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May 11, 2021

What is bondage?

For as long as humans have had things to tie one another up with, they’ve indulged in bondage sex. But what makes for safe BDSM and just what exactly do you need to know about this ancient practice to give it a go?

What is bondage sex?

Bondage, by definition, means the act of tying up or restraining a sexual partner. While a mainstream mention of bondage is likely to get a giggle, fantasies of tie up and tease with your partners, or at least some form of restraint, are far more common than the most prudish would let on. A YouGov poll conducted in February 2016 found that more than 12 million Brits have been tied up during sex. Meanwhile, Penrith in Cumbria had the biggest per capita sales of BDSM equipment in the UK.

What’s more, bondage has been a fixture of erotic novels and art for centuries, from the Marquis De Sade’s Justine, through to the release of Fifty Shades of Grey which took the publishing world by storm in 2013. A mind-blowing 100 million copies of the Fifty Shades trilogy (dodgy writing aside) were sold worldwide allowing countless humans to indulge in sexual fantasies about BDSM that they might not otherwise have owned up to. Suddenly, S&M was everywhere. In fact, the movie made the moves so popular that sales of the spreader bar sex toy (which you strap someone into in order to separate the legs) sold out after Fifty Shades Darker hit cinemas with viewers enthrall to the particular erotic scene between Christian and Ana that inspired it.

But why is bondage sex so alluring? Well, it’s a combination of its psychological and physiological stimuli. Play-struggling against restraints can build an invigorating adrenaline rush, while being blindfolded heightens the senses in the rest of the body. Think of all the times you’ve closed your eyes during a massage, and how much it enables you to concentrate on the pleasurable and relaxing sensations more intensely. This is the same with safe BDSM. Think of it as a sexual extreme sport which is about intensifying yours and your partners’ pleasure.

What is BDSM?

BDSM is an acronym used to mean certain aspects of sex that can be split into these major groups: bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. Collectively, these terms are all about power play in its various guises, and it’s a mix and match approach to sex. For example, you can take it in turns to restrain one another, with one of you dominating the interaction. Or you can engage in tickle torture - as fun - and excruciating - as it sounds, depending on your propensity to laugh when stroked! While there are as many variants of BDSM as there are imaginations, some of the more standard moves and activities include things like being tied up and teased, being collared, being spanked, whipped or caned, and indulging in ‘slave play’ where a submissive may be at the mercy of a dominant partner.

BDSM, consent and safe words

Informed consent between individuals is known as SGC (Safe, Grounded, Consenting) RACK (Risk-aware Consensual Kink), or PRICK (Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink).  While those can sound quite wordy, what they all convey is that all the individuals involved in safe bondage sex are aware that there may be some inherent risk in performing some BDSM activities but that the participants enter into the arrangement knowingly, while promising to act responsibly and consciously as they explore and play.

One of the most important things to do before starting play is to set a safe word. It could be anything from ‘olive’ to ‘toaster’ - it just has to be memorable enough to communicate to you and your partners that it’s time to take a break. People sometimes favour traffic light signals but they can be confusing as one person’s red isn’t always another person’s. Similarly, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t work in consensual BDSM play if, for example, you’re taking a slave role and part of the game is to be ‘forced’ consensually into doing things you are resisting.

It’s also really important to discuss what kinds of acts and things you think you’ll want to do before play starts, and conversely, what you absolutely wouldn’t enjoy doing. The most important thing at this stage is to ask as many questions for clarification purposes as possible. Unsure if wrists behind someone’s back would work if they’re on their knees as well as standing? Double-check! Don’t presume you automatically understand everyone’s preferences without some very literal and liberal double-checking. There can be this presumption that if you talk through everything someone might enjoy, it’ll take away from the novelty, but far better that you forgo a moment of surprise for a session of safety.

What’s more, while there are quite literally thousands of different variations of acts you can engage in within BDSM, you do need to know a little about some of the techniques used in order to experiment safely.  For example, there is a technique to spanking. There are places on the body that you shouldn’t crop or whip. And there are certainly things that you shouldn’t use to tie up someone.  So if you are planning to use equipment, be sure to read on for our expert advice on what to start with and how to use it.

Bondage Sex for Beginners

If you’ve never experimented with bondage sex before, you might want to do some reading up on what to expect from it. Two of the best guides to this are ‘Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage’ and ‘Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink’ by Midori, an absolutely cast-iron classic guide to moves, emotions and communication.

A fun and warming way to start exploring with a partner if you’re nervous to get the conversation going could be through watching ethical BDSM porn too. If Pornhub isn’t to your taste, try Vex Ashley’s Four Chambered Heart or Erika Lust films for content that puts a female-friendly spin on kink.

If you’re not quite ready to share what turns you on, start by discerning between what you love to watch but would not be ready to share or do, versus what you’d like to introduce your partner to. Commit to showing one another a clip each and get a discussion going about what in particular turns you on about the scene and acts depicted. If they have a ‘squick’ reaction - ie find what they’re watching to be an instant turn-off, take this on board and move on to something else. The trick is to find an entry point to an activity that you both find enticing.

BDSM tips

Once you’ve established something you’d both like to try, next, think about what kind of equipment you might need and invest in some that is bodysafe. Good brands to peruse include Dame, Salty for plus-sized bodies, and Chakrubs for crystal toys. Don’t start too complicated too soon - one set of restraints that fits both of you is plenty for starters!

Bondage tape can be a great and affordable option if you aren't sure about investing in cuffs, as you can also use it on any body part safely - it sticks to itself, not to skin. And don’t forget the humble blindfold - perfect for building suspense for the partner wearing it, and perfect for giving the partner doing the teasing a bit more time to figure out what to do next!

How to have safe bondage sex

In terms of what equipment is safe to use while you are exploring, the world’s leading bondage expert, sexologist, BDSM educator and coach, Midori says, “Commercially made soft leather or nylon cuffs with adjustable buckles or Velcro straps are wonderful to start with, as they’re easy and safer to use. For totally DIY quickie bondage, raid your kitchen cabinet for cling wrap. (Do take it out of the box, as that serrated edge is nasty and bites!)  For something saucy, a freshly stripteased stocking makes for a lovely blindfold or gentle wrist tie.”

While rope is the go-to porn favourite, as Midori explains, “Rope might not be optimal for everyone’s starter bondage, as fiddling with knots and worrying about tying too tight can take away focus on your partner and shared pleasures. Look for toys that are easy for you  to fasten and unfasten. Look for easy use buckles, velcro, zips, cinch cords, etc. When a device is easy to use, it makes you look confident and sexy!”

In terms of tying technique, Midori recommends wrists tied together as a good starting point. “It’s easy for doggy style or missionary for either partner. A snug belt around the waist or hip is a surprisingly good place to attach wrists or thighs to.”

For a great online bondage workshop, check out Anatomie Studio.

If you’re worried that you are tying incorrectly or concerned you can’t get out of a knot, Midori recommends undoing the last few steps until you feel back in control. “Have a set of safety shears near you just in case a restraint gets stuck or quick release is needed. Agree to “safe words” before playtime so you can both know how to communicate that something needs to change or stop.”

And when you feel you’ve had enough, pay attention to your inner voice or bodily comfort. As Midori explains, “This could be for physical reasons, such as tingling, over tightness, loss of circulation or simple distracting discomfort. It could be for emotional discomfort, such as anxiety, worry, excessive distraction, or even boredom.”

Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. It can be easy to feel as though you have a) imposter syndrome, and b) need to be a Kink.com star to have ‘permission’ to play.  Try to take the pressure off yourself and your partners to be ‘sexy’ from the off and see the first time you’re getting to grips with bondage as an exploration or ‘dress rehearsal’.  Something might go embarrassingly wrong. You might get caught up in your binding, a blindfold might not properly cover someone’s eyes, or you might just have no clue what you’re doing with your toys after all. If this happens, laugh it off. Put yourself into the ‘beginner’s mindset’ as the Buddhists put it, and write it off as part of the learning process.

Importantly, when you’ve finished playing, make sure you factor in some time for a wind-down together afterwards. Safe BDSM, like any new sexual activity, can throw up some emotional wavering that you may not have been anticipating, and it’s important that you end play with a check-in - preferably a conversation about anything that’s come up for you and your partners, and some hugs. It’s also important to note that things that come up for any of the partners involved may not be about what’s just gone on. Sometimes it can be related to past experiences. Either way, be prepared to listen and not to judge.

The most important thing about exploring BDSM as a beginner, besides it being consensual and safe bondage sex, is that it’s fun and pleasurable for everyone involved. You don’t have to share a partner’s kink to be prepared to play - we can ‘gift’ our partners with experiences that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for ourselves. Revel in the new sensations, and relish the depth of connection it can bring you with another human. Bondage is binding, after all.

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