No Safewords, No Limits: An Elaboration

One way I describe our dynamic is: no safewords, no limits (no way out). On the one hand, that descriptor is exactly what it says on the tin and gives an idea of the root of things easily. But, let me elaborate, because there are a lot of points attached that most people don’t think of.

No safewords, no limits is, for us, the natural extension of me not being allowed to say no. I don’t often specify that, because it’s basically implied in the contexts I’m usually in. If you think about it, most vanilla relationships have no safewords, no limits, but that’s because they just use the word no. I’m not usually using the phrase in that sort of context though.

For us, the nature of this dynamic is that we don’t really negotiate. We might talk about things, and sometimes if I express hesitancy, Mistress takes it into consideration and backtracks, or changes something. Maybe the point of the thing discussed was she thought I would like it, or I provide information she wasn’t aware of, like a specific concern. Sometimes she doesn’t backtrack or change anything.

The point isn’t that she always ignores my preferences, but that she is always well within her rights to do so. It would be hard for her to manage to never do things that I like, and that isn’t her goal. The goal is that she gets what she wants from me without limitations—and sometimes what she wants from me is for me to be happy. Sometimes she wants something else, and she doesn’t need to justify it or negotiate for it.

I sometimes say things like, “That would be a hard limit if I had hard limits.” Because when I say I don’t have limits, I don’t mean I’m so kinky that I would never have objections to anything. I mean that I’m a slave who has given up the right to those objections and limits. It’s the difference between having a favorite ice cream flavor and actually being allowed to choose which ice cream to eat.

Something that I don’t see discussed about dynamics like this as much is… well, anything that’s not play. (And there could be dynamics like this that don’t involve play at all.) While some of the most dramatic sounding examples of this dynamic might take place in a dungeon, there are plenty of things in life people might want to place limits on that don’t happen in a scene.

Let’s say, doing chores. In the most vanilla sense of the word chores. Dishes, laundry, things like that. Maybe putting some clothes in the washing machine hasn’t made a lot of people call a safeword, but if this dynamic is for the rest of your life, there are things to consider. Maybe the washing machine is in a not-temperature-controlled area, and it’s below freezing or it’s a hundred and fifteen degrees outside. Maybe you’re so tired you feel like your body is vibrating in protest of being upright, and there’s a sink full of dishes to be done. No safewords, no limits, no “no” applies to those situations just as much as it does to a type of whip you’re not inclined to.

The same thing goes for rules and protocols. There’s no safewording out of having to kneel on the floor on an aching joints kind of day. There’s no setting a limit to prevent a rule about what you can eat that might eliminate favorites or require foods you hate. Think bigger—life choices. Career, schooling, moving? Suddenly whip types seem like a smaller problem.

Mercies may be granted, but they are not in your control anymore. I actually think that largely, Mistress is easier on me than I am. I’ll be forcing myself through a chore or whatnot, I might not ask to get out of it, I might even reject an offer to be let out of it. She sometimes stops offering to let me rest and starts ordering me to go to bed instead. … And I realize how right she is as I almost black out on the way there. Of course, the flip side is that if I do ask to get out of something, she can always say no.

Also consider some other general good practices of BDSM that no longer apply when safewords and limits don’t. Aftercare? Sobriety? Safe sex practices? A heads up on certain things? Not guaranteed. Not being able to say no means that conditions can’t be put on things. So you can’t say, “Sure you can hit me with that, but only if we do this kind of aftercare/only if you let me know beforehand.” You can ask. You can’t demand.

A common misconception about this dynamic is that it usually involves yelling, “No! Red!” and being ignored. That’s not how my dynamic works at all. It’s not about saying no and being ignored—it’s more about just not saying no. The reality is that as much as I might want to say no to something in particular, I don’t want to say no to Mistress in general, and that’s better to keep in mind. Not whining is a better goal for me than making her overpower me constantly. She might want to have to overpower me in some situations, but not all the time.

If I don’t feel up to sex, the sex doesn’t look like rape play; it looks like having sex where I’m not aroused, and might not be able to act like it. Maybe it looks like me making a lot of pained noises of the bad sort. Sometimes Mistress will decide to stop, this isn’t what she wants right now; sometimes she won’t, but will hold a water bottle to my lips after and leash me to the bed for a nap. Sometimes, she won’t stop and falls asleep basically immediately afterwards herself.

Big point is that my slavery is not about me, and I would not want it to be. I don’t actually “hold all the power”, we’re not equals “at the end of the day” or “underneath pretenses”, and it would be impossible to “take off our roles” whether we wanted to or not. And internal enslavement means that it’s not just her or external circumstances dictating my obedience, but my own mind.

This all makes consent as a concept messy and complicated, but for us that’s okay. It’s not for everyone or every dynamic. As I said, I’m not universally a no-limits person, nor was I always necessarily capable of having such a dynamic; but now, in the context of my dynamic, I am. It takes having the right emotional balance on both sides, and the ability to keep it within our own dynamic.

If Mistress were to say yes to everything I want, to give in every time I was suffering in any way, we couldn’t have a functional M/s dynamic as we define it. She has to be able to pick her own methods over what society teaches us about courtesy and compromise. She can choose to observe those things if she wants, but if she feels bound by them every time, she’s not actually controlling things.

For my part, I have to be able to deal with it in a way that makes it easy for her to choose her own methods, not fixate on the concept of fair or treating others as you want to be treated. I can’t just technically never say no but try to whine and wheedle my way out of anything and everything I don’t like. It helps to be flexible, able to find things to like in a situation and handle it even if I can’t.

For us, no safewords/no limits works as a style and one quick descriptor—this is my elaboration.

High Protocol: The More Natural-Seeming the Dance, the More Thought-Out the Choreography

Here’s the thing I see about the higher levels of protocol.

I think it’s a fairly common fantasy. Bits of it show in kink-associated things that are so common they’re practically a stereotype—kneeling, honorifics. It is featured in many of the works of fiction credited with drawing people into the real BDSM world. Assorted protocol questions abound on any power exchange forum.

Enjoying the idea of it is something I rarely see called odd in the kink world.

On the flip side…

When someone talks about wanting to actually live it in real life, they tend to get heavily questioned, warned “but reality is different” and “how can you just hang out with your partner that way” and phrases like “sub frenzy” tend to get thrown around, especially if they have already begun to pursue this desire. People who have already been living it for a long time are pointed to as special exceptions.

And granted, I think that a lot of people who talk about wanting higher protocol in real life do tend to balk when they’re actually exposed to it. Frankly though, I think that’s true about a lot things in power exchange. The classic example looks more like wanting to explore masochism and realizing “oh, whips really hurt in real life” and calling it quits on that idea after one testing stroke. But honestly, I see that less often than I see the same principle applied to things associated more with power exchange. I’ve seen more people do a 180 after real life exposure to washing dishes or actually being unequal than I have after their back meets a bullwhip.

In any case, one meets a lot of various forms of pushback when they say they want higher protocol (and protocol levels are admittedly extremely subjective).

A version of this that I’ve experienced (and it’s not unique to protocol necessarily) is mentioning a part of it in my relationship, and the first question back is very often, “And how long have you been doing this?”

There’s generally a lot of surprise at my answers.

This leads me to believe that sticking to higher levels of protocol is viewed with skepticism. No one is surprised when I say it’s something we’ve done, but they are surprised when it’s something that’s stuck over time. They expect it’ll be a short-lived venture. Something a lot of people try, few keep doing. The way many view New Year’s diets. Nothing surprising on January 1st, a lot more surprising on February 1st.

I think what helped us stick with things was keeping realism in mind without letting realism turn into cynicism. We were willing to problem solve, and unwilling to instantly drop big ideas.

An example: two of our longer-standing protocols were about my responses to things. Orders were answered with “Yes, Mistress” and granted permissions were answered with “Thank you, Mistress”.

We realized that some practicality problems with this actually happening that often were ongoing. So it was brought up at our weekly check-in recently, along with one thing that may have been impacting it.

Mistress says things that are, as far as intention goes, orders, but are phrased like permissions. “You may get me coffee,” as she hands me her coffee cup, is an order. But the sentence starts with “you may”. So the question—should I respond based on her phrasing, or her intention? In some examples, answering “Yes, Mistress” to something that starts with “you may” seems not quite right, but she’s definitely giving an order.

She told me to respond based on her intention, and we kind of pondered times with more rapid-fire orders, pointed out that some permissions were for things that didn’t take very long to complete, either. Sometimes responding was just impractical on the level that in the time for me to respond, I could have already done the task.

The new idea: if I can in some way complete the order or thing I’ve been given permission to do faster than I can respond, I don’t have to respond. This eliminated a lot of impracticality issues, as responding to more time-significant orders or permissions flowed more smoothly.

As an example, a different protocol is that when I’m in Mistress’ presence and not standing for some reason, I kneel on the floor next to her with my knees apart and my hands behind my back, and I need permission if I want to sit on the furniture or, more commonly, assume a more comfortable position on the floor. This means that most of the time I’m conscious and in the same room as her for longer than my leg circulation lasts while kneeling, I ask her if I can shift positions on the floor. I can shift my weight faster than I can say, “Thank you, Mistress” and it disrupts the conversation for a shorter period of time. Similarly, if I respond “Yes, Mistress” every time she tells me to shift position during an impact scene, there are times I probably can’t do it fast enough.

I was thinking about choreography at one point in relation to theater, and how in some cases, the more you want it to look like the characters are authentically improvising, the more careful the choreography has to be. And in writing—sometimes, the better the script, the less the lines sound like they’re from a script.

I think the same goes for protocol sometimes: the more natural you want it to feel or seem, the more thoroughly it has to be thought out.

And how you want it to feel can be an important consideration.

There are different types, not just levels, of protocol—leather, Gor, pets, etc. How does the Master want to feel, how do they want the slave to feel? Should the slave feel lovingly valued, humbly degraded, cheerfully useful? How do they both react to styles, levels, and specifics of protocol? One person’s source of humiliation is another’s source of pride, and vice versa. I would say our M/s protocol style is mostly based around my feeling deferential and subservient, her feeling respected and important.

The examples I gave above, for instance, indicate those feelings through my kneeling on the floor (physically below her, a classic posture of submission), honorifics (a typical gesture of respect and indication of status), thanking her for permissions (rather than anything implying an assumption of them being granted), etc. Another example would be that I need to obtain her permission before I leave her presence—an acknowledgement that my time is not my own.

Protocol needs to be carefully crafted to create the right emotions—like choreography. I do think that “realism without cynicism” is key. Continuous problem solving and dedication to improvement rarely hurt in any department—but in protocol they are truly essential.

Learning in Anticipatory Service, and Some Advice

There’s a lot of learning involved in service, and especially in anticipatory service.

There’s learning the M-type’s preferences and priorities. All of them. Even the ones they’re not consciously aware of, or don’t think to communicate. And learning them to a point where remembering them is automatic. And knowing and understanding the “why” if it matters. And incorporating them whenever possible. And… sometimes preferences and priorities change.

There’s thoroughly learning the “technical skills” you might not have yet. Cleaning, cooking, errands, laundry, yard work, travel, secretarial, personal care. And fine tuning those skills based on those preferences.

There’s (in anticipatory service) learning about their subconscious and sometimes nigh invisible cues. An extra split second of looking at a cup when it’s nearing empty. A ghost of a smile that indicates they like what you just did. It’s knowing what they want that they might not even know they want (at least yet). And those cues can also change. It’s knowing them and their boundaries well enough to know what kind of anticipatory service is acceptable and desirable.

In anticipatory service, my goal is to do the things that Mistress wants before she calls, “Slave!” or hits the pager transmitter button.

So how do I determine what those things are in an anticipatory style?

1. Do things they’re going to ask for, before they ask. For example: fix problems. Big problems might be more involved, but there are plenty of small problems that can be solved immediately. Like the toilet paper roll ran out, or there’s a spill in the kitchen. Try to address things like that right away, and try to figure out how to prevent future problems, or make them easier to solve when they come up (store extra toilet paper in the bathroom, have a towel ready in the kitchen). Basically, don’t wait for them to remind you to treat something as necessary. You can see their glass of water is almost empty or that you’re missing a needed event supply without them saying anything—fill the glass now, acquire the supply now.

2. Do (or offer to do) things they might not think to ask for at all. Regularly think of what you could be doing to make their life easier that they might not think of. It could be a once off task or a new standing order. If it can reasonably just be done, then you can just do it before they get to it. If you think you should talk to them about it first, then do that. Think of things around holidays (wrapping?), trips (packing?), and things like that. Look at what seems to give them stress or frustration or disruption. If there’s a repeating task you see them getting distracted from more important things by, offer to handle it on the same schedule.

3. Improve their processes and environments (and yours). Make things a little more convenient or a little prettier in some way (and, note what they think makes something more convenient or pretty). Organize things around the house. Eliminate nuisances. Do minor redecorating. Get related supplies in one place. Improve the lighting. Automate things.

4. Devote yourself, on your own, to learning those technical skills they want, keeping track of those preferences, and doing your own relevant self-improvement (growth cannot be overstated).

Anticipatory service is a lot of learning, a lot of work—and one of my favorite things.