Introduction and basic risks

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There is risk to everything that we do – you could get hit by a car walking across the street to go to your rope date. Risk awareness and mitigation are key, because some types of bondage are more like strolling down the crosswalk on a sunny day after looking both ways, and some are more like running across a busy highway on a rainy night wearing all black. No one is suggesting that you always wear a helmet while crossing the street. But knowing what the specific risks are and taking reasonable steps to mitigate those risks goes a long way.

Check out our sexy bondage safety flyer (side 1 and side 2) for some basic starting information!

Terminology

  • On this site, we use the word “bottom” to refer to the person getting tied up, and “top” to refer to the person doing the tying.

General safety points

  • Never leave someone alone in bondage! You may want to create the illusion that the bottom is alone, but someone should always be directly monitoring them. Bondage + alone is the number one cause of BDSM-related death.
  • Don’t get tied up (or tie someone up!) when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Adverse psychological reactions are always possible (panic attacks, claustrophobia, etc). Start slow! Communicate and check in often.
  • Anywhere bondage is applied, rope marks are possible. Be sure this is OK with the bottom, especially if the marks may not be covered by street clothing (wrists, for example).
  • Falling is always a risk with bondage. Bound arms mean that the  bottom cannot “catch” themselves, and bound ankles place them at risk for obvious reasons. Having a bound bottom move around is dangerous – if you’re going to do it, plan your bondage accordingly and be sure they’re adequately supported!
  • Fainting is another relatively common bondage mishap. Risk is increased when the bottom is restrained in a vertical position, has their knees locked, or makes a sudden position change.
  • Gags require specialized negotiation and are higher risk, especially when combined with other types of bondage.
  • Always have a method of quickly releasing the bondage available- safety shears or similar.
  • Rope around the neck is very high riskthis article on breath control play gives detailed information about this. We recommend never attaching rope from around the neck or penis to a hard point.

Beyond these basic safety points, the risks with bondage come to reduced circulation and nerve damage.

Circulation Issues

  • Signs of circulation problems include temperature change (cooling of the limb), color change, and numbness.
  • These signs and symptoms generally occur SLOWLY.
  • In isolation, circulation can be decreased for some time before tissue damage begins. That said, cutting off circulation does not tend to increase sexy bondage fun times (and can complicate detection of nerve damage), so it’s better to avoid it.
  • You can read more about circulation and bondage here.

IMG_5713Nerve Damage

      • Nerve damage is much more of a concern for bondage than decreased circulation (though the two can and do happen concurrently).
      • Danger signs for nerve damage include pain (generally described as sharp/shooting), weakness, tightness, stress, tingling, and numbness.
      • These generally occur QUICKLY, sometimes instantly, and should be acted on immediately to prevent or minimize long term damage.
      • Nerve damage can occur either by stretching of the nerve (ex: over-extending the arms over the head for extended periods of time) or by compression (ex: rope pressing tightly up against the armpit)/shearing force (ex: tight rope pulling across the upper arm). Shearing force refers to parallel surfaces sliding past one another and is particularly problematic for your nerves – if you ever had a gradeschool classmate do a “snake bite” on your arm, you have some idea of what this type of force feels like.
      • The interplay of these five basic factors determine whether a bondage nerve injury happens and how severe it is:
        1. Individual differences in nerve vulnerability.31 Some people seem to have bombproof nerves, some people seem to get nerve damage if you look at them funny.
        2. Anatomical location: where on the body you are tying. Some locations are higher risk than others. For example, joints and upper arms are generally higher risk areas, as compared to the thighs or ankles31.
        3. Duration of compression. Nerve damage happens in stages – removing bondage at the first signs of injury can keep a minor injury from becoming a major one.1
        4. Severity of compression/amount of shearing force.1 The increased severity of compression and risk of shearing is part of what makes suspension bondage generally higher risk than floor work.
        5. Stretch/stress positioning. This also has a lot of individual variance. Keep in mind that stretching/stress positioning may also make nerves more vulnerable to compression.
      • As a general rule: The more force and the longer the time, the greater the damage will be. “Mechanisms of nerve injury include direct pressure, repetitive microtrauma, and stretch- or compression-induced ischemia. The degree of injury is related to the severity and extent (time) of compression.”1
      • Most incidents of nerve damage involve many (if not all) of these 5 factors.
      • It’s possible for nerve damage to occur without any warning/symptoms at all, and even with an experienced top who does “everything right.” There is a lot of evidence that nerve damage is cumulative,1 therefore a given scene that results in nerve damage could be simply “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
      • Nerve damage is such an important (and relatively common) bondage injury that it has it’s own section on this site – check out this article on nerve damage as a starting place!

**General disclaimer: As far as we know, there are no controlled scientific studies on bondage and how to predict bad outcomes (anyone want to give us grant money?). Most of what we discuss on this site is based on anecdotal stories and a basis of medical/anatomical knowledge, as well as extrapolating from scientific research on similar subjects (intraoperative positioning nerve damage, sports-related injuries, etc.). Many references have been used – a list can be found here as both the sources of our information and also as resources for further reading.

For a nuanced discussion of pregnancy and BDSM play, including bondage, check out this page!

Next: Safety supplies

References:

[1] Gupta R, Rummler L, Steward O. Understanding the biology of compressive neuropathies. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2005;(436):251–260.