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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


At a polyamory meeting the other night I heard something interesting from one of the members. They suggested that BDSM and polyamory are more related than a lot of folks think.

Now, I'm not an expert in BDSM, GLBTQ, or any other acronym really so be gentle with me if I don't get this exactly right.

The person talking mentioned how in the BDSM world, and in Master-Slave or Master-Pet relationships particularly, there are often some very specific agreements made between partners. Although they can be verbal, with many there is a specific written contract outlining rules, expectations, and agreements, signed by the involved parties. These contracts seem to be as much for safety and establishing physical boundaries and expectations as they are for defining a relationship.

What interested me is when the speaker suggested these contracts can be ported to other relationships. From a master perspective the person said when they are entering into a new relationship they will present the person with a copy of their existing relationship contracts. This does two things; 1. The new person will know exactly what boundaries exist with their current relationship(s), 2. The contract(s) can be a launching point for writing a contract with the new person.

Their suggestion is that the same contract/agreement method can be used with polyamory. Essentially you would have an agreement written with your current poly partner which could then be used as described above. The expectation is the agreement would serve not only as mentioned above, but also as a way to describe your poly lifestyle to potential new partners. It would also help to specifically show what is allowed in agreements with other partners and how that could affect your relationship with the new partner.

Now, I'm a fairly anal-retentive person. I may not like a lot of rules and restrictions, but when they exist I like them well defined and re-examined on a regular basis for validity. I also enjoy writing quite a bit, both personally and professionally. I truly love documenting processes and procedures and am thrilled when during the writing I can find ways to streamline, better define, or optimize something. That said, I've only used a written contract once and that was by accident. I was writing down a list of wants and desires, some tongue-in-cheek, which I then sent to my lover. She accepted the list as a relationship guideline though we never signed the document or revisited it during our relationship. In the end the list served only to communicate my hopes and desires for the relationship rather than acting as any type of agreement.

I wonder about a few things with a written agreement of this type. First is that it isn't a binding contract of any type and is still susceptible to misunderstanding. Could it create a false sense of security? Could parties to the agreement assume that if something (like communication) wasn't taking place then it didn't need to take place rather than verifying? I've also had several potential partners scared off by the structure of polyamory. Particularly the openness and desired inclusiveness with a preference toward a family model. Would a written contract be overwhelming to someone who had never seen one before? And I wonder about maintenance of a written agreement since relationships seem to be in something of a constant state of flux. Would editing, updating, and approving changes take a lot of time away from the relationship? And finally, would a written agreement limit the spontaneity and dynamic properties of a relationship?

At the same time I can see this type of arrangement having some nice benefits. People tend to remember things differently. Sometimes with huge differences. Putting things down in writing and making them easily available for review could go a long way toward avoiding memory problems. It would also lend some credibility to a relationship design and possibly create a sense of security, much like a legal marriage. And I do like the idea of porting written agreements to new relationships.

I'm interested enough in this concept to give it a try. I think creating an agreement with an existing relationship might be a good way to start. With verbal agreements already in place it would simply be a matter of putting them on paper and having both of us agree to things. Using an already defined relationship for the process would also allow us to try a written agreement while understanding it is a new process and may have some kinks.

Give me some feedback on this one before I try it. Have you ever had a written relationship agreement? How did it work, or not work? What things would you suggest to avoid? What specifically do you think should be required in any written agreement? What about the process of presenting existing agreements to new partners? Or do you think the whole idea is ridiculous and isn't something you would ever try? And finally, from the perspective of a new partner would this be a turn-on or a turn-off?


  1. I've always felt that any written agreement, in any kind of relationship, tends to be in opposition to evolution and change, causing stagnation, stifling nuance and complexity.

  2. Macha,

    Thanks for the comment. I can easily see your perspective. I think a written agreement would have to be accompanied by the understanding it is a dynamic object, not static. I think a regular examination of the agreement for validity and to ensure it wasn't restrictive would be necessary as well.

    Thanks again,

  3. As someone who has no desire to get married, I certainly would never put anything on paper regarding a relationship. I just don't see the point. I think I communicate well, so why write it down? Tell me what you want, I tell you what I want, we try to make each other happy. I absolutely think a written contract would be overwhelming to someone who hadn't see one. If someone tried to present me with a contract, it would be met with a strong "fuck off". I am into some bondage and being dominated, but my partners know if they EVER tried to take those elements out of the bedroom, there would be hell to pay. If the contract is part of an *already* agreed up slave/master relationship, that makes sense to me.

  4. walkietalkietoo,

    Thanks for commenting!

    You mentioned being into bondage and domination a bit. Have you ever had a contract to guide or outline that type of relationship? I'm guessing you are familiar with it, being in the lifestyle, so how do you feel about contracts for BDSM type arrangements?

    I would also enjoy hearing why you feel so strongly against a written contract or agreement? Really that type of agreement has no teeth, it isn't enforceable, it is simply the understanding between partners written down so I'm at a bit of a loss to understand the strength of your emotions about it.

    I think I understand what you mean about "taking those elements out of the bedroom" but with a poly agreement (not BDSM) I wouldn't think there would be dominance by either person. Do you see an agreement differently?

    Sorry for all the questions. Your comment really got my brain working on the subject :)


  5. I haven't had a contract with BDSM, and don't feel the need for it. My current partner and I have always from day 1 (when we were booty calls instead of a relationship) spent hours talking about the sex we just had. We have gotten to the point where there isn't a need to discuss what happens when I'm tied up, he just tries things-always maintaining eye contact and at the mere facial suggestion that I'm uncomfortable, the action stops. I like the feeling of the freedom to try whatever pops into either one of our minds. I suppose I feel that a contract would take away from that freedom and ultimately be counter-productive. An interesting sidenote: he has mentioned that if he wanted to, he could use guilt to get his wife to do almost anything he wanted, but he doesn't. (In fact, he gives her more than he takes, in my opinion) He's also joked that he plants ideas in my head and lets me think they're mine, and thinks he could also get me to agree to meeting most of his needs. He's wrong about the planting ideas part, but not so wrong about the getting me to do most of what he wants. But that comes from absolute trust and support rather than any dominant/submissive dynamic. I'm quite self aware and free spirited. Don't know quite how that fits into the contract idea any why I find it so repugnant, but it feels somewhat related. Perhaps part of it is I like the power exchange during sex, but would find it exhausting and annoying to have that a part of my daily life.

    As for contracts in poly, I just think it would get too complicated and put undue/unfair pressure on people. True that it would have no teeth and be unenforcable, except perhaps to the other people involved. What if something in the contract no longer worked for me, or was now making me unhappy? Now there is paper showing what I agreed to, and two or more people who are affected if I can no longer live up to the deal.

    I suppose the crux of it is, that I feel contracts are there to protect people from when things go bad, to try to force me to keep a promise I made but no longer works. I realize that your intention is the opposite-to create the opportunity to communicate. But if we've communicated sincerely, honestly, and openly, why the need for paper?

  6. walkietalkieooo,
    Thanks for the follow-up comments!

    I'm not sure I can fully understand your feelings. Maybe we aren't imagining the same type of scenario or I'm just not 'getting it'.

    I think the difference is that you view a contract more as a set of rules, restrictions, or limitations whereas I think of it as simply putting the verbal agreements you mentioned down on paper. Does a written contract/agreement imply limitations and rules? I think most of the time it does but in the situation of a BDSM or Poly contract I believe it to be more of a memory aid due to the additional details of those relationship types.

    I recently heard someone say, "If I ever think I will have to enforce a contract I'm about to sign, I won't sign it." Their reasoning was that a contract is simply to make sure everyone is on the same page. Not a way of forcing someone to do something they don't intend to do anyway. Thinking you might have to enforce a contract before even signing is a good indication that maybe everyone isn't on the same page.

    If I actually try this formally I'll let you know how it goes :)

    Thanks for the comments!