BDSM is a broad term that includes bondage and discipline; domination and submission; and sadism and masochism. Also known as kink, the practices that fall under this umbrella range from widely adapted sex acts like spanking to less common activities like fire or knife play.
Seated somewhere in the middle of the commonality spectrum is rope play.
A form of bondage, rope play uses rope as a tool for connection, intimacy, and pleasure. One person—the top—uses rope to tie another person, the bottom.
There are different types of rope including cotton, nylon, jute, and hemp, among others, and each has different pros and cons such as their cost, feel, ease of cleaning, and more.
We spoke with two rope experts about everything you need to know to begin exploring rope play.
What is rope play?
MrBLK, a Maryland based kink and sex educator and one half of The Black Pomegranate, describes rope play as “the process of using rope bondage as a tool.”
It ranges from a single rope to full suspensions, or being hung; from tying someone up to restrict their movement to decorative tying for the aesthetic pleasure of creating art that integrates the body with an inanimate object.
Rope play can be sexual, but it isn’t necessarily. The repetition of tying, the ceding of control, the connection and communication involved in creating a consensual scene lead many into a meditative state. Practitioners report reduced pain and stress, and increased intimacy, sexual or platonic. For example, my first time being tied was completely non-sexual. My curiosity peaked at a conference, along with my joint pain. While thinking aloud about options that could support my body, I realized that we could replicate how I use belts in my back care yoga class—a proven way to reduce my pain—with rope. What I didn’t expect was the meditative state, called sub space in BDSM, I entered or how my entire nervous system, including my pain signals, calmed.
What is the purpose of rope play?
According to MrBLK, rope has “a multifaceted range of effects” ranging from silly and fun to meditative to intimate and sensual to physically and erotically demanding. They continue, “The dynamics of rope play can range from casual to emotionally complex.”
Like its cousin the vibrator, rope is a tool that invites people to play, explore, and add a new emotional and physical experience to their sex life or relationship. Angelique Luna, a sex podcaster and coach, highlights this, syaing “The benefits of being intimate with a partner without being sexual is priceless.”
Why do people explore rope play?
There are endless theories about why people enjoy different kinks, and rope is no different. Both BLK and Luna note that a big part of rope’s appeal is that it can be enjoyed by almost anyone, no matter their identities.
Rope is also one of the best bang for your buck sex tools: it’s relatively inexpensive and extremely versatile. BLK says it can be used for “everything from bondage sex scenes to functional restraint to forms of erotic artistic expression,” while Luna adds that rope play provides physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy all at once.
How can incorporating rope play benefit one’s sex life?
In one word: connection.
Mr BLK explains, “The word connection is often used when people talk about rope play. This is expressed as the idea that people have the chance to consensually connect in a physical and emotional way while playing with rope. This connection can facilitate intimacy, power exchange, body positivity, and trust, and encourage exploration.”
Luna adds, “ It can be playful. You can flirt with the rope in bringing someone close to you and then push them back. Being suspended in air can be freeing and relaxing. Often times [rope play] places a person in a meditative state.”
The benefits of rope play—like those of pleasure—extend beyond the bedroom. Mr. BLK notes that participating in rope play requires skill, whether you’re a top or the bottom. “Achieving this skill can be personally beneficial. This sense of meaning and belonging encourage many people to get involved in rope play.” Luna also notes that compression can help with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain, and even stress.
Additionally, as one of the core parts of BDSM, tying someone, or being tied, is often the first kinky activity someone engages in as they begin to explore their kink and fetish desires.
What are the risks of rope play?
As with any sex act, there are physical and emotional risks of rope play.
Before beginning, it’s important to talk openly with your partner(s) about what you want and what you don’t want to do, as well as how you’ll check in throughout the scene. For the latter, MrBLK suggests using something like the stop light system—where green means “all’s well!”, yellow indicates a desire to change or adjust something, and red means stop right now—or an established system of taps or grunts.
Nerve damage can be a concern. Luna stresses the importance of knowing the anatomy of the body and where it’s safe to place ropes, as well as speaking up if something doesn’t feel right. Numbness, tingling, and loss of sensation are all signs that the rope isn’t placed correctly. MrBLK adds, “Rope shouldn’t be placed on joints, or in places that can irritate nerves or interfere with breathing.”
Keep a pair of safety scissors close by anytime you’re playing with rope. These allow you to cut the rope off quickly, and are a signal that the rope top is practicing risk-aware rope play.
What should being tied feel like?
MrBLK says “Rope bondage can be snug but shouldn’t feel overly tight or constricting to the point of pain. Someone who is tied up should be in a secure position to prevent falls or tip-overs since a bound person can’t catch themselves.”
What skills should someone focus on who’s learning to tie rope?
According to MrBLK, rope tops (those that are tying) should work to develop technical proficiency in handling and placing rope on a bottom’s body, particularly proper rope placement and tension. “A skillful rope top will be able to adapt bondage ties for a variety of situations. Rope tops should also develop excellent communication skills and read the feedback that a rope bottom is giving them during scenes.”
Rope play also a masterclass in communication—for everyone involved.
MrBLK explains, “Because rope bondage is so connective, it’s important that scene partners learn how to communicate their desires, needs, and feelings at a given time…Communication is important in every facet of a rope bondage experience, from establishing ongoing consent to maintaining a pleasurable, risk aware environment. Communication is what permits the technical parts of rope bondage to happen. Therefore, knowing what and how to communicate will lead to mutually satisfying dynamic and experiences.”
What’s the number one takeaway for someone interested, but nervous about exploring rope play?
Go slow. Be patient. Be sensual. Have fun!