I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly!
I was recently involved in a conversation regarding the use of Slavery Contracts within a dynamic. I thought it would be an interesting discussion to start here in Rika’s Lair.
Do you need a contract to establish a meaningful power dynamic? Of course not. Will it help? That depends on the people writing the contract; how much clarity they need; how realistic they are in creating it; and what expectations they have in signing it. There are Pros and Cons.
Contracts are, by design, the formalization of an agreement. In order to come to terms in a contract, both parties need to articulate their objectives of that agreement. For a contract to be complete, there are four key elements: Mutual assent (offer, acceptance, and obligation), adequate consideration, capacity, and legality.
That last condition (Legality) creates the first conundrum: There are no LEGAL slavery contracts in most countries around the world today. No matter how much you want to, you can’t sign yourself, legally, into being someone else’s property. It’s not so much the property part, but rather, a contract cannot bind someone into doing something that’s illegal. Slavery is illegal…so, even if you are willing sign yourself away to be someone else’s possession, the paper is meaningless in a court of law. They simply will not recognize that agreement and it will be void. Period.
However, many see value in contracts. The discussion today, therefore, is how can there be value in a contract, when we all know that it’s void and unenforceable?
We’ve already pointed out that legality is not going to happen here and I am assuming people engaging in this type of activity are of legal age and mental state to make the agreement (Capacity / capability) … so what’s left is for the contract to articulate the terms of offer, acceptance, obligation, and consideration.
Power dynamics are, of course, the result of a power-transfer agreement. Power dynamics, in general will benefit from adequate, up-front, descriptions and communications of the terms of the agreement. Both parties need to understand what is being transferred; why; and what obligations the agreement brings.
We’ve all seen that the common-known terms thrown about in BDSM and D/s literature are poorly defined and are seldom standardized. What one person means by “Dominance”, “Submission”, “Service”, “Slavery”, “Tasks”, “Reward”, “Punishment”, etc. does not necessarily mean the same thing to another. Anything we can do that aids in this communication and clarification is going to give the agreement a better chance at longevity and fulfillment. When we write, we force our brains to organize our thoughts and to clarify concepts. Using a contract to clarify terms, in detail, will help communications. The obligations and limitations under which each partner is going to operate within the power dynamic needs to be articulated clearly. Even if the contract isn’t legally worth the paper it’s written on, there might be value in helping to communicate the power agreement more clearly.
Another positive aspect of writing a contract, is that they’re really fun to sign. There’s something exciting about drafting the terms of a power dynamic, and putting one’s name on the line. We can visualize images of the scene from “Venus in Furs”, when Wanda guided the hand of Severin as he nervously watched his name appear on their contract. The notion of formalizing the commitment, even if it’s meaningless, is titillating. You can make an event out of the signing, complete with pomp and circumstance, and seal the deal with a random act of kinky fun. There’s benefit to that.
There are some downsides to slavery contracts: The first, and most obvious, problem occurs when people try to rely on the contract to enforce their power dynamic. The paper is legally worthless, it’s the commitment that matters. So, pointing to the paper for enforcement doesn’t work. Both parties know the terms are unenforceable. Ultimately, you’re dependent on each other’s mutual commitment to the dynamic. That’s where you need to put your focus – not on some piece of paper.
Other problems occur when people pack so much detail into a contract, that they don’t leave room for any flexibility or spontaneity. In my second book, “Uniquely Us”, I described Sean and Dave’s “The Book” that described, in detail, every interaction they were able to predict and how they agreed to handle it. They had a ceremony signing the contracts and lived by “The Book” for a while. The problem was, situations changed, reality struck, family issues, job issues – tastes changed. The book had to be updated to reflect the changes in their lives. It required too much energy to maintain and The Book eventually fell out of importance. It eventually became a paperweight.
The last problem I see, is that “consideration” can be abused. As those of you who’ve read my books and articles already know, I try to avoid anything that will obligate me as a dominant. My sub’s job is to serve my preferences, not the other way around. It’s not that I don’t fulfill my sub’s preferences (and respect their limits), but I do not want to OBLIGATED by anything other than my natural responsibilities as their partner in our relationship. Contracts require “Consideration” – which technically means something of adequate value given in return for the offer. Therefore, the dominant is obligated by the contract to provide something in return for accepting the sub’s offer of submission. In my opinion, this can offset the imbalance of power – particularly if the sub is requiring things that they want, that don’t serve the dominant.
I generally don’t use contracts in my dynamics – at least ones that are written down. However, I have used them sparingly – and will sometimes recommend them for some of the couples with whom I’ve worked, where I believe it will help. When I do, I recommend a few ground rules:
• First: Don’t take the contract seriously. It’s a great form of communication, use it that way • Don’t think this is a binding agreement. It isn’t
• The process of making the contract is more important than the contract itself. Consider creating it together, even if you don’t sign it, and then throw it away
• Don’t feel that you need to have a legitimately constructed contract. You are starting out knowing that the contract is missing “Legality”; it can miss other aspects of proper construction as well. For example, it doesn’t NEED to have a Consideration section. It does not need to stipulate obligation for the dominant. The contract can be as one-sided as the power transfer
• Lastly: Keep the details at a level that helps the communication, but is also open-ended and flexible. Don’t try to pack EVERYTHING into a contract. After working with me, Dave and Sean re-created a contract (because that worked for them) and it was less than one page long. It simply stated their intents and committed a clear power transfer. It did not require maintenance and still served its purpose. They continue to live by it, today
It’s important to communicate your vision of your dynamic and to assure your partner has a clear understanding of what it entails to you. You might find a contract helpful in communication and clarification of that vision. Also, it might be a fun, kinky, exercise to document your power dynamic and sign it in ceremony; with pomp and circumstance. If you do choose to use a contract, take the commitment to each other that it documents seriously, but the contract itself is just a communication tool – don’t make it the center of importance.
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”. Write to me at Ms_Rika@hotmail.com
i am noting that the author of this article, Ms. Rika, compares and contrasts slave contracts with ordinary contracts, such as for an exchange of goods or services for payment. The author points out that contracts involve such an exchange, called consideration. i feel that this aspect of contracts is ordinarily absent from slave contracts, due to the nature of M/s. Slave contracts ordinarily do not involve an exchange of any sort because an M/s relationship ideally involves a total transfer of power, rather than an exchange of power.
As a result, a slave contract is not an agreement to exchange one thing for another, but, instead, it is a one-sided clarification and documentation of a slave’s obligations to a Master. As such, a slave contract can serve to provide a basis for Masters to enforce Their power over Their slaves, such that a slave’s failure to abide by a slave contract can be a consensual basis for punishment. It can also serve to emphasize the power of a Master over a slave; in other words, the power transfer. In this way, i feel, slave contracts appeal to the urge to Dominate or submit.
@StubSub: I believe that’s exactly what the article is stating. A “Slave Contract” isn’t a real contract. It’s better used as a communication vehicle to help clarify the expectations of both partners. There is no “enforceable” nature to the contract, because it cannot be a valid contract. The only enforceable aspect is the commitment that both partners have as part of their power exchange agreement. Which is enforceable without a contract.
The part that matched my thoughts perfectly was the “use it and throw it away” statement. It has served its purpose as soon as it’s created. It’s not really needed for anything else. That made complete sense – and supports your interpretation of her article.
How often do you recommend review a contract?
It will vary by individual – no set rules.
As I point out, it’s the dynamic that matters, not the contract – so reviewing the contract has no particular meaning…however, checking in with each other and assuring that the dynamic is mutually understood and fulfilling is something you can’t go wrong doing as often as you feel is needed.
As I’ve written before, it is the responsibility of the dominant (in my methodology) to regularly assess the sub’s efforts to fulfill their stated expectations and preferences…and to provide that feedback openly and honestly to the submissive. If you’re doing that as a dominant, there will not be a need to revisit a contract, as the submissive will already know how they’re doing and what they can do to improve.
very well-written! Great stuff!