While every rope interaction will be different, we can roughly divide most into one of three broad categories. This is only helpful in that it tends to establish some common ground rules and goals or areas of focus for each type of interaction. In our courses and events, we typically use these terms as a short-hand for setting expectations.
Whether or not you use these terms, it’s important to remember that different interactions will, in fact, have different sets of expectations and goals. Negotiation is essential to make sure that all participants are in agreement about those expectations and goals. While we find these terms useful starting points, we are not recommending that they be used in place of individual negotiations. (We examine negotiation in more detail in the another section.)
Practice: Sometimes called “labbing,” the goal here is to learn new skills or ties or practice and improve on a skill or tie. Both tops and bottoms can dictate the goals (the top may want to improve the tension in a tie; the bottom may want to experiment with different ways to process a tie, etc.). In general, the assumption is that there will be no performance or play aspects to the interaction. Furthermore, any sense of D/s or other dynamics are typically greatly restricted or absent. In other words, both tops and bottoms freely share ideas, experiences, suggestions, etc., without reference to any dominant/submissive, top/bottom, or other types of power dynamic restrictions. (In relationships with a 24/7 dynamic, one way to retain that dynamic is by having the dominant “order” the submissive to provide feedback, for example.)
Play: This includes any rope interaction where the mutual enjoyment of the participants is the primary goal. The play may be sensual, sexual, humorous, romantic, comforting, sadistic, or some other combination, and may or may not include a power-exchange dynamic. Because the focus is on the mutual pleasure (however defined) of the participants, a sense of trust, practiced skill, and clear negotiations are important. To say it more clearly: we do not recommend you try to use any ties or rope-related skills in “play” that you haven’t already become comfortable with in “practice” (and this becomes even more true as the risks involved are raised).
Performance: This can include live performances, videos, photography, or other interactions where the goal is to present some aspect of rope bondage for others. In most cases, the “enjoyment” of the top and bottom is secondary to achieving the goals of the performance. While some performances involve aspects of play (sexual interaction, power dynamic exchanges, etc.), these are typically done for the sake of the performance. Finally, because the performance is paramount, the acceptable risks are sometimes higher in these kinds of interactions, which places additional burdens on the negotiation, monitoring, and responsible attentiveness of all involved.