Advice - Your Rope

The Fetishisation of Suspension Ties

I think this term in the title is valid. Suspension ties are being fetishised. They are being promoted as the best thing in rope spaces. It looks delicious and thirsty people want a mouthful . It is a goal many riggers and bottoms aspire towards. There is a lot of validation of this when we get to that level. Though, in reality, once I reached there, just as much as other parts of rope journeys, I realised just how little I know and how the practices and guidelines change. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

I thought of this term whilst messaging an online friend about rope and nerve problems, because he had encountered it very recently. I had just been teaching my class on rope safety and how our bodies are in rope the day before, so this topic was very fresh in my mind. The day before that, someone posted a writing on Fetlife about an injury caused by rope play. As we chatted, the friend mentioned how wrist drop and nerve problems are somewhat common. And they are, as we see in incident reports. On reflection, I am genuinely shocked. How can injuries become “normalised” when safety and risk mitigations are the primary concerns of rope players? We have a duty to avoid harm. Otherwise, it is abuse. What is going on that the need to suspend is more important than safety?

I know people will take their own risks in the rope they do. I’m not in the business of telling people what to do. I will draw on safety advice and offer it wherever it is wanted, though. Because rope play is edge play; meaning it’s the type of play that can leave long term problems and potentially be fatal, if you don’t know what you are doing. And, to be frank, most people don’t. They don’t know the risks they are taking. They haven’t had that level of education or mentorship. Or it didn’t sink in yet. It is a lot to absorb. Or, most likely, people get carried away with their fantasies.

Fantasies. It is just that. It is common that people join rope and kink spaces because of posts they have seen on the internet. And on joining the scene, they see all those things in person and looking ruddy awesome. We want that. We want to experience those amazing scenes. We want to be cool, like those popular people doing rope. We want in.

Why wouldn’t we? YouTube has amazing content. There’s books. There’s classes. There’s really lovely people skill sharing. It is possible. It can be within arms reach. So we reach.

My friend said people in his area are thinking of running taster suspension sessions. There are so many issues here, that I had to go away and think about it. Write about it here. Because, that might encourage is the fetishisation of suspension ties, which I’m concerned about. It feeds the demand that exists because of the content people like me post. People see the post and want in. They reach out their arms. And I can’t help but think that anyone that exploits that demand is unethical.

Ethics are subjective though. That’s not lost on me. I can see why feeding the demand in the relative safety of a kink event, in the company of people who take safety seriously is a better option. It is.

But I have seen people very new to rope play being exploited by riggers and suspended before their time. They might know functional ties and have all the equipment (and people vouching for them), but they haven’t done the rest of the work. Perhaps they have missed the whole point of rope: it’s about the individual and their own needs; it’s about connection; it’s about healing and finding ways to explore taboos; it’s about reaching parts of our psyche that is lost in the day to day mundane; its about self expression and beauty. And so many other things.

However, even if we only consider the safety aspects, a gap exists. What isn’t commonly talked about is just how different suspension ties are to floor work. The risks increase exponentially once you load bare a tie. If rope is edge play, suspension rope is at the far edges of the edge play. This should be respected. The parties need to have spent years building up their body knowledge. They need to have developed strong reflective practices. They need to have built the communication and trust to take those risks. It can’t happen quickly.

In my class yesterday, I asked what the common risks that the attendees might’ve heard about previously. I mentioned about how radial nerve damage was all the talk of the kink town in the first 2 or 3 years on the kink scene for me. I said that we need to know more and taught them basics. But, only one of them has openly said they had even heard of that common problem. I am concerned that nerve damage and other risk factors are not being discussed on my local scene. I was dumbfounded. People just don’t know what they are doing.

So, it bothers me hugely. It bothers me that people aren’t getting the memo that everything you see on the Internet is a lie. I say that in my classes. Do not look at a picture or video and copy it. What is fine for one body, isn’t for the next. What is fine one day, isn’t the next. There are so many factors to consider. Pressure compounds. Injuries happen out of the blue, sometimes, especially in the air. We can’t possibly know the weeks or months of work and negotiations that went into the tie. You don’t know what you don’t know.

So let’s try moving away from the standard perception that suspension ties are the best. Lets stop fetishising shibari styles for marketing purposes. Because suspension ties, Japanese inspired or not, aren’t for every body. Amazing scenes, longer scenes, more fluid scenes happen on the floor. And let’s not treat injuries like an occupational hazard.

These are my own opinions based on my own experience and practise. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Happy Easter, Passover and Ramadan ✝️✡️☪️

Feature image: self tied futomono and body wraps of DeaNexa, photo edited into an image of a glass water. Everything is an illusion.

6 replies on “The Fetishisation of Suspension Ties”

THANK YOU FOR THIS BLOG POST. I have seen/heard of too many folks getting hurt by suspending too early or when not experienced enough. This is why some folks won’t tie with me, because safety is my TOP PRIORITY. If they can’t respect safety and boundaries, that’s manipulation and abuse- and we ain’t got time for that.

My partner and I have been trying for two years, going to classes as often as we can. We do attend both floor and suspension classes (only suspension for the last year, and to start with only to classes recommend by our teachers based on our skill level) but we are lucky that nerve damage is spoken about often and most classes, how to find the ouchie nerve spots on someone is demonstrated so if you’re tying a new person you know how to find them before rope is put on, dressing wraps is highly encouraged, and bunny education is starting to take off so they can inform on their own bodies. It came from experience of nerve damage my teachers have had themselves and trying to make sure we make smart choices and listen to our partners and our own bodies in rope. I have grown to know my partners body a bit, her likes and dislikes, but I know I still have so much to learn. While we attend suspension classes, we mostly do partials in the class while others are doing full suspensions because that’s where we feel we are more comfortable at the moment and our teachers completely support us taking it slow and only going as far as we can. I think I have only done two or three suspensions very low to the ground outside of class which went well and used ties I knew were comfortable for my partners. The rest have been in classes and at rope jams. I’ve seen people start around the same time or later than myself and are tying full suspensions and even teaching beginner classes elsewhere way before they should and it is scary, so I’m glad I’ve found good teachers that talk about the risks a lot and are huge lovers of floor rope, partials, and tying with intent.
Thank you for this article. It’s so important to have these conversations.

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m so glad you have good teachers and support in place. I’m loving all the bottoming resources and classes that are out there, too. Amd taking your time, focusing in what works, is so important.

It is very cliche-esque for some one to say, we were just talking about this yesterday but my partner and I were just talking about this very topic. Based on my photography and videos of my demonstrations, I often have clients who come to me for services involving rope, based on either my photography work or the work and images of others. They all want to be suspended based on a video clip or photograph, “saying how peaceful,” the person looks. I send them my on-boarding questionnaire and they realize there is pain involve. “I didn’t know it was going to hurt.” I find that we spend more time discussing pain profiles, safety and risk mitigation, mental and emotional health, and communication before we get to rope things. In some situations it can be a daunting tasks for both parties. I generally have to slow things down a bit and “strongly” suggest that we start in stages.
1. Decorative Ties as introduction.
2. Partial restrictions -floor work with either upper appendages-arms and hand, or lower appendages-legs and feet bound (if they decide they want to continue exploring)
3. Complete restrictions.
4. Suspensions.
And all of this with exploring and expanding their new understanding of their body in this space. Giving them time to process things.
I agree with your perspective, there is a disconnect on the conversation about safety and risk. Even with the information that’s out that too any people want to rush in and be suspended without having these conversations.
(I’ll end my ramblings here. Lol)
Thank you for this amazing post.

Thank you for taking the time to comment here. Ramble away! Your work is beautiful. I can see how people get the wrong idea, because I’ve had similar issues with new people approaching me. I think it’s great that you have that formal process, and do things in stages. I’m similar, and prefer keeping the focus on the individual person and their body. Taking time, building trust and communication, holding respect for each other and continually improving our risk awareness is key, I think.

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