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Bondage

What's the Thrill?

The thrill of bondage may be in the appearance and sensation of being restricted or tied, and for many the sense of helplessness and the consequent symbolic lack of responsibility on the part of the bound person for what happens to them is often very important. Many bottoms can 'go further' in a scene with bondage than without it: knowing you cannot escape whatever's happening to you may help you relax and into the scene and enjoy it.

Bondage can be made both firm and comfortable and for some this may be enough without additional discomfort or pain -- which is why 'Bondage and Discipline' (B&D) is sometimes distinguished from SM. However, bondage can also be used as a technique for inflicting pain, by forcing the body into positions that put painful stresses on particular muscles.

Some bondage enthusiasts also claim aesthetic satisfaction from the bondage itself, at how elaborate or elegant it is. If this is your thrill, it's a game that may be played without any role-taking or domination at all

Ways to Play

Bondage in Scenes

Bondage is a vast topic: there are an infinite number of ways of restraining someone and a myriad of reasons why people might need or want to be restrained. Deciding what sort of bondage is appropriate for a particular scene requires careful consideration and discussion. Thankfully, without losing sight of anyone's individuality, we can distinguish at least three basic factors involved in determining the sort of bondage you might use. As with most such distinctions in SM, most players fall somewhere between the two poles, with their interests varying from scene to scene.

Firstly there is the question of how much the bondage is for its own sake, and how much it is a means to an end. Some people are satisfied just with the sense of restriction bondage gives; their thrills may be intensified with more and more elaborate bondage, or by spending lengthy amounts of time immobilised. Or they may appreciate bondage aesthetically, and constantly seek out new techniques they find pleasing.

In many cases, however, bondage is used as a means to achieving something else. Bondage is often used in SM games where pain or intense physical stimulation is involved, where keeping the bottom still may be important both for the convenience of the top and in some cases for safety reasons too. Of course it's not universally required: some bottoms in some situations have the self-control to keep themselves still without bondage, but it's so common that bondage and SM are often conflated together.

As well as immobilising the bottom, bondage can also help get them into the right 'headspace' and help them concentrate on dealing with what is happening. Once again this is not universal: some bottoms may feel more uncomfortable in bondage and take more without it, and some will only trust themselves to be tied up by a top they know well.

With bondage as an end in itself, the equipment and techniques used will depend entirely on the preferences of the partners. With 'means-to-an-end' bondage, the end or ends will affect the bondage: for example, it's no good putting someone in a heavy strait jacket if you intend to torture their nipples once they're tied up.

A second distinction to bear in mind is between symbolic and practical bondage. On some occassions it may be important that the bondage is genuinely physically inescapable: this is usually the case for those who appreciate bondage for its own sake, and often the case for people who genuinely want to feel that they cannot avoid whatever else is going on. On other occassions, when the impact of the bondage is largely psychological, it may not have to be so sturdy. For example some bottoms may find wrist restraints clipped together with spring clips powerful enough symbolically, even though they could if they choose escape from them; others might need the physical reality of a padlock for which the top has the key.

In certain cases it's also vital for safety reasons that the bondage is inescapable: for example when the bondage is supporting the bottom in a position that it would be dangerous to lose.

A third distinction is between comfortable and painful bondage. If the bondage is a means to an end, the usual technique is to make it relatively comfortable for the duration of the scene, which will in turn depend on how long a scene is due to last. That way, the bottom can forget about the bondage and concentrate instead on the other sensations he or she is undergoing.

Comfort is a relative term, and sometimes a little discomfort from the bondage is part of the thrill in addition to whatever else is going on. However there are different sorts of discomfort. A bit of stiffness in the muscles may not cause a problem for some people, but a chafing wrist restraint or an unintentionally pinched piece of skin may be another thing entirely!

At the other extreme, there are techniques for using bondage to restrict and cramp the body in such a way that the bondage itself is the main source of discomfort or pain (see Painful Bondage below).

It's important to be clear about these different needs and expectations. There are serious incompatibility problems when one partner is expecting just bondage and the other wants to play other games too. And a bottom who is used to being simply wrist-cuffed during scenes may freak to find themselves immobilised completely in an elaborate rope harness.

General Hints

The following hints about involving bondage successfully in a scene are arguably good advice in all scenes, irrespective of the actual bondage involved. These points are in addition to the usual safety concerns.

For tops:

And for bottoms...

Rope Bondage

Rope is one of the cheapest and most flexible of bondage toys: for details about choosing and looking after rope see under What to Use. Using rope effectively means learning some simple knots -- see the knots sourcesheet for details.

A rope handcuff is a very simple and basic rope technique. Take a 2m (6') length of 8mm (3/8") rope and, with the bottom's palms flat together in a 'praying' position, wrap it three or four times around both wrists fairly snugly, leaving a good 30cm (1') of rope dangling. Now take both ends of the rope and wrap them in opposite directions around the loops between the wrists, and tie off with a bow or reef knot.

Don't be afraid to use plenty of rope -- it's cheap! For example when fixing a limb use two lengths of rope. First wrap the limb, including a loop or incorporating a D-ring or shackle (but not next to the skin). Then use another length of rope to attach the limb to the fixing point. That way, tension between the limb and the fixing point will not increase the tightness on the limb itself.

The Full Body Harness or "Web"

This is a net of rope which completely covers the body, and is one form of Japanese rope bondage. Making a web takes a bit of skill with rope, and a good knowledge of anatomy, so only attempt it after you have gained familiarity with general rope use. If you approach each web with no preconceptions as to outcome, and allow yourself the flexibility to try something new each time, no two webs will come out exactly the same.

A trunk-only harness will take about 15m (50') of rope. A full-body harness will take 30-45m (100'-150'). Your individual style, once you develop one, will give you a better feel for exactly how much length you require.

Start the web is by attaching the middle of the rope with a Lark's Head Hitch to the ring on the front of your bottom's collar. Unless you really know your knots, don't attempt to tie rope around the neck. A good collar, with D-rings specifically designed for bondage is not only easier, it looks great and is safe. The ideal collar has D-rings all the way around. At a minimum, it must have two -- one at the front and one at the back.

Once you have the rope secured to the collar, start wrapping it around the body. For the first pass, bring the ropes forward, under the bottom's armpits, and to his or her back. Pull the ropes even, and tie a square knot near the middle of the back. Continue to bring the ropes downward and around the body. They will cross the sides to the front, and will meet in the area of the groin. Tie another square knot here.

If your subject is male, you can tie one square knot above the genitals, followed by another below them, forming a makeshift cock ring.

Bring the ropes between the subject's legs and outward beneath the buttocks. Bring them around and upward, so that they cross each other near the navel. When the ropes cross the previously laid rope, twist the working rope around the previously laid rope and pull taut.

Each time the rope wraps around and is tied back down to itself, the web becomes stronger and more stable.

If the rope doesn't want to stay where you are putting it, you're probably putting it in the wrong place. Well-laid ropes will follow the contours of the body. With a little practice, you will get the feel for it.

Continue in this manner, covering all body parts which you want bound. The arms can be bound to the sides after the body has been webbed. Ditto for the legs. Make sure you get good coverage -- plenty of rope, spread out over the entire body. It is almost impossible to use too much rope, as it will only give more support and become more restrictive.

If you are using the web for suspension, be sure that the overall structure is strong and provides points to which suspension tethers can be attached. When suspending a bottom, use more rope than you would otherwise -- 30m (100') for a body harness, and 60-75m (200'-250') for a full-body harness. I know that sounds like a lot but the safety and security of your suspension will rely on a strong and secure web.

Self Bondage

Self-bondage involves its own special set of techniques: its practitioners need to reconcile being able to get in and out of the bondage easily and safely while maintaining a feeling of genuine restraint. Some self-bondage practitioners have devised elaborate techniques involving time limits, regulated by devices such as keys on string frozen into a cup of water that will melt within a certain time. Obviously safety is a particular issue without a partner to help out: never tie yourself up so that you can't get loose on your own, avoid locking hoods or gags in place and never put any sort of tension on your neck.

Health and Safety

General Bondage Safety

Fortunately, none of the dangers in basic bondage are inherent; all are preventable with good techniques and sensible precautions. In general:

Some bondage positions and their dangers

A prone position (such as flat on a bed) has the least potential for problems, a vertical position (such as a standing spreadeagle) the greatest potential. If someone is tied standing up, it's fairly easy for their upper extremities to go numb or for them to faint or lose their balance and fall (putting even more stress on arms and wrists, or -- worst of all -- neck if that's tied). There's danger of a faint or fall even after release from a standing position, as you may be dizzy or shaky from impaired circulation. It's not necessary to avoid standing positions completely but you need to exercise extra caution.

Even with the bottom prone, an extremely tight spreadeagle is very strenuous and should not be continued for any great length of time. Closely monitor the bottom for cramping or other distress. Leaving just an inch or two (5cm) of "play" for each arm and leg may make the difference between a position that can be sustained for several hours and one that requires release in 15-30 minutes.

Hogties (with wrists and ankles secured together) are always strenuous, and they can be very dangerous if the neck is collared, chained, or tied and then attached to the bonds on the wrists and ankles, putting pressure on the throat that can interfere with breathing. To hogtie with head held off the floor or bed, use a tie attached to a gag strap, a forehead strap, a leather head harness, or the top of a hood -- anything that redirects the tension away from the neck. Monitor frequently to check for cramps or breathing problems because of the pressure of bodyweight on the chest. The wrists are also at risk in a hogtie: Use only thick rope or leather straps, preferably applied over gloves, never handcuffs or thin cord.

If you stretch someone horizontally as on a rack, do not pull so hard as to tear a ligament or tendon or to dislocate the joints in arms or legs. These are very serious medical problems that can only be handled properly by medical professionals. Because it's hard to see when you're going too far in this kind of scene, when in doubt, ease off. Extreme pain is a good clue that you're going too far. In a static stretching scene, where the tension does not change over time, the danger of a strain or dislocation comes from the bottom's own struggles. The key, therefore, is to give neither room nor reason for violent struggles. Bottoms should not have the slack to get leverage to pull one of their limbs hard enough to dislocate something and they should feel safe enough not to panic.

Medical problems and injuries

Numb or cold extremities

Remove restraints and gently lower the arms and legs so blood can flow in. Massage any area that has become numb; apply warmth if necessary to restore circulation (use a heating pad or warm towels). A short period of numbness in previously bound extremities is common and usually does not indicate any serious problem; if the numbness lasts more than an hour or so, however, at least some nerves have been damaged. This typically happens when handcuffs are too tight and the nerves leading to the thumb are affected. If the nerves are simply "pinched," the condition will clear up on its own in a few days. However, excessively severe or prolonged bondage can permanently damage nerves with no effective medical treatment available; while killed nerves may regenerate, they do so very, very slowly.

Bone fractures and dislocations

Fractures in the wrists or ankles can be caused (though rarely) by steel restraints used improperly or carelessly; a fractured collarbone might result (though this is still less likely) from use of a steel collar or head cage. This will generally be a "closed fracture" where the bone does not protrude through the skin. A joint might also be dislocated by struggles against tight restraints in an uncomfortable position. Symptoms are severe localized pain, tenderness to touch, deformity of the limb or joint, swelling, and discoloration of the surface skin (these latter two may take some time to develop). Do not attempt to fix a fracture or dislocation yourself: keep the victim still, immobilize the injured area, using bandages above and below the point of injury and splints along the limb then get the victim to a doctor or emergency room for medical attention. See a first aid manual for further details.

Bruises, sprains, and strains

A "bruised bone" is really an injury to the tissues surrounding it -- the muscles, tendons, or ligaments and the blood vessels serving them. A sprain is an injury to a joint (especially in the fingers, wrists, ankles, and knees) caused by forcing it to bend too far or in an unnatural direction. A strain is a muscle injury caused by excess exertion or stretching. In a serious sprain or strain, the tissues are actually torn, not just stretched. Symptoms of all three are pain on motion, extreme tenderness to touch, and swelling and discoloration (the surface manifestation of a bruise) developing over time. Any of them might be caused by awkward or overly strenuous bondage positions, particularly if the bottom has struggled against the bonds and thereby increased the tension at some point.

Immobilize to avoid any further injury and use ICE: Ice or cold pack, Compression, and Elevation. Apply ice (not directly to the skin) or a cold pack for 20-30 minutes to retard or reduce swelling; gently compress the damaged area by wrapping it with elastic (Ace) bandages, making sure you do not bandage tightly, as this could interfere with blood circulation; as soon as possible -- this can be before you apply ice or a bandage -- elevate the limb to keep excess fluid from draining into it. Do not administer pain killers or alcohol. If the pain is extreme and you suspect a torn ligament or tendon, call an ambulance. If movement is not too painful after ICE and a couple of hours immobility, medical attention is probably not necessary unless severe symptons are still present next day.

Muscle Cramps

A cramp is a sudden, painful muscle contraction, most commonly in a leg. Medically, a cramp is less serious than a sprain or strain, but it can be equally painful and debilitating. The best treatment is, first, gentle massage and reverse stretching of the affected muscle (for instance, if the back of the leg cramps, bend the foot inward, toward the body, which will stretch out the cramped muscle), followed by application of moist heat. Moving around and using the affected limb will promote circulation and help relax the cramped muscle.

Fainting

A faint is a temporary loss of consciousness because of decreased blood circulation to the brain (which can have many causes). A faint in itself is not dangerous, as breathing normally continues despite the unconsciousness, but it is scary to witness or experience. Someone who "feels faint" should sit down immediately to avoid a fall (if bound standing up, release immediately and help down), and breathe deeply with their head between their knees. If someone actually faints, lay down and elevate legs and backside with pillows or padding. That will make it easier for blood to get to the brain and restore consciousness. You should not use smelling salts or ammonia to revive a fainting victim; only if their breathing stops or there are symptoms of heart failure should you take more aggressive measures. After coming out of a faint, the victim should rest quietly for at least an hour before moving. Do not administer any kind of drugs or alcohol, and give other water or liquids sparingly only if wanted. If unconsciousness continues for longer than a few minutes, seek emergency help.

Rope burns or cuts, shackle chafing

Essentially an abrasion wound. If there is no bleeding no special measures are needed except to avoid irritating the damaged area further. If there is bleeding wait for it to stop, and then cleanse the area thoroughly with sterile gauze pads and an antiseptic such as Dettol, Betadine or hydrogen peroxide. Make sure no particles of rope have been left in the wound. Bandage only if necessary to keep the wound clean and avoid further irritation (free air flow promotes healing).

Breathing problems

These are discussed separately under hoods and gags. However, remember that some bondage can cause them even without direct restriction of nose or mouth. In binding the body, always make sure that ropes or straps around the chest permit sufficient lung expansion for unimpeded breathing. Straitjackets can be particularly problematic in this respect. Don't just ask: look to see how far the chest moves, listen to the breathing to be sure and keep checking regularly throughout the scene. Many very rigorous stretched positions also can impede breathing: crucifixion victims, for instance, ultimately died of suffocation, because the strain of the body's unsupported weight eventually made it impossible for the chest to rise to take in air.

Stiff or sore muscles

These are almost inevitable in a long-term bondage scene, unless the bondage is very loose. They should not present a problem if no unreasonable demands are put on the affected muscles right after release; massage, warmth, and rest should get them back to normal use in an hour or two. Some soreness (not stiffness) may persist longer, but if it lasts longer than 48 hours, there is a chance that a strain or sprain occurred, and medical attention may be needed.

Heat, cold, dehydration

Problems in these areas are not common and not likely to be serious in an SM context, but simple precautions should be regularly taken. Problems from excess heat or cold may arise, respectively, in a long-term scene where the bottom is tightly wrapped or bound naked, so regulate the temperature of the room accordingly. Dehydration can occur in any long-term scene if the bottom is not allowed to replenish fluids lost through sweating and urinating, such as an outdoors summer stake-out in the summer, which could also present problems of sunburn if the bottom is naked. Anyone tied up for more than 4 hours should be given some fluid, especially if they've pissed during that time.

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