Do you need a contract in your D/s relationship? It's a question I've been asked numerous times over the past few weeks, and my answer is pretty simple: Have a D/s contract only if you want one.
Note: For the purpose of this discussion, a D/s contract is defined as a written agreement between a Dominant and a submissive.
John Brownstone and I have had two over the course of our relationship. The first was when we met and agreed to a simple (and non-sexual) power exchange. That quickly went out the window as our relationship evolved. The second was created after we moved in together because our relationship had sustained a major change. He didn't expect me to remember all the new rules he wanted to implement (and that I agreed to) but he wanted them written down so we could go over them, discuss, and remember it all.
D/s contracts can be useful as long as both parties agree to everything within the agreement. It's often the final step in negotiations. You talk about everything. Maybe complete a checklist or two. Then, you write down what you've agreed to and that's your D/s contract.
Why should you have a contract in the first place? There are a few reasons...
Consider it a Starting Point
Some people create a contract in their D/s relationship and live and die by it, updating it often and referring to it regularly. Others (like John Brownstone and myself) write everything down and then, because we're living our agreement and fitting it into our lives, never look at it again. It became ingrained in us enough that we didn't need a formal document to discard what didn't work and enhance what did.
You won't know what type you are until you write it all down and begin experiencing the reality of it. At the very least, consider it a starting point so that you know, with some degree of certainty, that both of you are on the same page. You should both have input into what goes into the contract, and it should be an open conversation between equals until it's agreed upon by both of you. Once it's in place, make sure you have a way to update, negotiate, or otherwise make changes - even if you never go back and write down those changes.
Keep Everyone Organized
I'm a firm believer in starting slow with a new D/s relationship which means not setting a million and one rules or tasks at the very beginning. It's much better, for a submissive's sanity, if the rules/tasks are added gradually in order to adjust, learn, and fit them into a day or routine. Whether you follow that thinking or you want to jump in with both feet straight into the deep end with no water wings, a contract will help you both stay organized and keep track of what the rules, tasks, and consequences are.
Because a contract should be a constantly evolving document, you can use it to keep yourself organized from the very beginning. Keep a running list or section it off into "Tasks," "Rules," "Consequences," and/or "Expectations." A contract isn't just what a submissive will or won't do. It should also include what the Dominant agrees to do, as well.
Hold Each Other Accountable
Not sure you trust your own memory? Your D/s contract will make sure if you have an "oops" moment and forget what you agreed to do, you've got something to reference back to. This is especially good for Dominants who have the added responsibility in making sure they follow through on consequences and making sure both of you (Dom or sub) are doing what you say you'll do.
Contracts are also good if you suspect your partner isn't keeping their end of the bargain. If someone doesn't want to do something, no piece of paper is going to force them. But if they continuously break their promise, go against the contract, or refuse to honor it, you have a form of "proof" in your written agreement. From there, only you can decide what to do about it. But if someone won't honor their written agreement with you, what makes you think you can trust them with your body, mind, or heart?
Do not expect your contract to hold up in a court of law. And don't think it will turn a dishonest person honest. Understand that it can and will (and should) change over time. And if you write it all down, get used to your D/s reality, and never look at it again, that's okay, too.
For the people who ask if they need a D/s contract, I say it's up to you. But don't do it unless it feels right to you, and it's something you believe in. Having a D/s contract because it's something you think you're supposed to do isn't necessarily a good reason, either. Think about the reasons why it may work for you and your relationship - and the reasons why it might not - and then decide together what's best for your D/s relationship.