GC Magazine, Chicago's first all-digital LGBT news and entertainment source, shuttered in 2016. This piece was published on the site in January of 2015. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage

The first time I did bondage — real bondage, not just getting my hands tied with balloon ribbon at a fifth-grade birthday party — I was terrified. Naked, gagged, and hogtied, I remember thinking, “This is how people disappear and end up on the news.”

I was on a bed in a man’s house, a man I had only met a few weeks ago. He pulled a bandana around my eyes — I was blindfolded. I focused on my breathing and forced myself to do something that is truly very hard: relinquish control. Loosen the mental reigns. Let go. Our instinct in uncomfortable situations is to do the opposite, to fight and kick and tense our muscles. He helped: “Breathe slowly. Inhale for four seconds, exhale for six.”

The session and the sessions that followed would teach me an old truth about sex: mental barriers, not physical ones, are hardest to overcome. Your body knows what to do, and can be pushed harder than you think it can. Beneath your higher-thinking self, your body wants pleasure. Your brain easily misreads painful sensation as pleasurable ones. When you combine the two — pleasure and pain — your brain registers sensory overload, and at first it can be too much. With practice, you can enjoy the experience of giving up control, being restrained, and letting someone else take over. 

My sir, who has himself been a bondage submissive many times, once said that you never feel as free as when you’re tied up. It’s true. Before I started exploring kink, sex had always been about doing a good job and pleasing the other person. Regardless if I was giving or receiving, I was always in control of my performance. Suddenly here I was with a round piece of rubber in my mouth. When I stopped fighting, it happened — something like euphoria.

BDSM has garnered increased visibility in recent years. Conservative, middle-aged straight women have discovered ball gags and whips in the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, and every kid with internet has unwittingly or otherwise clicked on kinky porn. But for most of its history, kink and BDSM were unlabelled, unlawful, and widely tabooed practices. Artifacts from the ancient world show bondage, whipping, and hair-pulling as sexual acts, but our modern language around these subjects is only as old as the Victorians. As a culture, kink only picked up in the years before WWII. Since the advent of gay leather culture in America in the late 60s and early 70s, we've had a public, globally connected kink and BDSM community, one that oriented itself (and continues to do so) around leather: leather boots, biker jackets, leather gloves and harnesses, and so on.

The AIDS epidemic struck the leather community hard. In the years since, kink has been all but demonized by some who blame the epidemic on kinkiness and promiscuous gay culture, which hit its peak in the pre-plague years. Today, the scene has opened up and evolved into countless smaller fetish communities. Some are oriented around specific gear and clothing (rubber fetishists, diaper fetishists) while others are oriented around specific kinky sex practices (fisters, bondage lovers, human pets, and so on).

That one time at a fifth-grade birthday party wasn’t bondage, it was just kids playing a game, but I would think about it for years after. When my family gathered around the TV to watch movies like Titanic and Disney’s Pocahontas, I felt strange and uncomfortable when male characters (Leonardo DiCaprio and John Smith) got tied up (or, in Leonardo’s case, handcuffed). Looking back, I realize my kinkiness was triggered then — long before I knew I was gay. When I lived in Zambia as a child, I tied up my stuffed animals with my mother’s bathrobe tie and hid them because I felt ashamed and didn't know why. 

Bondage is a core part of kink. It’s part of the BDSM acronym, which stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. As a sex and art form, it’s been around for thousands of years. But before you dash off to the nearest kink store to buy rope and cuffs, you need to know the rules, which apply to BDSM: First, only play with people you know and have developed some trust and communication with. This is important, since most kinksters today find each other on websites like FetLife.com and hookup apps like Scruff and Recon. 

Like any hookup, if you’ve clicked with someone online and want to meet in person, meet in a public place. Sit down with them a few times before you play and discuss what you both want and are looking for. Discuss your limits — the sex acts you will not do, no matter what. Discuss your safe word — the code word you say in a scene which means “stop right now.” If they don’t agree to have these talks, move on. 

All kinky sex must meet the mantras SSC and RACK, which stand for “safe, sane, and consensual” and “risk-aware consensual kink.” SSC was the standard mantra until the 90s, and for many people it still is. SSC stresses the requirement of consent. Consent is the boundary line between kink and abuse. As long as your sex is consensual — as long as you are free to say no, free to stop, and free to leave at any time — it’s accepted by the larger kink community. Non-consensual sex isn't kink — it’s rape, and rape is never tolerated. Ever.

In the 90s, RACK emerged as a more precise safety mantra because some people into extreme kinks conceded that, although their sex is consensual, it’s not “safe" in the strictest sense. Fisting, for example, is the act of slowly stretching someone’s anus with your fingers until the whole hand is inserted to create an intense and incredible sensation. Although fisting is amazing, it has a high potential for injury, particularly if you don't know what you're doing. Fans of RACK say that as long as you’re aware of the risks and do everything you can to minimize them, your consensual kink gets the green light.

Learning from kinksters with more experience is also a requirement. If you want to fist, learn how to do it from experienced fisters. If you want to tie someone up, learn the ropes from an experienced bondage top. This is how we keep each other safe. Good bondage requires safe knot tying — you don’t want to hurt the person who trusts you. If you want to get tied up, find a bondage top who’s been doing it for a while. Start easy, with simple hand and ankle tying, before working up to more extreme forms of bondage. Don't do suspension bondage or sleep sacks on your first meetup. 

You'll learn as you go. Try new things and push your limits slowly and safely. Everyone has different triggers that ignite their horniness, and no, not everyone is submissive or dominant — many people like both. See your kinky journey as a process of self-discovery, one that never ends. And if you ever find yourself frustrated and tangled in the ropes, reach out to others. We’re here to help.

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