Scene Planning & Safety
Suspension Preparation Checklist (a list of lists really):
When preparing for a suspension scene, there is a lot to keep in mind and a lot to plan for. The way I keep myself organized is to use checklists. (Actually, I use checklists that include checklists. 🙂
I have laid these out here on this page. Breaking it down in this way means that I can take advantage of the brain’s natural tendency to group related information together. So when I get to the part of my mental checklist that says “evaluate the hard point”, I then have a mental checklist of the 6 things I look at to evaluate the hard point and physical scene.
As you educate yourself, you will develop your own methods. You may use much of what I have here or you may find another way of thinking about all of this that works better for you. This is just one person’s way of doing it.
This advice is based on the shared experience of many riggers. It is intended to enhance, not replace, in-person training by an experienced suspension rigger. As with anything, application of this advice in any real-life activity is something that you do at your own risk. What this article is intended to do is help you understand those risks so that you can make better, more informed choices about taking part in them and in managing them.
While this page does include some medical details, I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice. Balance what you read here with your own research. I provide some medical and first aid references if you want more details.
A lot of what is here is also on the general Safety page, but is repeated here for ease of reference.
Are you personally ready? Overall and for this scene itself?
- I am not saying you are, I’m not saying you’re not.
If you have not already read the “Are you ready?” article, go do so.
There is a lot in there to help you gauge where you are and good tips to guide you on deciding if you are ready to learn and do suspensions. So go read it and then ask yourself some questions and be hard and truthful with your answers.
- Do you have the skill and experience to do what you have planned?
If not, if what you have planned is new to you—if you have never before done a suspension, or have only done so a few times, or if you are progressing to a more difficult form of suspension that is new to you—I highly recommend having a more experienced suspension rigger observe you, guide you, and act as a spotter.
- Are you in a fit state mentally, physically and emotionally to accept this level of responsibility?
To give one small example: if you are diabetic or have hypo-glycemic, you need to ensure that you won’t have blood sugar issues during the scene… have you had appropriate food/water before you begin?
- Do you have the energy and focus required?
If you only had 3 hours of sleep the night before and have been running hard all day, your mental and physical edge may be blunted and you may not be in a fit state. Only you can judge that, but be honest with yourself.
- Are your faculties impaired in any way?
Trying to do a suspension if you have had any alcohol or drugs is flat irresponsible and dangerous. Do not do this.
Are you ready? Only you can say.
- Have you done the 6-point hard point evaluation?
- What is the floor like? It is soft or hard? If hard, can you get a mat or something to soften it?
- Are there any tripping/slipping hazards in the suspension area? If you lose your footing and slip while trying to lift or lower your partner, it can result in them falling. Falling—especially while in bondage—is bad.
- Is the gear you have chosen appropriate? Is it rated to handle the load you need to support?
- Have you looked over your gear this time? Is your rope getting frayed or wearing down? Are your carabiner gates closing properly?
- Are your safety cutters physically on you? Are they in easy reach in the event you have to hold up your partner and reach for them at the same time? This is a personal preference, but I far prefer emergency rescue hooks over EMT shears. If worn on your belt, they are faster to retrieve and they cut through rope more effectively than EMT shears in many cases.
- What is your primary plan?
What do you want to do to your partner while they are suspended? Just let them experience the suspension? Flog them? Fuck them?
What positions do you want to put your partner into to allow for those activities?
Are the harnesses you plan appropriate for those positions?
- What is your backup plan?
If your partner experiences too much discomfort when you get them off the ground, how will you adjust?
Will you have to take them all the way back to the ground and start over, or can you adjust on the fly, making that part of the scene?
What other positions can you move them to that are less stressful?
Where can you add secondary support lines to help better distribute the forces involved and how will you add that extra support?
- What are your emergency plans? Yes, I said plans. More than one type of emergency situation can arise. How will you deal with them when they do? (See below)
- What is your after-scene plan? Are you in a public party space; do you have to clean up a station so that someone else can use it? Does your partner need after care? How will you balance those needs?
- A few considerations for your first few times:
- Have people nearby to help if you need it
- Ask a more experience rigger to guide or monitor you
- Use ties that will allow your partners arms to be free while getting into and getting down from suspensions. Once they are up, you can tie their arms, but untie them before you get them down. This will give them more ability to help and to adjust during these dynamic points in the scene.
Is your partner ready? Overall and for this scene itself?
- Anyone can be suspended, but not everyone can. That seemingly contradictory statement means that you cannot tell by looking at a person if they are capable of being suspended. They very well might be. But any given person may also have limitations that make suspension inadvisable.
- Read the “Are you capable of being suspended?” article
You can get a tremendous amount of information about what works for your partner by asking them a few questions. These can be worked into a more casual conversation so things feel less like an interrogation, but questions like these can be very revealing
- Are there any positions that you really love? What makes them good?
- Are there any that just don’t work for you?
- What’s the most challenging tie you’ve been in? Why?
- Have you ever been injured during a rope scene or just had a bad scene?
- What kinds of things are you interested in exploring today?
- Are there any limits that I should avoid?
- Do you sink deep into subspace when being suspended? Can I expect normal communication or might you become incoherent?
(This is important because if someone goes incoherent, that normally means they need to be taken down now. But if it is expected, you just need to plan for that. But this also impacts their ability to consent further once the scene starts. For people that seek really deep, pre-negotiate all activities and don’t push beyond those limits.)
- Are there any emotional triggers that I should know about?
(Having your partner go into a panic attack or a rage while in suspension is not most people’s idea of fun and can be difficult to safely manage; so better asked and forewarned.)
- Do you like detailed after care when a scene is done, or do prefer to just be left in a puddle to wallow in the sensations? Somewhere in the middle? (If at a party or something where you are sharing space with others, remind them that you have to quickly cleanup the space when the scene is over, but will come over for after care immediately when that is done…)
Remember your partner will not be able to adjust their position much or otherwise help themselves if they get in to trouble. So make sure you understand if they have any medical conditions that you need to be aware of. So ask them about it. Go review the safety page for more details.
I usually ask it sort of like this: “Do you have any medical conditions I need to know about? Any nerve issues, challenges with sensation—either too much or to little? Any issues with breathing? Any heart or circulation issues? Diabetes? Any muscle or bone issues? Any issues with blood clotting or on blood thinners? (If using hemp rope: Any allergies to grasses?”
While we want to understand many of these things for rope bondage generally, some are particularly important for suspensions due to the stresses involved:
- You need to be aware of any joint problems, spinal issues, muscle or bone strength issues, fibromyalgia or other pressure sensitivity issues so that you can plan your scene in such a way as to avoid issues.
- If a person has any significant neuropathy (reduced sensation) or impaired circulation in a limb, you don’t want to do load-baring bondage on that limb; they will be less able to tell if there is an issue happening and could undergo significant damage before alerting you. While you may still be able to do a suspension with them, you want their weight supported by their chest and hips and not at all by that limb. (You can tie it into the bondage in a non-load-baring way after they are already suspended.)
- If someone has serious respiratory issues or has heart issues like CHF you don’t want to do heavily constricting chest ties and face down or inverted suspensions can be problematic. Depending on the details, they may still be possible, but you need to approach this carefully and probably do some less stressful things first to see how they go. If they have asthma, where is their inhaler? Have it close at hand.
- If a person has diabetes, especially if it is severe or poorly controlled, it is particularly important that they have taken care with nutrition and insulin before a suspension scene. Ask if they have emergency glucose tablets and where they are. You also want some juice or non-diet soda immediately to hand while the scene is going in the even that they unexpectedly go low
- If a person has a hernia or has had a gastric bypass, they may be especially sensitive around the abdomen. If a person has uncontrolled high blood pressure, they will be especially sensitive to things that can impact flow of blood. If you choose to suspend in these case, consider doing a face-up, seated suspension and see how that goes before planning a more stressful scene like a horizontal one. And, depending on the details, you may want to avoid inverted scenes altogether
- If a person has blood clotting abnormalities or is on potent blood thinners, suspension is particularly risky. Free-floating clots can lead to heart attack and stroke. I personally do not suspend people with these issues, but other people may make other choices
- If a person has grass allergies, consider the use of synthetic rope options. If they have some other allergy that is severe enough that they carry and Epi Pen, where is that pen? For example, if you are doing an outdoor suspension and there may be bees, the person will be able to do nothing to help themselves. Where is that Epi Pen?
Do they really understand them? They can’t give informed consent unless they understand…
- Rope Marks – They will get rope marks, which will normally go away in a few hours or overnight. But they can help that by lotioning their skin before they go to bed. But this is important if they have some reason (like a job interview or something) where any risk of a rope mark would not be good.
- Longer term marks – For some people in some situations, it is possible to get a rope mark that stays around for a little longer, a few days. This can happen if skin gets pinched between two strands of rope that were not close enough together. Something like a short term stretch mark is also possible for some skin types or in certain medical situations.
- Drops – The biggest risks come from being dropped. As the suspension rigger, it is your job to ensure that your partner doesn’t drop and you will do everything you can to ensure that never happens, but they need to understand that there are things outside your control—accidents can Some people will just accept you at your word and just want to get started, and some may ask you to talk through things more to understand better or to gauge how you think about things. So, be ready to talk about why you trust the hard point, what equipment you use, etc. It can help break the ice. This is pretty rare, but some might even want to understand your emergency plans, so be sure you can articulate them.
- Nerve compression – This can also be serious and can lead to injuries that can take months to heal, or may never heal.
- Fainting – Sometimes a person in a stressed situation can faint. This can be due to a wide variety of reasons and is pretty scary the first time it happens to you. See emergency planning below for what to do if this happens.
- Their responsibility in helping manage the risk – This is an extremely important point:
- It is their responsibility to listen to their body and to communicate any issues, or even signals up upcoming issues. They need to tell you immediately about:
● Any tingling, any numbness, any sensation of a “dead limb”, not being able to move a limb
● Any sign of fainting: dizziness, spots before eyes, nausea, cold sweats, ringing ears,
- The two-finger grip check – Test nerve connectivity and blood flow by regularly testing their grip: Give them the instruction that if you ever place anything in their hand, they are to grip it as hard as they can for a few seconds. (If said with a bit of inuendo in your voice, this can just seem like another scene instruction!) but immediately test it by putting two fingers in their hand. This gives you an understanding of their normal grip and you can then more easily tell in a future test if they are getting weaker. Use two fingers as it is much easier to detect changes in strength.
- Skin temperature – If blood flow is cut off, the skin will start to get cooler. But normal skin temperature varies wild from person to person and from location to location on a person’s body, so you need to be familiar with what is normal for your partner. But hey, this gives you a medical/safety excuse for running your hand over various parts of your partner 😊. Especially check the hands and feet. If the room is warm and your partner’s hands or feet used to be warmish and are suddenly cold, you may have a blood flow problem and want to check that your ropes are not impinging on an artery.
- When did they last eat? Are they thirsty?
- How are they feeling today, generally speaking? Are they feeling good enough to go forward? Are they tired, cold, hot, achy? See if you can adjust things to make them more comfortable.
- Ask if they want use the bathroom before you start.
The in-scene checklist and checkpoints
- When you begin attaching your partner to the hard point, attach the chest first. If you have an issue anywhere else and might have otherwise dropped your partner, this line will keep their head from striking the ground. That is your first and primary job.
- Keep that line attached throughout the whole of the scene, until your partner’s feet are firmly under them again, or you have lowered them fully to the ground
When you are changing things or you have given your partner enough freedom of movement that they choose to move while in bondage
- Ensure you have used knots on your support lines that will not loosen if the rope go momentarily slack
- When you have untied those knots to allow for a change, keep your hand wrapped around the bundle of ropes. If things begin to slip, you can grip the strands—adding tremendous friction—and stop the slip.
- Keep checking your partner’s skin temperature to keep tabs on good circulation
- Regularly check grip strength with the Two-Finger Grip Test. I like to test between each major change to position or addition of a new layer of bondage, and again a few minutes after. Such changes are when it is more likely that you will impinge on something so it is good to test right way and after a few minutes in case it takes a while for the ropes to fully sink in
- Time moves differently when in a scene. Check often.
- If you suspect any issue, but need to confirm, don’t be afraid to break the mood and ask directly. Better safe than sorry.
- Read and fully understand the “Dealing with issues that may arise” section below
- If they have been horizontal or inverted, move them back into normal feet-down orientation slowly. Their blood flow has been different for awhile and the body will need time to gracefully re-adjust
- Leave the chest harness attached to the hard point until last. Sometimes, a person will feel fine at first, but as their normal blood flow is reestablished, they might get a flood of oxygen or endorphins and temporarily go all wobbly, perhaps even having their legs go out from underneath them. Leaving the chest anchored until you are able to help them fully sit down helps avoid issues with a person unexpectedly falling right at the very end of an otherwise wonderful scene
Have plans to deal with issues that may arise
Again, I am not a doctor. This is not formal medical advice. What is written here is based on first aid references and the experience and knowledge shared by riggers. Start with this as a guide to some core things you need to know, but educate yourself further.
The most likely culprit for this is if nerve connectivity or blood flow has been impacted either the rope itself or by the position your partner is in (particularly if their arms are held behind them)
- Check the location of your ropes, particularly in the standard risk areas. Make sure the pressure on the skin in those areas is not too great. You should still be able to get a couple of fingers under the ropes at wrist, ankle and across the radial nerve path in the upper arm (link to safety). If there is a tight band of rope around the upper arms, try moving it up or down a bit. (This is why I don’t recommend using the TK, the bands across the upper arms are always very tight when supporting a person’s weight and if they are positioned on top of that nerve cluster, nerve damage is a very real possibility. Use an option that supports most of the weight on the rib cage.)
- If they don’t quickly (like within 15 seconds or so) feel a positive change—a return of blood flow or a cool sensation as nerve connectivity is restored—change your partner’s position a bit to try to alleviate any issues that may be caused by that
- If that doesn’t resolve things (again in a sort period of time), start getting them down. This is not typically a cut-the-rope situation, but the devil is in the details; there may be scenarios where it is. Only you and your partner can make that call
- If a person has a blood sugar drop while in suspension, you need to help them through it. If it is too warm, this may happen at a time and speed your partner may not expect…
- If you know your partner is diabetic, have their glucose tables, or some juice or a non-diet soda and a straw nearby. If they tell you they are going low, give that to them immediately.
- Then check in with them. They will likely be feeling off enough that they will want to come down, but some people bounce back amazingly fast…
- Reference: WebMD on Hypoglycemia
- Stop what you were doing. Establish a firm, supportive contact unless that is what is triggering them. Keep a low, assured voice, and a positive tone.
- Encourage them to breathe calmly and slowly, in and out through their nose and out of their mouth, to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being lost.
- Get them down, get them out, offer comfort, but don’t force it
- Cool water to drink and on a towel or washcloth for their face
- Reference: First Aid for Life
- This is an emergency let-down / cut-the-rope scenario. Get them down quickly and smoothly
- Lay them on the ground and raise their legs about 12” (30 cm) above their heart
- Give them some cold water. If they think it may be blood sugar-related, get them some juice or a non-diet soda
- Loosen belts, collars or other constrictive clothing. Get the rope off of them, with priority for anything constricting the chest, throat or major arteries in the legs or arms
- If the person doesn’t regain consciousness within one minute:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number
- Check for pulse and breathing. Begin CPR and do not stop until help arrives or the person begins to breathe. Trade off with another person if you have to
- To reduce the chance of fainting again, don’t get the person up too quickly
- Reference: Mayo Clinic on Fainting
If something goes wrong and they fall on their head, what you do and DO NOT do in the first few seconds is critical
- Do not move them. If they are conscious normally and move on their own, that is one thing, but you should not move them unless they move first.
- If they are unconscious:
- If they are breathing – monitor them closely to ensure that their tongue does not fall into their throat and block oxygen, or to help remove fluid should they vomit. If they move normally on their own, roll them into the recovery position (on their side so that their tongue falls forward in their mouth and any vomit can drain away), trying not to twist their neck or spine at all. Any head injury could have caused spinal damage as the head recoils from the blow
- If they are not breathing start CPR
- Call for an ambulance
- If they have not lost consciousness, are alert and behaving normally after the fall or blow:
- Apply a wrapped ice pack or instant cold pack to the injured area for 10 minutes
- Observe them carefully for the next 48 hours. No one should go home to an empty house for the 48 hours following a severe head injury. If you notice any of the signs of brain injury (see below), phone an ambulance immediately
- If the casualty is unusually drowsy or can’t be woken, or they show any symptoms of a brain injury (see below) call an ambulance immediately. People can go to sleep following a head injury, but only if they appear to be completely alert and showing no signs of confusion, losing consciousness or any other symptoms. If worried seek medical attention immediately
- If they have any of these symptoms, they may have a brain injury. Call 911 or your local emergency number
- Severe head or facial bleeding
- Bleeding or clear fluid leakage from the nose or ears
- Severe headache
- Change in level of consciousness for more than a few seconds
- Black-and-blue discoloration below the eyes or behind the ears
- Cessation of breathing
- Loss of balance
- Weakness or an inability to use an arm or leg
- Unequal pupil size
- Slurred speech
- If you have employed the Safety Munter as part of your strategy, use it to lower your partner.
- If you have not used the Safety Munter, you will have to get them down without it:
- Hold their full weight. Get help to hold them if you can. If not, the fireman’s carry position might work well if you are alone
- Get *all* the primary and secondary support lines cut, before you start lowering. This is why it is good to have your cutting tool on your belt or in a pocket on your dominant side; so you can easily retrieve it with one hand.
- Once all support lines are cut, lower them to the ground. Lower through your legs, not your back; you don’t want to injure yourself on top of everything else.
- Once they are on the floor, see if they feel better immediately and, if so, you can untie them normally. If not, cut them out and then proceed with first aid
Post Scene Checklist
- Remind them to move smoothly and slowly, ease back into full motion
- If you are at a party, remember that you are sharing the space with others. Sit your partner in a nearby comfortable place, assure them that you will be right back for after care and then quickly clean your station so that someone else can use it. But do it quickly so you can get back your partner and provide after care
- After care:
- Reestablish your partner as a person. Some people sink very deep. This time helps them reclaim their personhood/humanity and, for some people, is their favorite part of the scene
- Make sure they are back in their right mind and able to stand and move around normally before you leave them
- Get them some water and perhaps a little snack
- Muscle soreness – They may have some sore muscles, either through strain or through stretch. Taking an aspirin before going to sleep can work wonders for this. If there is a particular area that is sore, a little ice can also help, as can a light massage 🙂
- Advice on rope marks – If they have rope marks, remind them to use a little extra lotion before bed. Sometimes a little light massage can help with this, too