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A protocol is any defined, enforced code of behavior, and or rituals whether it be within the confines of a particular group, community, or other interpersonal dynamic (such as a power exchange relationship).

Protocols are a set of governing rules that dictate the body, behavior and attitudes through an enforced code of behavior and/or rituals whether it be within the confines of a particular group, community, or interpersonal dynamic.

Protocols are often referred to those found within a power exchange relationship. The reason there is no set rules about universal protocols is because every power exchange relationship is different, not just based on relationship style, but more specifically on the individuals involved in the relationship and their needs and wants.

Best Practices indicate that it is unreasonable to expect that others should or must respect your particular set of protocols if you have not negotiated for such things with them.

Invisible Protocols

Invisible protocols are protocols that occur in a method that is stealthy and difficult to detect when compared to a typical vanilla environment. Usually invisible protocols are used to practice power exchange in areas where stealth is required, or as an enhanced communication technique that allows complex information and concepts to be transferred quickly.

These protocols and rituals see frequent use with couples that have children, those practicing D/s in public and not wanting to alert others or force them to see something non-consensual, or when wishing to enjoy a well trained slave.


An honorific title is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Honorifics are one of the most common types of protocols used in BDSM. An honorific is often a title such as "Sir", "Mistress" or whatever title the D-type prefers to assign within the power exchange dynamic, and while the honorific may convey a specific idea, no honorific chosen necessarily specifically indicates a specialized list of qualifications. Typically an honorific will be used while in scene or during times when invisible protocols are not necessary for 24/7 dynamics, and will be used to start or end a passage of speech, or both start and end a passage of speech. An honorific is most often chosen by the d-type deciding what sort of status role they find most suiting to them. Some honorifics are given as earned titles from issuing institutions.

Common Honorifics

Honorifics are often perceived as being masculine or feminine but are frequently adopted in a gender bending fashion as well.

  • Service/Pro Top/Bottom
  • Alpha slave/Kajira or Kajirus
  • Daddy/Mommy/Caregiver
  • Mentor
  • Sir/Sire/Miss
  • Dom/Domme/Dominant
  • Handler
  • Owner
  • Master/Mistress
  • House/Pack Master/Mistress/Lord/Lady/Madame
  • Master/Mistress Trainer
  • Grand Master/Goddess


A ritual is a solemn ceremony that exists within a power exchange dynamic consisting of a series of actions performed (usually by the s-type) according to a prescribed order set by the d-type. Unlike a protocol, a ritual has a specific physical action associated with it as well as a triggering mechanism, where as a protocol can simply be a directive to govern behavior.

See also conditioning.

Some Typical Types of Rituals

Rituals can cover any topic the D-type so desires, however typical rituals might involve things such as:

  • Greetings
  • Opening Doors
  • Linguistic Conventions
  • Object Presentation
  • Drink Service
  • A Mantra
  • Collaring or Leashing

and anything else of importance to a particular D-type.


A mantra is a ritualized, solemn and formulaic utterance. Most times mantras are used as positive affirmations that are triggered at specific times of day or under certain specific conditions. Mantras are often used to help reinforce conditioning and can be also be a mild form of hypnosis. A mantra may have other specific physical actions associated with it aside from just speech to help reinforce the mantra.

Linguistic Conventions

Various Linguistic conventions often synonymous with D/s.

Some people in the D/s world capitalize words and names that refer to d-types, and do not capitalize those that refer to s-types, hence the capitalization of D/s; others do not. This practice was popularized on internet chatrooms, to make it easier to identify the orientation of the writer or the person being written about and has spread to many other forms of text based communication.

Also, some s-types eschew personal pronouns, instead referring to themselves as "this slave" or "Master Bob's girl/boy". This is sometimes considered an expression of modesty or objectification, but it is an entirely optional method of depersonalizing an s-type. It is speculated that this practice may have roots in the military, where new recruits are required to refer to themselves as "this recruit" rather than "I" or "me".

Further some may have speech restriction protocols such as the inability to say the word "no" to the Master (yet still having other venues to express dissatisfaction without challenging the Master) they serve or being required to kneel and request permission to speak with hand signal.

Best Practices: Developing Protocol

To develop some starter protocols as a D-type, consider what things you value and what small niceties might make your life easier and more enjoyable. Then discuss them with your partner and negotiate the terms of these protocols. When creating rituals and protocols, ensure they have the following criteria:

A ritual or protocol should be...

  • able to be consistently maintained with little or preferably no Dominant maintenance.
  • noticed by the dominant when the protocol is not followed, which creates a bother great enough to express openly.
  • practical or it will not see regular use.
  • assist with facilitating and enriching the s-type headspace and D/s relationship rather than detracting from them.
  • avoid boredom and preferably guard against it.
  • be reasonably safe as well as within negotiated limits.
  • a statement of what to do rather than what not to do.
  • revisited early on and annually/as needed to ensure it is relevant and serving the intended purpose.

With that information you will be able to create your own rewarding protocols with your partner, provided you know what it is that you want and like, and if you don't, it's important to get to know yourself if you intend on directing your s-type in how to please you.

Other People's Protocols

Sometimes when developing your own protocols it can be useful to have a basis for comparison, take a look at some of these sources and note how very different they are in writing style, purpose and application.

Protocol Schema

Once you start to have some ideas about what is important to you, begin organizing your thoughts into a Schema.

A protocol schema is a systematic way of describing the set of rules which constitute a protocol. The schema is divided into four sections:

  • Classes - the groups of people who interact according to the protocol. This section should specify the relation between each class and any hierarchy within it. For example, that waiters serve customers in a restaurant, but that customers are served according to gender and then in decreasing order of age.
  • Dress and symbols - any restrictions or requirements relating to clothing, and any symbols such as collars.
  • Speech rules - rules relating to silence, forms of address, speaking only when spoken to, or ways of referring to oneself or others.
  • Deportment - rules governing how the individual walks, stands, kneels, or otherwise acts physically, in ways not covered by the previous sections.

Within D/s, it is common that more emphasis will be placed on the s-type when writing out a protocol.

Introduction of Protocol

When introducing protocols, consider discussing them as well as the concerns and challenges that may arise with your s-type as they will have certain insights you will not, and require their feedback as they integrate protocols.

Introduce 1-3 at a time until the s-type has canonized them through conditioning and then add more of your protocols so as not to overburden your s-type with too many drastic changes at once such as by handing them a huge manual of protocols to be responsible for all at once. When trying out a new protocol, use it on a trial basis, reassess and alter the new protocol as necessary so that it will best serve the relationship. When the process is refined, agreed upon and trained, dedicate it to the protocols that are considered expectations of the d-type.

Consider having them keep a log of when a protocol is first taught and when it is learned sufficiently to be set as an expectation so that the log may be referred to if there is a protocol breach. Keep your schema private from them at this time until such a time as it is no longer necessary.

If the slave finds that a protocol is not corrected when failed, the slave will often begin to have the relationship structure degrade in their mind which is poisonous to a relationship based on structure and power exchange. If this becomes common the structure can fail. If the Master finds they aren't upset enough to mention and appropriately deal with a protocol when the expectation isn't met, or worse, that it isn't noticed at all when the expectation isn't followed through on, it is best to consider downgrading the protocol to a stated preference rather than an expectation that must be met as is implied by using the term protocol.

High Protocol

The phrase "High Protocol" is frequently used in D/s and M/s, but has no universal meaning. High Protocol is often used during formal dinners in the Leather M/s community and at various other Leather events and is often marked by being very restrictive and akin to military protocol. Most high protocols for s-type's do share some common features, including:

  • Elaborate restrictions on speech (eg silence; speaking only when spoken to; requesting permission to speak; or specific forms of address such as "Sir, yes, sir!")
  • Deferential behavior (eg not turning back to the dominant; keeping head below theirs; kneeling when otherwise unoccupied; requesting permission to leave the room.)
  • Immediate response to commands, and concentration on the d-type and their requirements and desires.
  • Serving or waiting without drawing unnecessary attention to the s-type.

The fictional protocol in force at Roissy in the "Story of O" is a classic example of a detailed high protocol.

High Protocol in front of people who are not members of the dominant's immediate household may also have some of the features of a performance. High Protocol in front of vanilla persons may be considered a consent violation and might cause a disturbance.

Protocol Levels

Protocol may also come in other levels and be sorted as needed by the d-type, typically into groups such as high, medium, low and no protocol. An example of levels of protocol is The Estate Protocols of House Tanos[1].

Low protocol:

Used in vanilla and informal situations.

  • A continuous reminder of service and its responsibilities
  • Permitted casual behavior, yet with specific boundaries.
  • Recognition of station, orders, demands and requests in an invisible and unobtrusive fashion.
  • Behavior which reflects my intentions and desired interaction on a personal and professional level
  • Awareness of accountability, despite the temptations offered by casual behavior and independence.

Medium protocol:

For most public BDSM scene environments, and during play scenes.

  • Prioritize decisions in the appropriate context
  • The time and place for degrees of casual behavior
  • Consistent ground rules of action and responsibility
  • Awareness and anticipation of my needs, wants, and desires- and those of other respected Dominants in my company as a priority
  • Focus on BDSM priorities, no matter how long or strenuous the time spent in Middle Protocol

High protocol:

Normally used for short periods or during longer punishments.

  • Complete attention and focus, no matter what the distractions.
  • Absolute and instantaneous obedience, without delay, hesitation or question.
  • Decision-making and priorities are NOT part of High Protocol; the servants wants, needs and desires are suspended.
  • All extraneous movement, speech, and thought are unacceptable. If First Protocol is in effect, concentration is demanded.
  • Awareness that every move, answer and behavior is being carefully scrutinized and judged.