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Bondage Basics Pt. 01

First off, I wanted to say that I'm sorry to the kind readers who've been visiting me for the extended period of silence. Over the past few months I've tried getting back to it a few times, and had a few resulting false starts. It's difficult for me to pick up a thread like that, though, when I haven't been at it for a while, especially when I have a lot on my mental plate. My life is an unruly, chaotic, unpredictable thing that's been particularly twisty and turny of late. But, in a glass-half-full sort of way, hopefully quiet time will give me some fresh perspective change with which to attack this little topic of ours, again.

Second, I'd like to thank everyone who's written for their mails and comments. It's been incredibly encouraging and gratifying to know that the things I say might be of some use to people like all of you. That really is why I do this, so please, don't be shy if anyone has questions, comments, or requests. At any rate, I aim on getting back to posting regularly, and I do thank everyone for their patience.

So, with no further delay, on with the deviance!

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During this unintentional quiet period from my blog I was soliciting ideas from my lovely editor, Miss Charlotte, for simple sorts of topics that I could crank out relatively quickly, ideally once a day. And one of her suggestions was talking about bondage.

The funny thing is that at first I was a bit surprised by the suggestion. It struck me as an almost too simple of a subject to speak upon individually. But as I set out compiling mental notes associated with it; safety considerations, tips, ideas, things like that, I realized I hadn't really reviewed my thoughts on it for quite some time, and that there was a lot more material there than I had considered. So, what I first thought might be too simple for an individual post turned out to be more like fodder for several lengthy ones.

So, let's begin as simply as my usually overly pedantic mind will allow. Bondage is simply the mechanical restriction of another person. By that, I mean one person has some capacity and inclination that another person restricts.

Note that in this instance, I don't use the terms 'dominant' and 'submissive' but 'persons'. As I've said elsewhere, while there's considerable overlap among many people's interest, it's not as ubiquitous as some might think. Many people who are into bondage and S&M don't necessarily go in for all the other aspects of D/s and power exchange, and it's generally not safe to assume otherwise without asking.

So, let's divide this idea of restricting a person's capacity, of curtailing their freedom, into two categories. The first, we'll call 'physical bondage', and it's exactly what most people think of when they hear the term. That is, they're physical devices that restrict a person. Handcuffs restrict a person's capacity to use their hands and arms, a gag restricts their capacity to speak, a blindfold restricts their capacity to see, and some of the more elaborate and devious bondage furniture restricts their capacity to do very much at all.

The second category is one of those phrases that is somewhat misleading, and so of course the common use of it has been misled. When most people hear the term 'consensual bondage', they assume it means physical bondage, above, but in an instance where the subject is simply willingly bound. While that is a common sense interpretation, it's not what the term was originally coined to mean. After all, by that definition, almost all healthy bondage would simply be consensual bondage, and therefore it wouldn't be much of a distinction, would it?

Rather, consensual is willful restriction as a matter of self discipline on the part of the subject. You might think of it as a negative form of obedience training. Instead of 'do this', it's 'don't do this'. This form, unlike physical bondage, is squarely within the domain of D/s and is actually probably the most commonly used tool in a dominant's bag. When you see a dominant say 'don't speak', 'don't raise your eyes', 'put your hands there and don't move them', or even simply, 'don't move', that is what is meant by consensual bondage.

Looked at another way, physical bondage has the effect of imposing a dominant's will on a submissive, or robbing the submissive of theirs. Conversely, consensual bondage demands the constant giving over of that power, willingly.

All these effects are considerations that go into the utilization of various modes of bondage; what they want to restrict on the part of the subject and whether that participation should be of a passive or more active nature. But, the fact is that the direct, obvious effects of these restrictions are all only part of the picture, and some would say only a small part, at that.

Until one experiments directly with bondage, it's difficult to truly imagine the potential magnitude of the emotional effects of bondage.

Consider the example of a simple touch. It can be as innocent or erotic as you care to imagine. Now imagine the same exact touch when a person is handcuffed. And then imagine that very same touch when you place a person's hands flat, palms down on a table, and say if they move them, you'll spank them with a strap. Bondage in the context of play is like the effect of nitrous-oxide injectors in a car. It makes all the same operations much more powerful, and of course much riskier.

Which brings us to that old adage, 'safety first'. Actually, we're doing safety second, but, y'know.

Disclaimer; Keep in mind, I'm explaining ways you can do this MORE safely, and pointing out things that definitely AREN'T safe, not definitively saying these things ARE risk free or advising you to try them. In my opinion and experience, bondage between consenting adults can be perfectly safe, but that opinion isn't that of a medical professional. So, consult a doctor and all that; I'm not liable.

So, I think the easiest way to do this is in a practical checklist of concerns that someone can mentally run through when considering playing with bondage. Think of it as a dominant's pre-flight checks.

1. Circulation: This most often applies in physical bondage, but can also be a big concern in consensual varieties in instances where various postures and positions are maintained bodily for a period of time. In general, you want to ensure that blood is always flowing to and back from all extremities of the body freely.

When any sort of cuffs, ropes, or constrictive device are used, it's a good idea to use check coloration of effected extremities before they're applied. Try those little pressure tests on finger or toe tips, to see how the coloration responds. This provides a means of comparison so that later, you can check those extremities frequently as you go so you can keep track of how that coloration reaction might change. Needless to say obvious discoloration, such as parts turning blue or purple, are to be avoided unless you're an expert or retarded.

Keep in mind that the exertions or excitement experienced in a session will affect blood pressure and skin coloration, respiration, muscle engorgement, pupil dilation, etc. So, that can make it both more important to check that circulation is continuing properly, but also more challenging to tell with only a cursory glance. Whenever in question, loosen or remove these restraints.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the more broad and padded the contact area of a restraint such as a cuff is, the safer. Rolled up towels or sashes from terrycloth bathrobes actually make great improvised restraints, for that reason. The harder and more narrow it is, like police cuffs and zip ties, the more caution required. When using these, it's very important to minimize pressure to heavy blood flow areas. For example, if you're going to zip tie someone's hands together, do it so that the veiny insides of the wrists are against each other, rather than having the tie against them. Zip tying someone's wrist palm down to a chair's arm, so the tie runs along the outside of the wrist, is another example of a relatively safe configuration. If in doubt, some padding like a towel, napkin, even paper towel can disperse the pressure to dull the danger to circulation.

Many of the same concerns here apply to abrasion, below, as well.

Also, be careful of keeping a subject standing with knees locked or completely bent for long periods, and ask about feelings of numbness, pins and needles, light headedness, or any unusual sensations. Having a submissive pass out unexpectedly in a session is really not as fun as it might sound.

2. Breathing: This is often included in with circulation, but for the sake of safety and thoroughness, I include this check individually. Needless to say, you always want your partner to be able to breathe. Constriction around the throat such as collars or the torso such as rubber clothing or corsets can all make breathing difficult. So can anything inserted into the mouth, such as gags or.. anatomy. The thing to keep in mind, as we said is that often excitement and effort can radically increase the need for oxygen, so what might be sufficient at the beginning of play may be insufficient when things get heavy. So make sure the subject can breathe and take a break if any sort of dizziness, light headedness, or disorientation occurs. Also not that asphyxiation play is a separate issue that we'll deal with (carefully) elsewhere.

And I don't need to warn anyone to never, ever apply bondage via the neck or throat, do I? Good, I didn't think so.

3. Abrasion: Often bondage is applied in anticipation of actions the subject will be strongly inclined to do. Either due to willful resistance, reflex or instinctual movement, or the exertions of play, significant pressure can often be applied to the skin area effected by a restraint. Over the duration of a play session, this has potential to cause significant damage.

The precautions here are similar to some under circulation. Broader and softer or padded bonds are to be preferred over harder and narrower ones, especially in situations where one can anticipate a good deal of struggle on the bound person's part. This can be trickier than circulation, though, as often the bonds themselves obscure the affected area from easy view. Also, many more advanced practitioners prefer restraints that do cause a degree of discomfort when struggled against, such as metallic police cuffs, rope that can abrade skin, or zip ties.

This is the most common source of mishap in bondage play, but also, usually, the least seriously threatening. As long as you keep cutting risks away from major blood vessels, you'll be usually looking at bruising or friction burns if care isn't taken. But, more serious damage has occurred, and I've seen wrists virtually skinned by less sensible would be doms.

Also, keep in mind, your primary goal in this is to make sure the results of a play session are pleasant. Things that make it unpleasant will hamper the trust and intimacy building process that is our primary goal. So, you might think a bit of damage like this is nothing, but anything that makes the submissive less inclined to trust your judgment next time is detrimental. Especially if they have to explain questionable marks around their wrists to coworkers at the water cooler the next day. Even as a sadistic dominant, you want to be precise and selective about the damage you cause, never careless.

4. Stability: Don't bind people in such a way that they're unable to prevent likely injury to themselves or exposed to serious danger or risk. This one is a bit of a catch all, and you might think is common sense. But, you'd be surprised how often we can simply fail to really think a plan through in the heat of the moment. All plans seem like a good idea before you start them, don't they?

This one is basically about ensuring that any risks that the bondage's hampering will cause are covered by you. If you are doing suspension play, make sure the fixtures in the ceiling are secure. Don't laugh, I've seen some really unfortunately timed structural failures along these lines. If you are putting a blindfold on someone, make sure you're there to lead them or assist them if they have to move around. If you are locking a pair of those suicidal high heels onto a girl like ballet boots and expecting her to perform any sort of action, make sure she has assistance balancing, and don't combine it with something like handcuffs that will further impair her balance, unless she's experienced. Broken ankles really aren't good for a play session. If you are handcuffing a girl and putting her down on the table, make sure it's balanced so she doesn't tip off.

Okay, that last one I've done. At the time, it wasn't nearly as funny as it sounds. I've even heard a story about some new heavy bondage furniture falling through a floor into an apartment below. With someone tied to it. The point is, remember that responsibility is always exchanged for power in a direct ratio. Every bit of power to keep someone safe that they surrender to you, you had better treat seriously, or they won't give it again.

This one gets screwed up most often, as it's sometimes hard to anticipate all the potential things that can go wrong. But while these are excusable and as we've said, most often fodder for a good chuckle down the road, not all are so lightly dismissed or forgivable. The number of plain old stupid things that people do involving bondage is shocking. I've heard of play around railroad tracks and shocking hazards, bondage around unprepared or unpredictable animals, bondage in hot-boxes like WWII POWs, bondage around deep water.. I could go on.

Look, bondage is fun and exciting. If it feels like you have to escalate it into some crazy, imminently physically dangerous game where your intervention will be constantly needed to prevent disaster, you need to seek thrills elsewhere. If it seems like a stupid idea, it is, no 'probably' about it.

5. Structural: The process of physical bondage, where devices such as handcuffs are applied to restrict the subject's bodily motion, assumes the application of muscular force against that restraint. This in turn causes stress and strain on the body. In addition to the concerns mentioned under abraision, other injuries ranging from muscle pulls to dislocated joints can result. There are a few precautions to consider in preventing these.

First, be aware of the potential strain when applying bondage to reduce the likelihood. The safest configuration is when someone is immobilized, or bound to some rigid structure such as a cross or a chair. Here, the only likely result is muscular strain, and the required force to cause joint damage will be fairly violent. I hope it should go without saying that if someone is trying to escape bonds that frantically, remove those bonds at once.

Next come semi immobilized positions. This includes some suspension play, such as when one is bound by their wrists from overhead, or to a bed spread-eagle. In these instances, it's actually safest to have those limbs bound nearly but not quite fully extended. Placing too much strain, first, will likely cause abrasions as discussed above. Second, it will cause more stress on tendons and ligaments than a slight flex will, as well as lessen the danger of hyperextension of joints. Elbow cuffs and spreader bars and similar restraints which cause a certain degree of skeletal locking are also safest when applied with this degree of structural rigidity.

Additionally, in instances like suspension play, where weight is suspended on the limbs, if that limb is bent and loses strength, as occurs when passing out, muscular failure, or instances of surprise, the drop will cause a large strain, and injuries as severe as torn rotary cuffs can result. I have heard some people say that this is a reason to never bind someone with their hands over their head, and instead suggest wrists be bound together before them at eye level, or out to the sides of the head, individually. While I'm sure whoever came up with that is well intentioned, the ergonomic logic doesn't hold up, pun intended. It doesn't account for what will occur if, for example, their knees give way. The drop will actually be quite a long one, dropping the weight of the torso several feet until the slack is taken up at those wrists bound at eye level. Compare that to the force of a few inches of drop if the arms are already straight. I've heard of incidents of shoulders being dislocated after this fashion by people who thought they were doing things safely. Again, let me stress, if weight is to be suspended on limbs, those limbs should be kept extended mostly straight.

Something of the opposite is true for non-rigid bonds such as handcuffs. In instances like this, especially if the subject will be laid horizontally where the weight of the body might be applied against the bound limbs, you want to make sure these bonds have a good amount of flex, and the affected joints such as elbows and shoulders are never pushed to near to the periphery of their natural range of motion. If for example, hands are cuffed behind the back, never try to lift the arms out behind the person or too far to either side.

Structural stress on the body and the ergonomics of bondage are pretty complicated and honestly, this explanation is simplistic at best. A proper explanation is probably beyond my medical knowledge and technical writing ability. As I said, this is more to highlight what practices are safer than others, not to guarantee the safety of any of them. Until you have experience with bondage, the safest way to use it is simply to take it slow and easy. And if too much strain seems to be applied or it approaches discomfort, it's time to pause the session and let your partner out.

6. Emotional: I know some people will read this and not take this one seriously. Those are precisely the people that you don't want to play with. This is the most pernicious of these risks, and one you really need to watch constantly.

The emotional risk is particularly and maybe surprisingly most acute in consensual bondage. Many submissives and masochists actually find physical bondage relaxing. I know, I certainly don't share that reaction. But consider, for someone who lives to feel they're serving well and pleasing, how much pressure to perform the lack of freedom takes off of you. How much can you really screw up when you're bound to a cross? Add to that the positive powerful associations and reinforcements of past endorphin filled sessions, and many ladies positively purr when being bound.

Consensual bondage does the opposite. All of a sudden, they are trying to perform something to please their dominant, often in a way that every bodily instinct is screaming to contradict. Recall my constant harping on the use of power exchange to build intimacy. Now recall my frequent warning; never give submissives more than they can handle. It might shock many to know how emotionally crushing this can be to a submissive in play; failing to do what a dominant asks of them. If I want to draw tears from a submissive, the most vicious means is merely to give a disappointed look. So, learning to challenge them without pushing them into danger zones is one of the many reasons I am telling people to go slow and accumulate experience before pushing too far.

Also, we said, the actual mechanical restraint is only part of the use of bondage. The bigger purpose is the emotional impact that it has on the participants. After all, if it didn't have some sort of powerful emotional charge attracting us to all this insanity, would we be sitting here discussing the practical points of tying people up?

That emotional charge is primarily one of vulnerability. When you are vulnerable in the care of another person who is responsible with that power over you, and the experience is positive, it leads to trust and intimacy. But if that person screws up and the experience is a negative one, trust is damage and we move further from intimacy instead of deeper into it. This is why this part of the check list is so vital. And in fact, care with all of the other items on this list are important, but most often help primarily because they contribute directly to this one.

Updated: December 18, 2016 — 3:59 am
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