It's often the case that protocol develops in D/s relationships that start out with a bit of structure to them, whether the relationship intended it or not. While there are some casual style relationships that have protocol, I haven't seen a lot of it when a relaxed relationship is preferred. Now with that said, I bet you are wondering what protocol is and how it is developed in relationships! I'm going to cover the basics of protocol, some different types of protocol and then talk about how to develop your own protocol in your relationship.
As with anything, this is a joint effort so you will want to talk to your Dominant before trying to start a protocol on your own. The best protocols work when both parties are actively involved.
Protocol is a defined, enforced code of behavior. It can dictate body, behavior, and attitudes through enforcement or ritual. All those detailed rules that you have when you first start out with someone can be protocol. Think about it. Rules are a code of behavior. If it's enforced then it's a protocol. If you ritualize it, then it's protocol. Granted, the "obey" rule isn't exactly protocol, but if you have to wear your hair a certain way, dress a certain way, speak a certain way or interact with others a certain way (just as examples) then that can be protocol.
There are some invisible protocols that fly under the radar in the vanilla environment. These are used often with couples that have children or D/s in public places. If you think about it, a lot of the rules you currently have go unnoticed in public places or with your family. The ones that don't you likely have a secret code for them so no one has to know you have to ask to use the restroom or have your meals chosen for you (just examples).
Using honorifics is the most common use of protocol in D/s relationships. Honorifics is just a fancy term for the titles we use for our Dominants that convey esteem, respect, and authority. In vanilla settings, you might have a different term that means the same thing or gives you the same feeling. Most people use terms of endearment or the more traditional "Sir".
Language conventions are also a form of protocol, more often seen online than off, but it is evident and powerful for submissives who use them. Things like Capped/uncapped slashy speak where pronouns include the capital and lower case letters; for example, "T/they, U/us, O/our." It's used to remind submissives that Dominants and submissives are separate and that in this code of behavior, they are constantly reminding of this separation. Third person speech is also an online D/s invention to put submissives in a headspace that they are not a person but owned property. In this convention, submissives can not refer to themselves in the first person, so pronouns like I, me, my and mine are banned. Instead, they often say things like, "this girl, this slave, or this one."
Considerations for Developing Protocol
First, protocol should be a statement of what to do rather than a statement of what not to do. Make it an action or positive improvement. The reasoning behind this is that no one wants to be told what they can't do and have to remember negative rules is a depressing thing for any new submissive. Even more, experienced submissives can feel like all they have are things they can't do if given a list of protocol that is mainly negative in nature.
A few examples would be:
Protocol should be maintained with little or no Dominant interaction or maintenance. The logic behind this is that it should be something that you do as a part of your submission and the application of specific rules or behaviors need to be things that become a habit and a part of your natural routine. If your Dominant is constantly having to check to make sure you are following your rules it becomes a chore instead of something for positive reinforcement of your power exchange relationship.
With that said, failure to follow protocol should be easily noticed by the Dominant so that they can help you get back on track, be that with punishment or positive reinforcement.
A good choice in protocol will enrich the submissive's head space and accentuate the power dynamic. If it makes the Dominant's preferences well-known and ever-present then it should be something positive for the Dominant as well.
Implemented protocol should be practical for the relationship or situation. Having to kneel every time you need to ask a question might be hot at home but it's not very practical in a public space. So make sure there are guidelines or adjustments made for occasions where your desired protocol can not happen. This goes into the idea of having different levels of protocol. We'll talk a little about that below.
When developing protocol make sure you have frequent adjustments if boredom sets in. Boredom can render protocol useless to both you and your partner. No one likes boredom!
Different Levels of Protocol
If you've been in the lifestyle and online for any length of time you will likely have been exposed to the idea of High Protocol. There really is no universal meaning in place but it always involves elaborate and specific restrictions or behaviors for situations or occasions. This is where slave uniforms, speech restrictions and more come into play more often than in a more relaxed relationship.
Most relationships that have any sort of rules and protocol will usually be a low protocol situation. It takes a lot of work from both parties to make protocol work as intended for both people. If you progress through the basic rules and start adding rituals (another topic entirely) or more detailed instructions to the protocol, like my coffee service then you are likely moving into a moderate protocol.
High protocol is really a misnomer since the impression of someone's protocol is subject to what you like, what you are currently engaged in for your own relationship and what the participants believe. I've been told that KnyghtMare and I are high protocol, but that's far from the truth for us. I think we are more moderate or medium protocol in that I have rules for specific scenarios like BDSM meetings, parties and in private - each with their own level of awareness or focus.
With that, I think we've covered a lot of the basics of protocol development. What questions do you have about protocol? Maybe they will end up in another article!