Who am I as a rope bottom without my rigger? What is my place in this world without them? Where do I go from here?
Those were some of the questions I asked myself when I parted ways with the rigger I had tied with weekly for the past year. I felt unraveled and aimless, I struggled to see the path ahead. What now?
Behind my questions were layers of fear: Fear that I would never be able to find a deep and meaningful connection in ropes again. Fear that no one would ever tie me up as well – especially none as readily available to me. Fear that my worth as a rope bottom was (literally) tied up in my connection to them.
My rope career had been short, yet intensive. Looking back, it’s as if I hopped on a rollercoaster at full speed, and while on it the world beyond seized to exist. (I’ll spare the details of how I realized the machinery was flawed and about to collapse, causing me to discharge as quickly as I had gotten on in order to save myself.)
The result was, that after tumbling off, it took me weeks to see straight, but as I emerged from the fog and wiped the dust from my eyes, one of the first things I realized is that I still have myself and my ropes. Then, I remembered how inspired I am by my friend and fellow rope model, Sari, who’s been self-tying for a while and is quickly excelling as a rigger.
I decided that the path ahead was mine and mine alone to carve and picked up my shovel. Or rather, I picked up my phone and called my friend, and shortly thereafter, unwrapped my rope bag. This time, only for me.
Over the past year, I’d spent countless hours getting tied up, modeling, and assisting at workshops with my rigger, during which I absorbed everything I possibly could by watching, listening, and most of all through feeling the rope on my skin. While I had occasionally tied myself too, it had always come from a lack of a better option – or, rather, a lack of someone to tie or get tied by. It was something I did to practice tensions and patterns – never for the pleasure of the act itself.
In aquarian terms, I decided to stop self-tying from a place of scarcity and move to an abundance mindset. I realized that I already have everything I need; I have myself, and I am enough.
The first few times I self-tied with this new intention, I had the feeling that something, or someone, was missing. It also felt overindulgent, like I was being silly and frivolous to spend all this time just for me. But slowly, as I managed to quiet the voice of the imposter, I found empowerment.
It was amazing to be able to give myself the feeling of being held by ropes, whenever I craved it and without needing anyone to do it for me. It was affirming and confidence-boosting to master something new, express, and give myself pleasure, on my own terms. When I finally felt ready to self-suspend (under supervision, FYI) and was able to experience the unbelievably freeing feeling of hanging upside down — in my own space, from my own ropes, at my own mercy — I was beyond elated.
I can do it! I really am enough!
I’m not the only one who’s had these realizations. Solo bondage has gained traction and is spreading like wildfire in the shibari world and beyond. I had a chance to speak with long-time rope artist Gorgone, who suggests the increased interest in self-tying goes hand in hand with the popularization of shibari, in general:
“The practice is being perceived as less weird and creepy than before. Rather than something practitioners feel shameful and secretive about, it’s viewed as a fun and exciting activity that adds real value.”
Gorgone further attributes its rise in popularity to our generation’s exorbitant social media usage and a tendency to share whenever we do something we perceive as exciting. “The influx of solo-bondage images creates a ripple effect that inspires even more people to realize that they can get into Shibari without needing a partner, and without running the risk of having a bad experience with someone else,” they say.
“Rather than as a response to not having someone available to tie with, self-tying is now fully recognized as a practice in itself,” Gorgone continues, “and while there have always been people doing it, it is now happening on a large scale.”
Gorgone’s own trajectory has evolved over the last decade; starting out as a rope model, they’re now a celebrated rigger who’s gone on to founding and running the inclusive, queer-friendly educational platform Shibari Study. The scene itself has seen a lateral development.
“When I started out, the scene was predominantly straight and cis with older males tying younger females. There were no women-riggers around, at least none famous enough that we knew about them. Now, with a much broader spectrum represented and the scene becoming increasingly open, intersectional and feminist, the same diversity is reflected in how rope-bondage is being used. New branches are developing that reach far beyond the trite stereotype of men sexually dominating women in ropes.
“A part of what we’re seeing is that self-tying is being used as a means for self-care, anxiety relief, creative expression, and so much more. Whereas, if you were tying yourself a decade ago, people would look at you weird, and tell you to find a man to tie you up instead.”
Though much has changed, there are still voices in the rope world – especially those belonging to the older cis male rigger generation – who will insist that solo-bondage is pointless and that rope bunnies should stick to bottoming.
“This is equivalent to the outdated notion of sex toys as a threat in relationships, rather than something that can add to it,” Gorgone shutters. “It’s this possessive idea that I should be the only one giving you pleasure, and that has to go.”
The two of us continued to banter about ropes and pleasure and self-love, agreeing with what bondage instructor Anna Bones implies in the Shibari Study video The Pleasure of Self-Tying, that solo-bondage is to Shibari what masturbation is to sex.
Akin to masturbation, you can do it anywhere and at any time – within reason, of course. It’s a wonderful, easy form of self-care and self-love. It can teach us so much about ourselves, what we like and how we like it. It has the potential to enrich our coupled practice. It gives us pleasure, which is good for us.
In the same way that the majority won’t give up sex just because we masturbate, or vice-versa, I’m not planning to stop tying with others, either as a bottom or top, just because I’ve learned to enjoy tying myself. On the contrary, I aspire to keep excelling at both, knowing they feed each other.
I’ve already gained so much from the realization that I don’t need anyone else in order to enjoy ropes. And coming to shibari – or anything in life, for that matter – from a place of wholeness rather than one of shortage is bound to bring about further abundance.
What better time than the holidays than to give ourselves that? To wrap ourselves up; from ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves. It’s the gift that keeps giving!
If you want to learn from Shibari Study, the site currently features five self-tying videos with Anna Bones, who also happens to be a rope switch who gets tied and ties others and herself. Starting with a free intro video aimed at those new to the practice, the others go through freestyle tying, to more structured leg and chest harnesses.
“We plan to build on this and get more advanced, eventually moving from the floor and into self-suspension. Our aim is to build slowly. We want to make sure we cover the basics first to avoid anyone coming to our website and jumping straight to self-suspension,” says Gorgone, underlining that safety is a major concern in all things shibari-related.
Speaking of safety, Gorgone and I accumulated a few safety pointers especially for self-tying:
Self-tying safety 101
The risks you choose to take are up to you alone, but the following are recommended when self-tying, especially when you are new:
Be educated and risk-informed | Know the dangers associated with shibari, research anatomy, the risks of nerve injury, and assess your own risk profile. Then, apply common sense and adjust to your situation and surroundings.
Keep your hands free | Don’t put yourself in tricky positions that you can’t get out of. Don’t tie your hands and make sure you can catch yourself if you tip over.
Avoid rope around or close to the neck | Any kind of neck or choking ties are for advanced practitioners and should never be done alone.
Keep your safety equipment close | Have your safety sheers within reach, as well as your phone – with voice control turned on so you can call for help in the case that you can’t reach it.
Be fit for the task | One of the biggest causes of accidents is fainting. Ensure your energy levels are high; be rested, fed, hydrated, and watch for blood pressure issues. This is especially important for self-suspension where you can quickly get exhausted to the point where your hands and arms can no longer grip.
Don’t do risky things alone | For challenging solo-bondage such as suspension, notify your roommate, friend, or partner and make sure they check in on you regularly.
Make room for breaks | Aim to put yourself in positions that allow for rest and reset.
Clear your surroundings | Remove hard or sharp objects from your immediate radius. Watch for table corners and edges. Avoid candles and fire hazards.
Stick with the ‘low and slow approach’ | Apply patience and increase difficulty slowly by mastering your last step before progressing to the next. A state of stress imposes risk and does not create optimal learning conditions for your brain. A calm mind learns faster and is able to recognize and correct mistakes.
Don’t rush off the ground | Yes, flying surely looks (and is) cool, but poses much higher risks. Wait until you’re ready.
Practice emotional self-care | Consent and negotiation are important, even when you’re just tying yourself. Set intentions before and keep checking in to assess how you want to feel and what you wish to experience.
Photos are fun, but be cautious | Since rope sessions are fleeting and ephemeral, it makes sense that we want to materialize these moments. Seeing what we did can be a great way to track progress and get a sense of achievement. This, along with social media sharing, is a double-edged sword. Focus less on the image and more on being present in the moment. If you can get pictures in a safe and easy way, great. No photo, regardless of how magnificent, is worth risking your life for!