Understanding “the Scene”
The BDSM and Rope Communities, a.k.a “The Scene”
For most people, rope bondage is an activity to be shared with another person … maybe more than one.
Most of this site is dedicated to rope bondage information and techniques, but this section is focused on people: How to find other people that are interested in rope, how to interact with them socially and, if you should progress to wanting to tie with them, how to talk with them about that and negotiate a scene.
But first, let’s talk about rope bondage as a whole, and some basics.
BTW, if you read through this page, then follow the next recommended page at the bottom and keep doing that, the pages will guide you through all sorts of important topics, step-by-step: Consent, A Framework for BDSM Scenes, Finding a Potential Partner, Vetting Them, Negotiation and Planning a Scene, including an in-depth discussion of general risks (medical, physical, psychological), the Risks of Using Rope in the way you intend and potential Nerve & Circulation Compression issues, along with how to manage those risks and issues, Setting up and Conducting a Scene, Aftercare & Post-Scene Emotional Processing and more!
Starting at the beginning: What is rope bondage?
Rope bondage is often thought of an aspect of the bondage part of “BDSM” — an acronym that combines B&D (Bondage and Discipline), D/s (Dominance and Submission), and S&M (Sadism and Masochism) into a single umbrella term. For many, BDSM is often assumed to involve overt sex, but this is not always true. While sexuality and eroticism often are incorporated into BDSM, they are not an inherent part of it. The same is true for rope bondage.
People may be interested in rope for many reasons:
- The desire to restrain someone or be restrained for the sake of sexual gratification.
- The desire to restrain someone or be restrained with some other kinky activity in mind.
- An attraction to its artistic or visual appeal.
- The desire to have a fun and useful skill.
There is nothing wrong with BDSM or rope bondage done with sexual overtones/activities in mind. However, it is important to understand that just because you might want to do rope bondage or some other BDSM activity with someone, that does not imply that you want to have any type of sexual activity with them, nor they with you.
Consent to do rope is not consent to participate in sexual activity. If you are interested in trying rope with someone, talk to them, find out what they want and need out of it, and come to an agreement about what you each are willing to do. If you want to do more to/with them while they are in rope, talk about that specifically and agree to all those details beforehand. More on this when we talk about negotiation.
Understand that there are places where bondage and other BDSM activities are not legal. In many places, activities involving restraint and/or impact are classified as assault and, while authentic consent to such activity is what they call an “affirmative defense” against a charge of assault in many jurisdictions, this is not true everywhere. Research your local, state, and federal laws.
There are places where law enforcement can independently charge you with assault if they see you restraining or striking another person, even if both of you state clearly that all parties consented. This is why some locations do not have public dungeons and all parties in locations like that are private and require that you be vetted. If your jurisdiction does not recognize consent as an affirmative defense, it is up to you to decide if you are going to take part in these activities despite that. Doing so carries legal risk in those locations.
It should go without saying, however; touching someone sexually in any way without their authentic consent, especially in a context where restraint is involved, is assault – or worse – in most jurisdictions.
If you are here just to learn to tie on yourself, or to tie on a mannequin or other inanimate object, you can skip to the next chapter. The rest of this chapter is dedicated to those of you who would like to tie or be tied by other people, or who are interested in connecting with other shibari enthusiasts.
If you are interested in shibari purely for artistic/aesthetic purposes, be aware that some rope lovers are coming into this from a BDSM background. If you are coming at this from a BDSM background, be mindful that some rope lovers are in it purely as an artistic endeavor. Keep this in mind when interacting with others. If you are unclear about a person’s specific motivations, interests, or desires, ask.
The rope community can be found in every part of the world and many places online. Like all kink, it used to be hidden deep underground, but the internet has made people aware that they are not alone, and the community continues to grow and become more open. Rope people love to share what they have learned and it is important to understand the etiquette expected when connecting with other rope enthusiasts.
Currently a popular resource for finding local contacts, and for socializing and learning about anything kink-related from real life practitioners is FetLife.com. There is another promising one currently in start-up mode as well: Submit.gg They are looking like they are trying to do things right, but are currently invite only. (We will update this when they go live.)
FetLife is a social networking site focused specifically on connecting kinksters. It is designed to help build a community, so it purposefully does not include some features of a dating site; you cannot search for people based on their profile or demographics. It allows people to create profiles, yes, but it its real focus is on groups and events. This is an important and powerful difference that has made it popular with kinksters all over the world, so it can be a useful tool for connecting with your local rope/kink community. It is free and, if you use a separate email, anonymous to create an account.
Once you create an account, first look for a “munch” by searching FetLife using this term:
“(Name of your closest larger city) Munch”
For example, “St. Louis Munch”, “Cincinnati Munch”, “Leeds UK Munch”, “Rome Munch”, “Singapore Munch”
A “munch” is the term for a meeting that takes place in a public place so that people can meet and get to know one another and talk about kink without doing something risky like going to an unknown person’s house. Munches are often a combination of a community outreach and early/continuing education venue. Most larger cities tend to have multiple munches put on by different groups with different interests. Every group is different and you may find yourself connecting more naturally with the people in one over another, so try several before you settle on one to attend more regularly. For example, if you are under 35 years old, you may find that you connect better with a “TNG munch” than you do with the “rope munch” because members of the TNG group are all under 35, too. (TNG stands for “the next generation”.) Or you may find that you like the local rope group better because it has people with more experience that are willing to teach. Or you may find you prefer the wider range of topics offered in a general munch or group vs. one focused on a particular activity.
Another useful link is: Fetlife events near me
If you are wary of using an online tool, consider heading to your local sex/kink shop and asking for resources. Sex/kink/rope-friendly retail establishments tend to be few and far between, so they can serve as important centers of information about the local scene. The same goes for some alternative nightclubs. It may be worth talking to the employees of such places on your quest for information. Be specific with the questions you ask. If you are looking for rope groups/practitioners, say so. Take note of the recommendations you get and look for trends and patterns. Eventually you will find your crowd. It just might take a little digging.
Use Common Sense – This is still the real world
It is important to understand that the kink scene (online and in-person) is a collection of individuals. The vast majority are good people, constructive, well-meaning and willing to help. But, as with any other community, it also has members who are not trustworthy. You will come across ignorant people who think that kinksters are all “easy” and that they can get easy sex if they just pretend to be an uber-Dom or sex kitten. Do your research. Vet any individual before meeting them; make sure they are known in the community and have a good reputation. If a person says that they don’t like to do things with the local community, many consider that to be a red flag, no matter what reasonable-sounding excuse they might offer. Protect yourself. Use good internet and real-life safety skills.
Here are a few selected terms used commonly in the scene. There are many others, but this should get you started.
BDSM is a compound initialism combining B&D (Bondage and Discipline), D/s (Dominance and Submission), and S&M (Sadism and Masochism). While its exact origin is unclear, the common use of the term dates back to 1969. The terms “BDSM” and “kink” are often used interchangeably.
Regardless of its origin, BDSM is used as a catch-all phrase to include a wide range of activities, forms of interpersonal relationships, and distinct subcultures. Historical and artistic records show such activities dating back to approximately 3000 BC and they are assumed to date back to the start of humankind as a species.
BDSM is a variety of erotic practices involving power exchange, bondage, role-playing, and other interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community and/or subculture is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience.
Interest in BDSM can range from one-time experimentation to an ongoing lifestyle and is considered by some to be a distinct sexual identity/orientation.
Bondage is consensually tying, binding, or restraining a partner (usually physically) for erotic, aesthetic, and/or somatosensory stimulation. Rope, cuffs, chain, tape, or many other types of restraints may be used for this purpose.
Bondage may be used as an end unto itself. The active partner can derive visual pleasure from seeing their partner tied up, and the restrained partner can derive tactile pleasure from the feeling of helplessness and immobility. A common reason for the active partner to tie up their partner is so both may gain pleasure from the restrained partner’s submission and the feeling of the temporary transfer of control and power.
It may also be used as a part of sex or in conjunction with other BDSM activities. It is common to have sexual activities as part of a bondage scene, but they do not have to be involved.
For sadomasochistic people, bondage is often used as a means to sadomasochistic ends, where the restrained partner is more accessible to other sadomasochistic activities.
An umbrella term for all styles of applying rope to human participants. It can be done for erotic appeal, visual enjoyment, physical restraint, or as a part of other plans.
Also called “Japanese rope bondage,” shibari – the Japanese word for “to tie” – is a style of rope bondage generally characterized by being visually appealing as well as effective. While not technically the same thing, the term “shibari” is often used interchangeably with the general term “rope bondage.” Shibari is more about the attractive appearance of the rope itself or position of the person in rope, or both. It may or may not include elements of physical restraint.
A scene is a mutually agreed upon encounter during which two or more people engage in kink/BDSM-related activities. The activities that will take place during a scene are pre-negotiated. They may or may not involve sexual activity. A scene is not over until any aftercare (p.###) has ended.
Activity that takes place during a scene may be referred to as “play.” A scene may also be referred to as a “session” to set a more professional tone, especially if it is conducted as part of a professional transaction, by a “Pro Dom” or “Pro Domme” (usually pronounced the same).
The scene is distinctly different from “a scene.” It refers to the community of people who engage in kink/BDSM-related activities. It can refer to the community in a given geographical area, the events in that area or, more generally, to the larger population of kink-minded people as a whole.
Ex: “The rope scene around here tends to focus on Eastern style bondage. I only know two riggers who regularly use Western ties,” or, “I stepped away from the kink scene for a few years due to some things outside of my control. I’m excited to reconnect with my community!”
Types of Bondage
- Decorating a partner for sensual and/or artistic reasons.
- Binding body parts, such as arms and/or legs, together.
- Spreading out body parts, such as arms and/or legs, so they are unable to touch each other.
- Binding the restrained partner to an outside object, such as a bed, chair, or table.
- Suspending the restrained partner from an overhead hard point.
- Hindering and/or slowing down the movement of the restrained partner, such as with a hobble skirt or a corset.
- Wrapping the entire body of the restrained partner up, mummification.
- Binding the body in such a fashion as to cause pain for the purposes of S&M.
A “Top” is the person primarily performing the actions or giving the sensations, as contracted with the “Bottom,” the person receiving the action of sensation in a BDSM scene.
The term “Top” is not the same as “Dom” or “Master/Mistress”; the person providing the sensation may not be the one in control of what is happening in the scene.
A Dom of whatever gender might enjoy the sensation of being penetrated with a strap-on dildo and tell a Sub to wear one to give them pleasure. In this case, the role of Top (providing the action/stimulation) is being filled by the submissive (who is following the direction of the Dom who controls the scene) and the role of bottom (receiving the sensations given by the sub) is the Dom. Yeah. A bit confusing at first, but you’ll get there!
Within the context of rope bondage (aka rigging), the person applying rope is the Rope Top. Another term for this role/person is rigger.
A Service Top might be a D-type (Dominant, Dom, Domme), M-type (Master, Mistress), or s-type (submissive, sub, slave) that performs topping skills on a willing Bottom primarily for the benefit of the Bottom (as a service to them). A Pro-Dom or Pro-Domme is a Service Top.
A Bottom is a person receiving the action or sensation provided to them by the “Top” in a BDSM scene.
The term “Bottom” is not the same as submissive or slave, as they are not necessarily relinquishing control. For example, during flogging, the person swinging the flogger implement would be the Top, while the person being struck with the flogger would be the Bottom.
Within the context of rope bondage, a person who is having rope applied to them is called a Rope Bottom. Another common term for this is Rope Bunny.
A Dominant, or Dom, is the person in control, the one with the power or authority in a power exchange situation or relationship. They practice some form of domination, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or a combination.
“Dom” is the most commonly used form and does not imply anything about gender, orientation, etc. Some people use the form “Domme” to specifically identify a Dominant that identifies as female.
“Domme” is pronounced “dom” by some and “dom-may” by others. Occasionally the word “Domina” or “Dominatrix” is also used to describe a female/feminine Dominant or Mistress.
A submissive, or sub, is a person that gives up some degree of authority and/or control to a Dominant for the duration of a specific scene or all the time. It is not to be confused with the term “Bottom”.
The term “sub” is synonymous with submissive and does not imply anything about gender, orientation, etc.
A person who participates in relationships, scenes, and activities as a Top/Dominant or Bottom/submissive depending on their mood, partner or the situation. Some Switches enjoy changing their power dynamic during a scene.
A Switch is a person who enjoys both sides of the coin, so to speak. Some Switches choose a specific role with particular partners or activities, others decide based on their mood.
Within the context of rope, someone who enjoys both Topping and Bottoming may refer to themselves as a Rope Switch.
A Few Behavioral Expectations & Guidelines
Your first kink or rope event will probably be a “munch”— a meeting of kinky people in a public place like a restaurant so that people can feel safe meeting other new people.
All social groups have their unique norms and expectations. It is always best to be observant at first and learn the rules of a new group before barreling in, but here are a few expectations and general guidelines that will be helpful as you begin.
Privacy is Vitally Important
Depending on where you live, the prevailing culture there, and your particular lifestyle, you may feel free to be open about the fact that you like rope or kink. Or you may be very serious about keeping that side of yourself private.
Regardless of your personal views, never make assumptions about the relative privacy of others. This is their secret to keep.
No “Outing.” What Happens at Any Kink Event, Stays at that Kink Event
If you meet a person at a kink event and then later run into them at a work event or anywhere else, you do not know them until they introduce themselves. Such an encounter can be very jarring; worlds colliding. The best thing to do is to act as you normally would. If it would be awkward to avoid them, then don’t. Introduce yourself in a neutral way and do not make any assumptions about whether or not they want to acknowledge that you have met before: “Hi, my name’s . Good to meet you. I’m trying to remember, have we met before?” Let them decide how to proceed.
That said, sometimes it can be helpful to out yourself.
If you are engaged in kink, particularly if you become really into it, there may be times when other people need to know about it.
It can be helpful to be open about this interest to your doctor, therapist, chiropractor, etc. If you come out to them before you have an issue, they are less likely to be concerned if you later come to them for help with an injury or if they see something that might otherwise be concerning. If you have already told your doctor that you are into spanking, for example, they will better understand if they later see you with a bruised ass from a heavy session. They will probably still ask you about it. It is their job to make sure you feel safe and to offer help if you do not. But if you reply clearly and without embarrassment that this was the result of a consensual and very fun scene, that will hopefully be the end of it.
If you are concerned about having such a conversation with your doctor (perhaps they are the same doctor that sees your grandma, and you just can’t), you might find a different one using the Kink-Aware Professional List (KAP), published and maintained by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom: Kink-Aware Professional List (KAP)
Don’t Make Assumptions About Anything or Anyone
You enter the room. You see a tiny, cute girl, dressed in pink chiffon, smiling brightly as she perches on the knee of some huge, fuck-off boxer type dressed in heavy black leather, his hand resting possessively on the small of her back, gazing imperiously at the world around him. Do not assume she is the sub and he the Dom. Do not even assume that “she” identifies as a “she” or “he” a “him.” It could easily be that the person in pink is giving the orders and uses he/him or they/them pronouns.
One of the most ruthless Doms I have ever met was an 80 pound, 22-year-old woman who liked to dress like a baby doll. She looked like she wouldn’t hurt a fly, but she just loved to bring people to floods of tears. Her thing was to lean into stereotypes and then shatter expectations.
The BDSM world respects the fact that physical characteristics, gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity, sexual expression, and sexual preferences are all different things.
Don’t assume a person’s role, ability, intentions, pronouns, gender identity; just ask! If you want a straight answer, ask a straight question. Innuendos and metaphors are breeding grounds for confusion. Asking for clarification or posing a “stupid question” is rarely offensive when done in a conscientious and respectful way. Remember that you are talking to a human being, just like you.
Example of how you might talk to the couple in pink and black:
“Hi, I’m _______. Great to meet both of you. Love the outfits! What would you like me to call you? What are your pronouns?”
Don’t bat an eye if the person in pink answers with “Oh, I am Gozer the Destructor. [tinkling laugh] I own this lovely hunk of deliciousness here. You can just call them ‘Gatekeeper’ [nod of genial acknowledgment] Pleasure to meet you. First time here?”
Just roll with it, call them Gozer and Gatekeeper as asked. All names and all words were made up at one time, so don’t let it bother you if these ones sound a little different to your ear. You will get used to it surprisingly quickly.
You can be charming and witty, ask them where the Keymaster is, but don’t cross the line to being creepy, don’t immediately ask them if you can be the Keymaster.
[If these names didn’t make you smile, go treat yourself: Watch the 1984 film Ghostbusters. It’s campy as hell and just as 80’s as you can be, but wonderful for all of that…]
Generally and always: Be honest about what you choose to share. You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to share, but if you choose to speak, let your words be true. Let people learn they can trust you. This is just a general statement that can apply to almost anything, but in the world of rope it is critically important. If you are asking someone to allow you to tie them, you are literally asking them to trust you with their life. Be worthy of that trust.
Beyond the general statement of “be worthy of trust,” there are some specific things to call out:
Be Honest About Your Level of Experience
If you are not experienced in something, don’t try to hide that fact or embellish your skill level. If you cannot admit that you have things to learn, how will you learn? Being honest about your experience level is critical to consent, safety, and being an ethical player.
Yes, experience is an attractive trait, but a lack of experience does not make you unattractive. Some people try to come off as some sort of shibari master or the ultimate Bottom even when they are just beginning. Yes, it can be hard to admit you don’t know something. It can be hard to ask for help, but you will gain the respect of those around you by doing so. Even if the question feels repetitive or basic, ask it. A good teacher will never make you feel inferior for trying to learn.
There is no shame in being a beginner. Every expert was once a beginner, including the authors of this book. Be honest about your experience level and, if you are interested in changing that, make that happen. Do more research, tie yourself, practice on inanimate objects, ask your best friend to help, find your local rope community and attend their events, ask to observe a rope scene done by a rigger you admire, ask them to watch you tie and provide their input, go to a convention or other event. Every experience will add to your knowledge in some way.
A note for Bottoms: Be skeptical of a person who makes boastful claims to be an expert. People with big egos sometimes think they have nothing left to learn. The best riggers are continually learning, refining and honing their skill. They understand that it is always possible to get better. Humility is a sign of wisdom and integrity. Keep that in mind when vetting potential Rope Tops.
Be Honest About What You Want
Even if you are not yet comfortable talking about your deepest desires, be honest with yourself about them. Over time, as you build trust in the people you are meeting and begin to really understand the huge spectrum of people out there, you can begin sharing more and more of yourself. You can become comfortable enough to share the really important things and find others who are also into what you are into. That is the path to amazing things.
Yes, it can be intimidating to admit things about yourself, even privately, especially if they fall outside traditional roles. To give a classic example: perhaps you are a manly man, ex-Marine from a family who have all been Marines since the Corps was created in 1775. But you long to feel what it would be like to be made to dress in a corset, thigh-high stockings, and stiletto heels. Perhaps you want to tie or be tied while in that outfit. Don’t let the messages from society stop you from exploring! There are many people out there that would be just as into that as you are. You just need to find them. And to find them, you need to be honest about what you want and become part of that community.
Desperation is not a good look … unless it is part of a pre-negotiated scene (a look of desperation in the eyes of their bound partner can be a huge turn-on for some riggers).
If you are just beginning your rope/kink journey, it may feel like your options and opportunities are few and far between. You may feel like you will never find what you crave. This will change with time. Accept that things take time and enjoy the journey as you go. Rushing to find a partner can make for cringe-worthy messages or interactions.
Confidence is sexy, desperation is not.
Take your time. Meet in public places, at munches, at events, learn the community, let them learn about you. Eventually you will find someone that you connect with, and you can build from there.
One thing you can do to build confidence is to build an interesting technical skill. That is something this book can help you with. Build your skills by practicing on yourself or some inanimate object. Build your confidence so that when you find an opportunity to try rope, you are not fumbling with the technique itself, but rather simply trying a technique you already know on a real person. The two experiences will feel quite different to the person you are tying.
Seek out experienced Rope Bottoms. They are incredibly valuable to new riggers. Experienced Bottoms know how rope should feel and can give you excellent feedback.
It is generally not a good idea for two inexperienced players to be learning exclusively together. If you are a new Rope Top, it would be good for you to find an experienced Rope Bottom to work with. If you are a new Rope Bottom, it would be good to find an experienced Rope Top. If you are both new, you are more likely to run into problems that could have been avoided if either one of you had a better idea of what to look out for.
Seek out others and respectfully ask if they would be willing to work with you.
Here are some examples of how you might approach someone respectfully:
At a party, having watched two people do rope together, speaking first to the Top:
“Hi! I loved your rope scene! I am new to rope and find it fascinating. I have been learning from online sources and am trying to master the Somerville Bowline. Would you be willing to watch me do it and give me feedback?” or, after some conversation, “…I have been trying to master the Shinju. Would you be willing to allow me to tie one on your partner, if they are okay with it, and let me know if I am doing it correctly?” If they agree, thank them and then ask for help from the volunteer Bottom as well: “I have not tied it on another person before, so I would love feedback from you, too, if you are willing.”
“I am new to the world of rope and am interested in finding a partner to practice with. I have been practicing on myself and I would love to try what I have been learning on someone else so I can get their feedback. If you are interested in having a conversation to see if we click, let me know. If not, no worries. I hope you have a nice day.”
No one owes you anything. They don’t owe you their time or knowledge. If they choose to gift you either, respect that. Value it as the gift it is. Thank them.
The Folly of Playing a Numbers Game
Copying and pasting the same message into twenty different message boxes may seem like it will increase your chances of connecting with someone, but it won’t.
Treat people like they are real people that you may someday have a relationship with and care about. Be respectful of their time and put some effort into how you reach out. Read profiles, reach out to people you find genuinely interesting and with whom you actually have real points of connection. Show that interest in your messages. They are not fantasy dispensers. Catch their interest with those real points of connection. Give them a reason to want to respond.
Go to events and meet people in real life. Moving the relationship from virtual space to real life space is the only way you will be able to actually do rope together, and you have a much better chance of doing that if you genuinely connect with the other person.
And never send unsolicited pictures of your genitals. Seriously. That is an instant turn-off.
There are a few generally accepted rules and expectations, but there are many variations amongst people, protocols, and practices. Don’t be afraid to think a little outside the box.
Practices, expectations, and cultures often vary by location. Every place has its own kink scene culture that is a product of the people who make up that scene. If you don’t mesh with people in one group or location, try another.
We feel we have to say this because “the community” is made up of individuals. As with every community, there will be some individuals who have very strong opinions and will want to tell you that what you are doing wrong (according to them). Listen to what they have to say. Be respectful of their time. If what they say makes sense to you, great! Take it onboard. But just because some random person says that “this is how it is” doesn’t necessarily make it true, or true for you. Don’t be intimidated. Talk to other people, too. Do further research. Learn how others in your local community see things and make up your own mind about what works for you.
Explicit consent is the cornerstone of trust in our community. Keep your hands to yourself until you ask for and receive explicit permission.
A few examples of doing this well:
- “Oh! That rope looks sooo silky! What kind is it? May I touch it?”
- “I’ve never seen carabiners like that before, how do they work?”
“Sure, let me show you.”
- “OMG, that paddle is amazing? Did you make it?”
“I did, yes! Fun Project. Feel free to pick it up and feel its heft if you want to.”
- (After negotiation) “Okay, we planned to do a Shinju and turn that into a Box Tie. This is going to be just practicing the technique and seeing how it feels to both of us. We are not going to be doing this as a ‘scene,’ agreed?”
“Great! Are you ready? May I put rope on you?”
“Absolutely!” Enthusiastic, authentic consent … more on this in Consent.
You make the decision to trust people with your safety. People only know what you tell them. If you have a hard limit or some condition that may become a problem during a scene and you do not tell your Top about it, the responsibility for that does not fall only on the Top if it becomes an issue during the scene. You are responsible for your physical and mental well-being and providing the information needed to care for you.
No one truly has “no limits” and saying you have no limits is not an attractive quality. It isn’t fair, reasonable, or responsible to place your wellbeing in the hands of another person without giving them some sense of how to take care of you. It suggests very strongly that you don’t actually know yourself very well, that you haven’t actually thought about things and thus are not taking this seriously.
Communicate your needs and limits before and during a scene. For example, nerve compression can happen in seconds and the only one who will know when it’s happening is the person experiencing it. It is your responsibility to be testing and to tell your rigger there is an issue. Because if you don’t, that’s on you.