocol: because I want to. But no one has ever managed to put my wants into words. So here goes.

Let me introduce you to the biophysics of abject submission.

Inside this sub is a core of jelly-like matter. (Note for Americans and other non-English speakers: jelly as in Jell-O, not jam.)

Said jelly quivers constantly in the presence of any man I respect and am attracted to. Upon perceiving his disappointment, it goes splat. At his righteous anger, it freezes and shatters.

Inconveniently, these functions are calibrated at hair-trigger sensitivity. Fortunately, the jelly also responds to similarly trivial quantities of approval by liquefying itself in paroxysms of gratitude.

If you’re a dish of a dom and we’ve met, you probably still haven’t met my jelly. It lives deep in the closet. Most people don’t want to know about it. And of course jelly aims to oblige, whether it means impersonating a dragon lady, tranquil maiden, or woman about town.

But you see the problem. I really, really want to know what I’m supposed to do.

And that goes into overdrive when I’m alone with my dom. If my voice has sounded for ten seconds, I’ve probably agonised five times about how to signal my deference. Under such conditions, formulas like “Sir, yes sir, thank you sir” are a mercy, not a burden.

It gets better. If I’m not sure how you’d like your coffee, I will stand paralysed between visions of your gustatory disgust and terrors of absorbing precious seconds of your time if I ask. I want to ask permission to ask my questions. Of course it’s ridiculously recursive, but good grief, what a relief!

I also kind of want to kick myself in the head for wasting your time like this.

But the urge will magically go away if you can make me believe that this is what you want too. Vague praise apparently isn’t enough – I tend to assume it’s kindness and indulgence talking. Rules, enforcement and correction, however, do add up to a convincing result. I’ll trust you to take what you want – if you keep it up.

And paradoxically, protocols also help me believe that you’ll listen to what I want.

Binding my tongue sets it free. Do you know how hard it is to tell you things you don’t want to hear? You can’t imagine how much it helps if you give me the means to perform rhetorical genuflections throughout.

And that’s not even the worst-case scenario. Without a protocol for expressing disagreement with your orders, do you know what would happen? Pretty much the same thing, actually: feeble protests, swift capitulation, cheerful acceptance. That is, the first time. Until we realise that my smiles have blinded you to the wreckage. And then the second time is not much fun to describe.

That’s why I’m so grateful when we both know exactly how many times I’m allowed to argue with an order – be it three times or zero. Then I can smile and obey and not worry that I’m lying by omission.

That’s what I mean when I say I want a protocol. These are things I want to do. It’s in my jelly nature to bow and scrape to my dom even when I’m inwardly aghast. But painful experience has taught me that the distance between what I think and what I do is liable to be interpreted by the non-submissive as cowardice, two-facedness, or selfish whimsy. And that hurts.

God knows I have my faults. But my submission comes from the best in me, not the worst. If you give me a protocol, maybe I can trust you to understand that, and to try to protect my poor gelatinous heart.

Because a protocol isn’t just a leash for me, or an ego trip for you. Or a panacea for all our problems, come to that. I think it’s really a promise that you know what you want. That I can please you.

And that is what I want.

I have no idea if I’m the only one who feels this way. And the dom point of view remains very mysterious to me. Maybe my kind readers will enlighten me?


14 thoughts on “Protocols. I Want.”

  1. As soon as you put the question “why”, I came up with an answer, somewhat related to your elegant and evocative description.

    I think it’s a language of affection and attraction, like other people have their ways of showing caring, for people like (us?) it’s most clearly communicated and understood, by these means. “You follow/give the rules, it shows you care” – where follow isn’t negated by slipping up, because the correction/acceptance cycle is a part of following/giving the rules.

    The odd thing for me was recognising:

    I really, really want to know what I’m supposed to do.

    If I’m not sure how you’d like your coffee, I will stand paralysed between visions of your gustatory disgust and terrors of absorbing precious seconds of your time if I ask.

    I feel like that almost as my default social setting, so as a Dom I find having some set rules of which I am arbiter (regardless of what they are, but I prefer to have designed the protocol with the assent of a partner) to be equally liberating for the same reasons. I want to know that it’s okay, that you know it’s okay, and so on.

    I tend not to develop deep, convoluted protocol, but whatever I do apply within a relationship is there for all these reasons.

    1. That makes so much sense! Of course it’s a way for the sub to say “your preferences mean more to me than my own” and of course that is a way of saying “I love you.” And of course that would feel good from the receiving end. Thank you!

      It’s interesting that making rules can also be liberating from social anxiety. I would spend all my time worrying whether I had made the right rules. But then I suppose it should not be news to me that doms have to trust their subs quite a lot!

  2. Well written and insightful.

    Protocols are, in a way, an extension of the open and honest communication that makes a D/s relationship viable. In many ways, communication can easily be stunted by the very nature of D/s: the Dom issues an order that the sub truly feels against, how is the sub to respond? If it’s not a hard limit, is the sub to simply comply and be unhappy?

    A functional relationship is about both sides being happy, and while that’s not always possible, it should always be something worded toward. So what is the sub to do?

    The “Red Folder” technique is great (in which there is a red folder that messages can be passed back and forth through, without breaking the power dynamic.) but only works outside of the moment.

    Having a clearly defined set of protocols means both sides know the rules of engagement. Note how I said “both sides.”

    While it can be a challenge for a sub to know how to address a concern with the Dom, so too can it be a challenge for the Dom to ensure the happiness of the sub. If the Dom continually asks after the sub’s happiness, this inherently breaks the nature of D/s, in which the Dom is, by definition, the one in control.

    A great read from both sides of the fence.

  3. Thank you! Protocols are indeed an example of how much we prize explicit communication in D/s, I just hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    Although, as you also point out, not all the communication is explicit. Guy Baldwin’s book Ties That Bind says that while tops do a lot of explicit verbal communication, bottoms give a lot of non-verbal feedback. He gave the example of an experienced bottom getting a top to adjust a restraint simply by looking at it. He was writing about scening, but I think the same is also true to some extent for long-term D/s.

    I was very much struck by Eric Pride’s solution to this feedback problem when I attended his class “Anatomy of a Play Scene”. He asked “How are you feeling?” very frequently, but with totally neutral intonation. I don’t know if it would work for everyone, but to me it conveyed his concern for the sub very clearly without signalling any wish to give up control.

    1. “How are you feeling” is a great one, and can be applied through protocol as well.

      I had a sub who enjoyed gags, blindfolds and hoods, so communication was a concern of note; after all, how would she tell me if something wasn’t right?

      What we worked out was a protocol: when I would ask her (usually just by tapping on her forehead,) she would ensure that there were no concerns with the bondage, no numbness or tingling and would respond by nodding or shaking her head for “yes” and “no”. The context was set that I asked for the purpose of maintaining my property, and preventing unneeded damage to it. By setting this protocol we were able to maintain that line of communication and ensure a safe scene, without removing ourselves.

  4. Loved the post, and agree with the comments.

    One thing that protocols do is stretch out D/s awareness and time. When the dom demands service or disciplines the sub, their mutual awareness of being dominant and submissive is intense, and so’s the pleasure they get from that awareness.

    It’s like the way that presentation postures are hot in themselves, or else comic book artists wouldn’t draw Wonder Woman, Spider Woman, etc, just happening to find themselves in presentations postures whenever they’re fighting someone or climbing a roof.

    But I don’t think anyone gets as much pleasure from presentation postures as:
    (1) a dom watching his or her submissive assume the position because they do as they’re told, or
    (2) the submissive who puts herself or himself into position, knowing that this is something they’re doing as a display of their surrender and submission.

    The pleasure we get is a kind of awareness. I’m not a switch, but I think I have a good imaginative idea of what submissive presentation feels like to the submissive. I like making a submissive feel like that. And I also know how it feels to me, as the dom of that submissive, to be obeyed, to have that display, and to choose among the sexual possibilities that that posture offers.

    Similarly, I’m pretty sure that submissives not only experience their own pleasures, but have some idea of how much pleasure they give a dominant when they submit, and perhaps some idea of what that pleasure feels like.

    So we have a kind of self-reflective awareness of our own dominance or submission. That awareness is a key part of the pleasure of D/s, especially (or maybe only) when the awareness is reciprocated.

    I hope that makes sense.

    But scenes end, and then that self-reflective awareness drifts away, because their attention shifts to working, or doing the dishes or watching Dr Who.

    Protocols can be in effect during a scene, and then stay in effect permanently. For example I like to be called “Master”, even though – or because – it can sound comical or cheesy or whatever to the submissive the first few times. After which it sounds natural and true.

    But there’s something wonderful when that protocol bleeds into ordinary life, as in, “Master, where the fuck have I left my keys?” It’s not as intensely hot as something more obviously sexual, but it still keeps the contact and awareness alive.

    So protocols are hot in a scene. They provide lots of opportunities to wind up the tension by making the submissive have to try harder to please, and creating new reasons to give correction and eventually praise.

    But they also give the submissive a way of being obedient and submissive and good even when there’s no scene, and the dom isn’t even there. They stretch out D/s awareness over longer periods of time.

    As a dom, I love the thought of helping her to feel that on-going connection by imposing protocols, and I know that it keeps her thinking of me, and me thinking of her.

    (Hey, I managed to use inclusive language all the way up to the penultimate sentence!)

    1. You have made me realise that my post was all about the stick and not the carrot! Thank you for remedying the deficiency! And also pointing out that my argument about protocol and hotness was something of a straw man.

      I’m glad you brought up mutual awareness of the other party’s state of mind. This is actually what gives me my kicks – not my submissive acts, but the realisation that they are being enjoyed. On the bright side this means that I get the most wonderful jolts of arousal after the scene, but the disadvantage is that if there are no obvious signals, then the rewards are more mental than physical during the scene itself.

      I am curious how unusual this quirk is. But it is completely consistent with my jelly biophysics, so I think it’s all part of the same kink. Does it work that way for you, or is it a bit different?

      1. I’m fond of using both the stick and the carrot, though I’m more likely to use a piece of ginger root than a carrot. But they’re both good. Never use a boiled carrot, though.

        I like “jelly biophysics”. Everything to do with it.

        Absolutely you need both subtle and unsubtle communication in a scene, for both mental and physical pleasure during the scene and afterwards.

        Each dom’s style is different (and I guess most doms know less than submissives about what other doms do), but I’d have thought most doms, male or female, would be pretty good at communicating happiness and pleasure in a submissive’s performance.

        I use praise, but my main non-verbal signal tends to be pretty obvious. Also salient, outstanding and I’ll get off the page now before it gets all Benny Hill here.

        1. Saliency works well. Also groans, convulsive movements, completely gratuitous cruelty, laughter, and a certain facial expression which might be kindly described as totally inwardly directed.

          I feel I have painted too rosy a picture of jelly biophysics. The thing is that the jelly ceases to exist after inputs of disappointment or anger. The threshold is fun to play with, but the window is so narrow that it’s very inconvenient for all concerned. But it does seem to regenerate in no time with enough forgiveness/approval, so maybe things are not so bad!

          Someday I will get to experience ginger …

        2. Ack! Forgot to say that verbal praise sort of bypasses my pleasure centres. Of course it makes me happy, but I think my ‘on’ switch is quite literally sensory proof that a sadist is enjoying himself.

What do you think?