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Bondage is the tying, binding, or restraining of a person for the sexual, aesthetic, and/or psychological pleasure of the parties involved. Rope, cuffs, bondage tape, self-adhesive bandages, or other restraints may be used for this purpose.
Many couples incorporate bondage into their sex lives, often sporadically but sometimes more regularly, and find sexual bondage to be relationship-affirming. This sometimes takes the form of a sex game or rape fantasy enactment, or the enactment of a partner's sexual fantasy. Bedroom bondage games are commonly used as a form of foreplay. It requires and implies a level of trust and a surrender of control by the restrained to the active partner. The main feature of sexual bondage is that it renders the restrained person vulnerable to a variety of sex acts and is unable to interfere in the ensuing sexual activity. The restrained partner is dependent for their sexual satisfaction on the actions of their partner, who may treat the restrained partner as their sex object.
Bondage can be relatively simple to apply, enabling improvisation using household items and little experience. Bedroom bondage is usually mild bondage, with one partner voluntarily being put into restraints by being tied up or handcuffed. blindfolds are a common part of bedroom play. The restrained partner is then typically sexually stimulated by masturbation, fingering, oral sex, a vibrator, or intercourse. Bondage can also be used for purposes other than sexual foreplay. For example, it may be used in erotic tickling or for sexual teasing.
The free partner may derive erotic pleasure or achieve sexual arousal from being in a dominant situation, while the tied partner may achieve arousal from being in a largely "helpless" position in the hands of a trusted partner. Either way, the partners are usually playing out bondage games to act out their sexual fantasies.
A subculture of gay men, sometimes called leathermen, were among the first groups to make obvious hints of their tastes in bondage in public. Other groups, including pansexual and heterosexual BDSM enthusiasts, later followed suit. Early public displays were mainly limited to the wearing of certain fashion items, such as collars and cuffs.
Over time, more explicit public displays arose. The most prominent examples are LGBT street fairs, such as the famous Folsom Street Fair. These events are few in number and highly controversial in most regions.
Exhibitionist displays are another manifestation of public bondage. They are typically undertaken by individuals who fetishize public displays of sex and sexuality. However, some exhibitionist bondage is done as a social and/or political statement. This could be an effort to raise awareness of alternative sexuality or a political metaphor for oppression.
BDSM clubs feature semi-public bondage. Participants will attend meetings in a private space called play parties. While the clubs and events are considered private, play parties feature open spaces where play occurs that allows other attendees to watch scenes in progress. Public play of this variety is more rooted in social activity and the safe space afforded by such clubs than exhibitionist fetishism.
Bondage features prominently in BDSM scenes and sexual roleplay. Bondage has a sexual appeal to people of both sexes and all sexual orientations, in either a dominant (top) or submissive (bottom) role.
There are also some common fantasy settings in which bondage may be a component. These include:
Bondage is often combined with other sexual and BDSM techniques.
Self-bondage is more complex, and may involve special techniques to apply bondage to oneself, and also to effect a release after a lapsed period of time. Self-bondage is also notably risky: see the safety notes below.
A large variety of bondage equipment is available for use in BDSM scenes for a number of results. These include rope, straps, or harnesses which can be used to hold limbs together; spreader bars, x-frames which can be used to keep limbs apart; the body or limbs can be tied to an object, such as to chairs or stocks; the body may be suspended from another object, as in suspension bondage; or it may used to restrict normal movement, such as use of hobble skirts, handcuffs, or pony harness. Bondage may also be used to wrap the whole body or a part of it in bindings, such as cloth or plastic (saran wrap or cling film "mummification") as well as sleepsack bondage.
One of the purposes of bondage in BDSM is to restrain a person (typically called the bottom) in a BDSM position. This may involve simply tying the hands together in front or behind. Other positions involve the use of a waist belt to anchor the hands to the front, back or sides. Other popular positions are the spread eagle, with the limbs splayed out and fastened by wrists and ankles to bedposts, door frame or some other anchoring point; the hogtie, which secures each wrist to its corresponding ankle behind the back (wider, padded restraints such as bondage cuffs are recommended for this); the balltie, which secures wrists to ankles, in front, with the knees drawn up to the chest; the crotch rope, which involves pulling a rope between the labia to apply pressure to the female genitals. Sometimes a knot is placed in the rope at the position of the clitoris to intensify the sensation. Other positions include the reverse prayer position (not recommended unless the subject has flexible shoulders), and an over-arm tie, in which the arms are brought over the head, and the wrists fastened together behind the head and then by a length of rope, chain or strapping to a belt at the waist.
The types of restraints used in bondage include rope, which is often preferred because of its flexibility. Rigging, however, requires considerable skill and practice to do safely. Other types of restraints include chains, handcuffs, thumbcuffs and belly chains. Institutional restraints, such as straitjackets may be used in some roleplays, and purpose-made bondage gear, such as monogloves, sleepsacks, bondage hooks and bondage tables, are also available.
Some BDSM play parties offer "bondage workshops", where couples, or people otherwise consenting with each other, can practice tying up each other under the instruction and supervision of an experienced bondage rigger.
Many people regard bondage as safer, when conducted between sober, trusted partners who are fully aware of the risks involved and the precautions necessary to ensure safety, such as informed consent. Partners who are in committed relationships may have a greater basis for trusting each other. Performing acts in a supervised location, such as a dungeon, or with a group of trusted friends may also increase safety.
There is also a subculture of people who seek out others interested in bondage and pursue such activities with people who they do not know well. This subculture has given rise to the safe, sane and consensual credo, which is being replaced with Safer, Sane & Consensual, considering that 'safe' is subjectively impossible.
Safety precautions include:
One very simple safety measure is to ask the subject every so often if he or she is all right. Another is to check body parts like hands and feet for numbness or coldness, which can happen if nerves have been pinched or blood circulation has been blocked. Another is to check for skin discoloration. Skin that does not get enough oxygen turns bluish. If blood can get in, but cannot get out because one of the veins has been blocked, that part of the body turns purple.
If the subject has been gagged or can otherwise not verbally communicate, a different form of the safeword is needed. For instance, they may hum a simple tune, or opening and closing one or both hands repeatedly, or releasing an object held in one hand (such as a rubber ball, or a scarf).
Some simple preparations may also be helpful:
It should be noted that scenes depicted in bondage photographs and videos are chosen for their visual appeal and fantasy value. Sometimes these positions are dangerous or cannot be maintained for more than a few minutes (i.e., "don't try this at home") such as inverted bondage or suspension from the wrists and ankles. In many cases they cannot be "acted out" with good results and are only for extremely physically fit and very experienced BDSM participants.
Self-bondage carries a higher risk, particularly because it violates an important principle of bondage safety; to never leave a bound person alone. Without someone to release them in the event of an emergency or medical crisis, self-bondage can be lethal to its practitioners.
Some people regard bondage to be erotically stimulating or sexually arousing. Bondage features in some sexual fantasy scenarios. Studies of men's fantasies have shown that the fantasy of being bound during intercourse is second in frequency only to the basic fantasy of sex with a voluptuous nude woman. Bondage themes have been present in erotica and pornography for some time.
Bondage pornography for heterosexual men almost overwhelmingly depicts bound women, rather than bound men, despite one of the most common fantasies in both sexes being one of being bound.
Bondage fantasies often involve dressing in a role outfit. Typical outfits for the submissive person invoke common icons of passivity or sexual innocence (e.g. a shepherdess, nun or schoolgirl outfit for women, or a leather slave harness and cuffs for men). In a similar respect, the dominant person's attire often reflect images of power, control, and extreme discipline (a Nazi officer, police or prison warden uniform).
Some people who have been put into long-term deep bondage (mummification) have reported having out-of-the-body experiences and there are some who desire to be put in deep bondage for this reason. A New Age form of bondage is being immersed a sensory deprivation tank for the express purpose of having an out-of-the-body experience as was practiced while on ketamine by John C. Lilly.
Bondage is also presented in erotic and mainstream literary forms, including cartoons and magazines, and depicted in erotic art, such as some of the works of Gustave Doré and John Everett Millais. The mythical Andromeda was a popular subject for bondage in art by painters including Rembrandt's Andromeda Chained to the Rocks (1630), Théodore Chassériau (1840), Edward Poynter (1869) and Gustave Doré (1869).
Other popular scenarios for bondage in art was that of Angelica from the fifteenth century epic poem Orlando Innamorato, which is itself a continuation of the romantic epic saga Orlando Furioso, which is similar to that of Andromeda in that the heroine is offered as a sacrifice to the sea gods; and the damsel in distress theme. The damsel in distress theme was also used in The Perils of Pauline (1914) motion picture serial, which found Pearl White in mortal danger on a weekly basis.
Depictions of bondage in art may be erotic, in which case they would tend to depict a young woman in danger and fear, and some are BDSM in style. Bizarre was a fetish and bondage magazine published between 1946-1959 by bondage artist John Willie. It included drawings and photographs using professional bondage models in bondage or sadomasochistic scenes. Sweet Gwendoline was the main female character in his works, published largely in the 1950s and 60's, and possibly the most famous bondage icon after Bettie Page. She was repeatedly depicted as the stereotypical naïve blonde damsel in distress.
Bondage received a positive (if brief) treatment in The Joy of Sex, a mainstream sex manual popular in the 1970s. The publication of Madonna's book, Sex, which included photographs of bound nudes, did a great deal to improve public awareness of the acceptance of bondage.
By the 1990s, references to bondage could be found in mainstream prime-time television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where equipment such as handcuffs or collars and concepts such as the safeword were included as a matter of course.
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James was first published in ebook in 2011 and subsequently went on to become a bestseller. The print edition of the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2012 and became the fastest selling bestseller, breaking multiple sales records. The trilogy revolves entirely around a fictional BDSM relationship; though it is widely considered a poor representation of BDSM relationships, by those in the BDSM scene.
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