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Learning the Ropes
By Scott Daddy

Published: Wednesday March 5, 2008

Patience is a virtue, they say. But when it comes to play, it’s not one of my virtues.

When I play, immobilizing my boy is a means to an end-that is, more control for me and a heightened feeling of submission for him. As long as I achieve that effect, I’m not so concerned with how I make it happen.

In truth, the more time spent in restraining someone, the more distracted I feel from my ultimate goal (whatever that might be at the time) and the lesser the intensity during the scene.

Don’t get me wrong-- I’ve seen photographs of elaborate rope bondage and have been duly impressed by the intricacy and artistry behind it all... but it’s just not for me. From my perspective, that’s too much time and energy focused on an act and not focused on a person (whether that person happens to be me, my boy or someone else).

To keep things simple and a scene moving fast (as I’ve noted before, I probably have a variation of attention deficit disorder when it comes to play), I’ve enjoyed using medical tape, PVC tape and movers wrap (all of which stick to themselves, not to your partner) to bind my boy. (Note: medical tape, PVC tape and Ace bandages can also be used to blindfold your bottom!)

Luckily these items can all be quickly removed with surgical scissors (which are designed with a flat and dull side to insert between a patient and the wrap, to minimize any risk of cutting a patient). If more "give" is desired (for instance, you want to give someone enough room to squirm, but generally be kept in place) I might use leather restraint with buckles or D-ring clips (fast and easy) or industrial Velcro (even faster and easier).

In the former case, the costs are nominal but the items are disposed of when you’re through so costs can add up over time. In the latter case, there are some upfront costs but if you buy decent quality, they’ll last you a lifetime.

For many BDSM players, however, the act of restraining (or, conversely, breaking free from restraint) is integral to the play scene. For these players, the process of restraining is key and core to the connection forged between the Dom and sub and helps to build excitement in the scene. And for these people, there’s probably nothing better than rope bondage.

Although becoming an expert in that play and art form doesn’t happen overnight, it can be achieved with good information, experience, and the right equipment. All three are critical for successful play, at even beginner’s level.

As the well publicized case of a Canadian tourist who recently spent three days in a coma after he slipped out of a high heel shoe while wearing a dog collar chained from the ceiling from an SM club in midtown Manhattan points out: if you’re going to play, you need to know what you’re doing and know how to take the proper safety precautions to ensure that play doesn’t turn to tragedy.

To get started, you’ll want some basic tools like the surgical scissors I mentioned above (they’re available at most pharmacies or medical supply stores). I raise this point first because, as the Canadian tourist incident points out, dangers can arise during even mundane scenes and safety must come first. You should never tie someone up without a pair of good scissors nearby in case of an emergency.

Rope enthusiasts usually go for two kinds, clothesline and nylon. Clothesline rope should be cotton and around 7/32 inch thickness. Nylon rope is available in various thicknesses and lengths, but your best options would be 1/4" to 1/2" thickness. Keeping in mind that thicker rope can be more challenging to handle and thinner rope has a greater risk of cutting off circulation, cutting into or damaging flesh. For this reason you should avoid twine or rope made of rougher materials.

I’d recommend getting length of 100 feet or so, then cut into variable lengths between 5 and 20 feet. Less rope is required for tying feet, wrists, or genitals, and more length will be needed for chests and thighs. To keep the cut ends of cotton rope from fraying, you may want to submerge the ends in glue or rubber cement (allowing for time to dry on wax paper). For cut nylon rope, you can easily melt the ends with the heat of a candle until it’s more solid and secure.

There are pros and cons for both types of rope. Cotton clothesline is flexible and ties very easily, but sometimes untying a knot can be more of a challenge. It also dirties more quickly. Nylon seems to stay cleaner, but nylon knots may loosen too easily.

All of these things are worth considering, especially if you are restraining or securing your bottom to himself. But, of course, there are far more options.

There’s a saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me." If this applies to you, you might want to consider quarter inch coil chain, bolt snaps (double-ended snaps for securing them) and a pair of chain cutters. The latter item will allow you to buy as much chain as you like and cut to order (like with the rope), but also have a safety measure in place if you need to remove your sub immediately and the bolt snaps are inconveniently located or stuck.

Chain can serve multiple purposes. If you use it as bondage material, you’ll probably want leather restraints to attach to the chain. It’s not as comfortable as rope (especially in cooler weather or to hairy bondage bottoms whose hair might get caught) but it does pose less danger.

More often chain serves as a great point of attachment. My boy built me an incredible frame of industrial metal pipe, with a chain in the interior shaped like a spider’s web. The chain of the "web" strands alternate on eye hooks and turnbuckles, so the chain can be either very rigid like a wall or spongy and spring-like for some bounce. And the entire frame is suspended on a winch system, so it can easily tilt forward over 45 degrees (to give the bondage bottom the feeling of being suspended in a state of falling).

For set up that’s a little more simple (and what isn’t?!), and for more convenient for those who can’t afford the space needed for a permanent set up such as this, you can run a length of chain around the edge of your bed and use each link as a point of attachment. There are "play sheets" available commercially that work similarly, but with Velcro. Other household items that you can take advantage of for points of attachment include foot stools, straight back chair, desk or table, and staircase railings.

The kind of setting you choose may be determined by other activity you have in mind. For instance, chairs and staircase railings work well for bondage for the pure sensation of bondage, but are also very convenient for providing access to your partner for a tickling session or maybe a little nipple play or CBT with the violet wand. A bed is more conducive to spanking or whipping or good old fashioned fornication.

In either case, however, it’s important to know that you don’t need to invest a great deal of money or physical space to have the ability to play with bondage, and you don’t need to permanently or obviously alter your furniture or walls to accommodate those needs.

I’d be remiss if didn’t include some basic safety precautions that should always be observed during bondage play:

• Although the bottom might want the sensation of "tight" immobilization, the rope or restraints should never be so tight that it constricts blood flow or interferes with circulation. Communication and observation are critical. Make sure your bottom understands what danger signs to look for (dizziness or numbness, for instance), and be sure they are in a position to report to you if they are experiencing these things. Look for discoloration and touch body parts to ensure that circulation is fine (if circulation is affected, extremities like feet and hands will be cooler to the touch).

If you aren’t already experience in bondage play, hopefully you now have some ideas to get started.

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