Author on topics of sexuality, relationship, and BDSM
Former ambulance medic
Former law school professor
Expert witness on BDSM matters

Jay Wiseman's Essay on Self-Bondage

Being in highly restrictive bondage and completely alone certainly seems to be the number-one killer of sadomasochists. Just this year alone, we've had mainstream media reports of two fatalities and one near-fatality from that. [Update note from Jay: This particular version of the essay was written late in 2008. Additional cases have since come to light.] I originally wrote this article on self-bondage for a rope bondage Yahoo group in about 2006. Given that self-bondage is talked about here as well, I thought I'd repost it. Feel free to forward it along as you think might do some good.

Jay Wiseman's Essay on Self-Bondage Copyright 2006 by Jay Wiseman

Self bondage is an iffy and controversial topic. When I was writing my book on bondage, I researched the medical literature on restraint-related deaths, including deaths in nursing homes and hospitals, deaths resulting from people being tied and gagged by criminals, and accidental auto-erotic types of deaths (that didn't involve strangulation). I also looked into several case reports that appeared in the media regarding such deaths.

I was also aware of other incidents from personal experience. For instance, if memory serves, the man who wrote an article on self-bondage for SandMUtopia (S and M Utopia) Guardian, a major BDSM educational magazine of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s (I did a bit of writing for it myself), later died from a self-bondage mishap. I was told this by Tony DeBlase, a noted leatherman who was chief editor of the magazine.

After looking at a growing number of such fatalities, one fact emerged. Without exception, every single person who died was in bondage and alone.

Every single one.

Most died from some form of positional asphyxia. Some died because their gags gradually worked their way back into their mouth, slowly suffocating them. Some died from other causes.

At my ARS 2 presentation on good outcomes/bad outcomes, I sent around the audience three articles from forensic pathology journals that documented a total of 153 restraint-related deaths. In every case, the person was alone when they died.

Co-factors that contributed to the lethality included use of a gag, being tied to a fixed object, and alcohol usage, but in every case it was pretty easy to assert that "but for" the person being alone, all of those other factors would have been intervened in before the bound person died.

What we don't have is epidemiology. We don't know how often such mishaps occur. Therefore, we have no figures to support an argument that such incidents are either relatively common or relatively rare. What is the risk of a fatal outcome from a given incidence of self-bondage? Is it high or low? Nobody knows. OTOH, what we do have is evidence suggesting rather strongly that essentially all of the bondage-related fatal outcomes have "being in bondage an alone" as the common and highly contributory factor.

In addition to the above, there is the element of an unexpected occurrence of something going wrong that is not life-threatening, but damned annoying. If a clamp or something shifts so that it's now creating "bad pain," it's easily fixed if another person is there, but a self-bound person may have to endure it for hours.

When people contemplate doing self-bondage to any degree that is significantly restrictive, they are well-served by noting that there is a severe spike in fatal outcomes especially associated with this particular practice.

I did some experimentation with self-bondage in the mid 1980s. While it held a certain intrigue at first, given how frequently annoying mishaps occurred, plus given that I found being self-bound both boring and completely unerotic, I long ago decided that the risk/benefit ratio was such that it wasn't worth it and I gave it up. (In later relationships, I did find it erotic when my partner would order me to tie myself up, but of course she was always there at the time.)

Interestingly enough, about one week after I decided to no longer do self-bondage, an earthquake struck. As the quake shook my building very strongly, one thought I had was "Thank God I wasn't in self-bondage when this occurred!"

For more information:

Very sincerely,

Jay Wiseman rope bondage author and presenter

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