In BDSM, a contract is an agreement, usually written, between the dominant and submissive in a 24/7 or Total Power Exchange (TPE) relationship. It is the formal act of consent to the power exchange.
Some are very formal and will detail exactly what is expected and can run for multiple pages. Others are as brief as a single paragraph. Either way, one is derived by negotiation on the part of both parties. BDSM couples consider the contract to hold equal moral authority to a marriage commitment. As such, constructing a proper contract is very much like writing a pre-nuptial agreement.
 General outline
The petition acts in the same manner as a cover letter for a résumé. In a petition a submissive will make their plea to the Dominant and may outline why they are seeking to be in service to the Dominant. Generally not used with a relationship that existed prior to the contract, however, for a submissive who is in search of a Dominant, this feature helps to show professionalism and attention to detail. The petition should go into detail of your request, why you wish to be in service, your goals, and why you've chosen this Dominant specifically.
 Names and Roles of Parties
Generally the opening portion of the contract states the names of the parties, and spells out what roles they play. Many reflect a degree of affected legalese (e.g., "herein referred to as Master"), though it is in no way required. Couples who are concerned about the existence of a paper trail may consider omitting the names, or taking a pseudonym.
 Term of Service
The contract should define the period of service. Generally, beginning couples start with a one to three month contract. This allows for a couple to explore the confines of the relationship without an onerous lifetime commitment.
 Rules, Duties, and Goals
Each party should specify the rules and duties that are expected to be enforced during the contract period. This is also where the level of protocol is spelled out. The more detail agreed to ahead of time, the less likely misunderstandings will appear later.
A contract will usually list the BDSM activities that the parties require or do not consent to. These are called limits, and may be in the form of a BDSM checklist that is included in, or attached to the contract.
 Termination Requirements
This section dictates who can terminate the agreement, and under what circumstances. Many contracts state that the Dominant may breach the contract at will, while the submissive can only terminate the contract under circumstances that are dictated within the contract (which may include non-consensual abuse or neglect, or repeated violations of limits). If there is a safeword that the submissive can use to end the contract, it is included here.
 Signature of all Parties
The act of signing the contract formalizes the existence of the relationship. Additionally, some contracts may include the signatures of one or two witnesses.
 BDSM Contracts and the Law
BDSM Contracts may not be binding in the United States (especially if they denote a "slave" relationship, as the Constitution's prohibition on slavery makes no exception for consent), but may serve as evidence of the parties' knowledge/intent, awareness and waiver of risks, and more, in courts of law. For example, if a contract specifically states what a dominant has consent to do, and/or that a dominant may not permanently disfigure or scarify the submissive, it would allow a jury to differentiate between the acts which have been consented to and the disfigurement/scarification which have not, and impose a judgment accordingly.
Per one attorney specializing in BDSM issues, "consent" is a legitimate defense to assault in "most places" but, given the legal precedent of the U.K.'s Operation Spanner case, consent might not be a valid defence in the United Kingdom (but the U.K.'s case law of kinky sex judgments after Operation Spanner is unclear, and exonerations may occur possibly depending on the specific "extreme sex" act, whether injury was due to recklessness [exonerations occurred] or "unpredictably dangerous" [conviction occurred as this phrase was used by a judge to describe the sexual activity, which many websites in a google search consider equivalent to "reckless"], or even whether the participants are married or at least heterosexual, or perhaps the judge's mood that day and which judge hears your case). In the U.K., even the one who consented to kinky smacking has been convicted for aiding and abetting in the "assault" upon himself in one homosexual case, but in other cases (heterosexual cases), the alleged victims were not even arrested for consenting to the "assaults".
In areas of the world where BDSM activities are illegal, contracts brought to light can be used to prosecute those involved in the BDSM lifestyle. In some countries consent is not a defense to assault, and a BDSM contract which gives consent may not protect a dominant from being charged with criminal activity.
Please refer to the Glossary of BDSM.
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