In the context of BDSM, bondage involves people being tied up or otherwise restrained for pleasure. Bondage is usually, but not always, a sexual practice. The paraphilia of being sexually aroused by bondage is sometimes known as vincilagnia.
It is worth noting that bondage has sexual appeal to persons of both sexes and all sexual orientations. However, a subculture of gay men, sometimes called leathermen, were arguably among the first group to make obvious hints of their tastes in bondage in public.
The growth of the gay leather subculture parallels the biker culture that arose after World War II -- a number of early leathermen were WWII veterans, and the military traditions of discipline and structure were an important influence in Old Guard leather. While the bikers were not identified as homosexual, the leathermen admired their toughness, tenacity, and willingness to ignore mainstream social mores. Consequently, they adopted the biker style of dress, particularly the use of black leather. While this served a utilitarian purpose for the bikers, in providing warmth and protection from "road rash," it was primarily of fashion and fetishistic value to the leathermen, who for the most part did not ride motorcycles extensively (although there have been and are numerous gay leather motorcycle clubs).
Beginning in the late 1960s, heterosexual groups began to come together to explore bondage and power exchange. With time, these groups have grown and have raised their profile somewhat, to the point where most U.S. cities of any size have one or more such groups. A major goal of most of these groups is to provide semi-public opportunities for BDSM, in an effort to provide a safe environment for relative strangers to engage in such activities. As such, these groups attach high importance to objective safety rules, such as the use of safewords.
The fact that mainstream ‘high street’ adult shops find it worthwhile to also stock some bondage equipment suggests that some otherwise ‘vanilla’ couples incorporate elements of bondage into their sex lives at some point in their relationships. Leaving aside those couples who are themselves part of the BDSM ‘community’, the use of bondage within couples tends to be very different from and separate from that normally associated with BDSM. Couples’ private bondage games largely take place behind closed doors, and constitute foreplay, usually as a prelude to the couple having sex. There may or may not be some elements of dominance and submission involved as part of role play, but sadism and/or masochism rarely play any part unless the couple already has such leanings. This contrasts with activity in the BDSM subculture, where the emphasis is often more on bondage for its own sake, frequently ending in masturbation only, or indeed involving no sexual contact at all. These differences can lead to misunderstanding if couples who have tried private bondage games encounter the BDSM subculture. Trusting couples can't understand the need for safe-words, while the members of the subculture can't understand why couples mainly see bondage as a part of sexual intercourse.
Bondage within couples usually involves one partner being voluntarily tied-up or put into restraints (i.e. bound / cuffed / spread-eagled etc) by the other, who then either sexually pleasures the tied partner (using manual masturbation, oral sex, vibrating sex toys etc.); or has sex with them while they are restrained, or of course both. The erotic appeal is often in the form of feedback from the writhing / struggles / vocalizations etc of the tied partner. The tied partner may derive pleasure from being in a largely ‘helpless’ predicament in the hands of a trusted partner, and the other may enjoy the mild domination involved in having their partner in that predicament. Either way, many established couples find playing bondage games relationship-affirming, as they both require and imply a level of trust between the partners that is not normally found within more casual relationships, as well as being a shared ‘private’ facet of their sex life that most couples prefer to keep just between the two of them.
This form of bondage has its own niche on some internet websites, where images and movies usually depict voluntarily-tied models undergoing inescapable intense sexual pleasuring, rather than any menace, force or pain. Safety rules followed by couples are frequently context - and trust - based. As the tied partner will more often than not be held in a submissive sex position, sex therefore takes place with their pre-agreed consent. For example a still photograph taken out-of-context at that moment would suggest a very different story to that of a consensual sex game / mutual rape fantasy enactment etc.
Studies1 of men's sexual fantasies have shown that the fantasy of being bound during intercourse is second in frequency only to the basic fantasy of sex with a voluptuous nude woman. Bondage themes have been present in pornography for some time.
Bondage pornography for heterosexual men almost overwhelmingly depicts bound women, rather than bound men, despite one of the most common fantasies in both sexes being one of being bound.
There are also a few male bondage models in heterosexual erotica, but most male bondage models appear in homosexual erotica. A small yet profitable niche of male-in-bondage erotica includes men cross-dressed and in bondage that caters toward heterosexual men.
Early examples of bondage erotica include:
Bondage can be divided into six main categories:
Some of the large variety of restraints used in bondage:
Some simple bondage techniques:
Some more complex techniques:
There are also some common fantasy settings in which bondage is often played:
Technique in self-bondage is more complex, involving special methods to apply the bondage to oneself, and also to effect a release after a lapsed period of time. Self-bondage is also notably risky: see the safety notes below.
Many people regard bondage as safe when conducted between sober, trusted partners who are fully aware of the risks involved and the precautions necessary to ensure safety. Partners who are in committed relationships may have a greater basis for trusting each other. Performing acts in a supervised location, such as a dungeon, or with a group of trusted friends may also increase safety.
There is also a subculture of people who seek out others interested in bondage and pursue such activities with people who they do not know well. This subculture has given rise to the safe, sane and consensual credo.
Safety precautions include:
One very simple safety measure is to ask the subject every so often if he or she is all right. Another is to check body parts like hands and feet for numbness or coldness, which can happen if nerves have been pinched or blood circulation has been blocked. Another is to check for skin discoloration. Skin that does not get enough oxygen turns bluish. If blood can get in, but can't get out because one of the veins has been blocked, that part of the body turns purple.
If the subject has been gagged or can otherwise not verbally communicate, a different form of the safeword is needed. For instance, they may hum a simple tune, or opening and closing one or both hands repeatedly, or releasing an object held in one hand(such as a rubber ball, or a scarf).
Some simple preparations may also be helpful:
It should be noted that scenes depicted in bondage photographs and videos are chosen for their visual appeal and fantasy value. In most cases they cannot be "acted out" with good results.
Self-bondage carries a higher risk, particularly because it violates the first principle of bondage safety: to never leave a bound person alone. Without someone to release them in the event of an emergency or medical crisis, self-bondage can be lethal to its practitioners. It has been estimated in the medical literature there are around 500-1000 deaths every year in the United States due to autoerotic asphyxia (self-strangulation) alone.
People who find it erotic to be tied up find it so for a variety of reasons:
People who enjoy tying other people up are motivated by a variety of reasons, including:
One "bondage philosopher" was Michel Foucault. He wrote a number of explorations of BDSM culture. He was particularly interested in the power relations that bondage brought to the surface, and how these relations reflected upon a larger societal discourse. Of further interest was the notion of a "Limit Experience," wherein the participant attempted to navigate the line between the most intense pleasure and nearly unbearable pain.
Some members of the BDSM subculture take another route and seek out partners who share their interest in bondage. Many act out their bondage fantasies within the confines of private "play" parties where overt genital contact is not allowed between participants.
Some bondage practitioners go through a process often called "negotiation" with potential partners, be they long time partners or more casual relationships. Negotiation is essentially a conversation conducted well before any sexual activity has begun in which each party frankly outlines what they are interested in and what their boundaries are, and out of that shared information comes to a mutual agreement about potential bondage play in upcoming sexual activity. Although some people may find this embarrassing at first, this frank and forthright exchange allows both parties to feel confident about bondage activity and to understand their partner's needs. Due to the vast range of activities and intensities that are possible in bondage play and fetish sex, negotiation is an excellent technique to make sure both parties have realistic expectations and that the anticipated acts will be enjoyable to all involved.
Bondage received a positive (if brief) treatment in The Joy of Sex, a mainstream sex manual popular in the 1970s. The publication of Madonna's book, Sex, which included photographs of bound nudes, did a great deal to improve public awareness and acceptance of bondage.
By the 1990s, references to bondage could be found in mainstream prime-time television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where equipment such as handcuffs or collars and concepts such as the safeword were included as a matter of course.
There are thousands of web sites with bondage-related content. Most are commercial (charging a recurring membership fee, except for small amounts of sample content). The quality and information content of these commercial sites are, with only a few exceptions, quite low. The few information-oriented bondage web sites that exist tend to be ephemeral.
Some practical information on sexual bondage can be found at: