While you might think of submissive rules as things that a submissive must do, these rules help both partners. The submissive partner knows what is expected of them and what they must strive to do, while the dominant partner uses those rules to provide training, reward, and punishments.
By using rules for your submissive and tools such as BDSM contracts, you can engage in safe, sane, and consensual BDSM activities, whether you enjoy power play in the bedroom or live a 24/7 lifestyle.
As mentioned above, for some people, BDSM (that’s bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) is a sexual thing only. Some people like “bedroom bondage.” Others don submissive and dominant hats for the length of a scene or a kinky weekend.
But that’s not always the case. There are couples who never take off those hats. They engage in 24/7 domination and submission, also known as total power exchange relationships, where all of their time is spent in the role. Many people see this arrangement as beyond Dominant and submissive; it’s between Master and slave.
Why does this matter?
If you’re the former type, then rules for being submissive will come into play when your scene or session starts but probably end as soon as the scene ends. For 24/7 relationships, the roles never end, and neither do the slave rules. However, slave rules may be different when you’re alone compared to when you’re with others, especially those who are not in the lifestyle, like children, and family members. On top of this, rules that M/s couples adopt may go well beyond sexual and kinky activities into everyday household activities.
The most important thing is to choose rules that work for you and your partner and to adjust them as necessary.
Rules Versus Protocols
If you read about D/s relationships or participate in groups, you might come across the concept of protocols. Protocols are rules that are enforced within specific situations or communities. For the sake of simplicity, you can view protocols as the same as rules as they cover a lot of the same ground: titles (honorifics), greetings, clothing, symbols, and speech and writing rules, to name just a few.
The concept of low, medium, and high protocols can be useful when determining when to use rules.
- High protocol refers to the rules used during formal dinners and other events. These are the most rigorous rules, including restrictions on speech, expectations for speech, and serving.
- Medium protocol rules are employed during public events and play and can include prioritizing BDSM elements over general socializing and may include a submissive’s behavior toward other dominants.
- Low protocols are the most relaxed and are used during informal and vanilla situations. While boundaries are enforced, casual behavior is acceptable as long as the submissive acts with recognition of the relationship dynamic and any requests made of them. Submissives must still remain accountable to their protocols and dominants in the face of everyday temptations.
In situations where you wish to respect your Dom sub relationship and rules, you can employ “invisible protocols” that would not be out of place in a vanilla environment or detected by anyone who isn’t in the know. For example, allowing your dominant partner to speak first or order for you at a restaurant. The submissive might wait for a sign from their partner to begin eating once the food is served. You can think of invisible protocols like a secret code between you and your partner.
Devising Your Rules
Many people who engage in kink or BDSM are pretty forthright about their interests and boundaries, including rules for a submissive partner. In fact, vanilla relationships (ie non-kinky) could even learn a thing or two about this. Having frank conversations keeps both of you satisfied and safe, and it’s perfectly fine to request that you draft rules before you agree to a BDSM relationship or interaction.
The nature of these rules may be quite relaxed and informal, relying on verbal agreement only, or you may go more into detail and even write them down as part of a BDSM contract. Although BDSM contracts might sound quite formal and can include things other than rules, they may be a single page listing rules that you both agree to rather than a whole rule book.
Although you might be excited to incorporate submissive rules into your interactions with your partner, you don’t want to overdo it when setting rules. A person’s working memory, a type of short-term memory that stores and manages the information necessary for cognitive tasks [1, 2, 3] such as those that might be required by these rules, is limited . If tasks come close to that limited capacity, learning will be hampered. This is known as cognitive load theory, and instructional systems should be designed to take this into consideration .
One way to work with cognitive load is to start with 1 to 3 rules for a submissive to follow at a time. Once you can easily incorporate all of them into your scene or daily life, whichever works for you, you can add another 1 to 3 rules (if you want more than 3, of course). If instructions are in-depth, consider breaking them down into bit-size parts.
Regarding submissive training, kinkster and author Jay Wiseman warns about the emotional toll it can take on both partners and how to navigate it [6 p 252]:
Training can be an exceptionally intense process, often deeply affecting the minds and hearts of both trainer and trainee. Even if enjoyable, too much intensity at any one time is disorienting and threatening. This may scare off even an eager submissive (or dominant).
For this reason, I recommend that training be conducted in relatively short sessions, usually lasting no more than an hour or two at a time, and that only a small amount of new material be introduced in each training session.
I also recommend that the dominant let a day elapse between training sessions, thus giving the submissive (and the dominant) more time to adjust to and accept the emotional effects of training. It also allows the submissive time to review, practice, and integrate the new material before they learn more.
While unsexy, keeping a log of these rules can be helpful to learn them and to understand when and how a rule has been broken. It’s not just important for the submissive to follow rules but for the dominant to pay attention and correct any infractions.
What you may notice is that some rules do not work in practice or may need to be modified to be more practical.
Submissive Rules for a Healthy and Happy Relationship
The following are fairly basic rules that will establish healthy boundaries in your D/s relationship.
Note: While Fifty Shades of Grey can make for some great fantasies, it is a terrible model to look at when figuring out your own sub rules.
In fact, most of these rules can be applied to any relationship, and you should reconsider a relationship with anyone who does not respect these rules. If your power exchange dynamic is more casual, you might not need to devise rules beyond these.
- The sub will endeavor to keep an open mind.
- The sub will communicate honestly, respectfully, and clearly with their dom, even if this means they do not agree with a rule or request, are unable to abide by rules or perform requests, or otherwise worry about disappointing the dominant.
- The submissive will know themselves.
- The submissive will care for their physical and mental health.
- The submissive is acting with free will.
- The submissive has limits that will be respected
Submissive Rules for a Safe, Sane, and Consensual Relationship
Once you move beyond the very basic rules and begin experimenting with kink and BDSM, the following rules can help.
- The submissive willingly consents to the Dom sub relationship and BDSM activities and understands how consent can be revoked (safe words, ending the contract, etc).
- The sub will not try to alter the power dynamic by topping from the bottom or topping from below, that is, controlling the scene [6 p 249]. Find out more about topping from the bottom.
- The submissive will trust their dominant to care for them during and after a scene (or their entire relationship if TPE) and trust that this care will be reflected in expectations, requests, and rules.
- The submissive will have a safe word and use it when necessary. Learn more about safe words here.
- The submissive will obey the dominant’s requests/commands, except for those that would result in harm, to the best of their ability and in a way that would make their partner proud.
- The sub will receive discipline from their dom.
Psst, wondering what else a submissive might have to do? Check out this guide to being submissive for your husband or boyfriend.
Rules for a Submissive During Playtime
The rules you follow before and during playtime build on the rules that have already been discussed.
- The submissive must cleanse, prepare (learn how to prepare for anal sex), and groom as directed before playtime.
- The sub will present themselves for the dom’s inspection in a specific position.
- The sub must ask for permission to masturbate; may have to journal the experience and write/send it to the dom.
- The sub must ask permission to orgasm.
- The submissive will follow any directions provided by the dom in the scene.
- The sub will use appropriate honorifics and respond to their scene name.
Submissive Rules for Everyday Behavior
If your BDSM activities extend outside of the bedroom, you may have some rules that cover the seemingly “mundane” activities of everyday life. These rules differ from playtime rules as they may not pertain to sex or BDSM. These everyday rules may require adjustments for those who do not live together (photos or videos as evidence) or who live with other people or children.
- The sub must wear a collar or symbol of their relationship/ownership at all times; this symbol may change from private to public settings
- The submissive must address their dominant by the agreed-upon honorific and respond to their nickname/title
- The submissive must kneel when they dominant enters or leaves the room; the sub must crawl when in the presence of their dominant
- The sub will keep eyes downcast and not make eye contact unless permitted
- The submissive will serve the dominant drinks, snacks, and meals before themselves; the sub may have to prepare food
- The submissive will maintain appearance according to their dom’s wishes, including hair, makeup, dress, and personal grooming
- The sub allowed the dominant to speak for them when ordering foods or drinks
- The sub will ask permission for bodily functions such as eating or using the bathroom
- The sub must wear clothing that is chosen or approved by the dominant
- The submissive must workout or exercise, including Kegel exercises, according to the dom’s wishes
- The sub must keep the household to the dom’s preferences
- The sub’s replies must be timely; times may vary depending on the method of communication (text versus in person, for example)
- The sub cannot make purchases without permission, or can only make a purchase below a maximum price
- The sub has to create a daily journal for the dominant’s perusal; delivery in person or via email/text
- The sub must masturbate before bed and send photos to the dom
- The sub must wear Ben Wa balls (find out more about Ben Wa balls) for a certain period every day
Of course, there are also rules that may not apply on a daily basis. For example, the submissive may be required to wear a wireless vibrator during specific activities such as date nights or meetings. Some days may have specific themes. Think “Taco Tuesday.”
Making Sub Rules Work for You
The above rules are general guidelines that other Dom/sub couples and kinksters may use. They are not meant to be comprehensive. There may be unique rules that work for you and your relationship/dynamic that we did not list.
Furthermore, these rules may not be interesting or practical for all couples and situations. Just because a rule for a submissive to follow works for another submissive/couple or even most couples, doesn’t mean you need to adopt it. And you may need to adjust rules to make them work with your living situation or physical abilities.
Rules must also be financially reasonable. A dominant cannot expect professionally coiffed hair, manicures and pedicures, or body waxing if his sub girlfriend cannot afford it. Many dominants provide funds to their subs after setting a rule that requires money.
Too many rules – As alluded to above, there’s absolutely such a thing as too many rules for a sub. You may not be able to remember all the rules if there are too many rules in you rule book, or one rule may conflict with another. For this reason, sticking to basic guidelines rather than detailed rules may allow the submissive to more easily remember and follow the rules and help the dominant enforce the rules.
Some people believe that six is the magic number of rules for a sub. However, you can have as many rules as you like as long as you can remember and realistically abide by them.
Rules Must Be Enforced
We’ve mentioned several times that rules for submissives must be enforced, which means that the dominant partner must pay attention to what their submissive partner does and how, if they want to be able to correct or reward behavior. Otherwise, what’s the point? The submissive can break rules without repercussions, and their efforts to please their partner may go unnoticed.
The two ways to ensure the rules are obeyed include rewarding the right behavior and punishing the wrong behavior. Like the rules themselves, rewards and punishments need to be practical and meaningful for the submissive in question — and perhaps their dominant partner too! If you, the submissive, receive a gift as a reward but would prefer affection or sexual gratification, the reward won’t be very effective. This is why dominants should seek feedback from their submissive partners.
Rewards for Submissives
While people may default to thinking about punishments, there is truth to the fact that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Research finds that a reward may be a more effective way to encourage the desired behavior than punishment , and it stands to reason this can extend to adherence to submissive rules in the context of BDSM.
Rewards can include any of the following general categories:
- A naughty photo/recording/video
- Affection (hugs, cuddles, forehead kisses, a special nickname, etc)
- Sexual gratification or orgasm; to receive their partner’s cum in some way
- Release from chastity belt/device
- Gifts (jewelry, clothing, makeup, food, collars, sex toys, and BDSM accessories); something from the submissive’s wishlist
- Trips, dates, and events
- Restful activities or a break/relaxation of duties
- Their favorite types of play
The specific reward may be quite creative or even seem small. Someone with a foot fetish may feel rewarded by simply viewing a stiletto or smelling a leather boot on their partner’s foot!
Check out other ways to fulfill a foot fetish.
Dominants who struggle to express happiness and positive emotions may need to work on their tone of voice; up to 38% of meaning in communication is derived from the tone of voice [8, 9, 10]. A sultry and proud “Good girl” can do wonders! After all, a submissive wants their partner to be pleased and proud! This is why praise can be such an effective tool for getting the desired results!
The aforementioned rewards should not be confused with aftercare. Aftercare is anything that a submissive (or dominant!) requires to return to equilibrium after a scene, and a lack of aftercare can leave a person out of sorts, both mentally and physically.
Read More: What Is BDSM Aftercare?
Finally, the rewards can have a different timing schedule than punishments, which are usually given after an infraction. Rewards, on the other hand, may be given immediately or may be “saved,” that is, a larger reward for positive ongoing behavior may be provided. Spacing out rewards helps those rewards retain their desirability and specialness; rewarding a submissive too frequently may reduce the effectiveness of a reward.
Furthermore, some rewards may be given on dates that are special to a couple such as an anniversary. And if a submissive is participating in training, a dominant can choose to perform graduating/promotion ceremonies and provide an appropriate reward at that point. These events might be similar to when a man asks a woman to be his wife and provides her with a ring.
No matter how a dominant chooses to time rewards, the system should be consistent and reliable. Dominants might consider an official point system for their submissives. After the submissive reaches a certain number of points, they’ll be able to “redeem” them for rewards. Apps such as OurHome or ChoreMonster can make tracking rewards and punishments much easier, but you can go old-school and use gold star stickers, too.
Punishments for Submissives
Sometimes a submissive disobeys or fails at a task and discipline is necessary.
It’s important not to confuse pleasure and punishment. If a submissive typically enjoys spanking (more on spanking here), for example, or if a couple engages in spanking outside of behavior correction for broken rules, this is not the best choice of punishment.
The ideas below can get you started.
- Denial of sexual gratification/orgasm/masturbation; edging (stimulation with poor technique); ruined orgasm
- Multiple forced orgasms
- Access to partner’s orgasm/cum prevented
- Writing assignment such as repetitive sentences or a letter about their mistake and punishment
- Chores; consider with cuffed ankles or wrists or while on knees
- Impact play (spanking, caning, flogging, etc)
- Loss of permission for activities (screen time, eating at the table, etc) or items (snacks, collar, etc)
- Wearing clothes, makeup, or hairstyle that makes them uncomfortable (no panties, wearing diapers under a skirt, etc)
- Sensory deprivation
- Positions that stress the body such as kneeling on rice, standing on one leg, wearing heels while bending over with arms straight ahead)
- Standing with hands above head
- Hot sauce, Tiger Balm, or ginger (also known as figging) on genitals or anus
- Time out/in the corner
- Eating an unpleasant food
- Hold a coin against the wall with their nose
- Stand with a pencil beneath the ball of their feet
Discover more BDSM punishments.
While some of these items might not seem like effective forms of punishment, they may be deceivingly harsh and only tolerable for a few minutes. A dominant can choose to experience the discipline for themselves to determine if it’s appropriate and for how long. The dominant must oversee the punishment to ensure it’s done well and does not harm the sub.
A note on punishment: Punishment should always be proportionate to the infraction, intended to correct behavior and teach a lesson, and should never be given out of anger. Punishment should not be enacted if the submissive is unaware of the infraction. And if punishment makes the submissive doubt their worth as a person or partner or doubt the strength of their relationship, it has crossed the line into abuse.
Remember that BDSM activities are consensual and entered into voluntarily with even punishment a “theatrical” form of play , and healthy BDSM practices have been shown to provide benefit to both parties . Because safety, empathy and mutual consent are standards of the BDSM community , punishment must not harm the sub. Whether engaging in punishment or simply kinky activities, remember that activities may physically hurt but should not harm a person.
To ensure that punishment is fair and effective, a dominant and submissive may brainstorm punishments together, either in general or in response to a specific infraction. Discipline may be especially effective if it involves the submissive in gathering supplies or setting the scene.
Dealing With Attention-seeking Submissives
You may have noticed that both rewards and punishments involve the dominant paying attention to the submissive. This is why a submissive who feels they are not receiving the attention they have earned or simply want in a relationship will sometimes act out: even a punishment gets them attention. And who doesn’t want attention from their partners?
A skilled dominant will know to look for this sort of acting out and recognize that it should not be rewarded. However, there may be a problem with the relationship if one partner feels they are not getting enough attention, and both submissive and dominant may need to make changes to improve their relationship.
Rules for a sub can further a submissive’s progress and help a dominant grow as well. As you incorporate the rules, rewards, and punishments suggested above (or create your own), you can foster a deeper, more intimate relationship, in and out of the bedroom.