BDSM

Shibari Is A Beautiful Form Of Japanese Bondage — & It Demands Respect

This article was originally published in Refinery29. Image courtesy of Refinery29.

For the average person who dabbles in bondage, adding a pair of handcuffs to their sex life is just a fun way to mix things up. For those who practice shibari, a specific type of Japanese rope bondage, it’s not just BDSM — it’s an art form.

Shibari is a Japanese word that literally means “to tie,” says Lord Morpheous, sex educator and author of several books on rope bondage, including Bondage Basics: Naughty Knots and Risque Restraints.

But let’s make one thing clear: If you’re new to bondage, (a.k.a. restraint play), shibari is probably not the best place to start. Simpler forms of bondage, like sex handcuffs or bed restraint kits, are easier to learn and use safely. “An absolute beginner might want to get a wider taste for several bondage styles and techniques before they focus on shibari,” Morpheous says. However, shibari instructors say that, for those who are more advanced in bondage and drawn to the visual delight of shibari rope patterns, there’s nothing better.

Unlike many forms of bondage within BDSM, shibari isn’t usually meant to foster a sense of helplessness and humiliation for the person who’s tied up (which many submissive people desire). “Shibari, conversely, focuses on the art, beauty, and geometry of the tying style over and above these things,” Morpheous says. But shibari practitioners’ emphasis on the craft itself doesn’t mean it can’t be an intensely erotic and spiritual sexual experience. “It fosters a real connection with your partner or partners, even when there is no other contact or erotic content to the play session,” Morpheous says. (But again, there are plenty of easier ways to achieve this connection, like using scarves or belts as basic restraints in a consensual dominant/submissive scenario.)

While it’s okay for anyone interested in shibari to safely explore the practice, it’s important to understand that shibari has a deep and rich cultural history. “I personally think one should study its history and origins, both Eastern and Western, because it’s interesting and helps one understand certain cultural meanings to why things may be done a certain way that doesn’t necessarily apply to our modern sentiments anymore,” says Kissmedeadlydoll, a New York-based rope bondage educator.

Morpheous says the practice originated from a Japanese martial arts tying style called “Hojōjutsu,” which the samurai used as a method of restraining captives. From there, it merged with “kinbaku,” the erotic practice of rope bondage. Jimi Tatu, a shibari and kinbaku educator, says that kinbaku is a prominent term still used in Japan to describe the act of binding things tightly. “In the West, these two terms have been merged into one, so what we refer to as shibari now is basically erotic, artistic rope bondage,” Morpheous says (though he says that “purists hate that”).

Along with learning about about shibari’s history, it’s important that people interested in trying it take the proper safety precautions — someone’s going to get tied up using heavy duty ropes, after all. Not to mention, shibari is often used in suspension situations, in which the person who’s tied up is dangling from the ceiling, so a lot could go wrong. “It is risky and requires attention to the details,” Kissmedeadlydoll says. If you’re interested in learning and practicing shibari, start by reading a book on the practice (Morpheous has written many) or attend an in-person workshop or class. Kissmedeadlydoll also suggests always keeping safety shears nearby, and both she and Morpheous recommend using rope made of a firm vegetable fiber called Jute.

Does this all sound complicated? That’s because it is. So, if you’re champing at the bit to give shibari a try, just make sure to do your homework before inviting someone over for an evening of beautiful, erotic bondage.

How to Stay Kinky After You Have Kids

New for VICE! Illustration by Heather Benjamin.

Having children changes your life, plain and simple. The newfound responsibility of caring for an infant will bleed into all aspects of your existence, from your career and social life, to your home and personal life. It probably goes without saying that your sex life will be as affected as your sleep schedule during the first few years of being a parent.

As they grow older, you’ll hopefully regain some semblance of your former lifestyle, but what if aspects of your identity are at odds with what people tend to consider a “child-friendly environment”? For parents who embrace kink and consider BDSM a core aspect of their identity and sexuality, how far should you go, if at all, to hide your adult interests from your mini-yous?

“Sex is for consenting adults, sex toys are for consenting adults—that doesn’t need to be around kids. Kinky stuff or non-kinky stuff, it doesn’t matter,” says New York City-based kink-friendly therapist Dulcinea Pitagora.

VICE spoke to several parents who embrace kink and BDSM. Though they had various takes on the limits of privacy, the most consistent attitude was that maintaining happy, true-to-themselves sex lives keeps them happy parents, which makes for happier families.

James from Wisconsin
31-Years-Old
Two Kids, Ages 2 and 7 Months Old

VICE: Will you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your sexuality and kinks?
James: I identify as straight, but truthfully I’m heteroflexible. I like people who are feminine with little regard to what genitals they have. I’m a dominant male, with some sadistic undertones, but I spend 99 percent of my time as just a vanilla dad and husband.

Do you have any stories about the two worlds intersecting?
The older boy is in his explorative stage. Once he found my spouse’s steel butt plug, and couldn’t wait to show it off to our vanilla guest. My spouse didn’t skip a beat, and with a gleam in her eye explained that was mommy’s toy and to give it back. Our guest got red in the cheeks and was obviously interested in the idea of the plug, but was quick to state she had never tried one.

We spend a lot of time in front of our kids nude. Our son has seen marks on his momma, and points to them and says, “Owie!” We nod and say, “Yeah kiddo; that’s momma’s owie.” That’s the end of it. I’m sure once he reaches school age, we would be more discreet with our bodies, but honestly, that’d be more to let him know he can’t just run around naked in front of guests. We want our children to be comfortable in their skin and to know they are beautiful and not to be hidden in some weird standard placed by Puritans hundreds of years ago who would stone us for enjoying sex if they had their way.

How do you explain things to the kids when they find toys?
Our son is of an age where he finds things even if we try desperately to hide them. As such, he often finds things that aren’t his, but he knows when we tell him something is Dad’s or Mom’s to leave it alone. My spouse and I have always said we will be in a sex-positive home. Even as our kids learn what a vibrator is and that those Velcro straps on our bed are for momma. We never had the intention of hiding them, but rather wanted to keep them out of sight at a responsible level without inconveniencing or acting like such toys are shameful.

What advice would you give to other kinky parents?
Be true to yourself. Your (legal) kink isn’t something to be ashamed of, and your kids will respect honesty more than a person who is afraid of themselves and their needs.

J. from Texas
45-Years-Old
Four Kids: Ages 13, 16, 19, and 21

VICE: Tell me a little bit about your kinks. You’re a dominant-switch, correct?
Jay: I didn’t start out as a switch, but that happens a lot to people in the kink world: you start out as one thing and then keep evolving. [My husband and I] evolved together; we are partners in pretty much everything. We live in a small town where my husband has a very prominent position, so [our sex life] is not an open thing. He’s the financial earner in our household. Eight years into our marriage, I went from being a sub or bottom [to a dominant switch]. As far as fetishes, we play with temperature, texture, and do food play. When I had kids, we started incorporating adult nursing in the bedroom. I’m up for trying anything. It’s worked for the 23 years we’ve been together.

Do you have to worry about keeping sex toys hidden from your kids?
We are into spanking, but with belts and stuff that is part of our household. I don’t wear a collar, never have. I have hair that’s down to my waist. My husband doesn’t need a leash; my hair is my leash. I have a toy chest that’s filled with silk restraints, blindfolds, candles, and other BDSM toys. Our kids have been aware for a long time that mom and dad have a sex life. I always wanted my kids to see a good physical relationship. That’s something we don’t hide from our children. You get the sense they are slightly embarrassed but like it too. You have families who are in crisis, and, to my kids, I’m like: “This is for you too so you can see that everything is OK.” I think our openness with our children really developed from that. I’m the crazy mom that goes out and buys my 16-year-old condoms, cock rings, and lube. If they’re going to explore this, I want them to do it safely, with some forethought to what they’re doing.

Have you talked to them about kink?
My oldest one, who’s 21, is definitely into kink. But she didn’t express so until she went to college and got into a situation where somebody took her boundaries past the level of consent, so we started having those conversations then. I think if we had talked [earlier on] maybe she wouldn’t have been in that relationship, but when my daughter needed support she felt like she could talk to us because she knew that we were into kink. She didn’t know specifically what we did, but there was enough evidence that she knew.

What happened after you spoke? Do you talk to your other children about kink?
I learned she was very much into choking, which for me, is not a hard limit because we do it some, but it is a soft limit. My therapist was into kink, and she died in a scene because her trachea was crushed. The more you do it frequently, the softer the trachea becomes. Hers collapsed, and her partner couldn’t bring her back. So we talked about that and choking and the different kinds of holds.

My 16-year-old and I are very close, and he is a submissive male and into bigger girls. I’m like, “Do your friends make fun of you?” And he’s like, “No mom, I make fun of them for the skinny girls they date!” We’ve also talked about male submission and doing it in a healthy way.

Our 19-year-old daughter is more conservative in her views of sex. We are perfectly fine with that. In my household, your kinks are your kinks and your non-kinks and your non-kinks. As long as you’re not hiding from yourself who you are.

Chris from New Jersey
35 Years Old
Two Kids: Ages 3 and 19 Months

VICE: You and your wife were high school sweethearts. Did you discover your kinks together?
Chris: I am kinky by nature. I had these urges before I knew what they were. The process of me coming to grips with them took a very long time because I grew up in a rather conservative household. By my 20s, I had accepted who I was, but only now recently have I truly become proud of it. My wife, ironically, is from a household that has the motto of letting your freak flag fly, but she didn’t know much of anything about kink until she met me.

What are some of your kinks?
I’m bisexual, but I haven’t actually had sex with another man. I’d love to do it. I am a sexual bottom and the best term I use to describe my sexuality is “sensation slut.” I like being on the receiving end of things and not able to control it. I like pushing myself to the limits of the sensations I receive, good or bad.

What’s your at-home kink setup like?
We live in a three-floor Victorian house. At the moment, all of our kink activities occur in our bedroom. We have a large plastic foot locker in our bedroom closet that we keep all of our toys in. I recently got over $200 in electrical eStem equipment, which has been a joy. I finally got an actual gag after all this time because I’m very noisy. I picked up a new hood, a pair of latex briefs with a built-in anal plug, a spreader bar, and a couple different whips.

Have your kids ever seen your toys?
My son had a dentist appointment on Wednesday and the dentist gave him a toy, one of the infamous latex gloves blown up into a balloon. He thought it was the greatest thing in the whole wide world. Unfortunately, he ripped it open after coming home and was crushed. I went upstairs, and he followed me to said footlocker of things that shall not be mentioned. I grabbed another latex glove, since we have those. I came back down, and he happily had another glove to play with. My wife looked at me and was like, “You did not show him what was in there… Our Rain Man son is going to remember that that item came from that location, and in three months we’re going to be in that room, and he’ll be asking for a glove balloon.”

Would you be open with them about your kinks if they asked?
Jesus, they’re three and one and a half. In another ten years, I’m going to have to have a conversation with them that’s a little more serious. I hope to be as honest as I can without providing specific details.

Any words of advice for someone kinky considering having kids?
Just because you have kids doesn’t mean kink is over. You may have to slow down for a minute; you may have to put in on the side, but you’re not going to forget it. Sometimes innocuous black luggage is the best place to hide things with a little lock because no one ever thinks to look there.

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Visit Heather’s website for more of her illustration work.

Parents who embrace sex-positive, kinky relationships may create a more open and healthy environment for children to grow up in. BDSM requires a certain level of openness and honesty, and practicing that behavior could even help parents teach their children about the importance of topics such as consent or keeping an open mind to non-normative taste and not being ashamed of what you’re into. “Not that [kids] need to be privy to the specifics of what you are negotiating or consenting to, but the kind of relationship that kinky parents might have could be a great model for communication and setting boundaries,” says Pitagora.