*Edit 03/30/2017. Systems of structure can have a negative effect as well. Rules can be too strict, too lax, or even destructive. An example of such a restriction would be forbidding the submissive from forming/maintaining healthy relationships with others. A harmful punishment would be taking away their medications or long term isolation. A structured dynamic should only be attempted after thorough, honest discussion.
Protocols, rules, and routines are healthy systems of structure. These systems play a large part in living a BDSM lifestyle as well as scenes and play sessions. This is where you often find more of the non-sexual aspect of BDSM. However that does not mean that they cannot or will not involve sexuality. The words protocol, rule, and routine are not synonymous and have different uses. They are similar in that they are used to create structure and achieve certain goals and standards. These systems of structure are typically paired with punishments, rewards, and incentives.
First and foremost, these systems must be mutually negotiated and agreed upon by all parties involved. If a submissive is unwilling to abide, or a Dom unwilling to enforce these systems they will never work. If all parties are willing to put forth the effort necessary, bad habits can be replaced with healthy ones and minor behavioral problems can be corrected.
A healthy system of rules, routines, and protocols also serves to reinforce the role of the Dominant and submissive in a mutually beneficial way. They provide comfort, security, and direction to the submissive while providing confidence, pride, and confirmation of respect to the Dominant.
Any punishment used for enforcement must be proportionate to the infraction. Sit down together and discuss (honestly!) punishments that you both agree are appropriate for various infractions. It is also important to account for contextual circumstances of the infraction. Punishing a submissive inappropriately for a situation that they could not control can alienate them and I personally consider it abuse.
Protocols are used to affect etiquette as well as reinforcing the roles of the Dominant and submissive. They mainly dictate how the Dominant wants the submissive to comport themselves. Protocols include things like table manners or kneeling and tend to be very specific. They also do not change as much as rules or routines may. Since protocol is usually a very visible aspect of BDSM (such as walking a submissive on a leash or having them kneel) it is common to have multiple sets of protocols to fit various public situations. A good example of private vs public protocol would be kneeling vs sitting on the Dominant’s left side or using the term Sir vs Daddy. It is also common to have more strict, detailed protocols for formal situations.
Rules are used to affect behavior and usually change over time as the submissive grows and develops. While protocols are used to dictate contextual actions, rules are used to correct and maintain behavior. Requiring the submissive to let the Dominant order their meal at a restaurant is protocol; what the submissive is allowed to eat is a rule. If an unusual situation or emergency arises the rules need to be adjusted accordingly. Rules include things like bedtimes and permission and are paired with enforcement methods like punishments and rewards.
Every submissive is different so punishments and rewards will vary. It is important to know how the submissive responds to various punishments and rewards. A submissive may respond better to positive incentives rather than punishments while another responds better to punishments. Pay attention to how they react when setting a new system of structure.
Routines affect habits rather than behavior and are more flexible. They include things like hobbies, how free time is managed, leisurely activities, and chores. A routine is more of a framework that the submissive is required to act within. Going to bed at a certain time is a rule but an hour of Netflix or other media time is a routine.
Properly implemented, these structures keep a Dominant and a submissive close when distance lies between them, even if that distance is just from home to the nail salon. There are some things to keep in mind when setting up these systems of structure. Work and family must not be negatively impacted. Restricting someone’s social life is only acceptable within mutually agreed upon standards (like curfews) otherwise it is abuse.
Keep in mind that needs will change as you develop and anything agreed on should be occasionally reevaluated. Something might be too strict, too lenient, or just unnecessary. You may find that a particular thing just doesn’t work and scrap it altogether. That’s ok. Don’t be discouraged if you have to change what you’ve set up.
Lastly, be creative with it! Rules, protocols, and routines can be fun! Include field frolicking or digital dragon slaying in your routine or carnal pleasures in your protocol. You can even set a funishment rule that is meant to be broken. Every dynamic is different so make sure you decide on what works best for you.