A constant feature of any media portrayal of power exchange relationships and a common centerpiece of Master/slave fantasies: the BDSM D/s contract. While not legally binding, it does outline the entire relationship.

It's typically something the dominant partner crafts in private, and gives to their submissive partner(s) to sign. The contract outlines all of the things that the submissive partner is expected to do and provide. It may also outline some of the things that the dominant partner agrees to do in exchange. In most circumstances, this contract is depicted as the mark of "ownership" of the submissive partner; the last chance where the submissive party has a chance to choose to be a "free" person.

With that definition, any practicing kinkster can clearly see a ton of problems. While in the past, this way of doing things may have been common, as our understanding of consent and power dynamics have evolved so has the D/s contract. However, a BDSM D/s contract can still have some noticeable downsides - and most of them are glaringly obvious.

Read: A Step by Step Guide to Negotiating Consent

BDSM Contracts Can Be Overwhelming

The biggest downside is that a BDSM D/s contract can be pretty overwhelming. Just like it's been portrayed in some of the largest mainstream kink movies, being presented with a multi-page document outlining a relationship is terrifying for a lot of people. Even for seasoned kinksters, there's a lot of information to digest within a kink contract, especially if the contract was a never-before-seen document that a dominant handed down to a submissive. It gets even more overwhelming if the submissive wasn't ready for a such a huge commitment at that point.

Real BDSM Contracts Aren't Easy to Create & Enforce

We also have to include the fact that a "real" kink contract can be hard to create. In most fantasies, this contract is something that's "given" to a submissive from a dominant: outlining everything that the dominant expects the submissive to perform and do for them. While this can be extremely hot in fantasy life, in real-life, it's really hard to successfully pull off. Sure, it'd be hot if your submissive only wore panties whenever they are in the house, but what if they aren't feeling well one day? What if they're uncomfortable with their body and being in panties-only is extremely uncomfortable?

Read: 5 Myths About Being in a 24/7 BDSM Relationship

Without a clear discussion around this "rule," the submissive reads the contract and feels uncomfortable and unsure. And that's only one rule out of the entirety of the contract! Every one of the rules within the context is just a reflection of the dominant's desires and fantasies. It has very little basis in a submissive's input or willingness to do those activities.

Let's also not forget about the practicality of such an agreement. As a dominant, I can tell you that I couldn't magically remember every rule I'd written out on a multi-page document that went "instantly" into play one day. Sure, I could remember tons of rules over time, but the point of a kink contract is that things are, after signing, "different." This requires the dominant to remember all of the rules within the contract, and ensure that they give the proper punishments when those rules aren't followed. If infractions aren't noticed, there isn't much reality to your "contract."

Like It or Not, Kink Contracts Are Not Legally Binding

Of course, a kink contract isn't a legally binding piece of paper, either. As part of a role play scenario, it works fine. However, the reality (again) is that it's really not a legal contract. Parties to the contract have the right to no longer adhere to it. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. It can help protect people who signed one without negotiating and it has harmful rules or conditions that could hurt them physically or mentally in a way to which they did not and do not consent.


But BDSM Contracts Aren't Totally Awful

BDSM D/s contracts wouldn't have achieved the popularity they currently have if everything about them was totally awful, though. Your new BDSM D/s contract can be great for some things, too. The biggest selling point of a kinky relationship contract is the fantasy aspect. A lot of submissive people fantasize about being "property." A lot of dominant people fantasize about being "owners." Kinky relationship contracts fit perfectly into that. One person can "own" another person with a clearly written D/s contract. In fact, the signing away of "rights" can be the centerpiece of a lot of power exchange fantasies! For that, kinky contracts work fantastically.

Kink Contracts Are Great Tools to Bolster Communication

Not only that, but when done right, a kink contract can be a fantastic negotiation tool. Not only does it force open relationship communication, but it allows for an "excuse" to talk about needs and wants within the kink relationship. It allows for daydreams, inspiration, and a simple way to bring up new things that you'd like to see added to a relationship, without needing to plan out a special "talk."

A D/s contract can also be a great way to outline expectations for everyone involved. Instead of relying on assumptions (which can get complicated in power exchange dynamics), everyone is clear on where they stand and what the other person expects from them in return. This allows for the best chance of "meeting" another person's needs. After all, how are you supposed to provide the things someone else wants if you don't know what those things are? A D/s contract puts all of that information out in the open.

Create a Kink Contract Accentuating the Positives

With all of the benefits your kink contract can provide, isn't there a good way to reduce the negatives and enjoy just the positives? I'm glad you asked. There is. Real-life kinky couples have been using BDSM contracts successfully for years now. You just have to approach your new binding agreement with more intention - and a lot more cooperation.

First, if you're only using your D/s contract as a role play tool, just do that. If all parties understand that the contract is only for a limited amount of time (such as 24 hours or until the scene is over), you can go hog wild! As long as it's within safe practices and your partner's limits, handing over a contract for a submissive to sign can be a hot center point of your scene. As long as the time frame is set out in advance, having a "temporary" D/s contract can be a fantastic way to enjoy all of the benefits of a sexy relationship contract without a lot of the long-term negative effects. Just make sure that the dominant remembers, understands, and plans to punish for any infractions of the rules!

Read: Consent in BDSM: Navigating Heightened Emotion

What if you want a long-term relationship contract to span your entire power exchange relationship? Well, that's where things get a little more involved, and some good team work and patience is required. There are many examples and templates available online which can be a good place to start, but you must tailor it for you.

Before you ever begin to work on a D/s contract, all parties need to have a talk about their readiness level. Working on a contract like this can be a very serious sign of commitment. Commitment is not something every person is ready for at the same time.

To avoid surprising either partner, a talk about the actual readiness to share a contract can be a great preface to doing the contract itself. Remember, a D/s contract doesn't have to be permanent. You both can agree on a temporary, "while we're play partners" contract as well. For those who aren't interested or ready in a strong future commitment, this play partner variation can be a great option.

Once you both agree that you're ready to work on a D/s contract together, you need to understand that it's basically an empty document. Absolutely nothing is a "must." Sit down and brainstorm your basic "wants" for the relationship. In particular, pay attention to the things that are already present within your relationship. Does he already bow to her every time she comes home from work? Sounds like a great thing to make "official" in a contract.

In general, I'd recommend not adding more than one or two "new" things to the contract's rules. While the fun of a contract can include basically writing out your "dream Master/Slave relationship," that's not practical for real-life. It quickly adds up to a bunch of rules that neither of you have the time or energy to keep into practice on a daily basis; you're effectively setting yourselves up for “failure.”

Before you put the contract into use, it is a good idea to seek input from outside sources. Friends in the community, kink-aware therapists or sex educators are good resources and can point out any areas of concern in the contract.

Focus on Making It a Living Document

Focus on making this D/s contract a working document. Once you've made that first draft and you both have agreed to it, it's going to be a document that you revisit on a regular basis. You might choose to make it a set ritual (once a month, once a year with your anniversary celebration), but the point is: you revisit the document.

Figure out what things have been good additions to your contract, and what things fell between the cracks. Your rituals and protocols should have meaning to you whether that's arousal, reverence, or reinforcing the relationship. If you're doing empty things just because the contract says so - well, it's time to cut those things.

The Bottom Line

Focus on making your D/s contract a "living and breathing" reflection of your D/s relationship. Not only can you use it for regular reinforcement of the power exchange dynamic between you and your partner, but you can use it for regular negotiation and inspiration for new things within your dynamic. It allows for open discussions as well as a sexy way to regularly infuse your relationship with new kinky things you'd like to do. It's a contract between two people and not a document given to the submissive person to sign. That's how you make it a successful part of your relationship for the long-term.

Of course, your relationship and your dynamic is entirely up to you. While this is the method I recommend, you can use whatever works within your dynamic. Every dynamic and relationship is unique. Use these tips to help mold your ideal D/s contract into something that's perfect for your needs and the needs of your partner(s). I think the moral of the story is: when done correctly, a BDSM contract is entirely worth it and can change your kink relationship for the better!