Creating a D/s Training Wheel

rife and I often talk about a “training wheel” when we’re teaching The Protocol Game.

A training wheel (as we use the term) is a collection of 5-8 categories of one’s life which are currently being most focused on in action, particularly in an authority exchange relationship. They could be for the dominant or the submissive, made by the dominant or the submissive, made collaboratively, or any sort of combination.

They come from a hybrid of studying spirituality, psychology, and philosophy, otherwise known as the self-help genre. In particular, I’m pulling from the framework for roles discussed in Best Year Yet (ignore the terrible cover; buy it on Bookshop), and this Integrated Life Matrix image from the book How To Be, Do, or Have Anything:

In the first two years rife and I were together (after we’d moved in and had established some basic protocols), we made a training wheel for him. It consisted of seven categories — in my head, I still remember it as LSHAFTS, because that is the acronym:

Sexual service

It gave me a framework for what kind of things to ask him for, how to use him, which areas he’d like to grow in, how he can better serve me, our home, and our future. I used them to assign him tasks and protocols in the different categories where we were placing focus. We call it a wheel because it was originally a whiteboard, and I’d write the boy’s assignments inside the relevant wedge each week.

In retrospect, I suspect he made these while I was in a depressive episode and trying to figure out how I could step up my dominance, and he wanted to make it easier for me. He often gives me gifts like this, theoretical frameworks, ideas, scaffolding to hold all kinds of content. This particular one has been a tool we have returned to, and frequently and still refer to.

When I came up with the Protocol Game, I used this training wheel and I brainstormed protocols for each category before I chose 7 in each category (for a total of 52) to create the random protocols we would choose weekly.

Why Make a Training Wheel?

  • To step up or reinvigorate your D/s
  • To create an external structure to support your goals
  • To give more focus on the training aspect of D/s
  • To give more direction
  • To help come up with tasks and protocols

How to Make a Training Wheel

First, brainstorm as many different potential categories as you can. You could use any of the areas in the Integrated Life Matrix above, or check out the brainstorm list below to start. Think about identities or kink roles that you hold. Add the categories you struggle in, the categories where you want to grow, the categories that get in the way of your life, the categories that give you the most joy and satisfaction, the overlap interests you have with your partner(s), the goals, hopes, dreams, the visions for the future you, the vision for your highest best self, the things you have always wanted to try.

I highly recommend you include some purely pleasurable, playful, fun, and joyous categories in addition to serious self-improvement categories. You might find that the fun and joyous are deep forms of self-care and do, in fact, fit your self-improvement, but they are often more motivating. They could be sexy or kinky, or not, depending on whether those are categories you’re working with.

Other categories that you could think about, and that commonly come up during brainstorms:

Puppy / kitty / pet / primal play
Age play / big/little
Time management
Art / creative expression
Spiritual practice
Athlete / Movement
Fuck toy
Teacher / Leader / Community Organizer
Outdoor enthusiast
Some relation to animals / pet parent
Home manager
Fire play
Bootblacking / Leather care
Self Care
any other sex or kink interests

Start with a big brainstorm, then whittle them down to 6-8 categories. I like to think of them as the skills that go at the intersection of my kink resume and my calling. Remember, these aren’t all the categories of your life. These are the ones that you want to focus on the most, which means that they are not already on auto-pilot. Some areas are working fairly well; we can let those work as they have been. This isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but rather a few things you want to give more attention to. In Best Year Yet (buy it on Bookshop), they suggest going through a whole life review as part of the investigation of roles, and asks us, “In which role do I want to have a breakthrough?” I always ask myself which areas, if improved, would make things change for the better the most?

Less is more – I shoot for 6-8. Try a very hyper-specific category and a very broad category, and see which is easiest to make tasks, protocols, and goals within. Reflect. Change your Training Wheel categories. Get more specific, or more broad, depending on what’s working best. It’s great if you have someone who is game to listen to you and support you though this, whether you’re making a chart for yourself, for them, or together, so you have someone to reflect with and who can help gather the data of your experiments and see what needs to be tweaked.

Then What?

Use the training wheel to create protocols, tasks, and goals. Play around with them, see what works, what doesn’t. We have some ongoing protocols, some tasks, and we sometimes play the Protocol Game and have different protocol each week. It’s about time to create a new set for ourselves, actually; things have been changing and it would be good to make some new habits based on the changes, to live in to our future and next selves. Change the wheel and adapt the whole idea as needed.

Hopefully, the training wheel will give a framework for deeper D/s, deeper authority exchange, more consent and clarity about which areas are available to be controlled, more self-control and discipline, and more praise all around.

Bonus points to create your own whiteboard pie chart, fancy Google spreadsheet, bullet journal, or other art of your training areas – post it somewhere you’ll see it often to remind you.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.