Doing It Yourself

by David Stein

with Richard Sommers, M.D.

© 1995 by David Stein; all rights reserved.

The following originally appeared as the Bond-Aid column in Bound & Gagged #47.
Please do not repost or distribute hard copies without express permission from the author; e-mail gorgik@aol.com.


"Self-bondage" may seem like a contradiction in terms -- after all, if you tie yourself up, you'd better be able to un-tie yourself, meaning that you'll have to stay in control and won't be able to enjoy the full measure of surrender and vulnerability that bondage with a partner can offer. But there are many reasons to make that tradeoff. Most obviously, there are never enough capable and trustworthy bondage tops or switch-hitters to go around, and their geographical distribution is not exactly even, so you may not be able to find someone to do the honors every time you're up for a little tie-down. If you're a novice, you might not be ready to let someone else tie you up or may be too shy to approach anyone. Or you may be an old hand who simply wants it done "your way" sometimes -- just as snug as you like it (or as loose), in whatever position feels best, for as long as you decide. In all these cases, and others, self-bondage will come as naturally as "self-abuse."

Except it doesn't. While no one needs to be taught how to masturbate -- though religiously brainwashed kids may have to be taught that it's okay -- satisfying self-bondage is an exacting art. And while jerking off never hurt anyone, inept or overly ambitious self-bondage can be the most dangerous kind of bondage there is -- far more dangerous than a scene with most strangers you might meet in a gay bar. Just as masochists often torture themselves much more severely than they'd allow anyone else to do, bondage bottoms doing solo turns are likely to push their limits much harder than someone else would -- because who understands your fantasies of constraint as perfectly as you do? This kind of self-exploration can be immensely valuable in teaching you what you like and don't like, and how much you can take, but it may also lead you to run quite unreasonable and unnecessary risks.

No matter how sadistic a partner might be, he'll almost certainly intend to turn you loose at some point, and if he values his own life and liberty, he'll take some pains to insure that you're in decent shape when that happens. But with self-bondage you're on your own; one stupid or careless slip, and you could end up seriously hurt or even dead. Self-bondage is comparable to tying someone else up and leaving the house -- the risk of any particular accident, from a fire to a heart attack to an earthquake, may be extremely slight, but when you're helplessly bound and left alone, there's little or no margin of safety. If you restrain yourself so that it'll take a lot of work or time to get free, you're recreating that same situation.

So does that mean we recommend never indulging in self-bondage, just as we recommend never leaving a helplessly bound partner alone? Not necessarily. Staying within earshot of a lover or bondage buddy you've tied up isn't a lot to ask, but never doing it alone would be a major sacrifice for many bondage lovers. If we say "don't," you'll do it anyway -- we've done it ourselves. So let's think about how to do it as safely as possible, minimizing the risks even where they cannot be totally eliminated.

And at the very top of the list is this absolute rule: Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs don't mix well with any kind of bondage or s/m play, but with self-bondage it's especially essential to stay clear-headed, because in this kind of scene you're both top and bottom. As top you must be able to plan and decide things without any impairment of judgment, and as bottom you must be able to assess your feelings and reactions clearly and accurately, so you'll know how far is too far and when is the right time to quit.

APPROACHES TO SELF-BONDAGE

There are two rather different basic approaches to self-bondage, which I call the "strict" and the "sensual." In strict self-bondage, the main thing is to recreate as closely as possible the experience of being under someone else's control, literally incapable of escape. Since you have to be able to escape at some point, or the exercise becomes suicidal, devotees of the strict approach use various timing devices to keep the means of their deliverance out of their hands for some predetermined -- and, once begun, unalterable -- period. Until the preset time has elapsed, they are literally as helpless as if restrained by a capable and watchful partner -- even more so, because if the restraint becomes boring or uncomfortable, or even painful, there's no one to be begged, threatened, or safeworded into providing relief. The particular position or type of restraint is much less important in this kind of scene than the release mechanism -- but the need for a timed release mechanism rules out certain types of restraint, such as nearly all rope bondage.

There's no denying the attraction of strict self-bondage to anyone whose main bondage turn-on is helplessness. Knowing that you can't get out, no matter what, until the set time has passed is essential to the thrill. Peter Boots, who's presented bondage workshops for both GMSMA in New York and SM Gays in London, puts it this way: "If you can let yourself out at any time, why bother to do it at all?" But there's also no denying the riskiness of strict self-bondage. And the more inescapable it is, the riskier.

Sensual self-bondage, on the other hand, is for those who primarily crave the sensations of immobility or constraint, independently of how easy it is to escape. To take myself as an example, I enjoy the feel of wearing steel restraints such as handcuffs and leg irons, and at times I'll put them on and just lie down and fantasize or else do domestic chores (I'm wearing heavy manacles, leg irons, and a steel collar as I type these words). That the keys are in easy reach doesn't detract from my enjoyment in the slightest. When my partner's away, I may spend the night sleeping in cuffs and chains I've put on myself, leaving the keys handy by the side of the bed. For Peter, who also likes to sleep in bondage, being able to release himself at any time would spoil everything; he isn't satisfied unless he can't get out until morning.

Sensual self-bondage may seem risk-free compared with strict self-bondage, and in many cases it is. If you just cuff your hands in front and leave the keys in reach, there isn't much that can go wrong -- unless you make the cuffs so tight that your hands and fingers go numb and you can't work the keys in the locks when you want out. But if you cuff yourself behind your back, you'd better be limber enough to grasp and manipulate the key backwards and upside down, and adept enough to do it without seeing what you're doing, or you could get stuck. And if you put on a hood or gag before locking the cuffs (or any other kind of locking hand restraint), the risks start escalating and may approach those of strict self-bondage. If you start choking on a gag while your hands are cuffed behind your back, it may not matter if release is five minutes or five hours away.

That suggests another absolute rule: Never combine breath control with self-bondage. Auto-strangulation/asphyxiation is one of the most serious risks of a self-bondage scene. If you gag yourself at all, use one you can pull off even with bound hands or push out with your tongue, or at least that you can easily breathe around if necessary. Consider skipping the gag if the bondage position you plan to put yourself in is strenuous, or if you enjoy rolling or thrashing around and fighting against the restraints; huffing and puffing around a gag is neither fun nor safe. And be very, very careful with anything you put around your neck. If it could tighten under tension, like a noose, it's unsafe altogether, and even a loose collar can be dangerous if it's immovably attached to something, like a wall, and you're not. Just rolling off the bed could be fatal if a collar pulls you up short.

THE BASICS

First of all, know your equipment and your own capabilities thoroughly. Without combining them into a complete scene, try out your various restraints individually; practice putting them on and taking them off, and then learn to do it in the dark. Study their construction so that if worse comes to worst you'll know the weak points. Practice holding different positions -- spreadeagle, arms above the head, arms behind the back, and so on -- as long as you can without restraints; then you'll know exactly how far you can stretch your limbs, and where and when they'll start to hurt when you're fastened in place. You may think you know all this already just from your experiences as a bottom, but it's not the same. When you're topping yourself, it's all too easy to bite off more than you can chew.

Whatever you put onto yourself, whether simple handcuffs or an elaborate hood and sleepsack, it has to be something that you can get out of -- not me, not Peter, not your high-school pal who became an escape artist. Remember that what goes on easy may come off hard. It's easy to snap handcuffs on, but just fitting that little key into the right holes can be an exercise in frustration once your hands are numb or sore from a few hours of restraint -- especially if you forgot to put the cuffs on with the keyholes facing down, toward your fingers. If you're hurried or panicky, it can be impossible, and with cheap, poorly made cuffs you might even break off the key in the lock by exerting too much pressure. Cuffs that are rigidly joined with hinges instead of chain are a very risky choice for self-bondage -- they're designed to be hard to escape from even with the key. If you tend to be somewhat fumblefingered to begin with, stick to restraints that fasten with buckles, snaps, or large padlocks and don't require handling anything as small as a handcuff key.

Think about everything that could go wrong, and make allowances for it, before you fasten the first restraint "for real." A vital key can drop somewhere out of reach -- put a tether on it tied to something you can always reach, or lay out two keys in different, equally accessible places. A knot could tighten and become stuck -- make sure you can reach (and use) a sharp knife, a box cutter, or heavy-duty shears. (Standard EMT safety shears are great for removing bandages and the like, but they won't cut through strong rope or most leather cuffs and straps.) If your phone has a speed-dial feature, make sure one of the programmed numbers is 911 (or your equivalent emergency number), and if possible keep the phone in reach throughout the scene. "Even in a standing position," Peter notes, "I can knock the handset off the hook with my foot and press one of the speed-dial buttons with a toe to reach a friend or 911." He also advises eating and drinking sparingly before starting a solo scene (good advice for almost any bondage or s/m scene).

Probably most guys use rope for their first experiments with self-bondage, because it's cheap and easy to get and doesn't provoke a lot of embarrassing questions if someone else comes across it between your sessions. But while it's certainly possible to tie yourself up with rope and get out again when you want to, it's also very easy to get stuck. The pages of Bound&Gagged over the years have featured many stories from guys who tied themselves up with rope and almost didn't get out.

Rope is inherently unpredictable because most knots will tighten when you pull on them and because rope tied around a human body can shift as muscles flex and relax. Knots that would have been easy to undo at the start of a session can become hopelessly gnarly after you've spent a couple of happy hours straining against your bonds. Slip knots are especially treacherous; the very qualities that make it easy to ensnare yourself with one also make it difficult to escape. A common but very dangerous maneuver, for example, is to tie your feet with one end of a rope, put a slip knot in the other end, and fasten the loop around your hands. Even if you don't tie your hands and legs together behind your back (I've covered the hazards of that kind of "hogtie" position in previous columns), the pull of your feet against the loop around your hands is likely to tighten it enough to cut off circulation and make your hands too numb to undo the knot when you've had enough.

TOO LOOSE, TOO TIGHT, AND JUST RIGHT

A key watchword for self-bondage is, leave yourself some slack. The tighter you're bound up or stretched out, the harder it will be to free yourself when it's time. Allow for at least as much twisting and turning to get out of the restraints as you needed to get into them; the more elaborate the setup, the more "wriggle room" you should leave. That's another reason not to use rope, since if rope ties aren't snug, they're not bondage at all, just macrame.

Handcuffs, regular or lockable leather cuffs, chains, and padlocks can all be secure without being tight. If tension on your limbs is a big part of your turn-on, Bandana Boy (author of several bondage stories in the BadBoy anthology of gay porn from the Internet, Hot Bauds) recommends using elastic bungee cords: "You can arrange it so that when you are relaxed the cord keeps you under tension, but you can stretch it enough to move a bit when you have to, to escape or reach the key or whatever. And rubber bands attached to tits or piercings can give a similar sensation of a part being constantly under tension without your needing anyone else to do the adjusting."

The idea of bungee cords suggests a possible safe way to use rope as part of the restraint. If you're limber enough to construct a rope body harness on yourself, you could use bungee cords to attach various points on the harness to, say, anchors around your bed frame. As long as you can reach where the bungee cords hook into the harness, you can get out. Of course, a similar approach could be used with a leather or chain body harness.

Another simple, relatively safe approach is to use your own body weight to hold a chain or cord taut: For instance, chain your feet or balls to the foot of your bed and scoot up a bit to pull them tight; when you're ready to release yourself, just slide back down. If you want to make it a bit harder, after your lower extremities are the way you want them, anchor your upper body to the head of the bed with a strap or chain around your chest (make sure the buckle or clip can't slide out of reach!). Add handcuffs or locking leather wrist cuffs in front, and you can lie there for hours while your fantasies run wild -- if you can resist jerking off in the first ten minutes!

You could discourage that without a significant increase in risk by fastening your cuffed hands away from your groin, whether to the chest strap or a collar, or behind your head to a chain or eyebolt attached to the bed or wall. Use a snap clip, carabiner, chain link, or, best of all, a panic snap -- anything you can release easily without a key. There's nothing dangerous about locking cuffs around your wrists as long as you can easily remove them; it's when you immobilize yourself by locking the cuffs to something else, or behind you, that you can get into trouble.

Spreadeagling yourself on a bed is more difficult than an inverted-Y position, but not necessarily riskier as long as you fasten your hands so that you can release them easily even if they've gone numb -- use clips or snaps rather than padlocks if your hands are to be restrained apart from each other. (Some clips and snaps are harder to manipulate than others, so practice working them one-handed before you actually depend on them.) Even if you leave the padlock key in reach, such as tied to the same eyebolt or chain one hand is locked to, the risk that you won't be able to use the key successfully when you need to is substantial in this kind of rigorous, stretched-out position.

Self-bondage when you're lying down or sitting in a chair is inherently safer than when you're standing up, because a simple faint -- which might be brought on by over-excitement or hyperventilation from stress -- could be fatal if you're restrained vertically. If you faint and can't fall down (and there's no one around to let you down), blood will pool in your legs and starve your brain, causing irreparable damage or death in a short time. This is not to say that fainting is likely if you're in good condition and don't use poppers, but unless being bound upright is one of your major turn-ons, the risk is probably not worth running, at least not for any very extended scene.

TO BE CONTINUED...

That's all I have room for this issue. Next time we'll look at some specific techniques and precautions for strict self-bondage -- the kind you can't escape from until a release mechanism has been triggered. Preview: The simpler the safer. Don't risk your life with complicated devices that could fail when you need them most!

Please send your questions or comments about bondage safety to David Stein c/o The Outbound Press at 89 Fifth Avenue, Suite 803, New York , NY 10003; by fax to 212-243-1630; or by e-mail to gorgik@aol.com.


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