Please note that, despite the fact that many who identify as part of the Kink community do, in fact, read and abide by the popular literature of this subculture, each client and each power exchange will be unique. This blog series is designed to give the reader an introduction and exposure to some of rituals and traditions of this population. Please also note that, while a part of the larger Kink community, the Leather community has different rituals that are far more structured than those noted below.
The Ceremony of Collaring
As with all forms of relationships, there can be different dynamics, expectations, and durations for the connection between partners. The accepted form of formal commitment in a BDSM relationship is called a “collaring”. There are traditionally three phases of collaring protocols.
Stage 1 of Collaring
The first stage is called Consideration in which an s-type will formally ask a D-type to be taken under consideration for training with or without a track towards permanent collar. There are a variety of ways that the request can be made. Some D-types require a formal ceremony that will include gifts and a dowry whereas others are more informal and require nothing more than an email or verbal request. The formality of any collaring ultimately depends on the community for which the D-type is associated with. As noted earlier, there are some communities with very strict rules and rituals while others are significantly more relaxed. Consideration can last anywhere from a few days or more than a year based upon the negotiated time period.
The second stage of the collaring protocol is considered Training and may overlap somewhat with the Consideration stage based on the traditions of the D-type. This is an important part of the Collaring process and often takes a minimum of one year and can last for a decade. During training, the D-type is negotiating and establishing a set of expectations, rituals, and protocols along with a contract with the s-type. There is usually a set of distinct markers and expectations that the s-type must reach. The term “training” is used because, even though there are some basic etiquette rules and expectations for s-types, each D-type will have their own preferences. For example, some D-types are very strict when it comes to formal protocols, especially in public. Other D-types have a more egalitarian expectation of their submissive. The contract is usually revisited at least quarterly for check-ins and often is considered a working document.
The third stage of Collaring is the most formal and to most in the BDSM community it is akin to marriage and involves a D-type formally owning an s-type. After the period of training, the s-type may formally petition to be owned or the D-type may at any point in training make the decision to ask for ownership of the s-type. While there are no preset time frames for these stages most lifestylists do not take this lightly and are often offended by those who do. In many power exchange dynamics a physical representation is worn, much like a wedding ring, to symbolize the relationship; also called a “Day Collar”. Although, the s-type will wear a collar during each phase of the process, often times, a locking or permanent collar, to which the D-type holds the key, will be presented to the s-type upon final collaring. Collaring ceremonies can be very formal mirroring a wedding or as simple as a date. Additionally, many of my clients who report seeing their BDSM practice as part of their spirituality will combine their Collaring with a Handfasting, a Pagan ritual that binds two people for a year and a day.
In one formal collaring event that I attended, the couple participated in a casual ceremony in field surrounded by approximately 30 people. The s-type wore a sundress and the D-type wore a kilt and cotton shirt. The ceremony was officiated by a pagan priestess who bound their hands in rope during the ceremony. This particular ceremony event took place during a weekend camping event for poly families. The dress was informal and vows were exchanged.
In another ceremony, which one of my clients participated in, there was an actual BDSM scene involved. This event took place at an underground fetish dungeon in London. The dungeon was reserved for the private event and approximately 20 people attended. The D-type chained the s-type and proceeded to have a scene that was observed by all in attendance. At the end of it, the D-type placed a sterling silver collar on the s-type. Following aftercare, they signed a formal contract, which was then signed by the guests as witnesses.
I officiated a semi-formal re-collaring last year at an event called Florida Power Exchange. In this ceremony, I officiated using the vows that the couple sent me, which included a reading of the alterations of their formal contract. The event modeled a typical wedding in its appearance and was attended by about 40 friends and family. It is not uncommon for formal collarings or lifestyle weddings, like the one above, to occur at community-organized events.