Erotic bondage is about restraining or being restrained. It can be a liberating experience to be denied your ability to move in that it is a form of permission to not be the mover. It can be an intense experience to temporarily deliver your power into the hands of your lover in that you are now exercising the trust between you. It can be an arousing experience to explore the fantasy of sexual and sensual surrender in that it may help you access something deeper within you.
But rope bondage is not just bondage.
Neither is it the kind of knot tying you may have experienced in the Cub Scouts nor on your rock climbing adventures. Rope bondage is about more than just restraining your playmate or tying some clever knots. As Midori says in The Seductive Art of Japanese Rope Bondage, "You're not tying rope, you're tying people." And what she means by that is that the act of tying is incorporated into a multi-faceted sensual experience through touch, visual appeal, intention, anticipation, and expertise. Or in the words of Territory who will be co-facilitating an Intro to Ropes workshop at Jellywink on May 8th, "rope is more creative than many other kinky implements. It can caress, bind, decorate, restrain, and hurt and often combines many of those sensations."
For those of you who will not be able to attend the workshop, here is a very brief overview and safety primer. That said, I am not a ropes expert and there is always more to learn, so if this is an area that interests you, I encourage you to attend workshops or check out some books before diving right into a knotty good time!
Styles of Rope Bondage
Some people distinguish Japanese style rope bondage vs. American (or western) styles of rope bondage referring to Japanese rope bondage as either Shibari or Kinbaku. While the American style can be summed up as "form follows function" where the knots are crafted for certain purposes or positions, the Japanese style is "function follows form" where the artistry, precision, and ritual do the leading. An analogy can possibly be drawn between Kinbaku and Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement). Instead of focusing on the collection and colors of blooms in a container, the emphasis extends to shape, line, form, negative space, environment, intent, and more.
When I asked Territory their take on Japanese vs. American styles, they made a point about not actually being familiar with the bondage being practiced in Japan, but only with "the bondage that we, in the states, refer to as Japanese style bondage." So there's that.
They went on to say, "There's a strong aesthetic difference that is difficult to capture in words. Japanese style tends to focus on certain forms, like the takate-kote [a behind the back box arm tie inspired by an old samurai martial art that had become eroticized by the late 19th century], which while functional are precise in sequence or wraps, frictions and knots. Japanese style bondage also tends to have cleaner lines. American style bondage is function first, with ties focused on getting a body into certain positions instead of a specific sequence. Most bondage I see blends styles to varying degrees based on the training of the rope top, personal preferences, and intent of a scene."
Needless to say, there is much to be explored.
Comfort and Safety
One of the main concerns of any form of erotic bondage is maintaining proper circulation and avoiding nerve damage. There are very effective ways of avoiding this, which involves a little bit of education, awareness, communication, and presence.
The symptoms of improper circulation include numbness, tingling sensations, pain, skin cooling, or discoloration. Some ways to prevent this include leaving a two-finger width space between the rope and flesh (the same way you would check a dog collar). However, there are other factors at play including gravity (if hands are tied above the head, they may lose circulation faster) or an individual's natural circulatory health, therefore it is important to check in frequently- some say every ten minutes. So communication is key. While the "rope top" should be checking in, the rope bottom should also be able to communicate. If the "bottom" is unable to speak because of a mouth gag, an alternate way of communicating physical or emotional discomfort (often by way of safe word) should be established.
If it should get to the point where these symptoms are experienced, the knots should be quickly but carefully undone. Thus, another safety measure includes knowing how to undo any knots you tie. Even then, it is best to keep a pair of curved safety scissors on hand (the kind medics use to remove bandages). As Territory says, "people are more important than rope".
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St. You