Essential Rights for a Submissive Partner
I once came across a post on a BDSM discussion forum where a dominant man asserted that his "slave" had a single "right" within their relationship: she could leave. I have no idea whether this was true, or if the writer even had a partner. Online forums are a kind of stage where actors issue proclamations. But the statement got me thinking about what rights, or perhaps promises of protection, are essential to give the submissive partner in a D/s context, no matter how radically the partners inhabit their dominant & submissive roles. Initially, I came up with three:
The Right to Health. The sub must not come to lasting, much less permanent, harm, in a physical or psychological or social sense. By "social harm" I mean damaging the person's reputation with family, friends, or colleagues. Health in all these senses is subjective, so this right confers a great deal of protection. It may seem worrisome to have to discuss a right to health at all, but honestly BDSM relationships commonly involve pursuits which, if taken far enough, or done often enough, can be injurious. But then, vanilla relationships frequently compromise these same areas!
The Right to Language. The sub must regularly have the chance to be heard and understood by her dom. It needn't be a license to speak whenever and however the mood strikes her. This confers broad protection as well, as it allows the sub to convey needs. Needs which go chronically unmet would eventually force the sub to resort to...
The Right to Leave. The sub must, indeed, be allowed to leave the relationship, and without notice if she feels threatened. This could also be called The Right to Choose a Dom. One threat to this right is financial dependence, where the sub has relinquished control over finances. In such cases the dom must create a trust or other emergency account to assure her financial security in the event he is incapacitated or unable to fulfill his duty to her.
Those are the protections which I feel are must-haves for a healthy, sustainable D/s relationship. Any given couple may identify further rights which they deem necessary. A dom also has obligations to his sub, e.g. making his preferences clear, or testing her submission constructively. Such obligations approach the necessity of rights. Finally, a dom typically extends to his sub numerous privileges. However, privileges can be revoked or amended, either as punishment, or at bends in the relationship.
Many couples document with a "contract" the rights, obligations, and privileges of both partners. While not legally binding, a contract nonetheless imparts a sense of formality and specific intention to the relationship which vanilla pairings typically lack—even among marriage partners, who are in fact bound by a legal contract.
Since most partnerships eventually dissolve, it's worth emphasizing that a sub's rights are just as essential when a pair is coming apart. This is so even if the partners are no longer willing to fulfill their obligations to each other. A sub's loss of a beloved dom can be shattering and disorienting, even if the couple hadn't been together for years. A wise dom will do what he can to make the separation more bearable for her, even if he is bitterly disappointed himself.
Sanity check: No person can waive the rights granted her by the laws of the land. She can merely decide not to exercise them. However, deciding so doesn't mean she can't later claim that she was deprived of rights against her will. So when undertaking activities where your partner has agreed to forgo legal rights, you'd better be sure she'll be OK with having done so far into the future!
What about connections to others? Certainly friends and family outside the D/s partnership are essential for most people. But how much contact any individual needs with others is a subjective thing; some hermits are quite content. Note that requiring a sub to permanently cut healthy ties to family or close friends generally constitutes a violation of the right to social health.
What about love? What about pleasure, companionship, happiness, fulfillment? These are the original purpose of romance, after all. But love, while indispensable, is undefinable. Or rather, it is defined uniquely for each couple. And where does love occur? It stems from a feeling in your soul, but is shown to your lover in a thousand changing ways. Love rarely shown, or shown in ways your lover cannot see, amounts to none at all. I know only too well that your lover has to be able and eager to interpret all the ways in which you show love. In the relationships which taught me that, love was neither absent nor present.
I encourage you to comment here, or email, or tweet, with your own beliefs and experiences on the subject of rights in D/s...