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When does the sex start? – A personal approach regarding sexuality in rope bondage

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Model: littleladyginger, Photo By: CarnivorePic

Disclaimer: This writing was inspired by a recent discussion on RopeTube and the article: https://www.kinbakutoday.com/why-eros-matters-keeping-shibari-dirty/ . It contains my own personal thoughts and doesn’t claim to be universally applicable, but rather meant as an inspiration for reflection.

There’s been much discussion recently about eroticism and sexuality in rope bondage. After a period in which the attitude that, “Bondage doesn’t have to be necessarily sexual” was very present, there are more people stepping forward confidentially claiming that for them bondage is sexual. My intention behind this writing is not to engage in any discussion of the actual purpose of rope bondage, or Kinbaku, and if some motives are more appropriate than others. There are already a lot of good discussions and writings about this matter by people with more insight than me. I rather want to elaborate my own personal approach behind the statement that for me, rope is sexual, as I feel there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding regarding such statements. So, this writing is rather meant as kind of a self–reflection, but also to inspire others to look more carefully at their own motives and elaborate on them.

Even though sex and sexuality are very present in our culture, and we have the freedom to legally explore many (not all) sexual practices in most western countries, it’s still stigmatized. This is usually reflected in the attitude that everyone does it, but it’s rarely discussed. At least not in an elaborated, differentiated manner that allows to disentangle certain aspects of sexuality and discuss them from different perspectives. Therefore, sexuality and sexual acts are often still categorized following an all–or–nothing principle: something is either sexual or not. And that’s where most discussions end.

When something is categorized as ‘sexual’, we often generalize this to all kinds of sexual acts without differentiating between certain aspects of human sexuality. We tend to equate processes like (sexual) intimacy, sexual arousal and engaging in a sexual act with someone else, although this actually describes different things. Moreover, we tend to assume that everything sexual is possible, when someone claims that something is erotic or sexually arousing, without asking if certain actions are desired or not. On the other side, if something is categorized as not sexual, we often expect that it must be totally sex–free and even the slightest sexual motivation or stimulation shouldn’t show up.

In reality it’s not as simple as that. Human sexuality is complex and comes with a lot of different facets that shouldn’t be equated. Therefore, I want to disentangle different aspects of sexuality and how they are connected to my motivation doing rope bondage:

Sexual motivation

I consider my initial motivation for being interested in rope bondage as sexual. I was always very open about my sexuality and wanted to explore different facets of it. So, when I decided that I want to try and experience rope bondage, it happened out of the motivation to explore this as a new aspect of my sexuality. During the time, and the experiences I have had, I also discovered there are more interesting and pleasing aspects of this practice, such as inner release, allowing interpersonal intimacy or different sensations that were pleasing and comfortable (just like other sexual actions are also not only about sexual motives in most cases). However, the inner arousal and excitement that I would describe as kind of a lust and passion, was always my main motivator to learn, experience and explore rope bondage. Even though not all my experiences included sexual actions or sexual arousal.

Sexual arousal

I would consider myself as kind of a fetishist in regard to rope bondage. The feeling of the restraint, the feeling of the material on my skin, the physical pressure is deeply arousing and satisfying for me regardless of the other person that might be involved (but it can be more intense when I feel sexually attracted to that person). And the practice itself triggers sexual arousal. This doesn’t mean I’m aroused all the time, but it’s very likely to be sexually arousing at some point when I tie someone or get tied. Personally, I see sexual arousal as a part of the normal human emotional spectrum that sometimes shows up and sometimes doesn’t. And just like other human emotions, this can be associated with certain situations and triggers. However, sexual arousal doesn’t necessarily mean that I will or want to have sex. While the first one is rather a sensation that sometimes shows up (more or less intentionally) in certain situations, the latter includes a decisional act to engage in and must be negotiated separately, when another person is included.

Engaging in a sexual act

I consider engaging in a sexual act as the performance of a sexual action on oneself or another person. These can be actions like masturbating, oral sex, penetrative sex or hand jobs. Especially in the BDSM context, where lots of people consider rather uncommon practices as ‘sexual’ it might be difficult to define, at which point engaging in a sexual act actually starts. While for some people rope bondage itself, or the mental stimulation might already be like sex, there are others who demand additional acts to get this feeling. Personally, I think the fact at which point something counts as sexual is not that important and these questions rather rely on an artificial categorization. Moreover, this generalized perspective has limited use when negotiating. Instead of asking if someone wants to have sex (or things to become ‘sexual’) in general, I find it more advisable to talk about specific practices and actions that they want or don’t want to happen.

(Sexual) intimacy

From all aspects that I discuss in this writing this one might be the most complicated. In a recent article (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/save-your-sex-life/201608/why-intimate-sex-is-the-key-successful-relationship), while I do not agree with all the implications, intimacy was conceptualized as a continuum, with one side being the closed–self and disconnected, while the other is the connected self that opens up to the other person. In the context of a bondage session this can happen on different levels, e.g., emotionally and/or sexually. Moreover, the process of opening up and allowing intimacy can be encouraged by certain frameworks such as transparency, good negotiation practices, creating a space in which someone feels safe and comfortable, feeling seen and heard, and picking someone up where they stand. Aside from that, there might be triggering aspects in a person or their behaviour that might further encourage the process, but are rather an individual preference, like attractiveness, certain personality traits or outer appearance, etc.

When we want to connect with someone and share intimacy, we must find the level on the continuum and the quality of intimacy both sides are comfortable with. This is a matter of negotiation and balancing interests from both sides. So, no matter what my own desires and intentions might be in the context of a rope session, I can’t realize or push them onto the other person, but must consider and respect their boundaries of allowing intimacy, and therefore, find compromise. Moreover, opening up towards each other can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. As symmetrical intimacy I consider both sides opening up to each other to the same degree, while the latter describes a dynamic in which one side allows more intimacy than the other. Both variants are okay when they are handled with transparency. If this transparency is missing, especially the asymmetrical constellation, it can become problematic at some point. Either in the way that there seems to be a ‘hidden agenda’ when suddenly things happen in a session that weren’t negotiated before, or one erroneously assumes the other person opens up in the same way as they do, and thus bases their actions and expectations on this. Additionally, it’s important to consider that engaging in a sexual act can’t necessarily be equated with allowing intimacy, as it is possible to engage in a sexual act without opening up and feeling connected.

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Conclusion

The separation of different aspects of sexuality in the context of rope bondage indicates that a narrow categorization as ‘sexual’ or ‘not sexual’ is too shallow a perspective. While this matter can be reflected and handled quite easily on the level of the individual motives, it becomes more complex when we engage in rope bondage with someone else. As this includes communication, decision–making and finding compromises that make both sides feel comfortable. Moreover, a differentiated reflection of the own intentions and motives can help to improve the communication with partners and thus generate more satisfying experiences.

Based on my own reflections, I find it important to be open about my initial motives behind bondage with potential partners. I will not tie with people who are not okay with sexual arousal (from my side) during tying because I can’t exclude this might happen. I also won’t tie with people who equate sexual arousal and engaging in sexual activities and therefore expect sexual acts to happen without being negotiated before, just because I say that my initial motivation for rope is sexual. Moreover, I think that we should normalize saying things like, “I might be (sexually) aroused, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to have sex with you.”

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Peppermind is a female rope practitioner based in Germany. As a top and bottom she enjoys exploring rope bondage from both sides. She has a professional background as a psychologist and thus likes to reflect and conceptualize the psychological experience of practicing BDSM. She has co–organized several bondage events with artists from all over the world to encourage exchange and education. Moreover, she engages in educational work about BDSM and sexuality in general.