The Pleasures and Dangers of Bondage

Last week, the autopsy report was released for Rev. Gary Aldridge, who died in June of accidental asphyxiation while engaged in self-bondage and autoerotic asphyxiation. By now, you've probably heard something about the pastor of Thorington Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, who was a friend of Jerry Falwell and was found dead in lots of rubber with a butt plug in his ass. There have been plenty of blog entries about how he was yet another closeted, kinky, conservative hypocrite who preached salvation but practiced sin. But in reading the details—especially from the coroner's report—I was struck by something else: Man, this guy was really into bondage. He was found alone wearing two rubber wet suits, a face mask, a rubber head mask, rubber underwear, diving gloves, and flippers; the various ways he was restrained seem to indicate he was hogtied, which is difficult (but not impossible) to achieve by yourself. He was definitely not a novice bondage fan.

So, it seems, he died doing something he loved. Some people put themselves in bondage because that's their turn-on, but it's much more often a two- (or more) person sport. I wonder if Reverend Aldridge did it by himself because he couldn't bear the shame or potential exposure of sharing it with someone else. If he could have found someone to share his kink with, he might still be alive.

When many people recall their first experience of bondage, it usually reaches all the way back to childhood. As part of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, or another kids' game, someone had to be restrained at some point. You'd grab a necktie or a belt or something from one of your parents' closets and tie up the bad guys. Some people look back on those experiences as fun memories; bondage enthusiasts usually remember the first time they were tied up (or tied someone else up) with a lot more detail and glee.

For grown-ups, bondage is an erotic activity with endless possibilities. It seems to transcend categories: You don't need to be into BDSM to have tied up a lover or been tied up during sex. Self-described kinky and non-kinky folks alike incorporate different types of bondage into their sex play. If you've ever held down your lover's hands while you were fucking her or pinned him down to the bed with your body, then you've practiced a form of bondage. That's one of the bonuses of bondage: You can do it without any fancy equipment, and you can use whatever's nearby—a silk scarf, a pair of suspenders, panty hose . . . heck, I've used a rolled-up sheet in a pinch.

Of course, you can also invest in some elaborate accoutrements, from handcrafted leather and stainless-steel restraints to pretreated Japanese hemp rope. My first serious girlfriend popped my bondage cherry with a pair of fur-lined leather restraints. Since then, I've been bound with everything from balloons (imagine balloon animals kinkified) to athletic tape (when it came off, so did several layers of skin—ouch!).

Browse a list of workshops at a BDSM event and you'll see just how popular and varied bondage can be: rope bondage, suspension bondage, Japanese rope bondage, metal bondage, bondage for sex, decorative bondage, creative bondage, head and face bondage, genital bondage, hand and foot bondage, body harnesses, latex bondage, and predicament bondage. Google the word "bondage" and you'll get about 32 million links. According to Alexa, the kinky bondage site Hogtied.com (which is owned by Kink.com) has more traffic than MSNBC.com.

I think one of the reasons bondage is so popular is that it's incredibly versatile. It can cover lots of physical and emotional territory, from sensual teasing to sadistic torment and everything in between. It's an ideal vehicle to explore explicit power dynamics, since restraining someone embodies dominance, control, power, and authority. And being restrained is a way to submit, surrender, and give oneself over to another. Bondage can also be incredibly challenging, physically and psychologically, for both partners. The top must create the ritual, calculate and execute the design, and even use physics (to make a safe and successful suspension, for example). The bottom must endure what may feel like an impossible circumstance for her body, let go of her fear, embrace her powerlessness, and trust her partner.

But when some people are bound, they panic or fight to get out. They feel constricted, maybe even claustrophobic. I've seen people actually get angry when they're restrained—it just fucks with their heads way too much. Other folks give in to the experience and are turned on by the sense of powerlessness they feel.

Then there is a third group of people who, when restrained—especially in rope bondage—become totally relaxed and calm; it's surprising to see how serene someone can look when they're all tied up. At first, I couldn't understand how utterly peaceful some people get when they're in bondage, but then I read a fascinating book called Animals in Translation by animal-behavior expert Temple Grandin, who is autistic. Grandin recalls the first time she saw a "squeeze chute," a tight, confining chute that ranchers put cattle in to keep them completely still so they can be given immunization shots:

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