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Bondage Safety

(c) 2006, 2008


guilty^, special thanks to pluu, T. & Icehawk for their contributions & comments and very special thanks to Eryn for editing the text into really good English.

There might be a more recent version of this article at:


Bondage can be a dangerous activity.  Neither the human body nor ropes are completely predictable and as such, the combination of the two comes with certain inherent risks that are never completely avoidable.  While there is always a chance that injury may occur, there are ways to minimize the risks.  There are many texts on bondage and often they disagree on many issues. This article presents my views on bondage safety based on what I’ve read, learned and experienced first hand.  Still, what may be entirely safe with one person may cause injury in someone else and in no way do I suggest that bondage will be safe even if you follow all the guidelines set forth in this text.

It is very important that all participants are aware of the potential for injury.  I recommend everyone read as many texts on bondage safety as possible. Also, I recommend reading international mailing lists (such as AdultRopeArt and ShibariNetwork) where safety issues as well as both major and minor accidents are discussed in an open and honest way.

The below applies to “normal” bondage. For suspension, there are more and sometimes different rules, the most important one being not to do it if you’re not very sure about what you are doing. That might be the best recommendation in general anyway — know what you are doing and don’t go too fast.

Remember, you are responsible for your own actions so use your head and when necessary, get medical advice.

Do’s and don’ts before bondage

Before bondage, do determine the mental and physical condition of your partner (and yourself). Simply asking if they are healthy or have any medical problems isn’t sufficient. Ask specifically about relevant medical conditions like back or spinal problems, neck problems, shoulder problems, heart or circulation problems, breathing problems, fainting, epilepsy, diabetes, breast implants[1], etc. Please note this list is certainly not complete so ask if your partner knows of any other relevant issues. If you’ll be using hemp rope, you may want to check for hemp allergy as well.  If your partner does have medical conditions that could be affected, determine and discuss the possible consequences and when necessary get professional medical advice.

Do warm up your muscles before a scene.  ((There is a reason both amateur and professional athletes warm up prior to playing.))  Stretching exercises are a good idea — use “Makko Ho“exercises for example.

Do consider using a safeword. However, don’t fully trust the safe word to be adequate as it doesn’t provide information on exactly what has gone wrong.  When a specific rope doesn’t feel good, it is better to just say so than to say “orange”. A safe word is an emergency break and many submissives find it difficult to use their safe word as stopping a scene by using one is not fun by definition.

As bondage is a dangerous activity, don’t play unless you’re focused and alert. Alcohol and other drugs, physical tiredness and lack of sleep usually prevent you from being focused and alert.

Don’t let yourself be tied by a partner you don’t trust.


Rope: Make sure you use rope that is suitable for the kind of bondage you want to do and check your ropes regularly especially when using natural fibre ropes (See my article on rope for more information on rope materials. During a scene,(especially when untying), make sure not to pull the ropes over the skin too fast — rougher material and synthetic ropes can cause serious abrasions. When in doubt, keep your hand between the rope and your partner’s skin, and you will know if you pull too fast.

Sailmakers Knife

Rescue Hook

Knife or scissors: Always keep a knife or good pair of EMT scissors at hand. It is very likely that you will never have to use it — untying is almost always safer — but there is always a chance that a rope has to come off immediately. Many web sites recommend bandage scissors because they don’t have a sharp point. However, many bandage scissors will not cut through rope well. So if you go for scissors, make sure you get decent EMT shears. Another option is a sailmaker’s knife (picture on the left). Either way, make sure that the knife or scissors can cut your rope. Use your emergency knife or scissors to cut your ropes at the desired lengths so that you know it cuts through your rope easily enough. Even better is trying to cut a piece of your rope under tension. If you have to cut your partner loose, make sure to support him or her where necessary

Another alternative is a “rescue hook” (picture on the right) used in moutaineering to cut ropes in emergency situations. They’re made to cut ropes close to the body. They’re sharp, but have no sharp point. Besides, they are perfect for venues where knifes are not allowed, as no-one can seriously consider a rescue hook a “weapon”.

Panic snap

Panic snaps: : If you’re planning on tying your partner to any fixed object or with hands above the head, you may want to use panic snaps (picture on the left). Panic snaps can be easily opened even when under tension so even if you partner faints and his or her full body weight places tension on the ropes, you can get your partner loose without cutting the rope. The picture on the right shows a panic snap that can be opened by pushing the bolt up (the pin will then fall down, releasing the rope). Please support your partner as necessary when opening the snap!

Water and food. Always keep some water at hand. Playing is not much fun if you go thirsty and when your partner is tied up, you shouldn’t leave the room to get some. Some food can be useful too — preferably a light snack or some glucose tablets. Also, water can be useful in an emergency if you’re planning to use candles.

Circulation and nerves

You always want to be careful to prevent injury during play and there has to be good communication between the Top and bottom. The bottom must understand that if something feels like “bad pain” ((you might want to differentiate between “bad” pain and not bad pain)) it usually is. Say so! It won’t necessarily mean that you have to be completely untied, but the Top will have to solve the problem, possibly by shifting some ropes. Always paying attention also implies that you can’t leave a tied up bottom alone, not even for just a moment. Well, ok, with some bondages a moment might be possible, but in that case at least stay within hearing range and make sure that you can be back within a few seconds.

The Top must constantly assure there’s no problems with their partner’s circulation or nerves. The first part is fairly well-known — bondage should never be so tight that fresh blood supply is cut off to any part of the body. The one or two finger rule is a handy memory aid … bondage usually is too tight if you can’t easily slip one or two between the ropes and the skin. It is true that most body parts can do without blood for a reasonable time without being damaged, but be very careful with genitals, breasts[2] and the brain. None-the-less, cutting off the blood supply won’t increase the bondage fun so it’s wiser and safer to avoid.

If body parts like hands, ankles or feet become colder during a session, or change colour, that can indicate a circulation problem. You can always do a capillary refill test. Press at one of the bottom’s fingernails and see how long it takes before the original colour returns. If it takes more than a few seconds or longer than usual, circulation may be impaired. Tying at elbow or hollow of the knee is often asking for problems.

Unfortunately, less known is that nerve problems can occur during a bondage session. They can happen without warning so, in addition to checking the bottom’s circulation, check that there’s no loss of sensation, no tingling nor numbness, and that movement is still possible.  This is called a CSM Test for circulation, sensation and movement. But even that test does not provide a 100% guarantee.  For instance, finger movement is partly controlled by muscles in the arm that are well above any possible wrist tie[3]. Thus, even if you are an experienced rope Top, it is important to get to know the bottom’s body sensativaties and to slowly increase the time you let your bottom remain tied up.

While the risk of nerve problems is greater in suspension scenarios, it can also occur during regular bondage. In the upper arm, several nerves run close to the surface of the skin and nerve problems can occur with takate-kote style bondage — an arm/chest harness with ropes over the upper arms. Damage to these nerves can lead to loss of sensation and movement in the wrist, hand or fingers. Also, problems can occur when the femoral nerve in the waist/upper leg area gets compressed during bondage positions that bend the bottom forward, causing loss of sensation at the knee[4]. Fortunately, nerve damage is often temporary. If a problem does occur and hasn’t gone away in a few days, please go see a doctor.


Some ties can cause breathing problems. A gag in combination with bondage, can worsen this problem, or quicken its occurance. This doesn’t necessarily mean a rope has been misplaced though.  The bondage position itself can sometimes cause breathing problems, (for instance a hog-tie). This is known as  Positional Asphyxia and sometimes can cause death. (This is another good reason not to leave your bottom alone, and to continually keep an eye on him or her!) A misplaced rope — at the diaphragm for instance — can also cause breathing problems as can a rope around the neck or across the throat like with some hojojutsu bondages or a military hogtie.  Those can also restrict  blood flow to the brain. Don’t do them unless you know very well what you’re doing!


One of the more common emergencies during bondage is fainting. Sometimes it occurs after a long, intense session … sometimes after a few minutes. There is a lot of speculation on the internet as to the reason fainting occurs.  Factors can include having the hands tied over the head, a too-cold or too-warm environment, having had too much or too little food, and dehydration. Another possible factor could be from having locked knee joints when standing which you can try to prevent by bending your legs a little when you have to stand for a long time. But in many cases, the reason remains unknown

Fainting need not be dangerous as usually your partner will recover quickly. Lay your partner gently on the floor and remove all ropes. If your partner doesn’t recover almost immediately, call for medical assistance. If your partner faints regularly, a medical check up might be smart.  What’s important is to be prepared when something like fainting can happen. Make sure you know what to do and keep your knife or scissors close at hand. Use panic snaps if you like. Also, make sure that your partner doesn’t get hurt during the actual fainting (While fainting might not be that dangerous, hitting your head against something sharp definitely is).

When Things Go Wrong

The first time pluu fainted, I was scared shitless. I was very glad I wasn’t the one who had tied her, and that a very experienced rigger was nearby. When it happened again later, I was more prepared, but it was still scary. Fortunately, we quickly continued tying. Also when pluu got (temporary, thank heaven) nerve damage, that was really scary. It’s no fun for the bottom, but as a Top you can feel quite guilty (no pun intended). Keep talking, and be aware that accidents can happen to anyone.

Further reading

Some resources on bondage safety:

Jimi Tatu – “Never assume” at his tutorial site
Jimi Tatu – “Safety with Rope” at his AdultRopeArt website
Jay Wiseman – Regarding Circulation, e-mail on (te vinden in de files afdeling van onze yahoogroup)
Jay Wiseman – Erotic Bondage Handbook
Hans Meyer – Shibari Fumo Ryo
Susan Wright – “Healthy Breast Bondage” at Jimi Tatu’s AdultRopeArt website

Mailinglists on rope bondage, where safety is discussed frequently:



[1] See Jimi Tatu – “Safety with Rope” at AdultRopart
[2] See Susan Wright – “Healthy Breast Bondage” at Jimi Tatu’s AdultRopeArt website
[3] See: Jay Wiseman – Erotic Bondage Handbook, p.83
[4] We’ve got some experience with this. After a long session with a ebi-style bondage, pluu experienced some loss of sensation in her knee for a few days.