A Brief Overview of Common Styles

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In the broadest strokes, we can divide rope bondage styles into two main categories: Japanese and Western. Each has a few major identifying characteristics. However, one common way to distinguish between Western and Japanese rope bondage is that, in Western rope bondage, a person is typically tied so that other things can be done to them, while in Japanese rope bondage, the tying is what is being done to them.

Japanese

  • Typically concerned with the beauty and symbolism of the bound form and/or the sado/masochistic pleasures of the experience; the rope itself is the experience
  • Arms folded behind the back (“box tie”) is common, as is partial or full suspension
  • Typically uses natural-fiber ropes (asanawa – rope made from bast fiber, such as hemp, linen, or jute) of between 5-6 mm diameter
  • Contemporary tying in this style usually involves folding 7-8 meter ropes in half and beginning ties with the bight of the folded rope

Western

  • Typically concerned with the restraint and struggle of the bound partner; the rope is typically a means to an end for other activities
  • Strappado/armbinders are common, as are gags and bondage to furniture; suspension is rare
  • Typically uses synthetic (nylon) or cotton ropes, often 6-8 mm diameter or more
  • This style may use folded ropes, but often uses single strands of thicker ropes

Other Ways to Make Distinctions

Beyond these major divisions, there are a number of other ways to identify common variations by the purpose, intent, or goal of the bondage. There is no exhaustive or definitive list, because rope bondage is constantly evolving, and there’s no “official list” or consensus. Below are a few examples, but keep in mind that the lines between categories are usually not well-defined, and most rope is a blend of various styles.

Decorative Rope: This type of rope tends to be more elaborate, and the focus is usually on the patterns created by the rope on the body. Extreme forms can come close to resembling clothing.

Rope for Porn: There’s an entire genre of rope that has evolved in the porn industry. Typically, this combines the functional purposes of Western bondage with some of the aesthetics from Japanese bondage. (Indeed, in Japan, many of the famous rope artists made a career out of tying for porn magazines and videos.) Today in the U.S., you’ll mainly see this used to tie and hold females in exposed and easily-accessible positions.

Sensual or Sadistic Rope: Some people have strong preferences about how sensual the interaction is and how much physical stress or pain is involved in the interaction. Sadistic or “torture” rope is often referred to as semenawa (Japanese for “attacking rope”), where the rope is used for the “pleasurable mistreatment” of the bound person.

Rope for Performance: Some people use rope as a type of performance. Live rope performances tend to be more dynamic and may use more intricate ties, where the tying itself is the focus of the performance. Rope for photography or video often uses rope as a way to pose (or expose), present, or display the bound form.