This article was inspired by Vice Erotica’s visual depiction of high protocol service right here on kinkweekly.com. In our post “Fifty Shades” world, I fear that the beauty of high protocol could be lost. Thus this article, written in two parts. Part One will examine the myth of high protocol dominance and submission. The next article will be an extensive nuts and bolts guide to high protocol. First, let’s examine the myth.
I am often asked, “What exactly is high protocol?” A strict dictionary definition would be, “a code prescribing strict adherence to a pre-determined etiquette.” In the BDSM context, protocols are the rules of behavior for Masters/Mistresses and slaves. What we generally call “low protocol” is a relaxed, mostly informal relationship with few rules and prescribed patterns of behavior. Obviously, a “medium protocol” D/s relationship is one with more rules than a “low protocol” one; but these rules are far from all pervasive. Finally, “high protocol” is a relationship where many, if not most, activities are conducted ceremonially and tied to a detailed set of rules.
The most widespread myth about high protocol is that it is somehow higher on the BDSM food chain than lower protocol relationships. Many lifestylers who are attracted to high protocol mistakenly think that it is something to aspire to; they assume that it embodies what one should think of as a “true” Master/slave relationship. Although nothing could be further from the truth, there seems to be a tendency to romanticize high protocol. So, why do so many people talk about high-protocol unions as though they are something to aim for in D/s relationships?
Much of the appeal of BDSM is built upon images of slaves serving in what seems to be high-protocol settings. Kneeling provocatively at the Master’s feet at all times; always serving Mistress’s drink in a prescribed manor; performing the perfect greeting ritual every time the Master returns home are all images of “high protocol” that are sensual, transcendent and very appealing. The fact that very few of us have neither the time nor the energy – nor the need – to go to these lengths on a 24/7 basis does not diminish the lure of this idealization. Furthermore, these descriptions reinforce the “BDSM Urban Myth” that unless you are a high-protocol Master/Mistress or slave, you are somehow not a “real Master/Mistress or slave.” This misconception is quite widespread. And if I do nothing other than dispel this notion here, I have done my job.
In my experience, I have found that high protocol functions best when it is for a short period of time – for example, within a BDSM scene. Or, for just a weekend. However, in the context of a 24/7 relationship, I believe it works only for a select few Doms/Dommes and subs. Those rare successful high-protocol couples are those where both partners crave it. It cannot simply be imposed on the slave; that is far too taxing. The slave cannot simply demand it; that requires far too much topping from the bottom. High protocol must be wanted, needed and truly desired by both partners. This is especially true in our world of jobs, kids and a gazillion other demands on our time and attention.
From the Master/Mistress’s (and slave’s) point of view, high protocol is a lot of work. So unless high protocol is a primal BDSM need for both, the workload will be crushing. Over time, what was initially fun will become hard, and oft-times unrewarding, work. The best protocol is one where both Master/Mistress and sub are most naturally comfortable. There is obviously some wiggle room here – but not a huge amount.
In our next installment, I will detail many high protocols. By reading this first article as a primer, and comprehending that high protocol is not a universal goal, you will be able to pick and choose those protocols that work within the type of relationship you desire. Do not make the mistake of aspiring to high-protocol just for high-protocol’s sake. Any level of protocol is fine — if it works for you!
In the final analysis, there’s nothing inherently superior in high protocol versus low protocol – any more than there’s something superior to an airplane flying at a high altitude rather than a lower altitude.
After a ten year run as head writer for the legendary bondage.com, and an equally long run as the host of the hit internet show “Baadmaster’s Dungeon,” we are pleased to welcome the one and only Baadmaster to KinkWeekly. His thoughts about all things BDSM will now appear regularly on these pages. From the mental aspects of D/s to the nuts and bolts of S&M play, Baadmaster will cover every facet of this ever expanding lifestyle.
“In the final analysis, there’s nothing inherently superior in high protocol versus low protocol – any more than there’s something superior to an airplane flying at a high altitude rather than a lower altitude.”
Well actually this is bad example because flying in the higher altitude have a lot of advantages: less drag, less fuel consumption, in return giving faster transportation for less money 😉
Other then that, I love the article, and I agree with all the rest.
Mister Greg says
It’s always interesting to read or hear from those who need to justify their lack of respect towards protocol. Yes, indeed – there is an extra level of reverence and respect in taking the extra steps.
Hey, if you don’t have the time, or are a weekend warrior, that’s OK – just stop pretending that it’s equal to those who really bring it.
High protocol is much higher on the food chain.
You switches and posers can keep justifying what you do, ok?
As far as your statement, “High protocol is much higher on the food chain,” that could be correct if there were a “BDSM Accreditation College”. Then it would be akin to saying a “A physicist with a PhD is higher on the food chain than a college dropout who watches Star Trek reruns.” (Of course, Albert Einstein was a dropout, so there goes that argument!)
Ultimately, the problem with trying to stratify grades of accomplishment in a free-form community is that it is next to impossible. Is a 24/7 High Protocol relationship that lasts a month higher on the “food chain” than a Medium Protocol relationship that lasts two years? And one person’s High Protocol can be another’s Medium Protocol. Since most protocols are practiced behind closed doors, how do you judge? Surely not by the show they might put on at the local dungeon.
Obviously, there will always be the need for people to look down their noses at others; it is a very human trait. But I, as both BDSM practitioner and observer, do not want to be sucked into this rabbit hole.
To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King (to quote him in a BDSM context is by itself noteworthy), “I want my BDSM friends not be judged on the level of their protocol, but on the content of their character.”
Wise words Baad. Glad to see that you’re still helping kinksters understand the truths and fallacies.
Bob Gladstone says
thanks for making high protocol equal to everything else. I’m sick of people being on their high horse! yeesh!