Why do people like bondage? What do people get out of being tied up?
Like any other kink or sex act, people’s reasons for liking bondage aren’t universal, because we’re all unique and the ways we engage with bondage vary. Bondage can be anything from wearing fluffy handcuffs during sex because it makes you feel playful and cute, to wearing a chastity cage while in a sex swing because you enjoy feeling like you’re denied and on display.
But while motivations vary, there are a few recurring themes that many – but of course, not all – people who enjoy bondage cite. As someone who enjoys bondage both as the person who gets tied up, and the person doing the tying, I thought I’d summarize a few…
Feeling helpless is perhaps the most obvious reason. Helplessness isn’t a feeling we enjoy in our everyday lives. But in a safe, controlled environment where a safeword can immediately set you free? For some, helplessness can feel cathartic. You’re voluntarily giving up control to partner(s) you trust to take responsibility on your behalf. You’re blissfully, temporarily unburdened.
There’s the “darker” appeal of (consensual) helplessness, too. Some of us are turned on by the illusion of being captured, corrupted, or without agency. In a culture that fear-mongers and shames sexuality, it’s unsurprisingly that some of us fantasize about pleasure being foisted on us; if it’s done to us, then we’re not guilty of the transgression. Bondage sex is, of course, consent-based, but role play can lean into fantasies of “forced” pleasure. As a sexual assault survivor, I have many peers who find this kind of play cathartic, but it’s definitely not for every one.
Bondage can be a vehicle for self-expression. Playing helpless can give participants an “excuse” to submit, struggle, or zone out and enjoy the ride. Many people feel shy about expressing themselves sexually, and bondage gives them permission to do all the writhing, wiggling, or begging they want. Obviously, no one needs an excuse to have sex the way they want to – just the consent of their partner(s) – but internalized shame is difficult to shake.
I’ve seen people assume that all bondage is always about control and cruelty. It can be – if that’s how you like to play. But bondage is an activity that doesn’t have an inherent mood. It can be sensual and romantic, like binding a partner with silk sashes and then taking your time kissing them from the top of their head down to the soles of their feet. It can be playful rough-housing, like putting a leash on a puppy play partner and trying to take them on a walk despite pretend protests. Bondage can be whatever you and your partner(s) make it.
Some of us struggle with our minds wandering during sex. Maybe we felt bored or understimulated, or we started worrying about laundry we didn’t do, or we were distracted by chronic pain. Restraints can hold us in the moment – literally. Bondage often makes participants hyper-aware of being present in their bodies, as even the slightest squirm becomes a reminder of their new limitations and of the sensations they’re feeling.
“Predicament” bondage – that is, bondage that forces someone into a physically uncomfortable position or circumstance – is especially apt at keeping one’s attention. Whether that’s over-the-door restraints forcing you to balance on your tiptoes, or trying to give oral sex while wearing a posture collar and cuffs, or something extra devious with a spreader bar. Predicament bondage encourages us to remain aware and engaged so we don’t slip, lose our rhythm, etc.
It’s easy to let sex lapse into a routine – and routine itself isn’t an issue unless you or your partner(s) find it no longer suits you. Most sex advice columns include at least a passing mention of changing things up through trying new positions or revisiting old favorites. Bondage can offer inspiration or an additional layer of creativity, as I mentioned in 5 Sexy Things You Can Do With a Tied up Partner: “Many restraint systems force the wearer into new positions. If you need some motivation to get creative with sex positions, restraints can often help.”
For example, door tethers, sex swings, hogties, and spreader bars force the wearer into very specific contortions. These unique angles and limitations can inspire new ways of going about things, like giving a partner oral while they’re suspended above you in a swing, or reaching beneath a hogtied partner to play with their chest.
Restraints don’t have to reinvent the wheel, though. They can also just change the pace. Products like the Shots Handcuffs with Handle can – for some of us – make “doggy” style sex (wherein one participant is on their hands and knees, and another is standing up or on their knees behind them) more interesting.
Like all BDSM, bondage requires healthy, open communication. Because bondage can be logistically complicated, it often requires more ongoing conversation than other sex acts. Just talking about safety measures or the specifics of a position (“if you want your ankles up, then I’ll have to fasten this here… is that okay?”) helps normalize thinking about and verbalizing one’s needs. Doing it regularly helps improve your sexual communication skills overall. Partners who enthusiastically discuss (and respect) sexual desires and boundaries are better, more trustworthy sexual playmates.
Just like self-expression in general, bondage can give participants an “excuse” to talk more before and during sex. Whether it’s just checking in to make sure our limbs aren’t cramping, or dirty talking about how hot/“helpless” we are, hearing a partner speak up can be a huge turn-on.
In my experience, bondage can deeply enhance intimacy. Not only are you communicating more, you’re engaging in an act that requires extra attentiveness and vulnerability. When we’re bound, we’re rather reliant on our partner(s) to ensure nothing goes wrong and that we’re enjoying ourselves. They have to be paying attention to our sounds, our movements, and our expressions. We have to trust that they’re going to be both careful and (if it fits the mood of the scene) creative.
Bondage can also bring partners closer together because it encourages experimentation. Partners who explore new things together often feel closer, because it builds trust and you learn more about each other.
Cherry On Top
We all have things that make sex more enjoyable for us, from having a mood-setting playlist playing in the background, to giving a partner a light smack on the butt (when welcomed) during penetrative sex. These preferences, habits, and personal flourishes aren’t necessarily focal points during sex, but are cherries on the top of a sexy sundae. They’re enhancements that bring something extra to the mix.
Bondage doesn’t have to be your ice cream. For some people, it’s a cherry, an enhancement. For those of us whose focus improves during bondage sex, that increased focus can heighten our sensory experiences. Physical limitations can make us extra aware of the sting of hot wax or the tickle of a feather because we have less opportunity to wiggle away. It can make us crave physical contact like touches or kisses even more because we can’t reach out for them ourselves. Bondage can compliment the role play dynamics we’re participating in, serving as a prop to a scene. It can “spice up” sex positions that – even though they’re on our favorites list – have gotten a little stale or routine.