Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
So now you know a little bit about what the D and S are for in BDSM: that in one sense, they stand for dominance and submission. If you’ll remember, though, both those letters take part in two acronyms. Today, we’ll get into the first part of B&D – bondage.
There are two major types of bondage: physical bondage and mental bondage. Physical bondage is the kind that people most commonly think of. It involves some sort of physical restraint – rope, cuffs, chain, tape, scarves, neckties, etc. Mental bondage involves mental restraint. In my first column, I mentioned that a command to keep eyes closed could be as effective as a blindfold. Mental bondage works the same way. Picture this: a Dominant wants their submissive’s hands behind their back. The Dominant could tie them there of cuff them there. Or, they could tell their sub to put each hand on the opposite elbow, and not to move or else.
A submissive will rarely willingly disobey when threatened with punishment, rendering this command as effective as a rope or cuff would be. However, there are some positions that a body cannot get itself into. For these positions, and if the binder desires for the bound to struggle, physical restraint is the way to go. The spread eagle, tying hands together at the wrist and threading them into a headboard, and then restraining the ankles at opposite ends of a footboard, is a simple favorite where the struggle is particularly enticing.
Above, I listed a number of popular restraint tools. There are endless possibilities – someone clever can find a way to restrain a body with almost anything (I, myself, was once frogtied with a telephone cord; I’ve also been restrained by the precarious placement of a book) but one of the most popular, versatile, and sexy tools is rope.
There are a number of different kinds of rope. As far as bondage is concerned, they first divide into two categories: twisted and braided. Twisted rope bites more into the skin, doesn’t slide easily, and leaves diagonal bondage marks on the skin. Braided rope is softer on the skin, doesn’t leave behind diagonal marks, and is easier to slide, knot and handle.
These two types of rope can come in a huge variety of materials. Choosing a material for rope depends on comfort, purpose and aesthetic. Cotton rope is soft on the skin and will get softer after washing, ideal for restraining and leaves minimal marking on the skin. Hemp is rough and can leave rope burns on the skin but will leave deep diagonal marks that are intensely pretty and will chafe if the bound moves at all. Nylon has the feeling of cotton but is stronger and is therefore the appropriate choice for suspension bondage. Jute is similar to hemp, but is slightly softer. If you’re new to ropes, nylon is a good choice. It is soft, easy to handle, leaves markings but not overly visible ones and can be easily cut in an emergency.
So what do you do, once you’ve acquired some rope? There are a few positions that are fun to try – I mentioned the frogtie before. In this position, the bound’s ankles are tied to their thighs. This leaves the bound with little-to-no ability to obscure their “secret garden,” as Ellen Degeneres would say. (Look up her reading of 50 Shades of Grey, if you don’t get this reference. You won’t regret it.)
The lotus tie is very popular. In this tie, the lower legs are placed together pointing in opposite directions so that each foot is near the knee of the other leg. The legs are held in a triangle with the knees wide apart, permitting easy access. Frequently, the elbows are also tied together behind the back in this position, forcing the body into an arch and forcing the chest out. This is a great position in which to administer punishment, as there is no way to cover the body from the blow of a whip or a paddle or a flogger. There are hundreds of other positions, from elaborate shibhari to simply tying the hands to a headboard. Look it up, if you’re interested – there’s a world of beautiful pictures to be found.
So why restrain? What is the appeal? Well, for someone who loves to be restrained, it’s all about the anticipation, the helplessness, the loss of control, the complete freedom from self-consciousness. If you are bound, it is the farthest thing from you mind whether your position is beautiful, whether your partner can see your stomach the way you are standing. Your partner has tied you that way. Your partner can see you – all the pieces of you that you have strategically learned to hide – and, if your partner is deserving of your trust, they will find you beautiful. Also, not being able to move while someone’s hands are on you makes it so much more exciting to be touched. And punished. And fucked.
We return to the power dynamic discussed last week. Taking away someone’s ability to move creates an incredible amount of vulnerability, vulnerability which plays nicely into the power dynamic of dominance and submission. There’s also something sexy about easy access, and certainly about the helplessness that reduced movement creates. Additionally, restraint is perhaps the most powerful method of sensory deprivation. When restrained, every touch is intensified, be it gentle or forceful. And speaking of forceful, restraint has a hugely important role in the discipline part of B&D. But that’s for next week – tune in, or else.