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Etiquette: How Not to be a Dick

Updated: Aug 22, 2022


One of the things I like most about the BDSM/kink community is the presence of rules and structure. These come in basic rules for interacting with others and protocols, but for this post, I will lump them together.

I have always liked rules for social interactions. I consume etiquette books with a passion and have a whole collection of them. I know that most social etiquette in the West developed as a way to distinguish social classes when the structures set up of the service class and the wealthy began to break down. However, today, much of the basic etiquette rules help people move through social situations without causing offense.

Basic rules like “Say Please and Thank You,” pardon yourself when you accidentally bump into someone, hold the door for people, don’t slurp your soup, and send thank-you cards for gifts help us navigate through the world and not be our base, id-driven, dickish selves.

I also like the more arcane rules. I know the difference between a shrimp, salad, dinner and dessert fork. I can do a table setting with fifteen pieces of silverware, five glasses and six plates. I know the rules around using and not using proper titles within the legislature, in the medical professions, and when introducing someone on stage. These are not as important as some of the others, but again, they help people move through the world in a gracious way.

Kink and BDSM groups have their own unique etiquette. A lot of these are based on an authoritarian structure and respecting people’s body’s and property. The thing I like most is that within the BDSM community, these are not gender-specific, rather defined by the role you choose to take.

Kink etiquette is based, in part, on the role you have within the community. Submissives have a different etiquette than Dom(me)s. Collared and uncollared submissives/slaves have different rules. I know in the U.S., people assume submissive = female, but that simply isn’t the case. There are more female subs in the U.S., but there are a good number of male and trans subs as well. This is one place where kink breaks from the general social etiquette, which is largely based on gender-defined roles.


One of my favorite parts of BDSM and kink is the ritual around hugging. In the larger society, some people love giving hugs, some people don’t do it naturally but are okay with, and some people hate it. In the larger world, a lot of people who like hugging, will go in for the hug without asking. This makes many people uncomfortable, but they tolerate it and don’t speak up for fear of being seen as rude.

In the kink community, when you are with a group of kinksters and people are on good behavior, they will ask if it is okay to hug you before they do. This allows everyone to make the decision if it is okay. Refusing a hug is not seen as rude.

This respect doesn’t always happen. When it doesn’t, it can cause problems. Some collared submissives have it in their protocols that they must get permission from their D-type prior to hugging others. This is a way of showing deference, respect and acknowledging ownership. Going in for a hug without asking can cause dynamic problems.

However, most of the time, kinksters ask before hugging. I like this. I don’t mind hugs, but I don’t naturally hug everyone. In the kink community, this isn’t seen as being rude or unfriendly. In the larger world, some people perceive the reticence to hug as being “stand-offish” or “hautey.” This does not happen in kink spaces.

Negotiating Life

Rules also help negotiate the day-to-day. My closest friend is a Master who runs an authoritarian household and has a 24/7 D/s dynamic. When I visit, I know the protocol for his house. In his house, submissives are in charge of making morning coffee. I know if I am the first one up, making coffee is not only acceptable, but expected. When I visit non-kink friends, there is always that awkward moment when I am up first of “can I make coffee?” “Will the be upset if I prowl through their kitchen for the necessary stuff to make coffee?” While it is generally okay, some people are super persnickety about stuff like this.

These rules extend to other things as well. In his household, his subs are not allowed to manage money. I know if I am out shopping with one of his girls and I need to pick up something additional for dinner or a project, I need to text him for permission. Asking his girls breaks protocol and can cause issues.

This may not obviously translate for you. Think about this: You are staying with a friend and his husband. You are out shopping and realize you need to grab a few extra things for dinner and your friend’s husband is paying. If you just toss the stuff in the cart and your friend’s husband pays, then you get home and find out you have gone over budget, there may be a fight between the couple later about spending. If one person is in charge of the decision-making about spending, simply asking the person in charge alleviates this potential conflict.

Rules provide guidelines for handling everyday situations. Kink and BDSM have a lot more rules for navigating daily life. In the new world of free-range relationships and norms that differ couple to couple, kink provides guidelines for negotiating these without causing disrespect. I say, bring on the rules and don’t be a dick!

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