Rope Bottoming Beyond Play - bondage basics

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There are plenty of reasons for getting tied up besides the pure pleasure of being in rope. And with more and more people showing interest in bondage, the opportunities for bottoming beyond just play are greater than ever.

Even if you do bottom only for play, maybe sometimes you like to be tied at a club or dungeon. Or maybe you like to be tied somewhere else that’s semipublic or even fully public. Anytime people are watching or the environment is unfamiliar, it can change your experience of the rope and your partner, and can affect your decision-making. Its good to be aware of those possible effects beforehand, both to minimize safety risks and to get the experience you’re hoping for.

Later on we'll look at some specific considerations for different types of bottoming beyond play, including modeling, performing, and guerrilla bondage (aka rope bombing). And of course there can be an element of play in all of the types - maybe you get off on being photographed while dangling naked from a tree in the deep, dark woods, for example. But in most of them, the elements commonly considered part of playing/scening (intimacy, connection, ropespace/subspace) are not the primary goals.

5 Basic Questions

These are good to ask yourself anytime play is not the primary goal. And hopefully, you’ll be working with a partner/photographer/client you already know or have researched and deemed trustworthy.

1. Why do I want to do this? To be tied on something unusual, like a public statue, or in a special location? To make money? To get an amazing photo? To feel more social? To get attention? To be entertaining/contribute to other peoples good time?

These are just a few possible motivations, and identifying your motivation can help you create the experience you desire. If you crave attention and have a crowd-pleaser scene planned, for instance, but you go to a dungeon on a night when everyone's at the party across town, it might not feel so fulfilling. Ditto if you’re hoping for a stunning photo but your partner just wants the thrill of tying on that secret beach.

Be honest about your motivations. I he term “attention whore” carries a whiff of judgment, but if attention makes you happy, who cares? Some ropesters consider performance bondage inauthentic. Again, who cares? It’s your rope experience, and the only-person you are ultimately accountable to is you.

If you do consider performance bondage inauthentic, by the way, True Blue’s essay in this chapter might change your mind.

2 What is an acceptable level of risk for me? Am I OK with possible nerve damage or other injuries because I don’t want to interrupt the show, cut things short, appear like a failure or “unprofessional,” disappoint the photographer/director/client? If sexual contact has been negotiated, am I OK with the possibility of getting an STI? If photos are involved, am I OK with the possibility that they may end up in places I didn’t intend?

3. Have I negotiated for sexual touch? Many people nfamiliar with kink assume that bondage and sex go hand in hand. Not necessarily! Sexual contact, whether it’s a playful nipple tweak or a triple penetration, is something to negotiate.

Even if you’ve performed acted/shot with a partner in the past without any issue, it can be helpful to go over every time what’s acceptable and what isn’t. People forget; they have multiple partners and get confused; they feel they know you well enough to know what you want even if you haven’t asked for it. And sadly, some rope tops, as in the rest of the world, are unethical asshats who simply take advantage of people, especially when there are gray areas.

Of course, it's a good idea to negotiate for all the other usual things too, but its easy to assume that everyone is on the same page about whether sexual touch is or isn’t on the table. If you’re new to negotiation, you can search for checklists online. Tifereth, a well-known ropester, performer, and educator, recommends that performers discuss two things at the minimum in addition to sexual touch: health condi-tions/injuries and rope placement/preferences—a great idea for everyone!

4. What will aftercare look like? In many nonplay situations, you’re responsible for handling your own aftercare. You may get it from a performance partner, especially someone you regularly work with, but it’s highly unlikely that a photographer or director is going to snuggle you or whatnot afterward, even if they put you through the ringer.

Nonplay scenes can be just as intense, if not more so, than play scenes, and you can experience sub drop and everything else that goes along with play. So it's a good idea to have an aftercare plan, whether you call on a friend or your teddv bear.

5. What’s my backup plan? In a play scene, if you’re having an off day or something unplanned happens, it’s usually not too hard to switch things up or even throw in the towel. In a performance with a hundred eyes on you, a photo shoot that took hours to set up, a film with a crew of people depending on you, and so on...not so much.

So, in addition to taking the gig seriously and preparing well—showing up rested and hydrated, warming up, having eaten enough, and the like—it’s good to have a backup plan. While obviously you can’t plan thoroughly for the unknown, you can consider things that logically might go wrong and have a plan for if they do.

A partner and I once did a performance in a multiperson show that involved a mock abduction and hard-core resistance play. Of course I was planning not to get (too) hurt; I knew him well and trusted him completely, and we had practiced a bit too. Still, before we went on, we discussed possible concussion, sprains, and bone breaks. “I’m just gonna say, ‘Broken,’ and you can drag me off by what’s not broken so we don’t ruin the rest of the show for everyone,” I told him. It was less glib than it sounds.

What would you do if a photographer you don’t know well changes the location at the last minute to a place you’re not familiar with? Or if you’re supposed to be a supporting actor but get asked to fill in for the star who called in sick? What if you’re doing guerrilla bondage and someone walks up? For every kind of scenario, you can probably think of at least a few things that could go wrong, and having a backup plan can mean the difference between feeling like the gig was “ruined” and eagerly looking forward to the next one.

True Blue

True Blue is a rope switch, performer, and teacher as part of the duo Bondage Erotique.

I am hanging in a double ankle inversion, and Kanso is about to attach a main line to my hip harness. I know that within minutes, I will be lifted more than 30 feet above a crowd of hundreds by that hip harness line alone, in a very strenuous backbending, face-up suspension. So, I am acutely present with the rope as Kanso ties off the line. It is surreal how hyper-aware of that rope I am! I feel the vibration as the jute runs back through the Y-hanger. I know exactly where his hand is as he locks off the line. I am sensing all these details as if the rope is a part of my body. I am upside down, and coursing with endorphins from the already challenging sequence he has taken me through. I trust the line and he who has tied it.

And while I am so clearly aware of these subtle, vital details, I also hold a scope of the bigger picture: the brisk evening air, the music, the pace we are keeping, and how I imagine it feels for the audience. We are at Symbiosis Gathering in California.

This is how it can be for me, performing in rope: There is a micro and a macro. It is an internal process, and an intimate one to share with my partner, yet has a broader scope and an awareness from the perspective of the viewer, all at once. How do those two spaces—the personal and the public—get bridged?

The first time I saw Akira Naka and Iroha Shizuki perform, he shared an idea with the audience before the performance began: He wanted us to imagine that we were peering through a keyhole at two partners engaged in an intimate moment. My memory of that evening's performance is as if none of us watching dared breathe, so as to not be caught looking in on something so personal. I have channeled that notion as best I can ever since, every time I perform in rope.

For me, rope is intimate. No matter how fancy or technically advanced the ties, the true beauty lies in what transpires between the two partners engaged, and in the personal journey the bottom takes in the ropes, facilitated by the rigger. Whether it be semenawa, circus bondage, slow and sensual, rough and edgy, it is at its essence about the energy shared between the partners, and how they both lock in on the experience they are having and let the rest of the world drop away. And so, this is my starting point. This is what I seek to share when I find myself performing in rope. I want to find a genuine way to convey outwardly what I am feeling inwardly.

I am also an ex-burlesque dancer who ran away with a vaudeville circus once upon a time, so I do understand the importance of story and color and line and arc in performance. We do have an audience to engage, after all.

Performance is an opportunity to communicate what is happening inside of us, whether that be through a specific choice of costuming or song, or the way we turn our head or curl our toes. We are storytelling. From the moment we walk onto the stage, before the rope is even picked up, we are setting a tone.

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Mot to tell people how to feel. Mot as a preacher, not as a leader, hut as a reflection of us all!’ - John Lennon

When Kanso and I have a performance to prepare for, we rehearse three times. I have found over and over again that it is in the third time running through a specific piece that we will discover the story we need to tell with it and unfold the deeper meaning of this particular sequence. Maybe it concerns something personal happening in our lives we want to share, maybe it is a certain mood it makes us feel, maybe it is that one moment of the sequence holds a very potent, charged, challenging, connective, or symbolic weight to it, and then we draw all our colors, props, and music from there. That is to say: First we examine what the rope means to us, and then we envision how to share that.

Back to the performance 30 feet above a crowd of hundreds. We had gone to the stage that afternoon to check the pulley system and run through the lift with the stage riggers. I was nervous. If anything were to go wrong, I would be doomed. I would have a headpiece on with a footlong deer antler attached to it, and in the backbend, my mouth would be tied off to my ankle. Full commitment to that moment. The story was something of the deer, the vulnerable, the hunter and the hunted, a love story of sorts. As much as the antler on my headpiece added to the risks involved should I slip or fall, I felt it also to be a talisman of power. The power of the trust and surrender I was offering, of myself, to the piece, to Kanso, to the audience.

I later received a message from someone who had been in the audience that night:

"I know little of erotic bondage. My kinks express themselves with less deliberation. What I saw that night was easily one of the most arresting performances of the weekend. You opened my eyes to a side of intimacy that I had never been exposed to, and I am so gratefulfor it Never in my life have I seen such a romantic, communicative, trusting display of intimacy in public.... I was spellbound by the story you told"—Max

I had had what I would consider a healthy amount of anxiety during the run-through that day. But that evening: lakeside, starry skies, moody warm lighting, an amped-up and, frankly, stunned crowd, and the opportunity to walk onto the stage with Kanso and share this rope that we both so deeply love, I was calm. The line was locked off, Kanso carefully stuffed some arrows into the ropes surrounding me, his catch, and up I went. Serene and surreal. Grateful to be able to share such an internal, challenging moment in such an absurd and visual way. I spun slowly as I rose up. I closed my eyes sometimes, and felt the stage lights bright against my eyelids. I opened my eyes sometimes, and looked down, upside down, on a crowd of uplifted faces. I felt their energy as they felt ours. The moment, as they seem to do, slowed down. I believe my calm was the result of a balance I had struck between my innermost thoughts on this sequence, and how it was being conveyed. I do see performance as an opportunity to make an offering of oneself, and cherish this moment in particular as an example of that, of offering my surrender, my physical self, my love, in a way I can only do through rope.

Tying in front of other people can increase the pressure—whether it exists only in your mind or whether people have paid money to see you—to appear “perfect.” Communicating about needing an adjustment or to come down entirely can be hard for a lot of rope bottoms even when they’re alone with their partner; add all those extra eyes or a camera lens and you may communicate even less or not at all, putting yourself at greater risk of injury. Being realistic about your likely behavior and what is acceptable risk—and sharing that info with the person tying you—can reduce unexpected outcomes.

A rope bottom who is also a circus performer once told me she wasn’t particularly worried about nerve damage, and in fact in some places it actually helps her circus act, because her routine would be quite painful otherwise. I was pretty shocked at the time, but acceptable risk is entirely personal. I recommend, however, if you are similarly not worried, that you clearly inform your partner, because it may not be an acceptable risk to them. And if you won’t be communicating to your partner about signs of impending injury during a scene, clearly let your partner know that beforehand as well.

As for its being “unprofessional” to ask for adjustments or even to ask to come down during a performance, I would argue that in fact you would be setting the better example by demonstrating respect for your personal safety.

And speaking of risk, the photo at left is a great example of a situation that only looks super risky. What you don’t see are all the safety precautions: 1. The model is an experienced scuba diver. 2. Just outside the frame, a certified scuba instructor monitored her and frequently gave her a regulator with air. 3. The weights weren’t so heavy that she couldn’t be pulled out of the water in seconds. 4. There were three other people in the pool at all times to help her.

So while amazing photos like this can be inspiring, please don’t be inspired to re-create them without seriously considering how to stay safe.

Specifc Considerations. Bondage Performers.

Doing a bondage performance in front of an audience can mean anything from rocking out on amateur night at the local club to taking the stage for a paid gig in front of hundreds of people. Some people rehearse extensively, get costumes and props, and choose special music; some just come up with something on the fly or do their usual play style, in which case it's sometimes called a “playformance.” Bondage performances often involve suspension.

When I started in rope, bondage performing was pretty rare—and at first I didn’t get it. To me, bondage is personal, intimate, connective; why on earth would anyone want to turn it into a dog-and-pony show? Now it seems like it’s become the entertainment du jour at certain kinds of parties and other events, and not only do I get it, but I do it! I here’s the joy of sharing what I love with others, the possibility of helping someone discover a new passion, the satisfaction of providing good entertainment, the thrill of shocking any “vanillas,” and, of course, all the attention and feeling special. It seems obvious now, but bondage can be whatever you want it to be—personal, showy, playful, serious, even crowd-interactive.

It can also be pressurizing, given the audience and that mentality of "the show must go on". So it’s especially important to discuss ahead of time things like:

  • How will you communicate? Vocally? Through hand or other bodily signals?
  • Will the rigger check in on you periodically as well? If there’s loud music and dim lighting, you might not readily be heard or seen.
  • How will you both handle it if you need to come down?
  • If you’re winging it, do you have at least some idea of the format? Predicament bondage, multiple transitions, rough body play with rope on the floor, etc.?

All of these considerations may also apply when you’re not technically performing but people are watching anyway, like in a club or dungeon.


Some bottoms get tied up in the name of art. Often the art is photography, but it can include things like walking around at an event for “ambience,” posing as a kind of art installation, and holding a pose so people can sketch it. Some ropesters also call anyone who gets tied up a model, even if it’s in a play scenario, but that seems odd to me because in a play scene you’re not modeling the same way you would model for art.

Sometimes models have no prior bondage experience, which can be dangerous. And sometimes a “photographer” is really just a creeper with a camera. If you’re considering bondage modeling, I would first recommend getting to know your body in rope well before you add the camera. The better you know your body, the more you can lower your risk of getting injured. Bonus: You’ll probably look better in the photos too, because you’ll have a better understanding of how your body responds in rope.

Second, learn how to keep yourself safe in terms of not being preyed upon. The general Fetish Models & Photographers group on FetLife has almost 15,000 members, and it seems like a great place to ask questions. It also has indexes of models and photographers in the sticky section. You can find local modeling groups for many regions as well. Get to know other models; get references for photographers ahead of time in addition to checking out their work; listen to your instinct; consider having a friend accompany you to the shoot if you have any doubts. (But also be aware that a boyfriend or girlfriend staring daggers at the photographer the whole time might not get you the best photos.)

Some other considerations:

  • Will the photographer be doing the bondage, or someone else? Of course, check out the quality of the tyer’s work beforehand.
  • Are you comfortable communicating and advocating for your needs, especially if the shoot involves extreme positioning, an unusual setting, or anything else unfamiliar to you? If not, can you bring someone along who can advocate on your behalf?
  • Have you negotiated regarding nudity or lack of it?
  • Will you have rights to the photos, and if so, for what type(s) of use? For instance, a photographer may let you post the photos on Facebook but not let you sell them. Will you be required to sign a model release?
  • Are you comfortable with the fact that your photos may up on websites or other places you didn’t intend, and that once they’re out there, they’re pretty impossible to take back?
  • If the shoot involves other models, how will you be interacting with them? If the shoot involves multiple models and you’ll have some downtime, by the way, you might want to bring a robe or nice big blanket to stay warm and comfy when it’s not your turn.

Film/Video Actors

Rope bondage in porn videos and even in more mainstream flms has been around for quite a while (raise your hand if you’ve at least considered recreating that tied-to-the-railroad-tracks scene in The Perils of Pauline from 1914). Now it's even in music videos, and there are so many live-cam sites, it would be hard to keep track of them all.

Videos and clips can get lifted and distributed on sites other than the ones you signed up for, so you can’t assume that you’ll stay under the radar. And they may affect your job prospects—so if you’re thinking of running for office, say, doing filmed bondage might not be the best career move.

Bondage videos don’t have to include sex, but many do. Not every company is perfectly conscientious about requiring documented STI test results, and condom use is not the norm as of this writing. So decide acceptible risk ahead of time and stick with it. Also decide what your limits are in terms of bondage, other BDSM activities, and sex, so you can clearly communicate them. For instance, maybe you’re OK with bondage and having dildos rammed up your ass, but you draw the line at having your face slapped.

You'll want to research the production company, the director, the tyer, and anyone else you’ll be interacting with. Doing a video shoot can mean anything from someone filming you with a handheld in their bedroom to a full crew and a catered set, and the person(s) can be anything from sleazy to super professional. In one recent highly publicized case, a kinky porn actor was accused by other actors of sexual assault, including rape. Do your research and talk with people who’ve worked with the people you’re considering working with.

Some folks bypass production companies entirely and make amateur videos or set up their own live-cam (webcam) sites.

“I have an equal love for exhibitionism and bondage,” Barbary says, “and I was so excited to be able to get paid to do what I love.” It probably won’t surprise you, however, to learn that bondage on camera and bondage for play aren’t the same thing. Although both can be challenging and require good communication, “on camera it is less about my connection between the person who put me in bondage, since sometimes that person isn’t the one topping you or isn’t featured in the photos or video at all” Barbary says. “In play I prefer to have a connection and a whole experience with the bondage top.”

What’s it like doing bondage on camera? “It depends on the experience” Barbary says. “Certain sites that I've shot for—for example, and—really focus on predicament bondage and impact play, whereas other sites and most of the photo shoots I’ve done are more about artistically displaying the rope, or the bondage is part of a plot line.” In some scenarios, “you might be asked to act like you love or hate the bondage, which can feel silly doing.”

  • "Try to do some experimenting with bondage in your personal life or with someone before trying it on camera. This will allow you time to figure out what you do and don’t like, as well as how to tune into what your body is telling you during bondage scenes.
  • If you are shooting with a new director or photographer, don’t be afraid to check references from other models. Don’t be afraid of speaking up during a shoot if something doesn’t feel good, and don’t ever feel like you need to do something you’re uncomfortable with for money.
  • Bring a friend or someone else experienced to any shoot for your safety; plus it never hurts to have extra hands on set if needed.
  • Signing release forms is a great practice to ensure legality and that both parties are consenting to whatever has been negotiated."

Barbary says she’s never had a bad experience in the industry, by the way. I’d like to just reiterate, as mentioned elsewhere, that sexual pleasure can lower your pain perception, increasing the risk of injury. And even if you’re fully confident in your negotiating skills in play, being paid can make you feel pressured to do something you’re not fully comfortable with, so bringing along someone who can advocate for you might be a good idea.

Demo Bottoms and Practice Partners

Wherever a bondage instructor is teaching or a ropester is learning—classes, workshops, private lessons, peer skill shares, in front of YouTube in the living room—you’ll usually fnd a demo bottom or practice partner. Tying their own legs, a mannequin, a pillow, or the back of a chair only gets someone so far, after all.

Demo bottoming for instructors is a great way to experience a range of tying styles, and being tied by highly skilled people can be very enlightening—not to mention just plain awesome! I’m usually the first one volunteering when someone travels to San Francisco to teach. Still, there are some considerations:

  • Just because someone teaches bondage doesn’t mean they are actually qualified to teach bondage. It also doesn’t guarantee that they’re ethical. I’ve had only good experiences demo bottoming, but anytime someone is in a position of power, there’s the opportunity to abuse it. So it behooves you to do your homework and talk with other bottoms they’ve tied, rather than putting the teacher on a pedestal based on assumptions.
  • Demo bottoming is work as well as fun. In a daylong workshop, you could be in a TK for a few hours or more! You may have to do unfamiliar or strenuous ties. You may have to stand, kneel, or sit on the floor without back support for longer than you’re used to. Being well-rested, fed, hydrated, and warmed up go a long way here. So does knowing ahead of time what the class will cover.
  • As with performing, people will be watching, which adds pressure. If you feel like you might be less comfortable communicating about adjustments, consider having a mini session with the instructor beforehand, so you can work out the best placement of the wraps and so on.
  • My take on demo bottoming in general is that I’m there for the instructor—to be focused on them, make them look good, and facilitate learning. If I want to share bottoming thoughts with the class, I ask first if it’s OK. Otherwise, I try to speak only when spoken to. Teaching takes a lot of focus and energy, and detracting from that doesn’t help anyone. If you’re easily distracted, are very chatty, or care more about your own experience than the class’s, demo bottoming may not be a good fit. Ditto if you slip easily into nonverbal rope space, for obvious reasons.

Being a practice partner for someone who’s learning is less “glamorous” than demo bottoming, but there are still lots of reasons to do it. In addition to your helping deepen the knowledge pool among tyers, which benefits all bottoms, it tends to be a less risky way to meet new tops. As with demo bottoming, you can experience a wide range of styles, and you might discover new things you like. You might also do it as a trade— for bottoming “lab time’,’ dinner, time practicing your own tying, a foot rub...whatever you two agree on.

Professional Submissives

The frst time I heard that people get paid to be tied up, fogged, whipped, and whatnot, my frst thought was, “Where do I sign up?” Pro subs earn money doing BDSM scenes with clients, usually through a company or group (like Fantasy Makers in the San Francisco Bay Area). While sex work may include kink)- play, pro subs are not necessarily sex workers—in fact, you may be required by law to carefully document everything you do to show that no sex was involved.

Lets get the scoop from Cupcake Sinclair, a lifestyle and professional submissive who also teaches classes on BDSM, polyamory, sex work, and more.

Cupcake was already in the BDSM lifestyle before she started working as a pro sub out of Sanctuary, a dungeon in Los Angeles. “Rope bondage is a popular request and by far one of my favorites” she says, but she also caters “to a wide variety of fetish and kink interests—within my limits!” Yes, just as in performing, modeling, acting, and demo bottoming, you get to have limits; getting paid doesn’t change that. In fact, Cupcake doesn’t do rope suspensions with clients. “Rope suspensions are a form of edge play that I only-feel comfortable doing with trusted partners I have played with for a while,” she says.

So what exactly does getting tied up as a professional entail? “A rope scene can vary drastically,” she says. Sometimes clients just need someone to practice ties on in a class. Others are into role playing, “where perhaps I am the helpless damsel and they enjoy the energy of a squirming, helpless partner as they feel the rope quickly sliding across my skin and beneath their fingers.” (Did that turn you on, or is it just me?) I he possibilities are limited only by the imagination and what both parties consent to. “The variety of interests that are presented by rope bondage constantly keep me enthralled” Cupcake says.

If you’re interested in this line of work, here’s her professional advice:

  • “Always, always take time to negotiate a scene ahead of time to ensure that you and your client are on the same page about how the scene will go—particularly in a rope bondage scene! Limits and triggers are important to be aware of, along with making your safeword known before the scene starts.
  • Always start off small with a rope scene with clients, and if they desire so and you feel comfortable, expand to a larger scene. There are so many ways that nerve and general body damage can happen from improper ties, and your comfort is always a priority, so seeing how they do basic ties is important before allowing more intricate ones.
  • If you are new to rope, consider taking rope classes so that you know what proper ties look like and you can experience the ties for yourself in a no-pressure environment.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid to turn down rope sessions if you don’t feel confident—after all, a professional submissive’s or bottom’s main goal is to ensure their client is having a great experience, and that depends on you knowing yourself well enough to have a great experience to offer!”

You may also be wondering how to protect yourself while playing with someone you just met. Who’s to say they'll even honor your safeword?

At Sanctuary, “there’s an intercom system in all of the rooms’,’ Cupcake says. “ I he receptionist keeps the time for ongoing sessions and will buzz in to give 10-minute warnings. The girl sessioning—not the client—must verbally respond. If there is a lack of response after a few minutes, someone will physically come to check in on the scene to ensure everyone is OK.”

Also, none of the playroom doors lock. “That way if anyone feels uncomfortable at any time, they are free to leave.” And most of the rooms “have mirrors so both parties can watch the other to see what is occurring even if their back is turned.”

Even with these precautions in place, “we encourage submissives on our staff to never have all three of their senses hindered—for example, being tied up and blindfolded are OK, but then do not allow yourself to be gagged,” Cupcake says. She says she has never had a bad experience as a pro sub, but as with modeling and acting, I recommend researching the company and listening to your instinct about it as well as about potential clients.

Guerrilla Bondage

Lastly, for those of you wanting to take your tying out of the bedroom or dungeon and into the great outdoors, check out the considerations on the next pages from a master, and have fun exploring all the possibilities for rope bottoming beyond play!


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