How to choose restraints (bondage)

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Dear Sex Counselor,

My partner wants to see what it’s like to be tied up during sex. I’m open to the idea, but I’m kind of nervous and I need some more information first! I don’t know anything about tying knots, and I’m not really into that whole domination thing...how can I make this work for me and my partner?


Using restraint during sex can be appealing for a variety of physical and emotional reasons. It can be as simple as holding your partner’s wrists down while you’re on top, or as complex as tying a full-body rope harness around him or her. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though, and there are plenty of simple and sexy ways to incorporate restraint into your play. Anybody can choose to play with restraint; you don’t have to be interested in power play or even know how to tie a single knot. If you are interested in incorporating power play into your use of restraints, however, we have resources that can help you with that as well.

Let’s start by talking about why anyone would want to use restraints during sex. Restraint is a form of sensation play because it affects your sense of proprioception, or your awareness of where all parts of your body are in relation to one another. Proprioception is the reason you know where your left foot is right now without touching it or looking at it. It’s also the reason we can walk, type, aim a bowling ball, or perform any motion without consciously thinking about it. It’s the reason that learning a new task, like driving a car, takes conscious effort at first but becomes "second nature" over time.

Like these other activities, sex requires you to use your body in specific ways that can take some getting used to. Once you do so, the movements of sex can feel like second nature just like driving a car or typing without looking at the keys. This is a good thing, because it means that you can enjoy yourself without thinking about whether you’re doing it "right." However, unlike these other activities, sex is more enjoyable if you’re aware of everything your body is feeling. Once your body is comfortable with what it does during sex, you may not be as acutely aware of some sensations. This is where restraint comes in: it places your body in a different position and immobilizes a body part you’re used to moving. Your body is aware that something is different and will work to adjust to the change. Your brain thinks, "Hmm, THIS isn’t what I’m used to feeling, how very interesting!" Therefore, restraint introduces some new sensations and heightens others.

There are also emotional reasons that restraint can be enjoyable. If you are able-bodied, your arms and legs are usually available for you to use. When part of your body is restrained, it loses its ability to serve and protect you, which can make you feel vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable is not usually desirable, but it can be exciting when you’re feeling sexy with a trustworthy partner. You may instinctively feel a bit nervous due to your physical vulnerability, but because you know that your partner will make you feel good and not harm you, those feelings can be transformed into excitement and arousal. Also, you may be able to relax more fully knowing that you have permission simply to receive the pleasure your partner is happy to give you.

Restraints can also be visually appealing. Japanese rope bondage, for example, is a complex, aesthetic practice that involves the beauty of rope, the human body, and restraint. Simply seeing your partner or yourself wearing wrist cuffs can be a similarly delightful experience.

Now that you know more about why restraint can be fun, here are some things to consider when selecting the right restraints for your needs:

1. What do you want to tie up?
Most restraints are made for wrists and ankles. They’re usually adjustable cuffs that buckle or tie in place, and can be hooked together or attached to something else. There are also restraints that tie two body parts together, such as Wrist/Thigh/Ankle Restraints (Everything Restraint Kit). If you want something that can be used on other body parts, consider bondage tape (tape that only sticks to itself and won’t snag on skin or hair) or bondage rope (soft cotton, hemp, or nylon rope).

2. What sort of material do you want?
Many restraints are made of leather because it’s versatile and will mold to the wearer’s body over time. There are also synthetic restraints (many of which have the added benefit of being machine washable!). All of the restraints that we carry have some sort of soft lining to feel comfortable and luxurious against the wearer’s skin.

3. Where do you want to be restrained?
A common image of restraint is that of someone tied spread-eagle to their bedposts. This is certainly possible, but is riskier than it may seem. As Jay Wiseman explains in SM 101, the restrained partner is completely immobilized and attached to a very heavy piece of furniture. If an emergency arose (i.e. if the non-restrained partner fainted), it would be difficult or impossible for the restrained partner to get out of their restraints or leave the room to get help. Therefore, if you do restrain someone this way, never leave them alone in the room, make sure to monitor them for any pain or discomfort, and be sure they can be untied quickly and easily if anything should go wrong. If you take some basic precautions and plan ahead, you can play safely and have lots of fun.

If you want to be tied to a bed that doesn’t have bedposts, the Liberator Bed Buckler provides the necessary hardware to make that happen.

It’s also very easy to restrain two body parts together without attaching them to anything else. Most wrist and ankle cuffs allow you to tie 2 limbs together so that the wearer’s movements are limited, but they can move around if they need to. This is a very safe way to play, and can be especially good for your first foray into restraint.

4. What do you and your partner want to do once one of you is restrained?
Think about what activities you will be doing together while one of you is restrained. This will affect your choice of restraints and positioning. If you want access to your partner’s genitals, for example, it may not be practical to tie their ankles together. If they want to be able to change positions, tying them to the bedposts won’t work.

5. Are there any restraints you should stay away from, or any other safety issues?
Metal handcuffs, although appealing to many people, can be dangerous (as explained in this article), and therefore we advise against them. Silk scarves and similar items may seem safe, but they can tighten uncomfortably and cut off circulation. In contrast, restraints made specifically for that purpose are adjustable, and will be held in place so as not to tighten more than is safe and comfortable. They are also soft, unlike handcuffs, and won’t dig into the skin or cause bruising.

You should always have a way to get your partner out of their restraints quickly and easily if an emergency arises. Keep scissors on hand (paramedic scissors, which have a blunt tip, are recommended). If there is an emergency, it’s better to sacrifice your restraints than your partner’s well-being. The restraints we carry can be detached from your partner easily (unbuckle or un-velcro them), but it’s still a good idea to have scissors within reach.

Someone who is claustrophobic may feel uncomfortable being restrained in certain ways or even at all. Some people may not think that they will feel uncomfortable until they actually are restrained. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start small (i.e. restraining only your partner’s wrists instead of both wrists and ankles). You can always do more next time, and it’s better if both partners leave the encounter wanting more than for either partner to feel like you went too far. To ensure everyone is having a good time, it’s important to communicate with your partner throughout the whole experience. Be prepared to untie your partner if he or she feels any discomfort, either physical or emotional. The restrained partner should speak up if anything is uncomfortable, and should not "stick it out" if it’s not arousing and enjoyable. Restraint can and should be a fun, arousing, and rewarding addition to your play.

The Sex Counselor