Safety in Bondage and BDSM


Safety. It’s really Simple!

For a serious couple, and by serious I mean a couple who love and care about each other, Bondage and BDSM can be an exciting and enriching part of their relationship. As a shared experience it involves firmness, physical restraint and heightened awareness as the body is bound and constrained. Clearly one fundamental ingredient is trust but there is one more which can be overlooked quite often because the participants believe nothing could go wrong if they trust and care about each other. That’s why I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about safety in BDSM and Bondage.
These are by no means hard and fast rules but are meant to raise your awareness of the kind of issues which are important when sharing a Bondage experience.

First off:
Let me start by saying that all safety is a shared responsibility for both Dominant and submissive. If you, as the sub partner in the relationship, fail to speak out if, for example, your breathing is restricted or your hands and feet have gone completely numb, then you are at the very least breaking the trust in the relationship, and at worse putting you and your Dominant in physical and possibly legal jeopardy. Equally, for the Dominant, if you do not pay close attention to your sub’s condition (breathing, skin colour, behaviour etc) you are also placing both of you in danger.

OK, let’s go through some basics:
The phrase “Safe, Sane, Sober and Consensual” should be etched on the back of your eyelids as you engage in BDSM roleplay. Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of the more basic things you should pay attention to before you start:

  1. Make sure that safety is not only your first priority but that of everybody involved, participants and onlookers alike. Encourage people to speak up if they’re not sure about anything.
  2. Have safety and first aid equipment at hand.
  3. If you’re doing rope bondage keep a good pair of shears or safety scissors handy (and I do mean handy, not in the next room or the garage!).
  4. If you’re using handcuffs, test the keys work before you put them on and make sure they too stay in the room.
  5. Start slowly. Don’t go rushing into extreme scenarios until both partners are experienced as much with each other as he scenario.
  6. Know the limits of your partner – this applies to both of you. Don’t assume that the Dom will do anything or the sub will take everything. BDSM does a lot to raise personal awareness and this needs to be a process, not an event. When someone reaches a place they cannot cope with, communication can fail and this is dangerous. Be aware – Stay aware!
  7. We’re not all built the same so don’t assume that your sub can get their feet behind their ears like in that photo you saw. Unusual positions take time and practice and you certainly don’t want to be wheeled into casualty to be un-knotted!
  8. Air Restriction. Make sure that NOTHING around the throat is tight or can pull. This applies whether it’s collars or ropes. Remember that the neck and throat are very soft and so this kind of play can restrict blood flow to the brain (just as bad as stopping the air) and damage the vocal cords. Loose and easy is the rule! If you simply must engage in this type of play then the breathing must NEVER be restricted in a way which does not require full attention and control. You must never be able to leave your model unattended with any kind of restrictive device or action still in place. Almost all fatal and serious accidents involving BDSM happen through choking, strangulation or suffocation. And deaths of this kind are often treated as manslaughter.
  9. Don’t assume your Partner can read your mind. Speak out if something’s not right.
  10. Alcohol and drugs: Just don’t.
  11. Always be aware of fire risks and be absolutely clear what to do in such an event. Where are the keys/cutter? Which is the quickest way out? Who will need help to escape/be safe in an emergency and how will it be given?
  12. Always have your partner’s consent and always have safewords which are known and can be heard by everyone involved.
  13. Try to think of things you can add to this list. Your awareness is what counts!

Safewords
For many, Safewords are an important part of BDSM play. Like traffic Lights they indicate three levels of caution:

Green – Everything’s fine, let’s keep on going. This is a very useful check if the bottom is exploring new play experiences or wants to take an existing one a bit further. A little longer, a little tighter, a few more lashes maybe. This is a good way of making sure the bottom’s ok and the top isn’t venturing into unwelcome territory.

Amber – Take it easy, just slow down a little bit. Perhaps things have got a bit enthusiastic and the bottom needs a breather. Or maybe they’ve got a cramp or lost the feeling in their leg or hand. Or maybe that toy is just a bit too big! Amber safewords give both parties a chance to communicate and change the game without stopping it.

Red – Stop now! And stop means STOP. This should be absolute and non-negotiable, and that needs to be understood by all parties. End the game now, release the sub and make sure everything’s ok.

Although the Red-Amber-Green structure is good you will probably want to assign your own safewords to these levels. You need make sure that all parties involved in the play, whether participating directly or not, are all aware of the safewords, particularly the Red level ones. It’s very easy in the middle of an exciting scene to miss it if you are the Top and doing all the hard work with the flogger.

The submissive should always use the appropriate word for the situation. Don’t feel obliged to to use a green word if you would like to pause or even halt the play. Remember these are your words and you can use them whenever you feel you need to.
Similarly, don’t use a red word if you just want to shift position or let the blood back into you fingers or feet. If you always use a Red word when you really mean an Amber one then partners may see this as ‘Crying Wolf’ and become reluctant to play with you.
That said, the Red words are there for when you want to stop the game completely, if you are hurting too much or, importantly, if you feel the top is not maintaining full control.

If the Dominant ignores you or takes too long to stop after the use of a Red word then you may want to have a think about whether to continue using them as a play partner.

For more information on this particular topic, take a look at our Safewords post.

Rope Bondage
This is becoming much more popular now, particularly the Japanese Shibari styles, and there are plenty of books and video’s out there to make sure that any newcomer has lots of information to hand. That said, let’s just go through some safety pointers:

  1. It’s well worth getting a book or two about this and reading up before you start. My favourites include “Shibari you can use” by Lee Harrington and the Two Knotty Boys’ “Back on the Ropes”. Both very entertaining and informative.
  2. It’s been said before but it cannot be overstated: Stay Away From The Neck And Throat. The submissive could slip, fall, or pass out. They might be able to breathe but not realise that their blood flow to the brain is constricted. All sorts of things and none of them worth the risk.
  3. Take your time and learn new riggings slowly. Remember this is a joint activity and you both need to learn the process together.
  4. There are various points around the body where nerves and blood vessels come very close to the surface. Sometimes known as pressure points, they are found on the soft parts of joints. Tie above or below them and in particular stay away from the inside of the elbow, the backs of knees, and the inner biceps and thighs.
  5. Make sure your model is well supported at all times. Keeping balance can be difficult so keep them on a couch or the floor, or make sure someone else is there to help you hold them.
  6. Don’t stay tied in too long. Like any kind of bondage, Shibari puts stresses on the body so pay attention to pains, tingles and, or course, any numbness or loss of sensation. Check your model regularly and loosen or remove immediately if any of the above symptoms occur.
  7. Handle the ropes with care. They can leave burns if you run them over skin too quickly so try not to drag them. If you make sure you can get at least one finger under a rope then it shouldn’t be too tight if you need to pull a rope through under it. This goes as much for untying as for tying up.
  8. Never, never leave your model unattended or out of you sight for so much as a second while they are tied up. Ever. At all.

Some final points:
If there only two of you playing you are relying on each other. We have so far only spoken in terms of something happening to the sub, but what if the Dom should become injured, trip or fall, and end up unconscious? Try to make sure the sub can raise the alarm if necessary, or have a phone within their reach.

Don’t be afraid to come ‘out of character’ to make sure everything is ok. It might take the edge off the moment, but it soon comes back and it’s much better to be safe than sorry. And remember, it’s the sub’s job to be honest when asked and to speak out when necessary. I’ve not yet met a Dom who wouldn’t be horrified to find they’d hurt their sub because she was too timid to say something.

Alright, lecture over. But take a few moments to read this again and you’ll see that it’s really just common sense and a few simple rules. Stick with them and your Bondage and BDSM rolepays will be ever more fulfilling and enjoyable!

photo by Erwin Olaf of well dressed man wearing a glossy black YSL back on head

Image Copyright/Credit:

Erwin Olaf – from the series “Fashion Victims” titled “Yves Saint Laurent”

Mark Tomblesen

 
About the Author … Mark Tomblesen is a Creative Director with a digital media firm in London. He has worked in the video and DM fields since the mid Nineties.

“BDSM and Fetish are reaching out to a whole new audience and Tickleberry has been created to meet the everyday needs of the growing BDSM community. It’s been really great to be a part of this.”

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