Communication for Bondage

Bondage tops have a responsibility to educate their bottom about warning signs and communication/safewords before tying them up. Bottoms should also take initiative to get educated about bondage safety!

 

Health negotiation

Before tying someone up, ask about underlying medical conditions that affect bondage (joint injuries, seizures, asthma, breast implants, diabetes, nerve injury/damage, etc). This should include asking about conditions that might predispose the bottom to nerve damage. Those include pre-existing peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) from diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and previous traumatic nerve injury [3]. Check out this page for details on negotiation for bondage pick-up play and this page for more detailed information on negotiation and gathering a medical history for bondage.

Asking “do you have any medical problems” will mostly result in a knee-jerk “no.” Better starting questions are “tell me about your health”  and “what medications do you take?”

Try to get an idea of the bottom’s flexibility.

Discuss the possibility of rope marks.

 

Scene negotiation

Negotiation is about finding out limits AND finding out turn-ons and sweet spots!IMG_5709

Consider using a paper negotiation form (or even FetLife fetish lists) as a starting point.

Negotiation is not just the top asking the bottom questions- bottoms can (and should!) ask their top questions as well!

Some good questions to start with are:

  • What is your experience level with bondage?
  • What are the places you don’t want me to touch you?
  • What type of bondage scene were you thinking of? Sexy, casual, platonic, playful…?
  • What do you enjoy about bondage?

 

During a bondage scene

Avoid gags unless you know each other well and have another way to communicate (non-verbal safe signal, drop ball, etc).

Go slow with new partners, check in often, and pay attention to emotional reactions. Eye contact can communicate volumes!

The main predictor of a bad bondage outcome is the bottom’s subjective experience in the bondage. COMMUNICATE and check in often.

Bondage tops should empower their bottoms to say something if they need the bondage modified/removed. I always tell my bondage bottoms that I will not be disappointed if they tell me their arm is going numb and I have to untie them. I WILL be disappointed (to say the least!) if they decide to tough it out and I end up having to take them to the ER for a severe injury. See this page for more information about assessing for nerve damage during a scene.

 

Reading body language in scene

Of course this varies by individual, but there are some general guidelines. Look for:

Tension

  • This manifests as scrunched up shoulders, holding breath, furrowed eyebrows…
  • Generally increasing tension is not a good sign. It is an indication to check in, perhaps help them relax, remind them to breathe.

Arousal

  • Signs include flushing, increased skin temperature, dilated pupils, faster breathing, increased blood flow to genitals, etc…

Moving toward or away

  • Sticking out their ass or tucking it in is an obvious example

IMG_5621

 

Safewords

Until you’ve negotiated otherwise, “no” means “no” and “I need untied” means to untie them!

Safewords are a communication tool that can enhance your play.

A common element of power exchange and bondage is the “fantasy of non-consent”- wanting to be able to say no, don’t, stop– but not really wanting your partner to stop.

In many public playspaces, safewords are part of the rules. Some people don’t use them (usually within long-term relationships with established trust) or only use them sometimes.

You have a responsibility to empower your partner to communicate (through a safeword or just plain using their words).

Tops can/should be empowered to use safewords as well- they are not just for bottoms!

Verbal safewords:

  • Common verbal safewords include yellow (generally means “slow down”), red (generally means “stop” or “stop that specific thing/activity”), and “safeword” (generally means “stop everything, we’re done”). These are used differently by different people so be sure to clarify the definition you’re using!
  • Consider using a verbal safeword that will work with the energy of the scene- “mercy” “uncle” “I’m calling my lawyer” etc.
  • It may work for you to have a safeword as a back-up (“if I say “red”, that means everything stops and you untie me right away”), but to communicate specifically in plain language (“my left arm just started going really numb”) most of the time. This is much more valuable information for a bondage top than a vague “yellow”.
  • Check in with a number system from 1 to 10.
  • As a bottom, it is very helpful if you can give your top a “two minute warning” that you will need to be out of bondage (vs waiting until it’s a matter of OH MY GOD GET ME OUT NOW!). This is not always possible, but try to monitor your body so you can communicate when you’re nearing (not at) the end of your tolerance.

Non-verbal safewords

  • Bottoms often have an easier time using a non-verbal safeword.
  • Examples of non-verbal safewords include opening and closing the hands, “tapping out”, stomping feet, or dropping an object that is held in the hands.
  • An awesome non-verbal check-in is to tell the bottom that if you put your fingers in their hand, they should squeeze your fingers as a “green” (indicating that they are good and play should continue). This will ALSO allow you to assess for possible nerve damage (inability to grip can be a sign of nerve damage and should prompt you to immediately untie the limb).
  • An extremely important negotiation point to consider is whether you (and your partner) will safeword if needed. This is not always known and may vary unpredictably from scene to scene.
  • Some players are totally empowered, can monitor themselves and communicate clearly in the middle of any scene, and have no issues using safewords.
  • Reasons a player doesn’t/won’t/fails to use safewords include:
    • Taking pride in not using a safeword
    • Going non-verbal
    • Getting high on endorphins or emotionally so in the moment they forget limits/lose the ability to monitor their physical status
    • Being afraid that they’ll embarrass their partner or their partner won’t want to play with them again if they safeword.

 Next: Setting and maintaining a mood

References:

[3] Stewart JE. (2000) Focal peripheral neuropathies. 4th Ed.