If you’ve tuned into Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle, you probably saw all the contestants get roped into shibari during their first group challenge (R.I.P. Harry’s wrists and neck, amiright?). But there’s much more to shibari than what you saw on screen.
“Shibari is “a form of bondage using ropes and it originated in Japan,” says Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. “They use specific types of rope made out of hemp.”
The type of rope used is important and distinguishes shibari from other forms of bondage.
“The hemp ropes are easier to tie and they don’t hurt as much against the skin,” she told Women’s Health. (That’s right: Shibari is not supposed to inflict injuries despite what you saw on Too Hot To Handle…but more on that later). Shibari ropes are softer and a bit thinner than what’s commonly used in Western forms of bondage.
But what is shibari, exactly—and what makes it such an erotic ritual for some people? Allow me to explain.
Why do people practice shibari?
“The reason why a lot of people prefer shibari over traditional bondage, is because of the time and attention to detail it takes to perfect these knots,” Richardson told Women’s Health. As a result, shibari becomes a mindfulness practice, as well.
“The person in the dominant position, who is tying the knot, has to be singularly focused on tying this knot,” says Richardson. “They’re in the present moment, they’re focusing on something tactile, so they’re not in their head about any of the typical things people can get in their heads about during sex.”
It’s mindful for the person in the submissive role as well. “Now, for the person who’s being tied up, they’re staying in the present moment, but they’re focusing on sensation and relinquishing control,” she adds.
Shibari doesn’t have to include penetration or oral sex, either. It can just be about the binds.
What do people get out of shibari?
Shibari, just like most bondage, is all about control. Both partners are playing with the control dynamics with only rope as a prop. Shibari is meant to encourage feelings of “empowerment on both sides,” says Richardson. It’s also scripted and planned out, so both partners openly communicate about what’s happening and what they’re going to do.
How do you learn shibari?
It takes time and plenty of practice to learn the many knot variations involved in shibari. “”The whole point of it is these intricate knots,” Richardson says. “It’s really an intricate tying system.”
For anyone interested in trying it, Richardson recommends reading a book on the practice or signing up for a workshop to learn proper technique. You should ensure your teach is licensed as a sex therapist, a sex educator, or a sex coach, she says.
Does shibari hurt?
A major misconception about shibari, and other forms of bondage, is that it’s painful. That’s just not true, according to Richardson. “In general, it doesn’t hurt, it might be a little uncomfortable,” according to Richardson. She says the idea that you will receive bruises or any types of injuries from shibari is “100 percent not true.”
The submissive person gets to choose and communicate to the dominant person exactly what level of sensation they’d like to experience, she adds.
“Shibari definitely fits with my sex positive approach which is all sex is good sex as long as it’s consensual and pleasurable,” Richardson told Women’s Health. “It’s not a dangerous practice; it’s not a violent practice; it’s not a weird practice.”
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