Rope play (or rope bondage — part of the B in BDSM) is a popular form of erotic play. But what’s especially great about it is that it doesn’t have to be erotic or sexual at all. People practice rope play for a variety of reasons: for sexual gratification, for the power-exchange, because the repetition is calming, to build intimacy, and more.
To help O.school breakdown rope play and how you can safely get acquainted with these tethered tricks, we roped in bondage experts Mistress Venus, host of the What The Kink podcast, Reverend Rucifer, founder of ReikiBondage.com, and pro-domme Mistress Adreena.
What’s rope play?
Rope play or rope bondage is bondage involving the use of rope to restrict movement, wrap, suspend, or restrain a person often as a part of BDSM activities.
The most popular form of rope bondage, and where it originated from, is the Japanese erotic practice of Shibari, previously known as Kinbaku. According to Mistress Adreena, “Shibari differs from other, more Western forms of rope bondage mostly in that the ties are more intricate and decorative.”
Why do people enjoy rope play?
Turns out, there are a lot of ways to engage in and enjoy rope bondage!
“Some people enjoy the art and beauty of the rope and its placement on the body, others enjoy the intimate connection between partners, while some are more into sadistic/masochistic elements and use it as an outlet to give or receive pain or express a power exchange as part of a BDSM practice,” says Reverend Rucifer.
For many, rope bondage can be enjoyed casually as just a fun activity. But for others, it creates intense intimacy and connection with another person. Introducing rope bondage with a long-term partner may help you build a closer, deeper sexual and/or romantic bond.
According to Mistress Venus, “Rope bottoms (also called ‘rope bunnies’) may experience ‘rope space’ — an almost trance-like state brought on by the feeling of being tied and restrained, which can be deeply cathartic and relaxing for people.” Alternatively, rope tops (also referred to as ‘riggers’ can experience “heightened feelings of focused attention, power and control.” says Rucifer.
To reiterate, BDSM doesn’t inherently equal sex or sexual pleasure. “In the BDSM scene, rope play, while intimate, is quite often platonic,” says Mistress Venus. Tying can also be a solitary practice for many.
What are the safety considerations?
All forms of rope play involve risk. It’s so important to follow safety guidelines, know what you are doing, and have continual communication with your partner.
“It can put you at risk of injury and nerve damage, if you do not learn the body’s pressure points, the areas of the body you should avoid tying or asserting pressure on, and how to properly and safely tie,” says Mistress Adeena.
Safety education and learning the basic principles of rope bondage and Shibari are absolutely critical. “It’s essential that you are fully prepared before you try it,” so Mistress Adreena (and all other experts) insists you invest the time to take an introductory rope play course.
Alternatively, you can track down introductory rope play classes in your area by checking FetLife.com. There are also a couple of other comprehensive introductory courses, like from The Duchy or from Shibari Academy.
As with any sort of sexually or physically intimate encounter or activity, consent is key. Prior to engaging in rope play, all partners involved should really understand and discuss their desires, limits, and boundaries. Mistress Venus also strongly encourages determining a safe word or safe sign — a mutually agreed-upon word or sign for use by any partner that signifies you want to stop or break for whatever reason — in any BDSM encounter.
Ongoing communication is also important. “If you’re the rigger, you should be constantly checking in with your rope bottom, asking how they’re feeling and if they’re experiencing unusual sensations or pain, and also checking for physical fatigue and loss of circulation,” says Rucifer.
What you’ll need
“Rope play, while it carries risk, is one of the most approachable practices because it requires a low-cost investment,” says Reverend Rucifer. There are really two physical items you’ll need: rope and a good pair of safety scissors, just in case you need to make an emergency rope cut.
Before you learn the ropes, you’ll need some actual rope.
There are several kinds of rope to choose from — like cotton, jute, hemp, nylon, and more — so you can check out this guide from the Duchy to decide what rope material is best for your rope journey, though many experts suggest cotton as a good place to start.
BLANK also suggests checking out twistedmonk.com for beginner rope products. “They offer a la carte choices in various colors and also have pre-packaged kits for every level of rope enthusiast, they also have instructional videos on beginner Shibari and rope treatment techniques,” he says.
Understand the basics of rope play
All the rope experts agree that you should watch tutorials — on YouTube or on Shibari websites like Shibari Academy or The Duchy — and learn visually, rather from written instructions, before attempting any type of rope play as it is a form of edge play and holds risk.
Reverend Rucifer recommends learning a single-column ties first, like a Somerville Bowline, which will serve as the foundation of your practice. “From there, you can slowly build on the fundamentals, including an understanding of tension and flow,” she says.
“Tension and reverse tension create tautness in the rope to cause the sensation of bondage,” she continues.
With this knowledge, Rucifer suggests that beginners then develop their skills by learning additional basic knots (half-hitch, full-hitch, munters, etc.) to learn more ties such as a futomomo, varying chest harnesses, double-column ties, and others.
Start with tying knots on yourself with someone available to help you out of them. This can be a great way to become more comfortable with rope while understanding the sensation of rope on the body. It can also help communicate more effectively with other partners about how you like to give or receive rope play.
Mistress Adreena suggests a hog tie variation as a fairly easy tie that is good for sexual play. An accessible hogtie is a tie where the rope bottom is positioned laying on their stomach with their hands bound together behind their back, and their legs bent and tied together so their feet are pulled up against the back of their upper thigh and butt. This tie offers easy access to the genitals or the anus.
Another tie for some erotic bondage play is one that puts the rope bottom in a modified doggy-style position. The rope bottom would start on all fours, lowering their chest to the floor while keeping their hips and butt high, like the yoga pose Uttana Shishosana, also known as puppy pose. From here, they would bring their arms around and back towards feet so their wrists are next to their ankles. The rope top would then execute a wrist-to-ankle tie. An alternative variation would be to bring the arms down and through their thighs and towards their feet with their wrists near the ankles.
The bottom line
As long as you are safe, consensual and communicating clearly, rope play can be a great way to connect with a partner or discover something you love on your own. Practice with simple knots first and be sure to take all the necessary safety measures needed so you don’t find yourself caught in a bind.