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In the context of BDSM, bondage involves people being tied up or otherwise restrained for pleasure. Bondage is usually, but not always, a sexual practice. The paraphilia of being sexually aroused by bondage is sometimes known as vincilagnia (from Latin vincio, to bind or fetter with chains, and lagneia, lust).
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.
Some BDSM play parties offer "bondage workshops", where couples, or people otherwise consenting with each other, can try out tying each other up under the instruction and supervision of an experienced bondage rigger.
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.
The use of bondage within couples behind closed doors tends to be different from that associated with bondage in (for example) a BDSM dungeon. While "bedroom" bondage games often constitute foreplay, in the BDSM community, bondage may be an end in itself with no sexual contact at all and is often combined with infliction of pain.
"Bedroom" bondage usually follows the pattern of so-called 'light' bondage, where one partner is voluntarily tied-up or put into restraints (i.e. bound / cuffed / spread-eagled / possibly blindfolded etc) by the other, who then sexually pleasures the tied partner using manual masturbation, oral sex, vibrating sex toys or intercourse.
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 many 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.
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, 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 discontinue, temporarily stop or vary the activities of the play.
- 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. Sometimes these positions are dangerous or can't be maintained for more than a few minutes (ie. "don't try this at home") such as inverted bondage or suspension from the wrists and ankles. In many cases they cannot be "acted out" with good results and are only for extremely physically fit and very experienced BDSM participants.
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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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.
- 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 enjoy the feeling of being dominated over, being abused or being taken care of.
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
- 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
- Ernulf KE, Innala SM. "Sexual bondage: a review and unobtrusive investigation." Arch Sex Behav. 1995 Dec;24(6):631-54. PMID: 8572912
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