I Tried Japanese Bondage to Learn About the Beauty of Getting Tied Up

I also learned a lot about pain, bruising and how much my shoulder can take before it dislocates.

|
24 July 2018, 10:56pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands

Japanese bondage, also known as kinbaku or shibari, is a centuries-old form of BDSM, focused on the aesthetics of being tied up in ropes and the thrill of being completely at the mercy of the person manning those ropes. With shibari, you're basically turned into a human sculpture while also being sexually stimulated – at least, that's the idea. It's art, but for sex!

I've always been fascinated by the idea of bondage, but have never seriously considered asking someone to tie me up and hoist me into the air. For me, a tied-up naked body can look sexy, but also I can't help but feel it must be extremely painful for the person tangled up in the ropes – too painful to ever truly be a turn-on.

To find out why people are into shibari, I contacted Bob Roos, who runs the fetish site Ropemarks. The 48-year-old from Amsterdam has been hosting BDSM workshops for 20 years, and specialises in Japanese bondage, so seemed like the right person to take me through the process.

Step one.

A few days after contacting him, I'm standing in Bob's flat, where the walls are decorated with portraits of tied-up comic book superheroes. Before we get started, we take a seat outside on his terrace and he gives me a quick history lesson on his favourite fetish.

"Japanese bondage actually started with police officers having to tie up the people they were arresting," he says. "Centuries ago, Japanese police had to use ropes in order to transport criminals, and officers had to learn complicated knots to constrain their detainees. Those same officers then took their knowledge to the bedroom."

Spring, Bob's partner, joins us on the terrace; I immediately recognise her from promotional pictures on Ropemarks . The raw reality of the photos she's in made me realise just how sanitised BDSM is in films like Fifty Shades of Grey. Bob tells me he hates the way soft porn gives such a false impression of the true nature of bondage. "People watch it and come away wanting to tie each other up and suspend their partner from the ceiling, but they don't realise that it's a lot harder than it looks. The ropes can break pretty easily," he explains.

Bob then decides this is a good time to regale me with tales of people who have been injured after their ropes snapped, and I start to wonder whether coming here was a good idea. Apparently, nerve damage is the biggest risk associated with Japanese bondage. And while it's easier to notice when something goes awry in other forms of BDSM, Bob adds that it can often be harder to spot that a shibari knot has failed, until it's too late.

Bob securing me into place.

"But safety comes first," Bob reassures me, possibly sensing my reluctance. Especially for newcomers, "it's important to make sure that nothing gets pinched off... Every second you waste not communicating that a part of your body has fallen asleep, you're potentially causing serious harm to your nerves."

It's time to begin. First, Bob has to test my flexibility by pulling my hands behind my back. Is this going be comfortable at all, I ask. "No," he laughs, adding that suspension bondage is mainly about pain – not necessarily from the ropes, but from the postures. "You have to keep on breathing and just pull through it," Spring says. By doing that, at some point, I'll enter the so-called "rope space" – a sort of trance in which endorphins will rush to my brain.

As EDM bangers play in the background, Bob begins to tie my hands behind my back in a controlled, rhythmic manner. I notice that he's starting to adopt a more dominant posture. I can't see what's happening behind me, but I can feel the ropes getting tighter.

Bob ties me up to the point where I can only move my head. While I'm standing there, almost completely incapacitated, he calmly describes how he developed his fetish. It all started with a fascination for superheroes. "When I was eight years old, my grandmother gave me a comic book that featured the image of a roped-up Spider Woman," he says, giving some context to all the art on his walls. "Since then, I've been on a search for comics that show women tied-up."

When he received that first comic, Bob was too young to associate this fascination with sex, but after he started watching porn as a teenager he eventually stumbled on to the BDSM category. Ever since, he tells me, he's been open with all of his girlfriends about his taste for bondage.

I can't move, but I'm enjoying the conversation. Suddenly, Bob pulls me up by one side of my body. I scream. My biggest worry at this point is my shoulder, which was dislocated when I was 14, but thankfully my arm remains in its socket. I'm starting to feel dizzy when Bob instructs me to keep moving my fingers so that he can check no blood vessels are being pinched off.

Bob really loves a surprise. Moments later, without any warning, he contorts my body into several different positions, completely of his choosing. I'm suddenly being lifted up higher and higher, until I can barely touch the floor, only to be let back down again. I feel like a giant piece of antique furniture, hanging on a pulley system, being forcefully hoisted up several flights. It's like I'm a character in Bob's game, and I'm not sure whether the pain I'm feeling is good or bad.

"That feeling is precisely what I like about it," Spring tells me, as she sips a tea next to us. "As I'm slowly being tied up, I just as slowly surrender to the pain and, eventually, accept it."

Bob pulling me into the air.

I ask Bob if all this isn't just a bit of a hassle sometimes, especially when him and Spring are looking for a quickie. "We don't always feel like doing bondage, but our sex is always kind of kinky," he replies.

Bob ties some ropes around my shoulders. The pain and pressure is slowly getting more bearable, to the point where I feel pretty comfortable, like I'm getting a firm massage on a tense muscle. Bob senses this and asks if I'm enjoying myself. I tell him that I am, which he seems to take as a cue to pull my legs up until I'm hanging in the air at an angle, blood rushing to my brain. The pain returns.

My face is as red as a beet and Bob is not my boyfriend, so the atmosphere in the room isn't quite sexy, but at least we're all having a nice time. Now that I'm suspended in the air, I can better understand why people get turned on from being completely powerless. You have to give full control to someone who can do anything to you, because resisting physically hurts.

Then, Bob tells me, people can choose to take it a step further. "Sex can be an important part of bondage," Bob says. "For example, women can ask to have their legs tied in certain ways, so that they can be fucked as they hang there. You also have specific Japanese bondage games where the woman is placed into what's traditionally considered a humiliating posture, such as when her arms are tied up behind her back and her breasts protrude forward. That pose isn't too much of a big deal in the West, but generally considered a humiliating posture in Japan."

Bob turns me around again. I'm getting used to his manoeuvring and I'm now starting to feel pretty good. Bob notices my ease and releases the rope that's holding up my head up, causing me to flip upside down.

The dizziness returns, but this time I try to relax my body and I gradually feel lighter. I can't move, but – unlike earlier, when it made me feel anxious – I now feel a sense of freedom. I know that certain breathing exercises during sex could potentially prolong and intensify an orgasm, and bet that orgasms can be explosive when you're in "rope space" – though I'm still not really feeling particularly horny.

My post-session rope marks.

Bob takes it one final step further – he lets down my hair and ties it up again with a rope. He then pulls my hair up, forcing my neck into a difficult angle. My entire body is now tense, and I'm feeling hyperconscious about my hair and muscles. "I have to admit that I really like being in control," Bob remarks.

Then it's time for Bob to let me go. I can feel the burden sliding off my shoulders, both literally and figuratively. I can finally move again and I'm relieved to feel solid ground under my feet. The rope has left imprints all over my arms – marks that turn into bruising the next day.

It's pretty easy to understand how bondage can improve your sex life – it's challenging, unpredictable and requires you to surrender entirely to your partner. Also, it just looks great. But I don't think I'll take this experience to the bedroom with me. Though I liked how the stretch marks on my skin and the slight stiffness in my neck were sort of like getting a love bite, I think I'm too impatient for Japanese bondage. It takes some time to get into those ropes, and once I'm finally up there I'd lose interest in any sexual act.

Overall: it was fun to try, but when I'm in the mood, I'm more concerned with having sex than creating human suspension art.

This article originally appeared on VICE NL.

More VICE
Vice Channels