Beginner Rope Bondage

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Beginner rope bondage is an article of best practices to help you and a partner get started with rope bondage, specifically ground ties only.

Rope bondage is often referred to as Shibari in the English speaking world, though in Japanese this means simply "to tie". The correct Japanese term for erotic/sensual rope bondage is Kinbaku though it has been noted that some Traditional Japanese Rope Masters refer to the art simply as bondage.

Tying styles are frequently separated by the schools of Eastern and Western tying, though the only differences between styles are subjective, generally being that Eastern style tends to be more A-symmetrical while Western tends to be more patterned and structured.

Common Misconceptions About Rope Bondage

The following statements are patently false rumors:

  • Rope is always slow going
  • True riggers only use hemp or jute rope
  • You have to be an expert to get started
  • Suspensions are the pinnacle of bondage
  • There is only one true way to do "X"
  • Rope is only for thin, flexible people

General Rope Safety and RACK

  • Discuss the bottom's physical injuries and previous surgeries, bone and joint issues, diabetes, pacemaker, asthma, fibromyalgia, breathing/cardiac issues, flexibility and mobility problems, mental and emotional triggers. If you're not sure about a particular issue, don't engage until you understand the risks.
  • A six inch fall onto concrete can break a neck and cause death. Best Practices indicates not to attempt a full suspension during your first full year of regularly practicing bondage.

Nerve Damage

Much of the information on nerve damage is taken from stefanosandshay.com/ and written by Dr. Who, Kinky M.D.[1][2]

Nerve Damage is the most common serious injury in bondage, it happens suddenly and causes damage that takes 4-13 weeks to heal, or in some cases may be permanent and cause paralysis.

Careful negotiation before tying someone up should include asking about conditions that might predispose the bottom to nerve damage. Those include pre-existing peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) from diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and previous traumatic nerve injury. This isn’t to say, for example, that you can’t tie up a diabetic- but it’s certainly something you need to be aware of for lots of reasons (are they going to drop their sugar mid-scene?), not the least of which being a need for more cautious bondage with more careful monitoring.

Danger signs for nerve damage include pain (generally described as sharp/shooting), weakness, tightness, stress, tingling, and numbness. These generally occur QUICKLY, sometimes instantly, and should be acted on immediately. Nerve damage can occur either by stretching of the nerve (for instance by over-extending the arms over the head for extended periods of time) or by compression (for instance rope pressing up against the armpit). “Mechanisms of nerve injury include direct pressure, repetitive microtrauma, and stretch- or compression-induced ischemia. The degree of injury is related to the severity and extent (time) of compression.” As a guideline: The more force and the longer the time, the greater the damage will be. Nerve irritation that is immediately resolved leads only to temporary nerve damage (“numbness” that goes away quickly). Any prolonged irritation can lead to semi-permanent damage or to permanent loss of function.

While communicating with the bottom and checking in frequently is of paramount importance, there are a few other things tops can do during the scene to help decrease risk of nerve injury. This includes watching for signs of trouble (like the bottom wiggling fingers or self-adjusting ropes) and paying attention to body language. Another thing that may help is to multiply the points of tension to spread the pressure over a wider area (in rope-speak: use more wrapping turns!). Often, hands are the first area where the bottom experiences problems. If possible, arrange the bondage so the hands can be easily released without having to undo everything else first.

Some bondage tops say that they don’t worry about rapidly untying a bottom with symptoms of nerve damage, because “once it’s done, it’s done.” This is a gross misunderstanding of the physiology of nerve damage. While it’s true that you can’t un-do an injury that has already occurred, nerve damage is not an all-or-nothing thing- it happens on a continuum and immediately taking steps to address it may keep a minor injury from turning into permanent damage. There is also emerging evidence, both in scientific journals and also anecdotally in the bondage community, that nerve injuries can be cumulative.

Male rope.jpg

Certain nerves and blood vessels need special consideration in bondage:

  • Radial nerve – on the outside of the arm in the valley between the triceps and the deltoid. Do not place rope in or just below this valley.
  • Brachial plexus – in the armpit. Do not place knots, bulges or joins in the armpit. This area can be impacted by rope OR mere positioning (holding the arm back awkwardly can pinch it over time).
  • Wrists - To avoid neuropathy, don’t pinch the nerves in the wrist.
  • Femoral artery – about 4 inches below the groin. Do not restrict the flow of blood to the legs by placing tight ropes, joinings or knots in this area.
  • All nerves and veins in the neck - Do not place ropes across the front of the neck, this can cause unintentional asphyxiation.
  • Always be careful and monitor closely when placing rope near vital organs and the hollows/pits/joints of the body.

There are some measures to check for nerve problems:

  • The rigger can ask you the bottom to squeeze their hand; this demonstrates the strength in the hand.
  • The rigger can place their hand on the back of the bottom's hand and ask the bottom to push back against them. This is important because with nerve problems the bottom might have no problems squeezing and still have a nerve problem, this test will help determine if a nerve problem has occurred.
  • The rigger can gently run their nails along the back of the hand of the bottom, this is to test for dull/loss of sensation.

If you have any nerve damage symptoms for longer than 2 hours, go to a doctor or emergency room.

Relieving circulation problems can be helped by the following:

  • The rigger may help by running their fingers under the wraps of rope to even the tension and adjust the rope.
  • If bottom's arms are tied in a box position, the rigger may try swapping the position of the forearms.
  • The bottom may attempt flexing muscles to help to circulate the blood; clenching and unclenching the hands can help alleviate tingling.
  • When untied the symptoms should disappear nearly immediately. The bottom may begin moving slowly and then increase pace gradually.

Relieving Nerve Injury

Consider conservative icing for the first couple days (ice for 20 minutes every couple hours while awake), mild immobilization of the affected limb (for example, a wrist splint for wrist drop) especially at night, don’t stretch or compress the injured area, take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (if not contraindicated for other reasons) and a vitamin B-12 supplement, consider heat ONLY AFTER the first 48 hours, and see an MD (a neurologist if possible) within a few days if symptoms persist.

The bottom should not compress the affected area (putting pressure on it, wrapping tightly with an ACE bandage, etc). Compression is likely a causative factor in getting the injury in the first place- further compression during the acute phase of the injury will not be helpful. Additionally, the bottom should not stretch out the affected area. Stretch is often a contributing factor in causing the injury. “Mechanisms of nerve injury include direct pressure, repetitive microtrauma, and stretch- or compression-induced ischemia. The degree of injury is related to the severity and extent (time) of compression.” It’s important to remember is that the site of the damage may not be immediately clear or intuitive. For example, if the bottom has radial nerve damage (and subsequent wrist drop) from a box tie, the temptation is to think that their WRIST is injured, when the injury probably originates in the upper arm. Don’t rub, tightly wrap, or stretch out the injured limb.

General Tips for Tops

  • Check the condition of your rope before you use it. Look for frays, worn rope bites, dirt, etc. Body fluids and skin particles can accumulate on rope, so wash your rope and/or have a set of rope dedicated for use on a given regular partner. Check for and be aware of things in your play space that can be knocked over by stray rope such as drinks and candles and the face/eyes of the bottom.
  • Pulling rope through wraps against the skin or around body parts can quickly turn from a sensual slither to a searing showstopper. Natural fibrous materials tend to chafe or abrade when pulled across skin; however, smooth synthetic materials will burn far more quickly and thus are said to have a high burn rate. Run the rope through your fingers when using unfamiliar or new rope.
  • Never use slip knots or knots that can lock down on themselves. Whenever possible use non-cinching ties, especially the kind that may untie at the bite and working ends. Remember that changing the Bottom’s position after the tie can change muscle tightness. Place knots responsibly, off of joints and bones. Don’t put a big knot in middle of their spine if you’re going to lay them on their back.
  • ALWAYS keep flat edged medical safety scissors[3] near by in a place you can instantly locate and reach for in case you have to release someone quickly. You are tying people, not objects; destroy the rope not the person. Rope is replaceable, people are not. Test your scissors to cut a piece of the rope you are using to make sure they are able to quickly release. Do not use a knife or typical scissors as these may cut or impale the bottom.
  • Pull rope, don’t push it. Be purposeful in how you move and place rope to avoid rope burn and whipping the bottom in the face with your working ends. Avoid rope pinches and rolling rope. Have a plan but feel free to modify as you go to ensure partner connection. Use safe signals check in with the Bottom that don’t disrupt the scene.
  • In an emergency, don’t hesitate – your Bottom’s safety is more important than your rope. Don't panic, only professionally trained medical staff are qualified to diagnose issues. Plan for the worst case. Have a fully charged cell phone ready to dial for emergency services on hand and within reach.
  • Using shorter ropes gives you more options in emergencies. Keep the rope loose enough that you can work two fingers between the rope and your activity partner’s skin. The goal is to restrain, not to cut off circulation. If the rope might get wet (it’s really hot and you’re both sweating, for example), leave it even looser.
  • Interpret requests of "tighter!" to mean "More rope wraps please!". Distributing the tension of a tie over a larger surface area significantly reduces the risk of nerve damage and  circulation issues. Non-tightening ties incorporating multiple wraps of rope are the easiest way to cover more surface  area without increasing the diameter of your rope. Remember, though, that more wraps of smaller diameter rope do nothing to distribute weight or pressure if the tension on the wraps is different.
  • Keep new bottoms in bondage for no more than 15-30 minutes pending discomfort of the tie. Keep more experienced bottoms in bondage no more than 60 minutes. Cold temperature can reduce time in bondage, always operate in a slightly warm room for best results.
  • Check circulation often by looking for areas of skin that might be turning blue, purple or white, be sure to check skin temperature as well, especially cold skin is another sign of poor circulation. Check in with your activity partner often using safewords and safe signals, and make sure they notify you if they start to feel pins and needles or numbness so that you can release a tie. Generally it is good to tie limbs last (wrists, ankles) as they are most likely to be the point that causes poor circulation and ends the scene.
  • Never tie rope in a way that might restrict someone’s ability to breathe, especially across the throat. Some ties such as a hog, shrimp or crucifiction tie can cause postural asphyxia and will suffocate your partner to death if not carefully attended to; be sure to be constantly aware of the bottom's breathing. Gags or hoods which block the mouth can become asphyxial hazards if the subject vomits or the nose becomes otherwise blocked.
  • Never leave someone tied up alone. A bound person is a helpless person. Do not leave them to walk or stand on their own in case they fall as they may be unable to catch themselves to break a fall, causing serious injury or death. Some ties might cut circulation and cause long standing non-circulated blood to become toxic. Do not attempt self bondage unless you are a very experienced and always have at least a spotter on hand to help prevent or assist with mitigating accidents.
  • Always be regularly communicating with your bottom in some way, either through discussion or safe signals. Avoid use of gags on bound individuals unless you and your bottom have worked out alternate methods of communication and you intend to use constant monitoring.
  • If conducting an escape the top must be sure to watch the bottom closely to ensure they don't accidentally injure themselves during the attempt as ropes will shift, sometimes compromisingly, during an escape.

General Tips for Bottoms

  • Things to bring: Palmer’s/Arnica Cream – reduces marks/bruises, Hair ties/chopsticks, Blanket/Pajamas/Bathrobe - pampering, Water preferably in a container with a straw – keep hydrated, Sugary drink and some carbs – after an intense scene you may be depleted.
  • Be in shape, alert, aware, properly fed and hydrated, and present in the moment before beginning. Be sure to use the restroom before beginning a scene.
  • Be sure to trust your top. Unless you have a spotter or dungeon monitor present, do not let someone tie you up the first time you meet them.
  • People practicing rope are going to be doing a lot more playing with rope than playing with you with rope. If you want a good time find experienced folks that know advanced techniques as they will be better prepared to scene with you rather than practice..
  • Vet your tops, watch them play with others first, get references, ask about their tying philosophies, etc. Be aware of less experienced Tops who do not control trailing rope ends – guard your face!
  • If ropes are to go in your mouth or crotch ensure they were/are sanitized before hand as part of negotiations.
  • Do lots of Yoga, daily; increase your flexibility. Stretch before and after a session just like a workout.
  • Start low and slow with all things. Do easy ties first, start with easy ground ties then more advanced ground ties before suspension and light suspension before advanced suspension. If someone asks you to do a tie you aren't sure you are ready for explain you are not an experienced rope bottom and do not consent to the tie.
  • If you are attempting to be suspended for the firs time, ensure your rigger has the main part of the load carried by a load bearing harness such as hips/thigs and chest. Other types of harnesses that put the main load on non-load bearing areas like gravity boots and such are for advanced players only and you should get lots of rope time in and be fully confident you and your rigger can both safely perform such things.
  • Communicate how the bondage feels. Sometimes even a small adjustment can radically change how the bondage feels and make the tie safer. Any feeling of tingly fingers whilst in bondage which will give your rigger time to react to the problem. The sooner you make them aware of any problems the better the outcome will be.
  • Know that intense tingling in extremities, white/black-purple discolorations and severe pains are signs something is very wrong. Minor tingles, slight discolorations and minor pains are things to communicate so that your rigger can adjust ropes. Some minor pain is always associated with suspension.
  • Tell your rigger to untie you five minutes before you need to be untied.
  • Reflecting on your experience, respectfully communicate how you felt emotionally and physically during the scene. This can not only help you grow as a bottom but you will also aid your rigger improve their own skill and awareness.

Rope qualities

There are many types of rope you can use, be aware of the different kinds.

Beginner Rope Terms

  • Bight/Bite - The center of a length of rope
  • Working Ends - The two ends of a length of rope

Types of rope

  • Natural Fiber – Hemp, jute, sisal, cotton, coconut
    • Better “tooth”, so it grabs better and takes fewer knots to hold securely
    • Tends not to stretch as much or as inconsistently, so recommended for suspension
    • Doesn’t take dye as well
    • More expensive
    • Cotton Line is often machine washable if placed in a porous bag
  • Synthetic Fiber – MFP (multi-fiber propylene), nylon, poly-pro, parachute cord
    • Less expensive
    • Perfectly fine for most types of bondage
    • Nylon and MFP takes dye very well, poly pro or mixed material does not

Common thicknesses

  • 3/8, 5/16, 8mm – These heavier strands are okay for some types of ties. They distribute force across the skin so they don’t cut into flesh and can be more comfortable for some, but can be bulky when you start to knot.
  • 1/4, 6mm – Medium strands are a good general use thickness, and very versatile.
  • 3/16, 4mm, 1/8, 2mm – Light strands are good for delicate work or hojojitsu, but they can and will put much greater pressure on the skin.

Typical rope lengths

  • 5 arm lengths (~25-30 feet), 3 arm lengths (~15-18 feet), 2 arm lengths (~10-12 feet)
  • Longer ropes can be useful for certain types of ties (rope corsets, karadas on taller/larger body types, etc.) but you might sacrifice tie speed by having to pull lots of rope. Normally this is solved by joining ropes to lengthen/extend them when needed. Further, working in stages to add ropes to existing portions of your bondage allows for specific sections to be modified without removing everything, and from a play perspective, it allows you to reuse portions of the bondage for additional positions. 

Rope Ends

One problem with cutting a rope is that the ends tend to fray if not properly finished and many ways to finish rope are used to prevent rope from fraying when cut.

  • Knotting - by far the quickest way to finish a rope is putting a tight overhand knot in the end and trimming the excess. This creates small knots on the end of your rope which become very useful in extending your rope.
  • Whipping - this involves wrapping the rope in some type of thread, often embroidery floss to keep the end from fraying. There are many methods of whipping rope.
  • Taping – involves wrapping the ends with electrical tape and is another quick and simple method to reduce fraying and produces very clean ends.
  • Melting – melt the ends of synthetic rope to create a solid mass of plastic at the end of the rope which cannot unravel. Often when purchasing bulk rope, an electric “knife” is used to melt through the rope, but you can achieve the same effect by briefly passing your ends over a flame until they start to melt together.
  • Dipping – Tool dip is a common item on many kinky workbenches and it can also be used to finish ropes.

Basic Rope Technique

Rope bondage is perhaps the best known and most used form of bondage. There are several forms of rope bondage.

  • Rope wrapping - The rope is simply wrapped around the restrained partner's upper body, or in some cases, his/her entire body.
  • Rope weaving - A more complicated technique, where a rope is first wrapped around the restrained partner's body in a zig-zag pattern, and then a second rope is woven around it.
  • Double rope technique - The restrained partner is bound by two ropes at once, allowing decorative rope patterns to be applied quickly.
  • Single rope technique - A technique most often used in conjunction with SM intent, where the restrained partner is bound by only one rope.

Beginner Ties

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