I was Associate Editor, Sex and Relationships for Chicago's first all-digital LGBTQ news and entertainment source, Gay Chic Magazine. The site became a popular outlet for local news, nightlife, and entertainment news. I edited all sex and relationship content and wrote a monthly column covering kink and alternative sexual lifestyles. Sadly, the publication lost funding and shuttered in 2016. This piece was published in January 2015.
A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage
Walking in the bedroom, I saw a teal mattress covered in coils of red and black rope. Those were for me. The room was warm and small and dusty — a guest bedroom, outfitted with all the kitschy decor rejects from the rest of the house. A bizarre poster of Lady Gaga on the wall. A round mirror lined with turquoise and sapphire tiles. I sensed an ocean theme.
Through the window I could see a small, well-kept backyard. The man closed the blinds and told me to get on the bed. His body was extremely athletic. His arm muscles were huge and I assumed he did steroids. He told me to get on my hands and knees and I obeyed. He tied a bandanna around my eyes and said I needed to focus on my breathing and try to breathe more slowly.
He knew I was scared. This was my first time.
Losing power gracefully is very hard to do. Men are taught throughout our lives to adhere to a script that is the very opposite of submission: shake hands firmly, get the upper hand, punch back. Control is the lifeblood of America. I had no playbook for how to relinquish my body. All I had were his words, my breathing, and the feeling of rope sliding around my wrists and ankles.
The sessions that followed were my gateway into BDSM. He became a lover, a dominant, a trainer, a travel companion, and ultimately something like a dear friend. We would have a complicated relationship in the years to follow, but in the beginning, things were simple. My body wanted something it didn't know how to experience. He guided me into submission, like unlocking a series of doors into a rich interior. Bondage, tape, cuffs, gags, and blindfolds are the best tools to arrive at that place where you completely let go. It's like euphoria. You never feel so free as when you're tied up.
BDSM has enjoyed increasing visibility in recent years. Middle-aged straight women discovered whips and chains in Fifty Shades of Grey, and every teenager with internet has, unwittingly or otherwise, clicked on fetish porn. But for most of its history, BDSM and its related practices were unlabeled, unlawful, and heavily tabooed. Artifacts from the ancient world show bondage, whipping, and hair-pulling as sexual acts, but our modern culture associated with these acts is only as old as the Victorians.
In the years leading up to World War II, kink had a blossoming. With the advent of gay leather culture in America in the late 1960's and early 1970's, kink and BDSM became a globally interconnected community, one that still orients itself around leather (leather boots, leather biker jackets, and so on) and, to a lesser extent, rubber.
Gay leathermen were among the first to be ravaged by AIDS in the 80's. In response, our community was one of the first to react to it. This is why HIV outreach and fundraising remain vital parts of the kink community. We deal in sexual communication and practice "extreme" sex, so who better to communicate through the myths and dangers and truths of sexually transmitted disease? We become de-facto sex educators and wellness advocates, and today the best sexperts are kinksters.
The scene has evolved into dozens of micro fetish communities. You may dabble in many of these as you explore, and you will almost certainly try bondage at some point. Bondage is a core kink. It's the first letter of the BDSM acronym, which stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism, and Masochism (among other things, depending on who you ask). As both a sex and art form, bondage has been around for thousands of years.
Before you start, here are the rules. The first one applies to everything in BDSM: Only play with people you know and trust to some extent. This is important, since most kinky people today find each other via websites, apps, forums, and so on. You will likely meet your first kinky playmate online. I did. Before playing with them, have a series of conversations. Meet in a public place. Talk about your limits (sex acts you will not do, no matter what). Discuss your "safe word" (a code word you can say in a scene, particularly a role-play scene, which means “stop right now"). Make sure you both understand SSC and RACK.
SSC stands for “safe, sane, and consensual." RACK stands for “risk-aware consensual kink." Both safety mantras stress the importance of consent, which is the boundary line between kink and abuse. As long as your sex is consensual, it’s accepted by the kink community. Non-consensual sex isn't kink — it’s rape, and rape is not tolerated. There are people into something called "rape fantasy," which is an extreme form of consensual role-play that is agreed upon beforehand. We have to be clear about the fine line between "rape fantasy" and other extreme fetish practices and actual rape.
SSC was the standard safety mantra until the 90's when RACK emerged as a more precise one. Some people with extreme kinks concluded that, although their sex is consensual, it wasn't “safe" in the strictest sense. Fisting, after all, is a consensual sex practice that always has some risk of injury. Fans of RACK say that as long as you’re aware of the risks and do everything you can to minimize them, your consensual kinky sex gets the green light.
When you're looking for playmates, make sure you are seeking people with a fair amount of bondage experience. Good bondage requires safe knot tying techniques and extensive safety protocol. If you want to get tied up, find a bondage top who’s been doing it for years. If you want to tie people up, learn from a master. Start easy, with simple hand and ankle tying, before working up to more extreme forms of bondage like suspension bondage, sleep sacks, and so on. Remember to keep a pair of scissors close by that you are physically able to reach and use in case something awful happens (your dominant has a heart attack) and you have to get free without their help.
You will learn where to go from here. Everyone has different sexual triggers, and not everyone into bondage is submissive or dominant; many like both. Above all else, have fun! That's truly what all this is about. You will never forget the first person to tie you up.
I will discuss other kinks in the coming posts, so stay tuned for more Kink/BDSM 101.