Myth: It’s violent.
Shibari isn’t meant to be overly painful. If there is pain, it should be enjoyable, not intolerable. “There are these layers of trust and closeness during any experience,” says Fuoco. Clarifying boundaries (including consent) or safe words (if necessary) can take a lot of the unknown out of the situation. Fuoco suggests asking questions such as “what might it sound like if you’re in distress?” and “what might it sound like if you’re doing okay?” to understand each other’s boundaries before practicing. “At the foundation of every experience, there needs to be trust,” says Fuoco.
Myth: It’s degrading.
Shibari can be empowering in the way it challenges your body. “I find that getting comfortable with discomfort in rope makes me more comfortable with discomfort in life,” says Lyra E., a current student at Shibari Study. (Think of it like sitting with and breathing through the discomfort of being in a deep yoga pose to reach another level of mental strength and relaxation.) Rope play can do many things, but it should never make you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. If this happens, then listen to your gut and step away.
Myth: It’s unsafe.
Engaging in any form of rope bondage can pose some risks – but, again, it’s not about pain, force, or degradation. Before practicing shibari, you should evaluate what those risks are for you. “[I’ve found that] good questions to ask are about any health conditions (mental or physical),” says Lyra E. “Discussing trauma is always good too, because there may be some trauma that can be triggered by being restrained and lacking control.” If you want to keep safety scissors close so you’re able to remove yourself quickly, that’s always an option. (See: How to Talk to Your Partner About Your Sexual Past)
The Benefits of Shibari Rope Bondage
What you get from Shibari depends on your motive and intention behind your practice. You may come away with improved body positivity, empathy and sensitivity, deepened intimacy with a partner, or creative and artistic stimulation – all this, in addition to the benefits below.
Mindfulness. “With Shibari, you’re stimulated from so many angles, you end up being mindful without really trying,” says Leila. “Your body feels very present and your mind feels very present. In a way that, I have to say, that not many other practices do.”
Awareness. You become aware of where you are and the sensations happening throughout your body. “There’s no way to be in a really uncomfortable position and focus on your grocery list,” says Fuoco. “You choose to submit to that moment, to that position, and your body rewards you with a lot of feel-good hormones.” For example, Fuoco likens Shibari to running as opposed to yoga because yoga focuses on doing things that are generally good to your body, whereas running can involve pushing yourself into discomfort to then experience feel-good endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. The same goes for rope play.
“It’s this practice where you push through a hard moment to reap those benefits,” says Fuoco. “It makes you more in tune with your body.” You figure out the difference between good pain and bad pain, and you get the opportunity to see what your body is capable of.
Communication. “Part of the appeal is figuring out how to be in deep communication with somebody in a way that’s a little more subtle,” says Fuoco. You learn what your body likes, what it doesn’t, and how to communicate that to someone else – sometimes without words.
Connection – and disconnection. Generally, it’s not about sexual tension, says Leila. Rather, “there’s a physical and emotional exchange that’s really deep and really satisfying.” Of course, if the moment is so intense that sexual feelings arise, then there can be sexual tension – but, again, sex isn’t the only reason why people practice Shibari. There can be an incredibly deep connection without any sexual feelings present. (Related: How to Build Intimacy with a Partner)