Contracting 101

The Basic Purposes of Contracts

in a D/s Relationship

An Essay by Lord Colm

From the D/s_Lighthouse Lecture Series

A Definition

To begin with, let me define what a contract is. Fundamentally, it is an consensual agreement between a dominant and a submissive that specifies the roles, rights, and responsibilities of the parties involved. They can range from the very general, touching only on the broader goals, to the very specific, detailing virtually every aspect of the relationship. Which type is best depends on the needs of those making the contract. Perhaps you are wondering what purpose a contract serves.

Why Bother?

Of all the things that lead to conflicts in a relationship, differing or unclear expectations is one of the top five. People enter into relationships with certain desires, hopes, limits, and goals. This is particularly true of D/s relationships. If those things aren't clearly communicated in both directions, you run the risk of disappointment and failure. A contract, when used properly, sets down in writing the structure of your relationship. Most of all, it is a living document, one that isn't set in stone, never to be changed. Rather, as you grow together, your needs change and your contract should change along with them. Sumissives and dominants tend to value structure. We see it in the rituals we perform, the little things that differentiate us from vanilla relationships. Subs most often function best when clear lines have been drawn. It gives them comfort knowing where the boundaries are and most are happy to remain within them. Likewise, dominants have a moral obligation to clearly state their rules and the consequences of not abiding by them (remember: rules aren't arbitrary, but serve a purpose and must be consensual). Once defined, the dominant can relax in the knowledge that the submissive will, more often than not, strive to please by not venturing outside the sandbox you've build for them. While D/s contracts are not legally binding, they are *morally* binding. It assumes that both parties signing the contract are committed to fulfilling it to the best of their abilities. It's not something to be entered into lightly.

 A Vision Statement

It is a very useful tool for driving home the importance of your committment. It's not at all uncommon to have it displayed prominantly (when other practical considerations don't preclude) and to have the submissive contemplate upon it while practicing other submissive duties, such as position training. Embracing the terms with your heart, rather than just your mind, helps keep the contract from becoming empty words on paper. Contracts are like a vision statement for your relationship. That is, it states where you want your relationship to go, if only for a couple of hours. Within the scope of your agreement, all of your choices should be made to further fulfillment of your contract, not run counter to it. It gives us a common goal, a sense of direction, and can help both parties when faced with difficult decisions.

 Suggestions

If you decide that a contract is right for you, here are some suggestions for drawing one up.

  Begin with negotiation. Both of you have to verbalize what your wants, needs, limits, and expectations are. One useful tool in that process is a checklist where both of you go down a list of BDSM activities and rate your interest in them. You can find one at our website by clicking here. You'll need this type of knowledge when you begin to draft your contract.  

 Talk about and decide upon a duration of the contract. They can range from only hours to open-ended. If you are very new to this, start off easy with a clearly defined beginning and ending point. As you progress in your relationship, the duration can be lengthened. 

 Decide what type of contract is best for you. General or specific. Review examples to get an idea of what types of things are typically included in both. As a general rule, novices need more explicit guidelines, with definite do's and don'ts as well as a clear statement of the consequences of violating the contract.

  Since this is a mutual agreement and consensuality as at it's heart, it must have an "out clause." That is, a way for either party to terminate the contract when they feel they can no longer abide by it in good faith. The first step is re-negotiation, with termination a last resort. This shouldn't automatically equate to an end to the relationship. 

 Contracts need to be practical. It would be worthless to have one that simply cannot be fulfilled completely because you've built into it unreasonable requirements. Real people have real-life issues: job, family, children, fears, limits.

  A contract isn't something that the dominant draws up in isolation and presents to the sub with the expectation of complete agreement. From the very onset, it is a process of communication. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. When both parties participate, they can take comfort in the knowledge that their needs have been considered.

  Lastly, use your brain, not just your heart. Carefully consider each provision and what it will take for you to fulfill it. If something doesn't seem reasonable, raise a flag and re-negotiate. I've seen "slave" contracts that demand that the slave turn over all worldly possessions to the dominant, signing over property and bank accounts. Now, consider what would happen if that relationship ended: you'd be left destitute. If you'd like to have the dominant control those things, state so, but in general terms. Be highly suspicious of any dominant who insists you turn over everything you own to him. And FinallyContracts, when used correctly, can add a whole new dimension to your relationship: depth and substance, new committment and a sense of direction, guiding principles to help you make choices, and further your sense of submission or dominance. It's an important document and needs to be approached with serious consideration, open communication and consideration for the needs of both parties. Remember submissives, you have as much voice in your contract as your dominant does. Beware of the dom/me who thinks otherwise--a genuine lack of concern for your welfare is probably at the root and you'll likely end up victimized in some way.


Copyright© 1997 by Lord Colm

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