by Anton Fulmen
Written contracts between dominant and submissive partners, often referred to as “slave contracts,” have a long history in the practice of dominance. Some of us find the formality, structure and the sense of commitment and authority of a written contract to be highly appealing.
Some contracts are works of erotic fiction: props full of exciting ideas and hot fantasies that we and our partners do not actually intend to hold one another to. The advantage of that sort of contract is that we can let our imagination go wild in writing it, and don’t have to get bogged down in details and practicalities. We can claim ownership of our partner’s very soul, demand the right to sell them to any party we choose, or stipulate that they will receive thirty lashes every day for the rest of their lives — without having to worry about how realistic or genuinely desirable any of those things would be to put into actual practice.
The other sort of contract is formalized documentation of the container between us and our partner. It represents a personal commitment that we are making to one another, and its provisions are intended to be taken seriously. With this sort of contract it’s wise to put content before style (or libido) in writing, and to carefully consider what it would be like to actually live out the rules that we are proposing, day in and day out.
Successful D/s relationships, whether short or long, are usually those that find some way to acknowledge both partners’ full humanity and to fit peaceably among all your other passions and priorities. And the best way that I know of to achieve that harmony is to build a solid container.
The container is a metaphor for the understanding and agreement, shared between our partners and ourselves, of the border between the D/s dynamic we share and everything else in our lives. We define it through conversation with our partners and observation of our partners, building an understanding of what’s important to them in their lives and what conditions support and invite their submission, and then making agreements that create a space for D/s in our lives together that’s comfortable and appealing for both of us.
And, of course, it’s well worth making sure that we and our partner are on the same page about which sort of contract we’re signing!
A Google search for “BDSM contract” will find you sample contracts of many different kinds. Rather than creating one more sample here, I’ll take a look into the purpose behind some of the clauses that are commonly included in contracts.
Statement of Intent. Many contracts start with a general statement of intent that puts all the more specific clauses into context. This is a good place for some romance and poetry, even in a more pragmatic, detail-oriented contract.
Term. How long will this contract be in force? You can write a contract just for an evening, a weekend or an event if you like. Even many people in open-ended long-term relationships choose to write their contract for a specific term and to include a way to renew it. That incorporates an automatic provision for renewing and reevaluating the dynamic at some regular interval.
Submissive’s Duties. The heart of most contracts is a description of the major duties and responsibilities to which our partner is committing. This can be as general or as specific as you like. Some of us find it erotic to write out (and later read) detailed descriptions of how our partners will be required to submit to us; others prefer a general statement of fealty and obedience and to work out the details outside of the contract.
Dominant’s Duties. Very often, a contract will also require some duties of us, most commonly relating to taking care of our partner, making sure their needs are met and that they feel well used.
Major Limits. Along with duties, many contracts include a list of some of the major, known limits of the dynamic that are important either to you or to your partner. If you do include this clause, you may want to make it clear whether or not the list is intended to be exhaustive. Is anything not included on the list presumed to fall within your authority to command?
Forms of Address. One popular way to highlight the new roles that you and your partner are signing up for is to specify new ways that you will address one another. Requiring your partner to refer to you as “Master” or “Madam” or the like will provide a constant reminder that the contract is in force. You may want to spell out details about when formal titles are and are not to be used (should your partner call you “Goddess” in front of your mother?).
Rituals or Tokens. As with forms of address, rituals and tokens can help to make the contract feel real and keep it present in both of your minds. Many of us like to seal our contracts by collaring our partners, and the contract may include rules and expectations for how that collar is to be treated. When will your partner wear your collar? Will it lock and will they have a copy of the key (smart for emergencies)? What is the consequence if they remove it without permission?
Other rituals, like having your partner perform a daily devotional ceremony, or await permission before getting into bed, or always greet you in a specific manner, can serve a similar function.
Communication Mechanisms. Many people choose to include a section in their contract to formalize some channels for communication with their partners. Common options are to require your partner to keep a journal, to create a schedule of regular check-ins between the two of you, or to have a way for your partner to call for a “speak freely” conversation in which any rules about how they speak are lifted and they will not be punished for anything they say.
Safeword(s). Safewords are a communication tool that merits special mention, and many people choose to include a clause that specifies a safeword for their dynamic, along with an explicit understanding of what it means and how it is to be used.
Provision for Alteration. If your contract is going to last much longer than a week, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll eventually find something in it that needs changing. Either your relationship will change out from under the contract, or you’ll find that some provision doesn’t work out in reality as you’d imagined it would. Including a clause on how the contract can be modified will smooth the process of improving your contract and keeping it reflective of your actual needs.
Release. Few of us like to think about our dynamics ending, especially the open-ended ones that we’re hoping will last forever. But many, many relationships do end, and the ending of dominance can add a whole extra level of complexity and hurt feelings to an already difficult situation. Spelling out agreements for how both you and your partner plan to handle their release, should it come to pass, can ease that process considerably.
Do you want to commit to having your romantic or intimate relationship as equals survive the end of your D/s dynamic, or is dominance the foundation of your connection to one another? Is there a way in which your partner can end the dynamic without being disobedient or otherwise “bad”? Can you end the dynamic without shame, or are you committing `till death do you part?
KEEP IT LIVING
Relationships are moving, changing, living things. It is unrealistic to expect to write a contract that locks down exactly how we and our partner will relate to one another, and expect it to remain meaningful for more than a year at the outside. A contract that isn’t reexamined, renegotiated and updated every so often tends to drift out of relevance. It becomes a snapshot or memento of how our relationship used to be, rather than a guide for how we’re living it now.
IT ISN’T LEGAL
D/s contracts are often written in elaborately legalistic language. It’s a style that is good for stating meanings very precisely, which is useful in a contract, and the official look of it is often appealing to those of us for whom contracts are sexy. But don’t think for a moment that a D/s contract carries any actual legal weight whatsoever. No civilized country’s legal system allows individuals to sign themselves into slavery. And that’s, you know, probably a good thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anton Fulmen runs the Mentoring Program for the Society of Janus and is a kink and sexuality author and educator. He is a big believer in mentoring as a way to help people find their paths in kink and their place in kinky communities, and teaches workshops on D/s, consent and occasionally blood play. He also teaches sex educators how to sex educate as a member of the training staff of San Francisco Sex Information.
Author Janet Hardy called The Heart of Dominance “absolutely the best, most grounded book I’ve read on the topic of consensual dominance and submission” and said “if I’d had this book a quarter century ago, it would have saved me (and my partners!) untold frustration.”
Writer, speaker and activist Race Bannon said: “Here you have a balanced, grounded and realistic examination of the topic. No pontificating dictates. No directives from some mythological past. Instead, the author beautifully rolls out a clear explanation of what such play is and is not and how to make it hot, fun and safe.”
You can find more information on this book and more of Anton’s writing on his website, Consensual Dominance.