When something is popular, it’s inevitable that myths will abound when people mention the topic. In BDSM, rope suspensions are currently one of the hottest forms of play. Some of the myths surrounding rope suspensions have reached mythical status (wood “shibari” rings anyone?) yet reek of utter nonsense. Let’s debunk a few myths about rope suspensions.
1. The take kote has to be used for suspensions – If shibari & kinbaku has a signature tie, it has to be the take kote (コテを取ります) or box tie as it’s colloquially known. The take kote or TK is full of engineering, with wraps and a spine designed to add strength and rigidity to floor work bondage or suspensions. When it works, the TK is the foundation for a good suspension. Except when it doesn’t work.
The take kote demands that the lower arms be placed behind the back, forearms parallel to each other. This is the beginning point of the wraps and spine which build a TK. The problem is, this arm position doesn’t work for every body. Arm length, arm and shoulder size, flexibility and pre existing injury are just some of the factors that affect a bottom’s ability to hold the required arms folded pose.
Problems occur when riggers try to force their bottoms into the traditional TK position by having them either contort their arms uncomfortably, or by modifying the tie with the hands in a different position. Both these solutions are a bad idea. In the former, the arms are pushed outside their natural range of motion which adds to the natural stress they endure in a suspension. In the latter, the arms are potentially moved into a position where nerves are getting undue pressure or the shoulders collapse when the suspension becomes weight bearing (because the shoulders can’t maintain the proper structure of the box tie).
These are unnecessary risks that riggers take, because people adhere to the dogma that a TK must be used. There are variations of the TK where the arms are at the front of the body which is far more forgiving. There are also suspension worthy chest harnesses which lessen the dangers of contorting limbs past their range of motion.
When rigging a suspension, don’t allow a stubborn resolve to use a TK override your commitment to safety and body awareness.
3. Bondage Ropes are load rated – When it comes to suspension gear, people often mention the load rating. Usually this is expressed in kilo Newtons, or kN. A kN is a measure of force, not of static strength. The kN or load rating is stamped on all reputable climbing gear, it gives us an idea how much force the gear can withstand if someone using it falls. Now, we’re talking major falls and some pretty high breaking weights. A kN rating of 30 means a piece of gear like a carabiner has a breaking strength in excess of 6700 lbs and won’t fail when an adult falls a distance of 50ft. or more. Therefore, load rated suspension gear like slings and carabiners will withstand more force than they’ll ever encounter in the typical rope scene.
The presumption is that the ropes used for suspensions are load rated, but this isn’t true, especially for natural fiber ropes like jute and hemp. Climbing ropes are the only ones that are kN rated, since it’s assumed they will be used in life saving applications like other climbing gear. Synthetic ropes like nylon and MFP have a breaking strength but are never intended to be placed under the same forces a climber may face. Natural fiber ropes aren’t rated. They have a breaking strength, which is an estimate of how much weight a single length of rope can hold under optimal conditions.
There is a caveat. No natural fiber bondage rope is optimal. When rope is conditioned, the process entails breaking the fibers to make it skin friendly. An unprocessed jute rope would feel like the underside of a carpet. Other factors like useage, fraying, moisture and age can further degrade and weaken rope.
Does this mean bondage ropes are inherently dangerous? It simply means that the kN rating shouldn’t automatically be considered a safety panacea. Without a rating, natural fiber bondage rope can be very safe if they are maintained properly and used in conjunction with proper techniques like tying with doubled ropes which are either 6 to 8 mm in diameter. The takeaway is that riggers and bottoms must understand the materials they use and apply them well. Speaking of materials….
3. Wood Shibari Rings – A few years ago here in Baltimore, wood shibari rings were all the rage. All the “hot” riggers used the rings for scenes. They looked good in photos, the bleached wood pairing nicely with jute or hemp rope. I attended a rope class once, that was stopped early so some riggers could present a wood ring to another rigger. There was gravitas and a few tears. If you asked, the riggers assured everyone they were authentic shibari rings, specially made for the suspensions. Only the best riggers were supposed to use the wood shibari ring; owning one symbolic of their status and skill.
There is no such thing as a wood shibari ring. None at all. You can’t buy a wood ring made strictly for rope bondage suspensions. It doesn’t exist. Instead, Google for a crossfit ring or gymnastics ring. You’ll find rings sold in pairs that many of us remember from high school. They are used for exercises like pull ups and muscle ups, the rings have become popular with crossfit athletes and the functional training crowd.
It’s questionable whether it’s OK to re-purpose things for kinky uses, even though it happens frequently in BDSM. The issue is that wood shibari rings are emblematic of how dogma elevates itself to the aforementioned mythical standard when rope suspensions are concerned. Crossfit rings aren’t load rated, are intended to be used in pairs and were never designed to be used in the manner required for rope suspensions. Not informing a rope bottom of these facts isn’t lying, but it isn’t being truthful either. If someone is rigging, they have an obligation to be honest with their partner. Or consider it another way. If a play partner can’t be honest about a crossfit ring, what can they be honest about?
4. Pictures represent real suspensions – We’ve all marveled at incredible suspension pictures we’ve seen. Bottoms suspended by a single support line or lifted in strict hogties. It’s human nature to look at such pics and wonder, “can (or should) I try that?”
Consider this first. There is a difference between pictures that are captured organically and those that are staged for dramatic or artistic impact. Some rope suspension pictures have the benefit of multiple riggers or spotters which assist with the tying and helping manage the bottom. It’s not unheard of for some pictures to take advantage of extra support lines or even support structures to give the illusion that certain types of rigging is possible. I’ve personally heard of one suspension picture where a bottom supported herself with her arms, basically doing a press up. The ropes had little to nothing to do with supporting her. On professional bondage shoots, there can be several riggers, support staff, photographers and even medical staff in case of emergency. For the most difficult poses, the bottom may only hold the position for a few moments, only long enough to have the picture taken.
There is nothing wrong with staging a picture for artistic or erotic purposes. But a picture isn’t a scene and may not be intended to represent a realistic suspension. The old saying “don’t try this at home comes to mind”. Always look at rigging photos with a discerning eye.
5. Some bottoms are too big to suspend – This is an unfortunate myth that’s perpetuated by a lot of people in the rope community. The prevailing image of a rope bottom is a petite, almost waifish female. Some male riggers cursely state they won’t tie or suspend bigger women. Others use health as an excuse, implying that it’s dangerous for larger bodies to be suspended.
Yeah, it’s time to call bs. Here’s a dirty secret that some riggers hide. They like to tie smaller bodies because it’s easier to cover up mistakes. In a suspension, the rigger is using the rope to distribute and lift a bottom’s weight in segments. In a skillful suspension, the lever system created by the rope does the work. If the suspension isn’t skillful, it’s convenient to have a smaller bottom, who can be muscled up, with little regard to the forces the rope is placing on their bodies. Coincidentally, smaller bottoms are more susceptible to nerve injuries. Larger bodies demand a meticulous touch from the rigger, since their bodies may require more wraps, modifications, (such as with the TK) or a full command of the levering properties of the rope. So, when a rope top contends that someone is too big to suspend, that statement is often based on either their ego or ignorance. Ironically, many female riggers routinely tie bottoms that are physically heavier, yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female rigger say someone was too big to tie.
There is another issue. Physical size isn’t a complete indication of health. Yes, suspension isn’t physically feasible for some larger bodies, but the same can also be said for smaller bodies. Metabolic health, flexibility, functional strength, joint integrity and a bottom’s mental approach to suspensions are all better indicators of whether someone can be suspended. Don’t buy this myth that’s rooted in body shaming.
Hopefully shattering these myths can help riggers and bottoms to approach their rope craft with humility, insight and a freedom from dogmas. Accurate rope knowledge is sexy and can open up a world of amazing rigging opportunities.
Tie right and tight and always keep it kinky.