~ BDSM ~
Doing It Yourself
by David Stein
with Richard Sommers, M.D.
© 1995 by David Stein; all rights reserved.
"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.
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!
by David Stein
with Richard Sommers, M.D.
© 1995 by David Stein; all rights reserved.
If nothing else, self-bondage has the advantage (as an anonymous wit once said of masturbation) that you don't have to look your best. You needn't impress or arouse anyone else. You can do it when you want, where you want (up to a point!), whatever way you want, and for as long as you want. But the one thing you must do to achieve safe and satisfying self-bondage is to keep your head! Flying solo isn't better or worse than flying with a partner, but solo bondage is a lot more demanding of the bottom (who's also, of course, the top!) in terms of skill, discipline, and the ability to stay cool under pressure.
In Part I ("Doing It Yourself") I distinguished two different kinds of self-bondage, the "sensual" (where the sensations of immobility or constraint matter more than the idea of inescapability) and the "strict" (where inescapability for a preset time is the main turn-on). All the safety principles I discussed earlier for sensual self-bondage apply just as much to strict self-bondage, so let me repeat a few key points:
Stay sober. Self-bondage can be fatal! Not often, but it does happen. You need a clear mind and a steady hand to do it safely.
Never combine breath control with self-bondage, and be especially careful with gags. Getting yourself out of self-imposed bondage will almost certainly take longer than getting into it. Safe use of gags, however, requires that someone--normally an unbound topman--be able to react instantly if the bottom has a breathing problem. The same goes for a minimal-risk breath-control scene (I don't think any breath-control scene can be risk-free). When you're flying solo, it's important not to add any unnecessary risks to those already inherent in the situation. If you use a gag, stick with a kind you can still breathe around if your nose clogs up, such as a bit gag or a rope gag between the teeth, and be sure you can remove it quickly and easily if necessary. Gags that completely fill and seal the mouth, or lock on, or are applied underneath other restraints (like a head harness or hood) are far too risky for a solo bondage scene.
Don't tie yourself up with rope. I know, I know--rope is cheap, it's easy to use, it feels good, it has all kinds of sexy associations. Unfortunately, it's just not safe enough for self-bondage. Rope ties can be slippery and unpredictable, and they make it much too easy to get yourself into a situation you can't get out of. Locking steel cuffs, chains and padlocks, and leather straps or cuffs secured by buckles or padlocks are all much easier to control when you're doing it yourself. If you earned a merit badge in knot-tying and feel you're an expert rope wrangler, fine, but make sure you leave a good knife in reach!
Cut yourself some slack. Despite the temptation to snug it all up just a little more, leave enough slack to insure you can escape when you've had enough. There won't be anyone else to release you if you can't (or at least not without a long wait, horrible anxiety, and a great deal of embarrassment at best). Self-bondage is risky enough without pushing your limits every time.
Handcuffs are much easier to put on than to take off even when you have the key. Practice thoroughly with them alone before you combine handcuffs with any other restraint that may escalate the difficulty. If possible, practice getting into and out of handcuffs locked behind your back with a partner present until you're sure you can do it easily on your own.
I don't believe there is any way to make what I've been calling "strict" self-bondage--the kind where you cannot escape until some release mechanism is triggered--absolutely safe. You can reduce the risks until you're comfortable with them, but don't fool yourself that you've eliminated risk entirely. As with solo mountain-climbing, skin-diving, or cave-crawling, even when you take every reasonable precaution, accidents can still happen, and you could die from one. On the other hand, you could be hit by a truck crossing the street with the light. I'm not suggesting that we can or should avoid all risks, only that we need to be realistic about them--and not let our itchy pricks lead us to take greater risks than we'd otherwise be comfortable with.
And there's no reason to be stupid about the risks we accept, either. Peter Boots, who's been happily getting himself into and out of severe bondage for more than two decades, advises that when it comes to release mechanisms, it's best "to rely on very basic things: Ice melts, gravity makes things drop, the sun rises in the morning. Some people use timers, motors, electronics, but as soon as the power goes or something malfunctions they're stuck. So far I have not come across a mechanical or electronic fail-safe mechanism I would trust." (Issue #25 of Bound&Gagged includes a scary story about just such a situation, "The Day the Fail-Safe Failed." Of course, the writer of the story managed to get out anyway, but it was a very near escape, and it cured him, at least, of reliance on such mechanisms.)
For overnight scenes without a hood or blindfold, Peter uses a four-digit combination lock to attach his cuffed hands and ankles to a chain stretched across his bed (he likes to sleep in fetal position with his hands and feet close together); you could use a similar setup to chain yourself to the wall, the floor, or a post. "It's very tedious to try to get out while it's dark," he notes, "as there are 10,000 different combinations to try, but as soon as it gets light I can open the lock instantly." Peter strongly advises against using a dial-type combination lock, as it's too easy to make a mistake in the series of back-and-forth twists and turns needed to unlock it even when you can see what you're doing.
THE TWO-STRING THEORY
A combination lock you know the code for is hardly inescapable during the day, however, or if you're restrained loosely enough that you can move around and turn on a light. For nonbedtime scenes, or shorter scenes, which may involve a spreadeagle or other stretched-out position, Peter favors ice and gravity for time release, and he uses a setup that involves two separate strings or cords. At the end of one string is the critical key that will enable him to free himself; the other end is attached to a hook on the wall or ceiling in such a way that the key will hang straight down within easy reach once he's in position on the bed.
Typically, the key unlocks either of the padlocks (they're keyed identically) at the ends of a chain between one of his locking wrist cuffs and one of the screw eyes at the corners of his bed. In a spreadeagle position the key is handy to his right hand if he's on his back, to the left hand if he's on his stomach. (Other arrangements are possible, such as locking both wrist cuffs to the center of a chain stretched between the screw eyes at the top corners of the bed, and similarly for the ankles, with the cuffs attached to a chain at the foot of the bed.) If Peter weren't interested in a delayed-release bondage scene, he could leave it at that--when he was ready to release himself, he'd just grasp the dangling key and use it. The trick of "strict" self-bondage, however, is to make the key unavailable until after a certain amount of time has passed.
Therefore, Peter prepares a second string whose sole function is to pull the first string (the key string) out of reach. The second string has one end frozen inside an ice cube (he always keeps several strings frozen into cubes in his freezer!). He puts the ice cube under several other cubes in a coffee mug, ties the free end of the frozen string to the first string somewhere above the key, and places the mug far enough from the bed that the tension on the frozen string pulls the key-holding string away from its previous straight line down to his hand, thus holding the key out of reach. Until the ice melts enough for the frozen string to pull free of the mug, the key to his freedom might as well be in the next county, and Peter can enjoy the feeling of being inescapably bound. How long that lasts is determined by the temperature of the room and the size of the ice cubes.
Peter has experimented so that he knows just how long the key will stay out of reach at his bedroom's normal room temperature. Of course, if it's wintertime and the heat in the apartment goes off without warning, he may have a longer wait, but with ordinary-size ice cubes it's unlikely to be an intolerable one. Peter's experiments also covered some obvious variations, such as freezing the second string in a whole cupful of water instead of in one ice cube--the trouble is, the larger block of ice takes much longer to melt, and the timing can vary over a much wider range, so he doesn't recommend it. I also asked him about freezing the key itself in an ice cube or cup of water and leaving that within reach, dispensing with the strings entirely, but he pointed out that in that case there are a number of ways you could accelerate the melting process (warming the ice with your hand or another part of your body, blowing or pissing on it). Forcing the ice to melt faster would get you out of bondage sooner, but that contradicts the whole idea of a preset time during which you cannot escape.
Peter's use of two strings is very important in making his arrangements "fail-safe." I've read many single-string self-bondage scenarios in which a key is suspended from a string frozen in ice so that it will drop into your hand when the ice melts--but what if it misses your hand and falls to the floor? Or bounces underneath the bed or behind a cabinet? It's far safer to begin, as Peter does, with a tethered key hanging within reach, and then use ice to keep it pulled out of the way for a preset time. Thus, instead of depending on a time-release mechanism to reach the key, you're depending on such a mechanism to withhold it from you; if the mechanism fails, you can escape.
Peter stresses that in order to minimize the risks of delayed-release self-bondage, good planning and lots of practice are essential--but practice each step by itself, before you combine them into an arrangement that's inescapable. "Test and check everything several times before you get going," he says. And if you possibly can, notify a friend before you embark on a solo bondage scene, so that he can let you out if something goes wrong and you don't call him back by an arranged time.
Above all, if things go wrong, try not to panic. "Often there is an alternative way out, however difficult," Peter notes. "But if the worst should happen, you just have to make noise until the neighbors call the police." That's another reason not to use a severe gag on yourself during any strict self-bondage session, and it also suggests that it's safer not to practice self-restraint in isolated locations far from any possible aid. If that's where you happen to live, of course, you have to make the best of it, but it's not a good idea to place yourself beyond all possible rescue if you don't have to.
D.I.Y. OR DIE
No one knows better than I do the frustration of really needing to be tied up, but having no one willing, able, and trustworthy available to do the honors. (For some reason, the supply of good tops is woefully short of the demand--maybe because bottoms really do have more fun?) I've taken stupid risks myself when need drove me, but as I've gotten older, wiser, and more experienced, I find it easier to take a deep breath and think before snapping the cuffs closed on my wrists or the padlock shut on the zipper of my hood. I ask myself several questions, and unless I have a good answer to every one of them, I either abort the session or go back to square one and plan it all over again: Exactly how will I get out? Will I still be able to get out after a few hours of lying, sitting, or standing in these restraints? What will I do if my planned escape doesn't work? What is the worst that can happen if I can't release myself?
It's said that a hard cock has no conscience. It also doesn't have any common sense, but no one is forcing us to reduce ourselves to our hard cocks. If you want to enjoy self-bondage not only once but again and again, stay sober and alert, plan carefully, don't push your limits too hard, and practice, practice, practice!
Special thanks to Peter Boots for his help with these columns on self-bondage, and also to Bandana Boy and others on the Net whose posts I learned from.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.