Read Time: 6 minutes

The Art And Misconception of Shibari

The word “bondage” often elicits some harsh thoughts—usually of a young girl being degraded and dominated on videos from porn sites that don’t really know what they’re doing. If that’s your cup of tea and you have a consenting adult as your partner, then we don’t judge. But to learn more about the art, intricacies and misconceptions of the art of Shibari, we spoke to rope bondage artist Dee Sapalo.

Wonder: Could you help define or describe Shibari, for someone who hasn’t heard of it yet?

Dee Sapalo: Shibari and Kinbaku both refer to the erotic art of Japanese-style rope bondage. It’s a practice born from Japan’s adult industry, heavily influenced by the country’s politics, economics and aesthetics from as early as the Edo period.

 

In Japanese, Shibari means “to tie.” It’s not a word exclusive to kink as it can also refer to tying things like clothes, packages and more. On the other hand, Kinbaku translates to “tight binding” and is the formal word for our kinky practice. (It’s where we get the word reserved for highly respected rope bondage artists: “Kinbakushi.”)

However, practitioners in Japan use them differently.

 

Some masters described Shibari as a way to communicate or exchange emotions with our partners through rope tying. Other masters, however, say that Shibari is merely tying with Japanese-style techniques and only becomes Kinbaku when emotions are involved.

 

Either way, I believe that what counts is that when we tie with our partners, everyone is able to have a good time, stay safe and keep enjoying this risky but rewarding activity.

Wonder: What’s the best way to explain how Shibari isn’t just the bondage everyone is familiar with through porn? 

 

Dee: Most of the bondage-themed pornography I’ve seen seem to just use rope tying to restrain people or create certain visual effects—like a support act or opener before the main attraction after it (i.e. sex, other kinks, photography, etc.). That isn’t a bad thing since that’s precisely how some people like their bondage and that’s perfectly valid. 

 

Shibari, however, is often described as being “more about the journey than the destination.” I was taught to focus on the way that I tied so that my partners can feel my intentions at every step.

 

We do this when moving our partners’ bodies (roughly or gently?), when tying our harnesses (swiftly or slowly?) and when communicating our feelings (verbally or non-verbally?). We don’t need to wait until the rope tying is done before the fun can begin.

Wonder: What are the most common misconceptions that really frustrate you?

 

Dee: As for which misconceptions [that] bother me most, the top offenders are about safety. 

 

Too many practitioners downplay the risks to get more people to tie with them—but the reality is that everyone needs to help mitigate the physical, mental and emotional risks (i.e. nerve damage, circulation loss, asphyxiation, consent violations, manipulation, betrayal, neglect, etc.).

 

Like driving, Shibari is never 100% safe, so continuously improving our communication, consent and technical proficiency is key. We don’t need to be masters before we can play. We just need to be honest about our skills and limitations so our partners can make informed decisions.

Wonder: How did you get into Shibari, and how has your journey with it been so far?

 

Dee: I was fresh from a devastating breakup in 2013 and about to dive into a self-destructive hoe phase when one of my closest friends from college asked if I wanted to attend a bondage workshop with them. 

 

I’m glad they did because that changed my life. Kink helped me realize how hoe phases didn’t need to be self-destructive—that it was okay to pursue our desires as long as we followed ethics and safety guidelines like RACK (Risk-Aware, Consensual Kink). 

 

If our tools in kink can help people feel safe enough to risk nerve damage, asphyxiation and death, those same tools can likely help people feel safe with us in our vanilla (non-kinky) relationships, too.

Wonder: What are some of the feelings that the art provides those who practice it? Who, in your experience, are the type of people who are open to trying?

 

Dee: Feelings of erotic pleasure are responsible for several of today’s rope techniques, philosophies and aesthetics but there are several other feelings we can enjoy, too.

 

Around the world, feelings of torment, suffering and pain are incredibly popular. Several Japanese masters specialize in a style of Kinbaku called Semenawa (meaning “tormenting ropes”) that appreciates “beauty in suffering,” offering relief, catharsis or other types of fulfillment when enduring difficult ordeals—especially for loved ones.

Wonder: Who, in your experience, are the type of people who are open to trying?

 

Dee: In the Philippines, the people I’ve tied tend to ask for feelings of security, sensuality and surrender. People who crave a break from their daily lives say, “I’d like to feel safe and be able to turn my brain off.” From college students and business owners to individuals and married couples, these sessions hold space for them to temporarily set their responsibilities and stressors down, melt into the moment, and (sometimes) gently fall asleep.

 

My favorite though is the feeling of connection between the people playing together. Time stops as we focus on each other and the background fades away. Instead of words, we have gasps and glances, grunts and groans. We learn to speak with rope and reply with our bodies, until the conversation picks up its pace and we’re like dancers moving in sync. When we focus on each other and in the moment, we’re able to see just how different tying someone is from tying with someone, and it’s hard to look at rope the same way again.

Wonder: What are three tips you have for an individual/a couple who want to genuinely experience Shibari?

 

Dee: Successful sessions come from prioritizing satisfaction, safety and sustainability, so here’s one tip for each of those:

 

Satisfaction: Before you dive into your first session, spend time to clarify what you like and don’t like. The better you know yourself, the easier it’ll be to meet new people, negotiate sessions, enforce boundaries and enjoy the moment during play.

 

Safety: Make a habit of asking which physical, mental or emotional risks are involved and how to mitigate them. You’ll be surprised how much smoother our relationships and activities go when people feel and know they’re genuinely safe with you.


Sustainability: Think long-term. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to try every kink under the sun, but avoid going overboard. You don’t want to say goodbye to enjoying a lifetime of rope bondage just because you or your partner were impatient and rushed into aerial suspensions too early.

Dee closes us off with a few more words (and an invitation!):

 

I hope that helps! If you have any questions about Shibari or kink in general in the Philippines, you can email me at [email protected].

 

If this is your first time exploring BDSM, you can sign up for our free online course called “Hitting the Books: Introduction to BDSM,” which helps complete newbies quickly map out their kinky profile, check for compatibility with other kinksters, and plan out their kink sessions.

Photographer mynegativefeelings
Rope Bondage Artist Dee Sapalo
Art Direction Matthew Ian Fetalver and Alexandra Lara
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver
Models Allana Clemente and Siobhan Moylan
Stylist Bryan Laroza
Hair & Makeup Artist Ida Siasoco

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