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Let’s get knotty: Shibari

Shibari is more than just a way to tie pretty knots – it is a quite literally captivating erotic practice that can be enjoyed with a partner or on your own.

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Shibari (Japanese for “tying/binding”), also known as kinbaku (“tight binding”), is a centuries-old Japanese art of erotic rope tying that is said to have developed from an even older way of immobilizing war prisoners. Now a consensual practice enjoyed by many all around the world, it can be placed in the B (bondage) category of BDSM, as it involves restraint, but it is quite different from Western-style bondage. Whereas the former serves mainly to restrain a person in a quick and practical way, shibari is meant to convey emotions in an aesthetic way. It is as much of an art form as it is a kinky practice. The works of the influential Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki can give a good insight into the aesthetics of shibari – the images he is best known for and which caused quite a lot of controversy, feature women in the nude, tied up in an artful way.

Like many of the traditional Japanese arts, such as origami or bonsai, shibari is all about patience and attention to detail. The rigger – the person tying the rope – can spend entire hours restraining the rope bunny. Depending on the rigger’s skill and their vision, the rope ties can be used to create patterns and harnesses that underline the shape of the body, to fix the rope bunny in a specific pose, or even to support their weight fully so that they can be suspended in the air.

The pleasures of shibari are not purely aesthetic, of course – it involves power exchange, too, as the rope bunny consensually submits to the rigger’s will, which can also mean being subjected all kinds of additional sensation with toys, implements and body parts. Some rope bunnies report a pleasant endorphin rush just from the feeling of being restrained – while it’s happening or shortly after being released.

So you want to be a rigger/rope bunny?

Step One: Know The Ropes (Literally)

You will most likely need more rope than you think. Typically, several six- to eight-metre-long pieces are used in shibari – that way the rope is long enough to work with and short enough to not be in the way. To put an average-sized person in full body bondage, you will need five to ten lengths of rope. The preferred type of rope is natural-fibre, either hemp or jute, as they both provide a rough texture with a bit of grip on the skin as well as a traditional look. Nowadays, there is a wide selection of both natural and synthetic ropes available, both online and in brick and mortar shops – you can even check your local DIY market for some budget options! Each type of rope has slightly different qualities, so it’s a good idea to compare how it looks and feels in person, always with the purpose in mind: for instance, not all rope is equally suitable for suspension. If you’re not sure, consult your local rope community. Also take into account that rope transforms with use – stiff natural fibres will soften with every use, which can be further helped by applying oil or wax.

Step Two: Learn The Ropes (With Others Or Alone)

With its plethora of knots and patterns, shibari is definitely a hands-on skill. You can start by looking for beginner classes in your area. Usually, they are conducted by rope pros, take place with the participants wearing clothes, so there is no nudity involved, and you can join on your own, with a partner or even book a private lesson. Live classes are obviously tricky in the times of social distancing, but there are also many online resources on the subject – start with checking out the CHEEX tutorial, in which you can learn a few easy but effective ties.

See the full length tutorial here 

Whether on- or offline, getting to see the knots being tied in motion and with some spatial depth and following the directions can be really helpful in understanding which end of rope is supposed to go where, compared to just looking at pictures presenting the final result. By the way, it is possible to be both a rigger and a rope bunny at the same time – self-bondage is a thing! Putting some rope on yourself in an elaborate way can be either a grounding sensual practice, foreplay to a self-love session or a touch of visual variety for taking some nudes – or if you wish, all the above.

Step Three: Play Safe

Shibari patterns make seem quite delicate, but as with any practice involving restraint, safety precautions are essential. As a rigger, you absolutely have to know what you’re doing – if you’re not sure, you don’t know the risks involved and if the risks aren’t known to both parties, consent is not possible. As a bunny, you can check out The Rope Bottom Guide by Clover of Studio Kokoro –  it’s a great resource for those starting out on their rope journey. The more complicated knots can take a while to master, so for the sake of both your rope bunny and your ceiling: don’t dive head first into suspension bondage. As with any BDSM practice that you are trying out with a partner, communication is key. A safeword system ensures that the person being tied up can be released or at least have their restraints loosened whenever the need may arise. It’s also the rigger’s responsibility to regularly check in on the restrained person to see if the rope isn’t too tight in any spot, obstructing the blood flow. Any uncomfortable numbness or discolouration of body parts means: time for release — now! For that reason, it’s best to keep a pair of medical shears (like the ones you would find in a first aid box) at hand to cut the rope in an emergency. Also, be mindful that dragging rope across skin can cause friction burn, which is not really dangerous, but can still be quite painful (unless pain is your thing, then more power to you, but proceed with caution anyway!)

Want to see more?

how-to-shibari
© Nina Sever

Watch Nina Sever get tied up by her partner Conor. You can feel how they really trust each other and slowly starting to feel aroused. 

bdsm-tutorial
© Sex School

Or learn everything you need to know about BDSM in the BDSM Tutorial by the Sex School. 

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