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A Beginner's Guide To Shibari, The Beautiful Japanese Form Of Rope Bondage

Stephanie Barnes
mbg Contributor By Stephanie Barnes
mbg Contributor
Stephanie Barnes is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. Her work has been featured at The Huffington Post, Healthline, The Lily, HelloGiggles, Business Insider, and more.
This Japanese Form Of Bondage Is As Visually Stunning As It Is Kinky
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Ever fantasized about being tied up or tying your partner up in the bedroom? Over the years, BDSM—which covers bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism—has become increasingly popular. One popular form of bondage is shibari, also known as Japanese rope bondage.

What is shibari?

Shibari, which translates to "to tie," is a type of kink or BDSM play that involves tying people with rope. Also called Japanese rope bondage, shibari is rooted in the adult entertainment and image-making industry of the early 20th century through to today, says Midori, sexologist and author of Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage.

"Shibari originated as an underground form of culturally specific erotic fantasy play, enjoyed by ordinary people, which centers on erotic nostalgia of bygone eras," Midori explains to mbg. "In the same way that kinky people of European heritage have incorporated legends and tools of medieval European incarceration, such as Saint Andrew's Cross and shackles, into their sexual shadow play, so have Japanese folks found carnal inspiration from historical fables of their captured maidens and incarcerated heroes."

Over the past decade or so, shibari has also become very popular outside of Japan. Today it's enjoyed by consenting adults in private, in addition to being a staple in stage performances in kink-themed bars and in porn, she says. 

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Common misperceptions.

As shibari has gained popularity outside of Japan, there's also been a rise in inaccurate narratives being shared around shibari and its history, says Midori.

"[These narratives are often] very romantic and alluring, and often gorgeously storied, where shibari is a noble and complex art form, passed down from the samurai, taught today from master to acolyte. Others claim that shibari is a respected art form and spiritual practice in Japan. These narratives, however, are unfortunately deeply problematic as they are another form of 'othering,' Orientalism, and out-of-context cultural appropriation," she says.

Other misperceptions include the following:

Shibari is a spiritual act.

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Despite popular belief, shibari isn't a spiritual practice in Japan. Midori says it's normal for some shibari lovers everywhere to "find moments of emotional catharsis" and "make it their own form of spiritual exploration," but these things aren't exclusive to shibari.

"It's been so for people who enjoy other forms of kink, such as leather bondage, flogging, ordeal play, and dominance and submission, just to name a few," she explains. "Japanese Rope can be a naughty bit of sexual play or stillness of self in a chaotic world, and everything in between."

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Shibari must be complex and difficult.

While it can be complicated, it really doesn't have to be. Midori says because the more fancy-looking and physically challenging photos posted online get so much attention, it's easy to assume that's the norm. It's not. 

"You don't have to study and master complex forms that might not even be healthy for you or your partner's body. A few basic ties, such as one or two-column ties and maybe a simple body harness, is fine, good, and hot kink fun for most people. When it comes down to it, it's about tying each other for shared fun and sensual delight. It shouldn't be intimidating or irritating," she says.

Shibari is all about sexual pleasure.

From the outside looking in, shibari may seem like it's solely focused on sexual pleasure, but that's not always the case. According to certified sex educator Dainis Graveris, different people have different motivations for engaging in this type of rope bondage. People often do feel aroused by the body awareness that they experience during and after shibari, he notes, but not every experience needs to include sexual stimulation. "However, you'll still experience something intimate and feel closer to the other person because of the trust involved in the experience."

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Shibari is violent.

Graveris says pain can be an element of shibari, but it shouldn't feel like torture, nor should it be unpleasant. "It's meant to be enjoyed, not something that you suffer through," he says. "Trust is another vital element during shibari play between you and your partner."

To make sure you remain in control of the situation and that you won't be in so much pain that the experience becomes unpleasant, make sure that you clarify your boundaries from the get-go. You can also come up with safe words and discuss nonverbal cues, like what it might look like if you're doing OK or if you're distressed. 

Shibari is just like other forms of bondage.

Japanese rope bondage and other forms of bondage are different types of rope play. Besides the different rope materials being used in each, the motives and aesthetics are also very different, says Graveris.

"Western rope bondage entails more of a functional role or tying someone up for the purpose of restraining. On the other hand, shibari cares more about the aesthetics of tying someone up," he explains. "The former uses tying as a foreplay practice where couples get to have sex right after. Meanwhile, each tie means something in shibari. One can say that the experience from shibari comes from the process of being tied or tying—what happens during play and not what comes after, i.e., sex."

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Benefits of shibari: 

1. It promotes intimacy.

"The delicious secret about rope bondage and shibari fun that most people don't talk about is that it requires close contact, lots of good skin sensation from light to deep, and ongoing sexy communication," Midori says.

2. It's easily and infinitely adaptive.

Like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to shibari. The experience will be what you make it, and luckily, there are countless ways to tweak it to fit you and yours.

"It's infinitely adaptive as you can adjust and change it to suit all body types, physical conditions, and experience levels. You don't need to be flexible to enjoy shibari—you just need to be clear about what works and doesn't work for your body that day," Midori says.

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3. It can be empowering.

"Negotiation, or the pre-play conversation required in shibari and other BDSM play, can empower everyone to set and respect good boundaries, develop excellent consent-making skills, engage in collaborative joy creation," Midori says. "This, in turn, gives each of us more confidence, and a path toward greater authenticity in self-expression."

4. It can give you a healthy rush of endorphins.

According to Graveris, when you decide to submit to the experience, your body will reward you with feel-good hormones like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. Once you've gotten the hang of the techniques, you can push your body's limits until it rewards you with those benefits.

How to get started.

Even though there is plenty of information online, finding quality, reputable sources for information on shibari and related rope play can be quite challenging. If this is something you are truly interested in exploring, then consider connecting with your local BDSM community.

"Go to a class. Better yet, go to a lot of classes!" says Angie Rowntree, founder and director of ethical porn site SSSH. "Learning shibari and any kind of rope bondage takes commitment, time, and practice. Give yourself the opportunity to learn about it in person. There are also regional and national events that have a rope bondage component where you can go for a day, weekend, and sometimes longer to learn, practice and socialize with others that have similar interests to you."

Sex educator Madeleine Ross adds that it's vital to have an open discussion with your partner before trying shibari. "Be clear about what you expect from the experience and create a safe word that you can use with your partner if things get out of hand and either one of you wants to stop or pause," she says. "If you don't know your partner well in bed, it's best to ask a few basic questions like what signals they normally give when they're feeling good, how to tell if they're having a good time, signs to look out for if they're in pain or don't feel comfortable, and others."

Start with a few ties best suited to beginners, like the single- and double-column ties. Graveris recommends finding a comfortable and spacious place that you and your partner are familiar with. 

"Do not jump straight into shibari suspension," he adds. "Practice with floor ties to ensure that you apply the right methods and techniques before you're up in the air."

Tips & techniques to try:

1. Plan your aftercare.

"Preplan each of your aftercare needs. After shibari fun, whether the playtime went fantastic or not, people often need their own time to transition. Give plenty of time for aftercare. This period of the afterglow is necessary for converting a good time into a fantastic memory," Midori says.

2. Start with a cotton rope. 

Midori recommends starting with ropes made from cotton, which are "easy on the skin, hold knots well, easy to wash after messy sexy fun, budget-friendly, and are not likely to cause allergic reactions. Shibari does not require you to have exotic or expensive ropes made of hemp, jute, or other fibers. Many people are allergic to these as well."

3. Start short, too.

Start with shorter ropes, as they're easier to handle. Super long ropes can get tangled up, be hard to handle, and just increase frustration for the person tying and boredom for the person waiting to be tied, Midori says.

4. Always have safety scissors on hand. 

Always have a set of safety scissors nearby when playing. Sometimes knots simply get too tight or the person needs to get out fast.

5. Use sex positions for inspo. 

Midori recommends starting with your most favorite sex position, then use the ropes to tie your partner into that shape. (Here's some sex position inspo, if you need it.)

6. Go for this classic technique.

Tie the right wrist to the right thigh and the left wrist to the left thigh. If the partner is a bit more flexible, try wrists to ankles.

Additional resources to consider.

The bottom line.

Exploring shibari is an excellent way to bring you and your partner closer. It's also a great way of better understanding your own body, which could ultimately leave you feeling empowered. However, it's super important to do your research before diving in. 

Additionally, do not try to imitate the positions or poses you've seen in professionally shot adult films or on the social media accounts of popular shibari lovers without the appropriate training and safety precautions. And of course: Always keep your play safe and fully consensual.

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