In the context of BDSM, bondage involves people being tied up or otherwise restrained for pleasure. Bondage is usually, but not always, a Human sexual behavior. The paraphilia of being sexually aroused by bondage is sometimes known as vincilagnia.
It is worth noting that bondage has sexual appeal to persons of both sexes and all sexual orientations. However, a subculture of gay men, sometimes called leathermen, were arguably among the first group to make obvious hints of their tastes in bondage in public.
The growth of the gay leather subculture parallels the biker culture that arose after World War II—a number of early leathermen were WWII veterans, and the military traditions of discipline and structure were an important influence in Old Guard leather. While the bikers were not identified as homosexual, the leathermen admired their toughness, tenacity, and willingness to ignore mainstream social mores. Consequently, they adopted the biker style of dress, particularly the use of black leather. While this served a utilitarian purpose for the bikers, in providing warmth and protection from "road rash," it was primarily of fashion and fetishistic value to the leathermen, who for the most part did not ride motorcycles extensively (although there have been and are numerous gay leather motorcycle clubs).
Beginning in the late 1960s, heterosexual groups began to come together to explore bondage and power exchange. With time, these groups have grown and have raised their profile somewhat, to the point where most U.S. cities of any size have one or more such groups. A major goal of most of these groups is to provide semi-public opportunities for BDSM, in an effort to provide a safe environment for relative strangers to engage in such activities. As such, these groups attach high importance to objective safety rules, such as the use of safewords.
Couples and bondage
The fact that mainstream ‘high street’ adult shops find it worthwhile to also stock some bondage equipment suggests that some otherwise ‘vanilla’ couples incorporate elements of bondage into their sex lives at some point in their relationships. Leaving aside those couples who are themselves part of the BDSM ‘community’, the use of bondage within couples tends to be very different from and separate from that normally associated with BDSM. Couples’ private bondage games largely take place behind closed doors, and constitute foreplay, usually as a prelude to the couple having sex. There may or may not be some elements of dominance and submission involved as part of role play, but sadism and/or masochism rarely play any part unless the couple already have such leanings. This contrasts with activity in the BDSM subculture, where the emphasis is often more on bondage for its own sake, frequently ending in masturbation only, or indeed involving no sexual contact at all. These differences can lead to misunderstanding if couples who have tried private bondage games encounter the BDSM subculture. Trusting couples can't understand the need for safe-words, while the members of the subculture can't understand why couples mainly see bondage as a part of sexual intercourse.
Bondage within couples usually involves one partner being voluntarily tied-up or put into restraints (i.e. bound / cuffed / spread-eagled etc.) by the other, who then either sexually pleasures the tied partner (using manual masturbation, oral sex, vibrating sex toys etc.); or has sex with them while they are restrained, or of course both. The erotic appeal is often in the form of feedback from the writhing / struggles / vocalizations etc. of the tied partner. The tied partner may derive pleasure from being in a largely ‘helpless’ predicament in the hands of a trusted partner, and the other may enjoy the mild domination involved in having their partner in that predicament. Either way, many established couples find playing bondage games relationship-affirming, as they both require and imply a level of trust between the partners that is not normally found within more casual relationships, as well as being a shared ‘private’ facet of their sex life that most couples prefer to keep just between the two of them.
This form of bondage has its own niche on some internet websites, where images and movies usually depict voluntarily-tied models undergoing inescapable intense sexual pleasuring, rather than any menace, force or pain. Safety rules followed by couples are frequently context - and trust - based. As the tied partner will more often than not be held in a submissive sex position, sex therefore takes place with their pre-agreed consent. For example a still photograph taken out-of-context at that moment would suggest a very different story to that of a consensual sex game / mutual rape fantasy enactment etc.
Studies1 of men's sexual fantasies have shown that the fantasy of being bound during intercourse is second in frequency only to the basic fantasy of sex with a voluptuous nude woman. Bondage themes have been present in pornography for some time.
Bondage pornography for heterosexual men almost overwhelmingly depicts bound women, rather than bound men, despite the most common fantasy in both sexes being one of being bound.
There are also a few male bondage models in heterosexual erotica, but most male bondage models appear in homosexual erotica. A small yet profitable niche of male-in-bondage erotica includes men cross-dressed and in bondage that caters toward heterosexual men.
Early examples of bondage erotica include:
- Pauline Réage's Story of O
- The artwork of Robert Bishop
- F. E. Campbell's books
- A. N. Roquelaure's (a pen name of Anne Rice) Sleeping Beauty novels
- The bondage magazines of the 1970s onwards
- Steady growth in quantity and production values of niche producers
- Increasing prevalence and acceptance of bondage in more mainstream publications (e.g. Penthouse)
- The rise of the Internet as a distribution medium
Bondage can be divided into six main categories:
- Bondage that pulls parts of the body together (rope, straps, harnesses).
- Bondage that spreads parts of the body apart (spreader bars, x-frames).
- Bondage that ties the body down to another object (such as chairs or stocks).
- Bondage that suspends the body from another object (suspension bondage).
- Bondage that restricts normal movement (hobble skirts, handcuffs, pony harness).
- Bondage that wraps the whole body or a part of it in bindings such as cloth or plastic (saran wrap or cling film "mummification") as well as sleepsack bondage.
Some of the large variety of restraints used in bondage:
- Rope, often preferred because of its flexibility. Rigging, however, requires considerable skill and practice to do safely.
- Chains, including police handcuffs, thumbcuffs and belly chains.
- Institutional restraints, including straitjackets.
- Purpose-made bondage gear, such as monogloves, sleepsacks, bondage hooks and bondage tables.
Some simple bondage techniques:
- Verbal bondage, in which (as the name suggests) the top simply tells the bottom to do something.
- Simply tying the hands together in front or behind.
- Anchoring the hands to the front, back or sides of a belt at the waist.
- A spread eagle, with the limbs splayed out and fastened by wrists and ankles to bedposts, door frame or some other anchoring point.
- A hogtie securing each wrist to its corresponding ankle behind the back (wider, padded restraints such as bondage cuffs are recommended for this).
- The crotch rope involves pulling a rope between the labia to apply pressure to the female genitals. Sometimes a knot is placed in the rope at the position of the clitoris to intensify the sensation.
Some more complex techniques:
- The reverse prayer position (not recommended unless the subject has flexible shoulders).
- An over-arm tie, in which the arms are brought over the head, and the wrists fastened together behind the head and then by a length of rope, chain or strapping to a belt at the waist.
There are also some common fantasy settings in which bondage is often played:
- Rape, ravishment and/or abduction: The top fictitiously seizes or abducts the consenting bottom and has complete control to do what he/she pleases.
- Dominance/slavery: A training session occurs in which rewards for obedience and punishment for defiance are given. Humiliation is usually involved.
- Predicament bondage: The bottom is given a choice between two tortures. For example, caning on the rear or flogging on the chest. If the bottom cannot stand one any longer, the top will start the other. This can also be done mechanically, like having a bottom squat and rigging a crotch rope to tighten if they attempt to stand.
Technique in self-bondage is more complex, involving special methods to apply the bondage to oneself, and also to effect a release after a lapsed period of time. Self-bondage is also notably risky: see the safety notes below.
Many people regard bondage as safe when conducted between sober, trusted partners who are fully aware of the risks involved and the precautions necessary to ensure safety. Partners who are in committed relationships may have a greater basis for trusting each other. Performing acts in a supervised location, such as a dungeon, closet, forest, or with a group of trusted friends may also increase safety.
There is also a subculture of people who seek out others interested in bondage and pursue such activities with people who they do not know well. This subculture has given rise to the safe, sane and consensual credo.
Safety precautions include:
- The use of a "safeword," or some clear way for the subject to indicate genuine distress and a wish to abort.
- Never leaving a bound person alone.
- Avoiding positions or restraints which may induce postural asphyxia.
- Making sure that the subject changes positions at least once an hour (to avoid circulation problems).
- Making sure that the subject can be released quickly in an emergency.
- Avoiding restraints which impair breathing. (Gags or hoods which block the mouth can become asphyxial hazards if the subject vomits or the nose becomes otherwise blocked.)
- Remaining sober; alcohol and drugs should be avoided.
One very simple safety measure is to ask the subject every so often if he or she is all right. Another is to check body parts like hands and feet for numbness or coldness, which can happen if nerves have been pinched or blood circulation has been blocked. Another is to check for skin discoloration. Skin that does not get enough oxygen turns bluish. If blood can get in, but can't get out because one of the veins has been blocked, that part of the body turns purple.
If the subject has been gagged or can otherwise not verbally communicate, a different form of the safeword is needed. For instance, they may hum a simple tune, or opening and closing one or both hands repeatedly, or releasing an object held in one hand(such as a rubber ball, or a scarf).
Some simple preparations may also be helpful:
- Food. It is surprisingly common for people (especially those on diets) to faint during a long session. Having a regular meal beforehand is recommended; being fed small snacks during play may also help avoid fainting.
- Cutting tools. A pair of EMT scissors is recommended (useful for safely cutting rope and tape off skin).
- Keyed-alike padlocks, if chains are being used.
It should be noted that scenes depicted in bondage photographs and videos are chosen for their visual appeal and fantasy value. In most cases they cannot be "acted out" with good results.
Self-bondage carries a higher risk, particularly because it violates the first principle of bondage safety: to never leave a bound person alone. Without someone to release them in the event of an emergency or medical crisis, self-bondage can be lethal to its practitioners. It has been estimated in the medical literature there are around 500-1000 deaths every year in the United States due to autoerotic asphyxia (self-strangulation) alone.
The reason for bondage
People who find it erotic to be tied up find it so for a variety of reasons:
- The most frequently cited reason is a mental freedom from inhibitions and responsibility since they have, in a way, given up control of the sexual situation to follow. This is sometimes referred to as a "power exchange."
- Some like the tactile feeling of restraint, that is, the feeling of pressure or pulling.
- Some enjoy the feeling of helplessness for its own sake. Some like to struggle aggressively against their bonds, particularly when being sexually or otherwise stimulated. There are some in this category who play bondage games that do not include a significant sexual component.
- Wishing to please their partner, and the stimulation engendered by their partner's pleasure in it
- To intensify the experience of orgasm control or of orgasm denial.
- Some derive pleasure from symbolic degradation (less common). This can include those who enjoy role playing prison or mental hospital situations.
- Fetishistic interest in the mechanics of bondage, with particular interest in the equipment and restraints used. Some of these people are interested in the look, feel, and aroma of leather and rubber restraints. Others are fascinated by the relationship between the geometry of the tie, the degrees of freedom remaining and the feelings elicited.
- As an adjunct to other BDSM activities
- Like hang gliding or mountaineering, some feel that bondage allows them to do something potentially dangerous in a safe way.
- Extreme forms of bondage such as mummification some people enjoy because it is like being placed in a sensory deprivation tank and may allow the person being placed in extreme bondage to experience an out-of-body experience.
- In the wide range of human sexual experience, there are certainly more reasons as well.
People who enjoy tying other people up are motivated by a variety of reasons, including:
- Taking pleasure in the erotic submission of their partner
- The feeling of trust which comes from another person placing their physical freedom in their hands
- Wishing to please their partner, and the stimulation engendered by their partner's pleasure in it
- Fetishistic interest in the elegance of bondage, with particular interest in the geometric patterns and symmetry (or artistic asymmetry) of the restraint
- Using bondage as an adjunct to other BDSM activities
- Enjoyment of the power and control one has over a restrained partner.
One "bondage philosopher" was Michel Foucault. He wrote a number of explorations of BDSM culture. He was particularly interested in the power relations that bondage brought to the surface, and how these relations reflected upon a larger societal discourse. Of further interest was the notion of a "Limit Experience," wherein the participant attempted to navigate the line between the most intense pleasure and nearly unbearable pain.
Bondage and relationships
Template:Unreferencedsection The mechanics of bondage are trivial compared to the relationship issues.
- Start with a committed relationship with a lot of trust and plenty of sexual activity together.
- Talk things through first.
- Start slow and easy.
- Take turns being the one being tied up.
- Take the simple safety precautions listed above.
- Never use bondage as an opportunity to subject the tied partner to a form of sex that they do not normally consent to.
Some members of the BDSM subculture take another route and seek out partners who share their interest in bondage. Many act out their bondage fantasies within the confines of private "play" parties where overt genital contact is not allowed between participants.
Some bondage practitioners go through a process often called "negotiation" with potential partners, be they long time partners or more casual relationships. Negotiation is essentially a conversation conducted well before any sexual activity has begun in which each party frankly outlines what they are interested in and what their boundaries are, and out of that shared information comes to a mutual agreement about potential bondage play in upcoming sexual activity. Although some people may find this embarrassing at first, this frank and forthright exchange allows both parties to feel confident about bondage activity and to understand their partner's needs. Due to the vast range of activities and intensities that are possible in bondage play and fetish sex, negotiation is an excellent technique to make sure both parties have realistic expectations and that the anticipated acts will be enjoyable to all involved.
Depictions of bondage in popular culture
Bondage received a positive (if brief) treatment in The Joy of Sex, a mainstream sex manual popular in the 1970s. The publication of Madonna's book, Sex, which included photographs of bound nudes, did a great deal to improve public awareness and acceptance of bondage.
By the 1990s, references to bondage could be found in mainstream prime-time television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where equipment such as handcuffs or collars and concepts such as the safeword were included as a matter of course.
- Bondage magazine
- Bondage cover
- Bondage artist
- Bondage model
- Fetish photography
- Fusion bondage
- Sexual fetishism
- Friday, Nancy (1998). Men In Love. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 0-385-33342-0. (Broad informal survey of men's sexual fantasies.)
- Wiseman, Jay (2000). Erotic Bondage Handbook. Oakland: Greenery Press. ISBN 1-890159-13-1.
- Midori (2001). The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage. Oakland: Greenery Press. ISBN 1-890159-38-7.
- Master "K", 2004. Shibari, the Art of Japanese Bondage. Brussels: Glitter. ISBN 90-807706-2-0.
- Two Knotty Boys, Larry Utley, Two Knotty Boys Showing You the Ropes, Green Candy Press, 2006. ISBN 1-931160-49-X.
- Toushin, Steven 2006. "The Destruction of the Moral Fabric of America," Wells Street Publishing. ISBN 978-1-884760-0404.
- Ernulf KE, Innala SM. "Sexual bondage: a review and unobtrusive investigation." Arch Sex Behav. 1995 Dec;24(6):631-54. PMID 8572912
- Toushin, Steven 2004. "The Puppy Papers," Wells Street Publishing, ISBN 1-884760-03-1
- Toushin, Steven 2007. "Puppy's Tales." Wells Street Publishing" ISBN 978-1884760-06-8
There are thousands of web sites with bondage-related content. Most are commercial (charging a recurring membership fee, except for small amounts of sample content). The quality and information content of these commercial sites are, with only a few exceptions, quite low. The few information-oriented bondage web sites that exist tend to be ephemeral.
Some practical information on sexual bondage can be found at:
- soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm FAQ and its mirror at Sexuality.org
- The Eulenspiegel Society (TES)
- Wipipedia - A bondage Wiki
- SM-201.org - Online resource on BDSM