First Things First - A BDSM Checklist
Recently I have received a series of private messages and asks from submissives outlining circumstances in which they are uncomfortable with, or in some cases downright frightened by something their Dominant has done or asked of them. The specific circumstances are not important but in all cases they are beyond the comfort zone of the submissive and at times have lead to some most unfortunate outcomes. These misfortunes range from physical harm to emotional anguish to damage of physical property. In nearly every case there is wreckage of some kind left behind and were it not for some good fortune and providence the circumstances and outcomes could have been far worse.
Are these unfortunate, uncomfortable and sometimes tragic instances simply a matter of bad Doms behaving badly? Sometimes they most certainly are. Other times they are a matter of ignorance and miscommunication. Still others result from a mismatch between the Dominant and their desires and the submissive and their comfort zones and desires. Sometimes these instances are the product of what I would consider to be an abusive or manipulative person thinking themselves to be a Dominant paired with a hungry and craving submissive with little or no knowledge or understanding of what constitutes a healthy D/s relationship. In any event, the outcomes can be tragic and it is painful and difficult to stand by and watch objectively and without judgement.
One of the most common threads I hear in the description of these unfortunate circumstances might go as follows: “I am a submissive and am collared by my Dom. We have been together for a few months and I am deeply in love with him. But recently he did [insert uncomfortable or unsafe act] and told me to do [insert additional uncomfortable or unacceptable act] and it resulted in [insert unfortunate and unnecessary disastrous outcome]. I don’t know how to feel about this and I know that my Dom is always right and that I should be grateful for his guidance, but this just does not feel good. Should I be mad? Am I allowed to be mad? Should he take some responsibility for the outcome? How can I talk to my Dom about this? When I try he gets angry and tells me that I am to do as I am told or can find another Dom.”
Sound familiar? If it does, you should be concerned. Very. There are so many alarm bells in that short description it is difficult to know where to begin and yet I hear similar tales over and over again.
Let’s begin with the description of the relationship itself; a submissive that has been with their Dom for a few months and is collared. Right away this tells me that neither the Dom nor the submissive have much experience in the BDSM lifestyle and are shooting from the hip. As I have said in my post on collars and collaring, having someone physically strap a collar around your neck does not make them a Dom and you a submissive. The process that leads to a permanent collar and the powerful relationship it embodies is a long, difficult and involved one. It takes years, not weeks or months.
Second, a Dom is not omnipotent and not always right. They have a deep responsibility to communicate openly and effectively with their submissive and listen and weigh concerns carefully. Even in a 24/7 TPE where all authority is ceded to the Master, there must be an effective means of raising issues and concerns and addressing them. “I am the Dom and you do whatever I say” is not the way this works and is a sign of a controlling and domineering person and not a competent and caring Dominant. A Dominant is granted tremendous power by a submissive but with it comes equally tremendous responsibility. You don’t get the power for nothing.
One of the first things I ask of the submissive writing me about these circumstances is whether the unacceptable action or demand on the part of their Dominant was within the scope of what had been previously agreed to under a pre-scene or BDSM questionnaire and subsequent agreement. Was the action or circumstance within the hard limits established within the relationship? Were your known boundaries exceeded or broken? The answer I almost universally receive is as shocking as it is tragic and goes something like this: “I am collared by my Dom and he is training me now. We have not gotten to the point where we have discussed hard limits or developed any agreement but I am sure we will in time.”
STOP! HOLD THE PHONE!!! CEASE AND DISIST!!!!!
You mean to tell me that you are putting your safety and life in someone else’s hands, a person who apparently has little or no experience in the BDSM lifestyle, and you have not examined or discussed your interests, desires, fears, concerns, and established hard limits? You are just blindly expecting that this “Dom” will always do the right thing as you see it and will never exceed your boundaries when none have been set? You are going to let someone do whatever they want to you (apparently out of their own self-interest) in the name of “training” and then sort it all out later? Does this even make sense?
Lets then look at what happens under the scenario above when the submissive goes back to this “Dom” and tries to communicate their concerns about what has happened. They are shut down. Worse, and perhaps possibly most tragically, their worst fear as a submissive is played upon and they are threatened with rejection and abandonment. This is not dominance, it is manipulation. And it is tragic.
There is so much wrong in this overall scenario it is difficult to cover it in a short blog entry. So I am going to focus on one thing that might help prevent some of these events from happening and might weed out some of the most ignorant or self-serving of would be Doms; the BDSM Checklist.
The BDSM Checklist
Before anyone, anywhere, engages in any form of power exchange or BDSM activity, a thorough BDSM checklist should be completed by both parties and the contents openly and honestly exchanged and discussed with one another. It is only through this exercise that both the potential Dominant and submissive can understand where each other’s desires, fears, demands, and limits are. It is here where mutual kinks will emerge and more importantly where significant mismatches may become apparent between the desires and demands of one and the fears and limits of the other. From these mismatches emerge the most important of boundaries and hard limits.
For example, one serious mismatch of expectations where no limits had been discussed and the result was near tragedy involved a “Dom” who demanded that his submissive go unaccompanied to a bar, find a random male, and sleep with them. This was done as a “punishment” for some unspecified offense because “slapping your ass does not seem to be doing the job.” The submissive dutifully followed through despite the fact that she was absolutely opposed to sleeping with someone else, especially a random person entirely unknown to her and unsupervised or protected by her Dom. Predictably the outcome was not good. When she attempted to discuss the matter with her “Dom” he shut her down and took no responsibility for the outcome.
There is much that is wrong with this scenario from a safety, common sense, and responsibility standpoint. But for the purposes of this discussion I want to focus on the fact that the notion of introducing others into the D/s relationship in question, let alone random strangers, had never been discussed let alone agreed to. Indeed, there had never been an effort made to examine any likes, dislikes and limits between the Dom and submissive despite the fact that they had been together for months and engaging in obviously significant power exchange activities in the name of “training.” Folks, this kind of behavior is wrong, it is dangerous and will end in broken hearts, damaged psyches, and possibly physical harm or death.
A BDSM checklist is crucial to understanding the boundaries of the playground a Dominant and submissive intend to romp in. Without it they are quickly going to find themselves playing out in the street in the middle of traffic. They will get run over eventually. In any potential D/s relationship, once an interest between two people is established one of the very first things they need to do is complete a BDSM checklist and walk through it item-by-item, honestly and openly comparing outcomes with one another. The purpose is to come to an understanding of the things each person likes/loves, the things they have never done before, where they might like to explore more, things that should be avoided, triggers that should be considered and avoided, limits that need to be established, and practical matters like STDs, birth control, involvement of others, what will be done in public versus private, personal security and anonymity, safe words, considerations for family and childrearing necessities, and a host of other matters. These things MUST be identified, discussed and agreed to BEFORE ever exchanging the first iota of power or playing the first mild scene together.
As a Dominant I would never consider “stepping into the ring” with a submissive for even a time-delimited play session, let alone a long-term relationship without having undertaken this exercise. It is just about the first thing I do with a submissive who has expressed interest in giving herself to me. This is not only for her protection but for my own peace of mind and ability to be effective. If I do not know what turns a submissive on, what she is curious about but too shy to try, what scares her, what life traumas might lead to an in-scene trigger, and what hard limits I need to avoid, I am stabbing blindly in the dark and hoping for the best. My chances of success as a Dominant are slim. After all, the greatest role a Dominant plays is in exploring the mind of a submissive, for it is there that her submission stems. If I have no insight whatsoever into how that mind thinks, I have no tools with which to work. I literally have both hands tied behind my back.
Every competent and respectable Dominant and Master I have met uses some form of process to examine these important facets of their submissive and share their own perspectives as well to arrive at a mutual understanding and trust as the basis of their relationship. I am not sure how a consensual and informed BDSM relationship can exist in the absence of such an undertaking.
There are many sources of good BDSM checklists both in print and online. One of the most readily accessible and comprehensive is the checklist contained in the book “Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns” by Phillip Miller and Molly Devon. Another is contained in the recently published book “BDSM - The Naked Truth” by Dr. Charley Ferrer. I personally use one that I have adapted and expanded based on the Screw The Roses checklist. These lists can be long or short, and many pre-scene questionnaires used in lifestyle clubs and the like are fairly brief but then it is assumed that experienced players will be involved so they tend to only cover hard limits. This is not enough for a relationship. I recommend that for less experienced devotees and those desiring to engage in a D/s relationship that the more extensive the questionnaire the better. There is no way a newcomer can possibly anticipate everything that should be considered on their own and this is where some of the more extensive checklists become invaluable in getting one to think about and contemplate things that might never have occurred to them before.
Use these checklists, think hard about the issues they raise and how you feel about them. Check your egos at the door and take the time to understand your likes and limits and those of your partner. It is important to point out that limits are not just things you won’t do, but also things you have no experience in. As a Dominant, if you have no training or experience in various risky activities, do not use you submissive as a guinea pig. Seek guidance from experienced devotees and practitioners. Investing the time, care and energy in this simple but crucial step will greatly enhance the likelihood of a successful and pleasing D/s partnership and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding, pain and hurt. And frankly, anyone claiming to be a Dom who does not feel the need to take these important steps should be viewed with some additional scrutiny and concern. If they are not willing or even aware of the need to communicate at the outset, it is unlikely they will communicate openly and fairly when the chips are down and there is pain and suffering all around. Above all, do not place your safety and life in the hands of someone who has no idea of your needs, desires and limits and does not display the care to find out.
Be careful, be diligent, communicate, set boundaries and live by them.
Caption © For The Love of a Submissive, 2013
Image Credit Unknown