Safety First: Be Prepared!
Bondage is like a sport; the risk of injury is real. And just like with any physical activity, knowledge and good technique can help mitigate those risks.
Safety shears and safety hooks are great for cutting rope in case of an emergency. Keeping them directly on you is even safer. Regular knives or kitchen scissors are not as good as there is a risk of stabbing while cutting something else. You can also add a solid stick like a marlinspike to your kit to help untie knots in case they become hard to untie.
The best way to be prepared for an incident is to visualize what you are about to do and figure out what could go wrong. For example, what would happen if you or your partner faints? What would you do if one of your hands got injured? Participating in a first aid class is a good way to get training for emergency incident response and will cover many common injuries.
The most common and important physical risk we face with rope bondage is nerve compression. This occurs when a nerve receives an extensive pressure that damages it and prevents it from functioning normally even after the pressure is removed. The pressure can come from the rope itself, or indirectly from a contracted or inflamed muscle, or an external object pushed against the nerve. It is often painless or may create a light tingle, which is why this risk is so tricky to manage.
There are three categories of nerves: motor, sensory and mixed nerves. The consequence of sensory nerve damage is a numb patch, and the consequence of a motor nerve compression is a weakness or inability to move the muscle activated by that nerve (ex: weak grip or wrist drop).
Nerve damage risks can only be mitigated. Nerves run everywhere in the body and each person has slightly different nerve paths. You can get nerve damage from bad sleeping posture, exercising, or by hitting your elbow.
The faster you catch the problem, the faster it will heal.
How to mitigate the risks:
- Tie loosely and/or away from joints (wrist, elbows, knees, ankles),
- Avoid bulky knots that dig into the skin, especially into more exposed nerves,
- Be conscious that hard surfaces can press knots into nerves,
- Monitor motor function of hands during ties that involve the upper limbs (ability to open and close hands),
- Caress your partner or touch yourself during a tie to identify the first signs of numbness,
Damage done to nerves is cumulative; something that was ok the first time might not be ok after a few repeats. Nerves take a long time to heal, contact a medical professional for any lasting weakness or numbness.
Day 50 will cover different nerve functions and pathways, especially nerves that are prone to injury. We will also discuss the most common injuries specific to each tie along the way.
Risks with High Consequences
…but easy to avoid
Each year, people die from bondage. Generally they die because they were alone, or they restricted breathing, often both at the same time.
How to mitigate this risk:
- Avoid rope around the front or side of the neck,
- Make sure you can quickly untie anything that interferes with breathing such as tight chest compression and body positions that restrict breathing, such as backbends and forward bends. This condition is named positional asphyxia. Corsets and gags also contribute to restrict airflow,
- Have someone to check on you/supervise if you want to self-tie (known as spotter),
- Stay with your bound partner at all times (but it’s ok to make them believe you are gone 🙂
When the hands are tied, one may no longer be able to protect themselves in case of a fall. The person tying can also fall from tripping on an obstacle. Imagine the scenario of someone trying to escape a tie to help their partner unconscious from a fall, scary!
How to mitigate this risk:
- Tie kneeling or sitting,
- Stay close to a bound person standing up, or attach them to a hardpoint,
- Be conscious of tripping hazards (mats, rope bag, other people, clutter, etc.),
- Secure the ties to prevent rolling off the bed, tipping the chair etc.,
- Make sure you everyone involved eat well and stay hydrated,
- Avoid locking knees when standing to keep good blood circulation in the legs (a common cause of fainting).
Excitement has a way of making people overlook the dangers of what they are undertaking. Tying people in dangerous places, hanging them from the ceiling with questionable techniques or equipment, assuming someone’s consent… It is easy to let your excitement take over. Mistakes that could have been easily avoided with better planning often pile up.
The desire to suspend a willing partner has increased risks. Simply anchoring a partner to a hard point can increase potential problems. Both full and partial suspensions can increase the potential for nerve damage because the person’s weight adds to the pressure of the rope on the body. Equipment failure, the rope breaking, the hardpoint becoming unstable, can result in unexpected consequences.
How to mitigate this risk:
- Revise your negotiation checklist and respect the boundaries agreed upon,
- Assess the safety of the location where you will tie, some places might look cool but present various hazards,
- Before trying a new technique, take the time to research the specific risks,
- When using a technique you are experienced with, make a mental note of the potential risks, even if you have never encountered them before,
- Make sure your partner is aware of the risks involved in the type of play you will share together
- Assess if you have the proper skills to mitigate risks such as (un)tying speed, body awareness,
- Adapt the type of play when trying new techniques. Ex: try new things in lab mode to ensure the right amount of communication,
- Self-assess if arousal or excitement is influencing your desire to take risks, and what you might regret later on,
- Avoid suspensions until proper knowledge and techniques are acquired.
Risks with High Occurrence
… Common but easy to mitigate
It is very common for blood circulation to be impaired during bondage. The first sign is usually a feeling of numbness in the whole limb (distally to the location of the restriction), followed by a sensation of pins and needles when the blood flow returns. These usually disappear within a few minutes after removing the cause of the blood flow restriction but the numbness caused by poor blood circulation makes it harder to monitor nerve problems.
The amount of time that the body can endure circulation issues depends on the location and will vary from person to person. Medical guidelines for safe duration of a tourniquet is to release for 5 minutes every 30 minutes. By avoiding extended blood circulation issues, many risks like necrosis, thrombosis, or deep damage to internal tissues become very unlikely. Nerve injury remains the biggest risk observed both in rope bondage and in the medical field.
Skin coloration is not a good indicator of circulation issues because it varies so differently from person to person. It can still be good to keep an eye but good communication is really the way to make a better assessment of if blood circulation is a problem or not. People with light skin may turn blue very easily, even with little restriction of circulation. People who have darker skin may become even darker while the skin of the palms is more likely to become lighter or blueish purple. For most people, grey limb coloration is something we want to avoid.
Rope marks and burns
Wherever a rope hugs a person’s skin, marks are likely to appear. There are different degrees of rope marks and each person is different in how long these will last. Until you have learned how your body reacts, it is safe to assume that there will be marks anywhere the rope touches the skin. Marks on the face, neck and forearms are often problematic locations, it is important to discuss your risk profile ahead of tying.
When rope presses evenly on the skin, it will cause a light mark that is similar to what you would get from tight clothing. These usually disappear within a few minutes or hours and are often cherished as a reminder of the session. But when rope is dragged quickly along the skin, it can create a burn causing swelling and bleeding. This can be avoided by pulling the rope gently, or placing a hand between the skin and the rope when pulling fast.
Bruises can also appear in places the rope didn’t touch, even if it’s less common. When circulation is restricted between two points, the skin between these can remain blue like a bruise. This is generally painless and disappears within a few days. Another type of mark is petechiae which are tiny red dots on the skin that look a bit like freckles. They can appear anywhere where blood pressure was increased, and it is common to see them on a person’s face after hanging upside down for an extended period of time. These usually fade within a few hours or days.
More Safety Resources
- Basic Safety by Topologist
- Esinem’s safety video Part 1, Part 2
- Remedial Ropes – Introduction and Basic Risks
- Nerves & Circulation by RopeStudy
- Tessin Doyama: On Kinbaku Safety – Kinbaku Today
- Positional asphyxia on Wikipedia
- Tourniquets in orthopedic surgery by Jai Prakash Sharma and Rashmi Salhotra
- The Effects of Sexual Arousal on Risk-Taking and DecisionMaking by Shayna Skakoon-Sparling