Systems of Structure

Protocols, rules, and routines are systems of structure. These systems play a large part in practicing BDSM as a lifestyle as well as in scenes and play sessions. This is where you often find more of the non-sexual aspects 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 Dominant unwilling to enforce, these systems will never work.

A system of rules, routines, and protocols also serves to reinforce the role of the Dominant and submissive in a mutually fulfilling 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 the contextual circumstances of the infraction. Punishing a submissive inappropriately for a situation that they could not control can alienate and confuse them.

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 usually 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 in specific situations) 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 in private and sitting on the Dominant’s left side in public 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 dynamic grows and develops. While protocols are used to dictate contextual actions, rules are used to maintain a behavioral standard. 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.  Rules include things like bedtimes and permission and are paired with enforcement methods like punishments, incentives, and rewards. If an unusual situation or emergency arises the rules need to be adjusted accordingly or temporarily suspended.

Every submissive is different so punishments, incentives, and rewards will vary. It is important to know how the submissive responds to various enforcement methods. A submissive may respond better to positive incentives rather than punishments while another responds better to punishments. Pay close attention to how they react when setting and enforcing a new system of structure.

Routines affect habits rather than behavior and are often more flexible. They include things like hobbies, how free time is managed and spent, leisurely activities, and chores. A routine is 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 before bedtime 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). Isolation from friends and family is an early red flag for an abusive dynamic.

Keep in mind that needs will change as you develop and anything agreed on should be reevaluated as often as needed. Something might be too strict or too lenient. 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.

Be creative! 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.


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