Basics for Bottoms

While it’s true that tops have a lot of work to do and patterns to learn and things to control, bottoms have a similar, though sometimes different, set of understanding to gain and skills to master. Below are suggested areas to focus on as you begin your journey as a rope bottom, along with some suggestions for where to go next.

The Dangers of Bottoming

A word of caution before we begin: as we’ve said before, rope — particularly strenuous rope and/or suspension — can be dangerous. While most injuries are minor, they are not uncommon, and potential injuries in rope could last hours to weeks to a lifetime.

Additionally, injuries may occur even when everyone does everything “right.” If you are tied by a highly-skilled and competent rope top with whom you have an established relationship with good communication, and that top operates strictly within pre-negotiated guidelines and ties a technically-perfect version of a tie on you, you can still be injured … perhaps seriously! Please let the truth of this statement sink in and be clear to you.

You and you alone are ultimately responsible for your own safety in rope and the risks you are willing to take, barring blatant violations of consent by the top.

First Advice for New Bottoms

  • Get ready:
    • Hydrate – not being properly hydrated can increase your risk of injury; make sure you get plenty of liquids leading up to a rope interaction (not just right before)
    • Eat normally – preferably about an hour before doing rope
    • Pee before you rope!
    • Warm up – there are some disagreements about whether stretching right before rope is helpful or not. Current best practice recommends doing some light dynamic stretching or movement to warm up the body, but avoiding any deep stretching that’s intended to “improve” flexibility. Instead, save the deeper stretches for after the interaction, and stretch to increase flexibility between interactions.
    • Be (and remain) self aware – as you’re learning about rope and your body’s reactions to it, stay as aware as possible to what you’re experiencing. Letting yourself “go” and moving into “rope space” can be great when working within already-established limits with a trusted partner, but isn’t recommend for learning.
  • Your nose will itch. Know how you’re going to get it scratched.
  • Don’t watch the rope (that should be the top’s responsibility).
  • Choose your partners carefully. When you first start bottoming for rope, you may not have many rope-specific ways to assess potential partners. That will come with time. However, the most important traits in a rope top are:
    • someone who is more concerned about your experience in the rope and your safety than about any other aspect (looking cool, getting the tie right, etc.)
    • someone who can and does actively listen to and respond to the communication you provide
    • someone you can trust
  • Suggested questions to ask before a rope interaction (see Negotiation and Communication for more):
    • What kind of interaction are we about to have?
    • How do we both want to “feel” or what “experience” do we both want to have during and after this interaction?
    • What kinds of ties will we be doing?
    • How well do you know these ties? Who taught them to you?
    • What are the major risks for what we’re about to do?

A note on suspension:

  • We recommend that bottoms (and tops) not move directly into suspension. This is more commonly accepted by tops, as it’s easy to recognize that specific skills are necessary to responsibly practice suspension. This is less-commonly accepted by bottoms, as there is often an assumption that the top needs to have skills but the bottom just needs to let things happen. We strongly disagree.
  • Bottoms have a wide range of skills they can use to make suspensions safer and more manageable. These skills are less “obvious” from the outside, but are just as important.
    • They start with being able to assess the tops with whom they tie in order to appropriately determine the risks they are willing to take with those tops. This requires spending enough time studying rope tying and its related skills to be able to assess what is happening.
    • They continue with the ability to recognize proper placement and tension for their body, the ability to move in rope to decrease risk and improve sustainability, the ability to process the physical and mental/emotional stress of the interaction, and the ability to openly and effectively communicate needs.
  • For these reasons, we recommend an extended period of study for both tops and bottoms before moving into suspension. (And we recommend starting with partial suspension and working at that level for an extended period of study before moving to full suspension). We have no magic number for how long is long enough (much of it depends on previous skills, dedication of study, prior body awareness, etc.), but in general, we mean many months of dedicated study at minimum (not hours or weeks).

Some Essential Bottoming Skills

  • Be Educated – the more you know about both sides of the rope, the more informed your decisions
  • Be Mindful – know yourself, trust your instincts, choose how mindful you will be in an interaction
  • Be Prepared – physically and mentally, including anything you need to make an interaction successful
  • Know Your Limits – everyone has them; know yours, don’t be ashamed of them, and communicate them
  • Know Your Body in Rope – the more you know about your reactions to rope, the more you can cooperate in rope for a successful interaction, and the better you can recognize a problem before it causes injury
  • Communicate Clearly – about your intent, hopes and expectations; about your experience in rope; as soon as you notice an issue

Rope is an experience shared by two people. What the top wants to get out of a rope interaction is only half of the equation. You should also be able to articulate what you want: from rope in general, from this particular interaction, from this particular tie. Part of your development as a bottom is learning how to recognize, manifest, and achieve those things.

On Clothing

  • Some tops prefer to tie bottoms who are minimally-clothed (or nude). There are legitimate arguments to be made for this that have nothing to do with sex. For example: rope grips better to skin than to most fabrics, fabrics can shift and change the placement and tension in a tie, clothing can get caught in the ropes, etc. Regardless, you should never feel coerced to wear less than your level of comfort or to wear/not wear what you want.
  • In general, if clothing is going to be worn, it is best to wear form-fitting clothes that do not restrict your range of motion.
  • Avoid clothes with tight bands or bras with underwire, as these can make proper rope placement difficult or add to the risk of nerve compression in some cases.
  • Avoid overly-decorative clothes with lots of straps, holes, lace, etc., as they are easy to accidentally grab while tying or may be deformed/torn by the act of tying or the pressures of the rope.
  • Avoid very slippery clothing options as this can make it difficult to keep the rope in the intended location.
  • If you have long hair, keep a hair tie handy in case you want/need to get it out of the way.
  • Be careful with lotions and oils. While these can be helpful after a rope interaction, avoid applying them before an interaction. They can make the rope slip, and your top may not appreciate their rope smelling like your favorite body lotion 🙂
  • Remove any jewelry that could become tangled in the rope or would be uncomfortable if the rope causes it to be pressed into your skin, for example ear rings, necklaces, bracelets and potentially other body piercings.
  • Layer clothing to be ready for a variety of temperatures. Many people find that they feel hot when they are in rope, and feel cold as soon as the rope comes off. Wearing a variety of layers allows you to be prepared for a range of experiences.

Body Types in Rope Bottoming

We want to say a word about body types. All kinds of people in all kinds of physical conditions can enjoy rope, can be tied, and can be suspended. There is no sign saying “you must be this skinny” or “you must be this tall” or “you must be this …” whatever in order to enjoy rope.

However, in some instances, additional or different skills, approaches, or materials may be required. For example, if a bottom doesn’t have the flexibility to fold their arms comfortably behind their back (for whatever reason), then a modification will be required for any kind of arms-included chest harness. Some people may require more wraps in a given tie in order to sustain it without risk of injury. Some people have difficulty breathing, or have impaired circulation, or any number of other potential physical conditions that will make modifications necessary. But as long as those needs are identified and those modifications are made, then anyone can enjoy rope bondage.

That said, it should be obvious that a flexible, well-trained athlete will likely be able to safely process some types of ties (floor or suspension) that a non-athlete may not be able to. An extremely-flexible rope bottom with a high pain tolerance may be able to safely endure types of ties that other people (regardless of age or weight) simply cannot endure without extreme risk and potential injury.

Therefore, our stance is this: neither age nor weight nor conditioning are definitive, deciding factors in determining the type of rope that a person can enjoy … but neither are they irrelevant. All of this goes back to knowing yourself, your limits, and your body in rope, being able to communicate those needs, and making any necessary modifications in cooperation with your top. (For more on this concept, we recommend this post on Fetlife and Evie Vane’s book Better Bondage for Every Body.)

Everyone can enjoy rope in a variety of ways, and we hope that everyone will find and celebrate the ways they can do so within their own informed risk profile.

You Are Not a Robot

Some days, you will feel more physically or mentally able to enjoy or process a tie than you will on other days. This is completely normal, and you should not feel any guilt when this happens. However, it is important to recognize and communicate this with your partner. (This is true for tops, as well. In addition, if you’re having an off day, it can also help to let the top know that they aren’t “bad” today.)

Recognizing when this happens will help you become more attuned to your own experiences in rope. It will also help you determine whether this is a temporary state or something that you need to explore further and possibly address.

For example, some days, you just won’t be in the right “headspace” for a certain tie, or you may have slept funny on your shoulder last night, or you may just be tired. On the other hand, sudden difficulty with a tie that didn’t pose that same level of difficulty in the past, and that you can’t attribute to a temporary cause, could indicate a physical or emotional problem area that may need investigating.

In addition, the way you experience a tie in “practice” or “performance” mode may be different from the way you experience that exact same tie in “play” mode because of the way your mind and body are responding to the tie. For more on this, we recommend you read this post on Fetlife.

Finally, you should feel comfortable communicating this with your partner, even if you don’t go into detail. Otherwise, your partner is likely to blame themselves for the tie “not working right” this time, or may continue to try to push through the tie, thinking the problem is theirs.

Being able to know when a tie “isn’t working” is an essential skill, but it’s also important to be able to recognize why.

Risk & Decision-Making

We will focus on safety and “things to watch out for” throughout the course, and we will continue to stress that rope bondage can be dangerous. However, we also want to take a minute to recognize that part of the excitement of rope bondage is the physical stress it causes in the body. Learning what kinds of stresses and sensations are normal, and therefore something you can learn to enjoy, is just as important as learning about all the “danger signs.”

It’s also normal to be fearful about being injured. Part of your journey as a rope bottom will be learning to balance that fear with the enjoyment of the physical and mental/emotional stress that rope bondage can bring–or at least, learning which fears are unfounded and learning which warning signs need immediate attention versus mindful attention until later. Progressing at a manageable pace, introducing one new risk factor at a time, can help you find that balance.

We developed the flow chart above in cooperation with a number of experienced bottoms in order to help bottoms become more explicitly conscious of the decision-making that is happening during rope when the body is experiencing stress. In our experience, these decisions are always being made, but not always in a conscious manner or in a way that is communicated with the top.

This “hidden” decision-making can be dangerous because it often leads to bottoms pushing themselves in unnecessary ways (so the scene won’t stop, so they won’t be viewed as weak, so they won’t seem to be complaining, etc.) and to tops having their own consent violated because they aren’t aware of the bottom’s decisions about risk-taking. We urge our students to make their risk-taking explicit so that all parties can choose to consent to those risks or not.

A few notes on the chart:

  • “Is it damaging you?” – If you, as a bottom, have difficulty answering this first question with certainty, we urge you to:
    • slow down and learn more about your body in rope and the related risks, which probably means you’re in a tie that is too far above your experience level, and
    • realize the need to accept appropriate responsibility if you answer that question incorrectly.
  • “Am I willing to be damaged for this activity?” – You have the right to accept risk of damage in pursuit of something you want. People do that all of the time in a wide variety of activities. However, it’s important to remember that, if you are working with someone else, you are not alone in that decision. It is imperative that you have negotiated your acceptance of this risk in advance and that you communicate this risk during the interaction. To not do so is to violate the consent of the top.
  • “Communicate as needed …” – How you communicate can make a big difference in the “success” or “failure” of the interaction. In our advanced courses, we examine specific communication strategies to make communication more effective. For now, just remember that the best approach is direct, specific feedback about your experience in the rope (“my right knee is hurting”) delivered in as helpful and kindly a tone as possible. But also, when things really hurt, they really hurt, so …!

Note: We believe that it is important for bottoms to take responsibility for their experience in rope and their own safety, and we believe communication is an essential tool for doing so. However, we also acknowledge that communication is dependent on someone listening to and responding to that communication. So, while our focus in this section is on helping bottoms to successfully and responsibly manage their side of a rope interaction, we do not mean to minimize the role and responsibility of the top to elicit communication, to check in frequently, to listen and respond appropriately, and follow positive consent practice. (See more on this in the “Basics for Tops” section.) This section is about helping bottoms develop positive tools for rope interactions, not an excuse for top’s to claim ignorance, abdicate responsibility, or violate consent.

Cautions & Warning Signs

With all of that in mind, we offer these initial concerns to which you should be attentive:

  • Focus – Watch out for excessive chatter while getting tied … it can distract the top and prevent you from focusing
  • Tingling and Numbness – even if due to circulation, this can mask other issues; we will address this in more detail later, but this always warrants mindful attention
  • Pain – pain is an indicator that something is wrong; you make choices about how you will react to that based on the degree of risk you’re willing to take
  • Itching – yes, your nose will itch, and you need to know what you’ll do about that; but this is an itching on hands, feet, and limbs that isn’t “normal” and could indicate a problem
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness – let your top know right away
  • Nauseous Feeling – let your top know right away
  • Breathing Problems – we will provide tips to improve your breathing, but if you’re having trouble breathing and unable to process or compensate for that, communicate this with your top
  • Difficulty Processing – trouble processing the tie, no matter how general the feeling or good the tie
  • Rope Space – warn your top if you feel you are about to move into “rope space” that could impair your ability to communicate effectively
  • Fatigue – warn your top as you begin to approach your fatigue level

We also suggest you become familiar with the information on these pages:

I really urge you to honor what feels right to you. Some bottoms have a need to please that causes them to ignore what’s right for them. I recommend that you don’t let a rope top’s hotness, persistence, conviction, community status, or even international fame influence your decision to be tied by them.Evie Vane

Additional Readings & Resources

Below is a collection of resources relevant to these topics: