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Establishing a Protocol

Author: Laura Antoniou

Filed in: training, rules, etiquette, protocol, behavior

A talk given by Laura Antoniou, December 1, 2000

What is the number one reason for failure of an S/M relationship?
Lack of consistency. Not failed flogging or lack of fetish wear. Consistency.

Basically, what happens is that the people involved in the relationship stop doing the things that got them interested in S/M in the first place.

NOTE: S/M is the term L. A. used to mean S/M, D/s, BDSM, what ever set of letters you want for the lifestyle we choose.

Reality is that every relationship will slow down after the first flush of excitement wears off. All the Passion, Drama and Emotion that make it exciting at first, tone down. And all of those are tied up in actions. When the actions stop, the relationship stops. I don’t have a magic solution to offer to keep a relationship alive, but one thing that can work is the creation and maintenance of a protocol. Before we get into that, we must first touch on some of the terms to be used.

First: I am NOT in my 50’s or older. I have never been in the Military. And I am not a gay male that fits both of those descriptions. Therefore, I am not, nor can I ever have been “old Guard” and anyone that says otherwise is wrong.

Second: The basic assumption of this entire presentation is that we are talking about a S/M relationship where there is a Top (Dominant) and a bottom. The bottom is in a state of consensual submission and has agreed to be obedient to the top.

Etiquette: forms of behavior established by good breeding, or what is prescribed by cultural situations. Basic etiquette. You must know good manners. Read Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt, Miss Manners, etc. Get them. Read them. Use them. There is never an excuse for bad manners.

Protocol: The code that prescribes the adherence to the etiquette.

SM Protocol: a plan for enacting the behavior within your relationship. (Including the basic etiquette stuff.) A good (and currently the only) reference for alternate lifestyles is:
The Bride Wore Black Leather... and He Looked Fabulous!: An Etiquette Guide for the Rest of Us by Drew Campbell, Donna Barr (Illustrator) /Paperback / Greenery Press / March 2000

Another good reference comes from a Military Protocol book:
Service Etiquette by Oretha D. Swartz / Hardcover / Naval Institute Press / November 1988

These are good books to add to your reference set, right along side of Emily Post, et al. Basically, ask yourself what attracted you to SM in the first place Power? Surrender? The formalisms? The manners? The rituals? Everything that is done in S/M is strengthened, sharpened and enhanced by etiquette. One of the first things you do is establish a Protocol.

How do you expect the submissive to behave, to address you, to dress, to sit, eat, etc. This is a model for the relationship. It is the Tops responsibility to establish the protocol. DO NOT send your submissive out on the net looking for that “magic” protocol that must be followed.
It does not exist. By taking someone else’s protocol, you are essentially handing over the control of your relationship to someone else. Because that is what protocol is… the control of the relationship.

Protocols within a relationship are private and personal. You make the rules for what is important to you. If you take third party protocols and just try to use those, you are going to guarantee that they will be misinterpreted, some will be implausible, and others will just be plain wrong for your relationship. Besides, do you really want your submissive to fulfill someone else’s fantasy?

Your fantasy is what should be the focus. Also, if you hand the responsibility of creating the protocols over to the submissive, you are telling the submissive to control
the relationship. Which is usually not what the submissive is looking for. They want to know what pleases you, not just what they are guessing at. Only the dominant can make it right.
This does not mean you cannot use other information. Certainly borrow (or outright steal) bits and pieces of protocols from other sources that appeal to you. But take just the important
part and flesh it out with your own style and flavor. Make it your own and move on. Do not just take someone else’s protocol “whole cloth” and try to use it.

But that begs the question… Where do I get that protocol? Have you ever fantasized about a series of positions you would like to see your sub perform?

However, if you think this appeals to you, I recommend you read the following two books, and if you like what you read, go for it:
The Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend, John Preston / Paperback / L. T. Publications / November 1994

Real Thing by William M. Carney / Paperback / Masquerade Books, Inc. / April 1995

Other sources are John Normans Gor series, the story of O, Ann Rice Beauty series. Just remember that your life is NOT GOR. It is yours. Take what you like and make it real, but don’t try to convince yourself you are from the planet Gor or from Roissery. You aren’t. You also don’t find a lot of protocol described in my books. The last thing I want is someone to say they are following the Market Place protocol.

There is no such thing.

Creating a Protocol

First, think about why are you doing this? To establish a relationship? To deepen it? To try to repair it? (usually repairs don’t work because by the time you realize you need to fix it, its too late, but try anyway.) Then, think about all the things you want/need the protocol to cover.

Discussion habits, how to address Master / Mistress, how to address other masters and mistresses. How to address tops, bottoms, vanilla people, other household members. How to argue. How to disagree with Master. How to agree with Master. How to ask for a favor. How to ask for sex. How to request a time out.

How to stand, how to sit, how to kneel. When and how to use different positions. Who opens the door. Where do they walk (in front? Behind? Left side? Right?) Describe in detail all the different postures and positions.

Presenting (offering a body part for use):
How to do it for pleasure, play, punishment, humiliation, whatever.

Other stuff: when and who they can hug with or with out permission, shake hands, bow. Get you a drink. Serve dinner. Fold the laundry. Hang the clothes. Walk the dog.

Personal habits:
When and how to eat, go to the bathroom, drink, have sex, use furniture, drive, got to work, dress, get undressed, brush their hair, brush their teeth, where to sleep, what to sleep in, shave, smoke, etc.

Other issues:
Can they carry money? Use a credit card? Write checks? Can they use the phone, the computer, and the fax. Are they allowed to touch their collar with their own hands? Can they remove it? Put it on themselves? How? When?

There are endless opportunities for developing protocols. Just remember, what is fine in the dungeon in your home or at the leather bar is not necessarily going to fly at the local Walmart or at your Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner. Be prepared to have multiple levels of protocol. When in private … when in semi-public but scene friendly,.. when in Walmart … at Moms. Also, be wary of using Always. There is no flexibility. Always be naked in my presence is not going to work (the folks at Walmart will probably object). A requirement like that is setup for failure because there are exceptions. But.. When at my home, and we are alone, you will be naked. That is a good solid rule that can be followed.

Basic Question:
Why do it:
The best goals of keeping to a protocol
1. Protocols establish a pattern of a relationship and help define it.
2. to have a quantifiable system to judge the training and success of the bottom.
a. The Top MUST give feedback. Protocols work because it is two way street. The bottom DOES it. The Top recognizes it is done.
b. This way both know exactly what is expected and can follow it
3. Shows off good manners. Not just out in public, but also privately with each other.
4. Establish and maintains a level of distance in a relationship
a. Distance is required to keep the Dominant/submissive dynamic strong
b. The same protocol also can be used to invite intimacy at specific times.

It is important to allow flexibility in the protocol to let the submissive initiate some things…such as sex. Your protocol can specify how and when the submissive can express the need/desire for sex with the dominant. However, be warned, that if you give the permission to ask, you need to be prepared to say yes. EVERY time you say no, you are hitting at the submissive’s self-esteem. You may not need to say yes every time, but it is a fine line between how many times you can say no and when they decide you don’t care enough and leave. On the other hand, not ever allowing them to ask also sets them up for deciding you don’t care and them leaving.

A bonus of letting them ask for sex… is they now are “ordered” to tell you when they want sex. You never have to guess again if they are “in the mood” or not.
5. Establish a means for changing the relationship. Include in the protocol a way for the submissive to request a change. Master, every time I do “X” I feel bad…or angry…or resentful.. or bored…or whatever. Is it possible to change “X” or delete it. Again, this obligates you to pay attention. If the submissive actually requests that something be changed, you should change it.

Consider the reasons for the change and also determine if “X” is something you feel is really necessary. If yes, find a way to make it acceptable to the bottom. If not, then change or delete it as necessary. In this way, your protocol will change and grow and become more and more tailored to your personal
relationship with that particular submissive. Remember… the protocol has to work for both of you. If the submissive is finding it unworkable, then the submissive will leave. If you don’t find it meets your needs, you will ignore it, and the submissive will feel you don’t care, and the submissive will leave. Protocols take effort. It is worth it, but it is not an easy ride for either partner.

Where to start:

  1. 1. Start by determining what type of relationship you want.
    • Is it a service relationship?
    • Is it primarily a sexual one?
    • Is it Daddy/girl or Master/slave?
  2. What behaviors and mannerisms turn you on.
    1. This is for both Tops and Bottoms. Be CLEAR about what turns you on.If what you want is to be Jeeves…have a suite and silver tray, say so. If you need to be dressed in a French Maid outfit with nipple cut outs, be specific. If you want your submissive to be June Cleaver incarnate, tell her. If you are not specific, you won’t get what you want.
  3. Evaluate your own interests, and also the impact of reality.
  4. Negotiate all aspects of the Protocol. Protocols deal with the emotions and the mind. Feelings can be hurt and the bruises last a lot longer than the physical ones. The mental stuff is the hardest You want to negotiate and discuss the protocols so that you find the right person for you.

Tops, be specific.
Not: I expect respect at all times. Duh?
Instead: I will be addressed as XXX when we are at home.
I will be addressed as YYY when at the club
I will be addressed as ZZZ in vanilla public.
In this way you have determined what you want specifically, and your bottom now has a clear idea of how to please you. It is best to start very generally, and then get specific.

  1. The bottom will show appreciation for any attention received, whether for punishment or pleasure.
  2. The bottom will say “Thank you Mistress” then kiss boots
  3. When kneeling to kiss boots, legs are spread and butt high in air
  4. Kiss first the left boot, outside edge, inside edge, then right boot outside edge, then inside edge.
  5. After kissing boots back up, place head on floor and wait recognition.

But! Be careful not to get too detailed to fast. First start with the general. Then add the detail of kneeling to kiss boots. Then add the detail for how to kiss the boots. Allow the protocol (ritual) to develop naturally, but document the process as you go, so that you will both know what is important and what isn’t. You want the development of your protocol to be an exciting and nurturing experience, and for it to be organic. It will grow and change and develop with your relationship, making it stronger and deeper.

Realize that your Protocol WILL change. It is better to start with a few simple rules of behavior, maybe

Then after those are mastered, add 5 more. Plus depth to the first five. Make the addition of new rules a reward for having mastered the first ones. Don’t hand a new submissive a 30 page document and say, start doing all this on Monday. It won’t work, it will be overwhelming and there is nothing fun about flipping through a manual trying to figure out what to do next.. Also, you cannot expect perfect obedience. You are commanding behavior from a human being. Not a machine. And sometimes… there has to be down time. Every protocol should have a way, within the protocol, to request a way to be excused from the Protocol. This is a release valve. Again, it is almost axiomatic that the dominant MUST almost always grant such a request. But the value of it is that by granting this request, the protocol is actually still in place. By not granting it, you run the risk that the stress that caused the need for the request in the first place will force the submissive to decide to just chuck it all anyway.

Note I did say ALMOST always. Sometimes, by asking for the release, the submissive is also asking for help. If the dominant can relieve the reason the sub requested the time out, it is possible to actually deny the request but in a positive way. A good, well written protocol will allow flexibility for both partners. If the submissive, for what ever reason, feels a need to be released from the protocol, the mere fact of requesting the release in a specific way, and being granted it according to the protocol, actually preserves the protocol… is still being “observed” even during the time out, and provides a sense of security and continuity during that time period. Also, there is nothing wrong with telling the submissive… you get the time out, but your penalty for it is that after the time out, you will have to do “X” to make up for the lack of protocol during this time.

Be creative.
Find ways to keep it meaningful.
Note: Roles of Protocol do not only belong to the bottom.
Protocol applies to the Dominant as well, and must include behavior of the Top. The rules may specify that the Top is polite at all times, or crude and hurtful. But the rules must be there for both…specify what YOU will be doing.
Remember, your Protocol is YOURS and yours only.
You cannot expect others to follow your protocol, even if they know it.
Write your protocols out, not as a contract but as a guide book. This is helpful for both Dom and sub. Who forgets the specific protocols first? The dominant. Bottoms don’t keep protocol out of fear of punishment but because they WANT to be pleasing to their Dom. They don’t just “stop” observing protocol for the heck of it. They stop primarily because the Tops fail to

When the Top fails to notice/react, then he doesn’t care.. As the Dominant, you must be involved. You have established it. You must maintain it. You reward good behavior, and punish bad. And modify the rules when necessary.

For the Bottoms:
If you stop doing something required of your protocol, and your top doesn’t notice, it is your right and responsibility to bring this to the Master’s attention… in a respectful way, according to your protocol.
All protocols should provide a way for the submissive to bring anything up that needs to be discussed without fear of reprisal. Also, sometimes Tops realize that they stopped noticing something, and if that happens, it is better to say “I’ve noticed you have stopped doing X.” However, remember that at this point, you cannot punish for it. If you have not noticed for a month that she is not kneeling before getting into bed, then today, you notice it…. You can’t punish her retroactively. Instead take ownership of the problem, acknowledge your part (lack of noticing means it has become less than meaningful to you also) and then brainstorm together what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Bottoms are responsible to obey you, but you (the top) are responsible for noticing that obedience (or lack) and following through.

If you have noticed something has become neglected or is being performed by rote instead of with real meaning or that you personally now find boring to watch the submissive perform it “yet again”, it is time to re-evaluate the reason for that action, and either modify it or drop it entirely. It is this process that helps keep the protocol alive and responsive to the relationship, and therefore meaningful. When it stops being meaningful, the relationship is on the skids. It has become simply a series of actions instead of a deep bond.

Always remember that your personal protocol is YOURS and yours alone. You may have to explain them to someone, but you should get respect regardless of their acceptance of your protocol or not. When in your house, I’ll obey your protocol, or I leave. You do the same for me in mine. This is the essence of basic etiquette. No one else knows your protocol. Don’t expect them to. Don’t try to make them follow your rules. This is YOURS. Keep it for you and the ones in your S/M relationship. Keep the relationship alive and interesting. As with all relationships, it requires work. But the results are very rewarding.

Cecelia took these notes on December 1, 2000, as a service to Sir David, at a presentation by Laura Antoniou in Austin, Texas. They are published and provided to interested people with
Laura’s gracious permission.

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