When Rope Bondage Leaves You Tongue-Tied

During a London vacation a few months ago, my friend and I took a rope bondage class.  Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures of naked women suspended from the ceiling by an intricate cat’s cradle?  Well, as someone who likes to submit in the bedroom, I was inspired, and seeing as my friend is all about the tying, we seemed like ideal partners for a one-night course.

The evening started well.  In our front-row seats, we flicked through the sex books, marveling at pictures of naked ladies intricately trussed, as we waited for the room to fill.  When all the seats were taken, our instructor began to talk about¦well, rope.  MFP rope is the best stuff, he explained “ far superior to any natural fiber.  Unlike hemp rope, it is smooth against the skin, won’t cause rope-burn and can be tossed into the washing machine whenever you please.  We were also told we’d be learning a form of Japanese rope bondage called kinbaku, which originates from hojojitzu, the ancient art of military bondage.  In the latter, a captive is swiftly strung up and often held in humiliating positions.  In a more respectful capture, the ropes are quickly tied “ slow, clumsy bondage is a mark of disrespect.

After this brief history, we moved on to the technical stuff.  The instructor explained that each leg, arm and torso is referred to as a column.  The term did cause me to think about buildings rather than bodies, but it was a useful term in certain respects “ it helped us remember that the way you tie ankles together is pretty much the same as the way you tie arms.  So my friend and I started with basic “one-column and “two-column ties, and had a great time binding each other’s wrists, figuring out where to loop and knot to make everything look pretty.  All considered, we were good for beginners, and when my friend’s wrists dangled from my own intricate knot, I felt a flush of pride.

Next, it was time for the body wrap, otherwise known at the Box Tie.  (Note that a box can be seen as an object – something that isn’t alive).  To demonstrate, our instructor used a friend of his “ a bottle blonde in cut-offs and a long, pale top.  Fully clothed, she stood quite still as he bound her wrists bound behind her, pulling them right into the small of her back.  While he wound the cord around her torso and between her breasts, he told us we should never turn “the model” but always walk around her.  This time it was my friend who noted how objectifying a term “model” could be in this scenario where the person being tied can be seemingly inactive* to untrained eyes.  I admit, as I watched the instructor crossing the rope around the woman’s breasts and pulling it tight, I had a flashback to the more brutal parts of my childhood.  See, I wasn’t a happy kid.  Some of my early experiences were void of consent.  Only when I hit my thirties did I start to face the fact that, since my childhood, I’d found it hard to stay in my body.  At times, I’ve looked at my hand and wondered if it’s mine.  In the past, I often felt I was viewing the world through a layer of gauze.

While my friend trussed me up, my arms bound behind me, my breasts cinched in place, things seemed to be going well.  But when the instructor wandered across, he wasn’t impressed.  He said the rope clasping my breasts in a figure-eight arrangement wouldn’t hold if she wanted to suspend me.  “It would slip,” he explained, fiddling with the rope and sliding it easily over my breast.  “It needs to be pulled firm,” he added, placing his hand on my breast “ yes, on my breast, and firmly.  In that moment, I guess he saw me as “a column” or “a model” or a “box,” though I’m sure he didn’t intend to.  When we use such terms to describe human beings, perhaps objectification comes more easily to all of us.

I stared down at his hand on my breast.  I did and felt nothing.

It wasn’t until hours later, when my friend explained how unfazed I’d seemed, that I was finally horrified by my instructor’s invasion.  “I was so mad, she said, “but I didn’t know if it was my place to say something.  What if you were fine with it?  Not an easy position.  I might have mentally quit the scene of the crime, but my friend hadn’t.  In those moments, I imagine she felt strangely alone.

As it was, the instructor soon pulled his hand from my breast, backing away, clearly abashed, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry¦  My friend asked if I was all right, and I nodded.  “Seriously,” she added, “way to grope.”  Then we burst out laughing, which was just what I needed.  Thank heaven for the power of humor.

I’ve learnt a lot about the act of “leaving our bodies” “ a state known as disassociation.  When we “leave we stop associating with our physical reality, pulling away from it instead.  Disassociation is a mechanism that preserves us during trauma or abuse, but once we’re safe it can become automatic, taking years for us to change it or even become aware of it.  In fact, disassociation can become our default in uncomfortable situations, and unless we start to deal with it, we risk feeling constantly deadened, as if we’re wrapped in smoke or are floating above our heads or have plastic limbs, or are zombies.  As for me, I have come a long way.  I automatically slap the wrist of a stranger who paws my behind, and both inside and outside of the bedroom I’ve learnt to be very assertive.  But in a rope bondage class, with a friend as a partner and no free hands to lash out with, the last thing I expected was for anyone to grope me.  In truth, we were doing wonderfully until a third party entered without our explicit consent.  And with his paw on my breast, the old machine kicked in and I was gone, gone, gone.

Later, I wondered whether being tied up had stopped me from protesting in an immediate way, though I soon realized I couldn’t blame the ropes.  After all, with a trusted partner, I find restraint quite freeing “ so much so that I’m often sassier the following day, asking for things directly, feeling fresh and alive.  The fact that I can withstand captivity and pain is one of the most empowering things I’ve learnt in the bedroom; but the trust must be there and the rules must be clear, and the power difference must be constantly chosen, just as it was with my friend and I.  Throughout the class, I told her when the rope was too tight and she asked after my welfare.  Had I been with someone I didn’t know, I’d have established some ground rules, such as a safe word to utter if things became too rough.  Safe words are crucial.  They enable continual consent.  Yet the instructor didn’t mention them.

That said, the rest of the evening went well.  I got my friend to take a photo of me magnificently trussed-up, and boy, I looked wonderful “ and to her credit, fairly symmetrical too.  At the end of the class, it was also interesting to see how quickly the ropes could be pulled loose, even though the instructor had wielded a big pair of scissors earlier, saying “emergency shears were important.  If only his precautions had included drawing attention to our physical and emotional boundaries, and paying heed to what feels comfortable and fair.  Yes, I’d chosen to give up my control, but not to him.

Well, a wise woman once told me, “If you can’t stand up for yourself at the time, you stand up for yourself later.  So I made explained the problem in a letter and moved on.

I should add that most of the class, my friend and I included, seemed clearly aware of our partner’s boundaries.  Generally speaking, there was a lovely vibe “ lots of laughter and seriousness, problem solving and praise.  I do find rope bondage beautiful.  If we choose, it can set us free.  But perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the terminology.  We know we’re not models or columns or boxes.  We’re humans with choices.  Was it the language of consent that was lacking?  A clear model for saying “no”?  Or were the technical terms also a part of the problem?

I certainly learnt this much:  Consent needs to be reflected in the way we speak about bondage.  Over and over again, we must be clear about what we’re permitting and what we simply aren’t.

And our teachers should teach us that.

~

*Of course, as many of us know, true submission can be intensely active because we choose how much we can take at every twist and turn.  We become brilliant at the act of giving or withdrawing consent and are often empowered.

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