Review of Jay Wiseman's Erotic Bondage Handbook

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review by Vamp

Jay Wiseman's Erotic Bondage Handbook
by Jay Wiseman
Greenery Press, 2000

It took a little longer than usual to review this book, because there was a bunch of technical information on bondage that had to be carefully read (and happily tested). This book has just been put on my personal list of MUST HAVE books that I'll recommend to someone new to the lifestyle!

I should tell the bondage aficionados what they won't find in the book first. If you are looking for a book that focuses on advanced techniques such as suspension, the art of "Japanese bondage" (the stylized and artistic version that is found in a lot of internet porn), intricate details of hojo-jitsu (martial arts form of prisoner tying), prolonged bondage situations, bondage techniques used on a person who is resisting, or how to use SM techniques on a bound bottom you are not going to find much of that in this book.

What the book does go into is just about every other thing you could think of!

Jay does a very interesting thing at the start of the book, he spends time introducing himself and explaining what background experience he is pulling from before he starts trying to teach anything. I think that is a wonderful thing for several reasons, for one I was just plain interested in his background. For another, it is wonderful to get people in the habit of expecting someone to relate their experience BEFORE accepting them as any sort of authority on a subject. Unfortunately I've seen a lot of people enter the scene and decide that the mature thing is not to question "Mentors". I think it is vitally important that those who teach share what background they have to do so and instill in novices that it is not only acceptable but rather standard behavior for a bottom to expect references and background information on any would-be mentor or teacher. I realized when reading this section that I have forgotten to do this sort of thing in the past when I've given classes, and I will be sure to begin the next class I give (whenever that might be) with a recounting of what qualifications I have to teach it! This book is a great resource, not only for those interested in bondage but also for those interested in learning a great flow chart for teaching!

After Jay introduces himself he goes over the basics of SM, how to meet people, what you can expect to learn, and basic safety information. I'm so glad to see such a responsible approach (though I would have been surprised to see anything else from this author since he is well respected for his responsibility). I think that while he presents great information on scene basics like the ol' "safe, sane, consensual" credo he does it in a very nonjudgmental fashion. He doesn't approach the topic as if there is a safe way and an unsafe way, but rather informs the reader that he will bring up concerns and the individual is free to choose their own level of acceptable risk. This kind of approach can be more difficult than it sounds to achieve as gracefully as he has in this book. I can attest to the fact that even after a few years of experience it is easy to get "set in your ways" about certain safety issues since it is natural to tend to believe in the "way you were raised in leather" (so to speak). I found that a few of the risks he presented as rather acceptable I wouldn't have, but his medical knowledge is profoundly sound and in the end it is really a judgement call that every individual must make on their own. He does a brilliant job of presenting good information and letting other's make the call for themselves.

I was glad to see he devoted a whole section to self-bondage (tying yourself up) and the risks inherent in it. As he states in the book, "Self-bondage can be exciting, intense, erotic, and enjoyable, as long as absolutely nothing unexpected happens. Any unexpected occurrence can have severe consequences." He hammers that concept home with a very amusing (after the fact since we know he is safe) story of getting trapped in self-bondage at a resort. He points out through this tale that it can happen to anyone, so don't assume you're so good at it that it can't happen. Also, he pointedly describes what COULD have gone wrong when he was in bondage such as earthquake or fire. I think self-bondage is easily one of the most controversial topics in all of kink, and it was important that the author detailed WHY this play can be so dangerous rather than just saying "don't do it!" He suggests that a few factors that immediately make self-bondage a lot more dangerous are the use of a gag, rope around the neck, being tied to a fixed object, chance of falling, an "emergency escape" that hasn't been tested, waiting for hands to go numb before attempting escape, and many other factors described in the chapter "On Self-Bondage".

To further stress how important anticipating the unseen is, I'll tell you what happened to ME when I was reading the book. I was test driving all the different techniques to see how well they were described and if someone (like myself) with little knowledge of rope techniques could follow along reasonably. I ended up doing some self-bondage in my living room in which I tied myself to a bookcase (no giggling in the audience please, I'm sure it isn't symbolic)! While I was bound a storm suddenly came in and the lights went out in my apartment and a transformer blew nearby. This could have been VERY bad. Luckily, it wasn't because I had taken several common sense safety measures. For one, I realized the weather was slightly inclement so I had a small fluorescent lantern within reaching distance. Aside from that, I only tied my FEET to the bookcase so I knew I could get them free if I could see well. I had EMT scissors nearby just in case I had tightened something a bit too much. I also had tried the quick release of such bondage in a situation where I hadn't been fixed to an object first. Thus, something that could have been a bad situation (or at least a scary one) simply was an amusing complication that was quickly remedied.

Far from being an unusual occurrence that "stuff comes up" when people are bound, it is really something that has to be anticipated and expected. The first time I did heavy bondage with my partner in a hotel room the hotel lights went out and an awful thunderstorm moved in. I was able to remove him from bondage in less than a minute, even though he had been held firmly enough he couldn't get out easily beforehand. I cannot stress enough to the new bondage fan to be prepared!

Of course, aside from expecting the environment could be unpredictable you also have to take into account the unpredictable reaction the body sometimes has to bondage on different days. Jay makes a point of going over the risk factors and warning signs of bondage in a very easy to understand fashion. He reminds people to check the "CSM" or "circulation, sensation, and movement" of their partner throughout play. He details exactly how to do this in the book, through things like "capillary refill" tests, checking the pulse, and checking the bottom's limbs for normal sensation and movement.

Aside from all this information about safety and such he provides a much needed service to the community by making up a fairly comprehensive list of different types of rope and the pros and cons of each. This was FABULOUS! He not only speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of different types but also to the cleaning and storage. He even goes so far as to suggest how to take care of the ends (that can frazzle in some types if not properly taken care of) and suggesting lengths that are commonly used. A really great tip in this section about cleaning is that forms of washable rope (he describes a bit about what rope is likely fit to go in the washing machine) benefits from being placed in a zip style lingerie bag. It keeps the rope from becoming tangled or from harming the machine. He suggests that if a lingerie bag is not available one can use a pillow case and simply knot it shut at the top. I've never washed rope using this method, but I can tell you (as a woman who has had to clean a lot of delicates) the pillow case thing works as long as you knot it tight enough that it doesn't let the contents spill out.

It is in the chapter "Basic Knots" that he really starts getting down to the nitty gritty of learning bondage. He starts with basic terminology and explains how he will explain how to tie something. He teaches the difference between simple concepts like bight (rope is folded back on itself), simple turn, crossing turn, and round turn.

He describes that there are different stages in bondage, there is the "initial application" when the Top first applies the bondage. There is the "dressing" stage in which the Top works the rope so that everything is as they want it to be before things are tightened and there is the "setting" phase when you basically pull things tight. I thought it was great that he broke these processes down.

Some of the simple knots he goes over are the square knot, surgeons knot, granny knot, figure-eight knot, bow knot, and lark's head. He supplies a bibliography of knot books if a person is seriously into learning knots, but he stresses that someone doesn't have to know a lot of knots to do some wonderful bondage.

It was during the knot phase when I realized two things about the book that didn't work out for me very well. The first, is that when two ends of rope are being used (or two pieces of rope) it would have been easier for me to work out the knots if the illustrations had two different colors for the individual ends or pieces. I ended up taking out a highlighter and working out which end was doing what with that. I recommend that if you get confused, coloring in the picture can help a lot! The second thing that was somewhat difficult is that he did not always list all the strengths and weaknesses of a particular knot or technique in the same section where it was described. It was harder for me to make determinations of how to use a knot at times when I would read several sections down about how it had certain strength or weakness that had not been noted when it was initially described. That will make it harder for me when I have to look up the knot or tie again, because I won't remember I have to look other places for some bit of information about use. Small complaint for such an exhaustively helpful book, but I thought I'd bring it up!

After going over knots and terms he moves on to discuss single-limb bondage. This is basically about creating a "cuff" around a limb in order to secure it to something. I think this was the most useful chapter to me, since I don't do very sophisticated things with bondage and I just needed to learn how to build upon what I knew already to create a better system. It was amazing what reading this chapter did for me, I picked up tricks I hadn't been told about in years of hanging around the BDSM community. I'm sure I could have picked up the information, but apparently I hadn't asked the right questions to get it! The great thing about this book is that he already figured out everything that I needed to know, so I didn't have to guess about what I needed to learn! Concerns ranging from how many turns you should apply to the limb (a fairly safe bet is that you should wrap the limb at least twice and until there is at least a 1/2" thick cuff in place), to how to "lock" the cuff so that it doesn't tighten around the limb are covered in detail. He explores at least 8 different styles of cuffs in just this chapter, and you don't have to know a bunch of knots to pull these styles off fabulously! A person with a little practice could be quite comfortable with single limb bondage after reading this chapter, it is a goldmine for bondage enthusiasts!

So, after he teaches you how to put a rope cuff on a limb he moves on to explaining how to attach the cuff to something. There are a lot of very simple ties that can accomplish this and he must go over at least nine. I think the best safety advice given in this chapter is that a "quick-release knot may not." He encourages people to have safety items such as EMT scissors to cut through bondage that may not act as you had planned after it is applied. He points out that many knots that are supposed to be quick release DO NOT act that way when they are tied in bighted rope (rope bent back on itself). Those knots tend to jam. He didn't have that experience with the Slipped Clove hitch, but that was one of the only ones that tended to work under those circumstances. He also pointed out that whenever a crossing turn or a round turn was added there was a higher probability of a jam occurring. So, the moral of the story is that knots don't always work in PRACTICE as they do in THEORY. Be prepared for a situation where they may act differently and don't bank too much on how one is going to act until you've had enough practice to understand how things are going to work out in the "field".

The next chapter was double-limb bondage (or "Why are you tying the stuffed animals arms together Vamp?" as it was known around my house). Basically, he describes how to tie one part of the body to another part of the body. He talks about more ways to do this than you'll ever need to know unless bondage is your specific interest in BDSM! I found my mind swimming in the possibilities! If you have a smart aleck bondage botttom at home that loves pulling a Harry Houdini on you, I can assure you that SOMEWHERE in this chapter there is something that will foil them!

After that exhaustive chapter, he spends time on the ever-so-popular spread-eagle bondage. It is interesting to note that this is where a lot of people START. How many of us (me included) began our kinky explorations by telling someone that we just wanted to try a little something out and then proceeded to either tie or be tied to the four corners of a bed? It is funny that this activity that is thought of as being so "light" or just a bit of "goofing off" is one of the more dangerous things that can be done in horizontal bondage, since if it is done properly you really ARE completely vulnerable. For this very reason, Jay recommends that if you are just starting in bondage you do NOT start here. He usually doesn't let a first bondage date do more than tie his hands behind his back. He doesn't allow blindfolds, gags, or ties to heavy objects at first either. I think this is a very good guide for someone who is meeting people for play purposes or who is starting out in a new relationship. It may sound like overkill to people who have known and trusted each other for quite awhile though. The thing is, although someone is trustworthy and loving it doesn't make him or her experienced. Even if you've got a partner who has been a spouse for the last 25 years in a GREAT relationship I'd recommend similar precautions just because they are still getting the hang of things. It is easy to do something on accident or fail to prepare for an event that could occur and put a partner in jeopardy (not out of malice but out of lack of experience). There is a certain grace that must be learned before putting someone into something that makes him or her completely vulnerable, I know. You can ask an early boyfriend how he felt when his loving trustworthy girlfriend was less than graceful and got him in the groin when trying to adjust things! Ha! Be careful out there!

Next, we come to the facial bondage chapter. Now, I must admit I was a little let down by this one. I know there was a lot to cover though. I wanted to learn how to make those wonderful facial macramé pieces I've seen before. There are some lovely people like the Diva-for-all-seasons Midori that make lovely "hoods" of sorts out of tiny pieces of rope that are so beautiful, delicate, and complete that I just ache looking at them. I was hoping that this chapter would teach me some of that, but it was nowhere to be found. To be fair, he sure covered almost everything else! I was happy to see he spoke about safety measures involved in choosing and applying a blindfold. Gosh, that is information that many of us could have done with a long time ago! I'm sure that when I was still young I applied a lot of blindfolds that left a lot to be desired and were maybe even dangerous. If you haven't read about basic safety with these things the gist is that they shouldn't put pressure directly on the eyes. I think he made a few really cheap and easy suggests for safe and VERY effective types of blindfolds. The first is that you take a pair of swimming goggles and black out the lenses. That works very well! Another quick and easy type that is also cheap is the use of simple eyepatches. You don't have to get an expensive blindfold from a sex toy store, and he makes that very clear in his description. The ones sold there might not work the best and might cost you a lot more than a simple trip to your drug store for a sleep mask!

Gags are another common type of facial bondage he covers in this chapter. He encourages people to really think before allowing themselves to be gagged or before gagging partners. It sounds exciting, but there are many practical considerations that must be taken into account before you really decide it is a good idea. For example, your partner will not really be silent if they are gagged. They will just be hard to understand, which may work against you if you need feedback. A non-verbal safeword also is an essential in these situations because the unexpected can (and usually will) come up and it is vital that they be able to tell you if something is wrong. Then of course there is the drool factor, a lot of people will drool in a gag. Think about that before you put one on them! The most important thing to know about gags though, is that it is VITAL the gag cannot work its way back into the bottom's throat or block their airway. This happens a lot in cases where a Top stuffs the bottoms mouth with something (like panties) and then applies a strap around the face. Since the panties are not attached to the face strap they can easily work their way back and into the throat making for a very dangerous situation. It is suggested within this section that if that is your favorite type of gag you might want to think about putting the panties inside a pair of your nylons, knot the ends of the nylons, and THEN stuff their mouth with them.

If a gag does work its way back into the throat there can be many repercussions. One of which is vomiting. For that reason, be prepared to be able to remove a gag QUICK if someone is gagging. If they gag and vomit they can easy inhale it and die. I think Jay is right on target in his warnings, safety precautions, and suggestions on this matter.

Some other devices he goes over in the facial bondage chapter are earplugs and earmuffs. The most useful bit to keep in mind is that the important thing to look for on such things is the NRR or "Noise Reduction Rating". He recommends that if you are going to invest in some earplugs you should at least shoot for something in the 30 range. If someone opts for headphones, he points out another thing I've heard a million times from women on WHACK [a local, women-only mailing list for BDSM enthusiasts]: DO NOT HAVE THE MUSIC ON TOO LOUD. If I had a dime for every time some poor bottom has told me a story about a Top putting on "soft romantic classical music" and then placed headphones on them so that they felt their ears were going to bleed by the end of it, I'd be a rich Vamp. This is a good time to point out that if the person isn't gagged or they have a non-verbal safeword they can TELL you that you've got it way too loud. Never underestimate the power of feedback to create a great experience and save you from a dumb call.

Jay goes into Hoods in this section too. I've worn a lot of different styles of hood, and I happen to love them. I think he is right on the money pointing out issues like overheating though. It is easy to get dehydrated and overheated when left in a hood for a long time, especially if the hood is made out of a material that doesn't "breathe" like latex. The most crucial bit of picking out a hood is really finding one you can get OFF of a person quick if you have to, and Jay goes over several styles and their pros and cons. As he reminds us "hoods are heavy." He suggests that a cheap way to see if you will like the feeling of a hood with lower risk than going out to pick up an expensive and very restrictive one is to use your cotton pillowcase.

You can simply put a pillowcase hood over someone's head and tuck it into their collar (you should be able to put two fingers between it and the hood to be safe). This will give a person the opportunity to see if they like the enclosed feeling or not without risking a lot of money or needing a lot of skill. The only caution is to be careful how it is affixed and not to let the case get wet (since it will be hard to breathe if that happens).

The section on breast bondage and genital bondage was rather surprising. This was one instance where I found myself being a lot more conservative than Jay. The bit where he and I would have differences in recommendations would be the bit where he talks about breast bondage and says, "Remember that a basic parameter of this book is that no bondage will be left on for longer than two hours. That would include breast bondage." I'm a lot more conservative about breast bondage myself. I'm more inclined towards recommending something within the 20 minute mark for tight breast bondage for reasons stated very well on the page (Healthy Breast Bondage by Susan Wright). I think it also would have been wise to point out that heavy breast bondage does tend to lead to cyst formation in some individuals. He does hit on the major warning though, if the breast are aching in a "non-erotic" way, there is nausea, or intense tingling and/or numbness it is time to get that stuff off. Another major warning is to be very cautious of ever putting a woman in a face-down position if her breasts are bound, it has to be done very slowly and carefully if it is done at all.

The genital bondage was interesting to read and I can't wait to do more of it! It includes some basic body harnesses that will make you very popular in the play room if you take the time to learn them. I was glad that Jay pointed out that one of the big things to think about when applying bondage to the penis is not to put too much traction lengthwise on the member. That can damage the ligament that attaches to the pubic bone and can leave a penis less than able to function if enough damage is done.

The last bits of the book dealing with actual techniques ar the arm and leg harness section and the hogtie chapter. These sections were very cool and showed many different variations. The hogtie has been a much maligned position and I think Jay does it justice and points out how to easy avoid some of the dangers that can come up.

Some basic things to avoid:

Those are a few things he goes over and I really recommend you pick the book up and read the whole section if you want to do this sort of tie.

It is also vital you read up on this chapter if you are into securing someone in a fetal, crucifixion, or Top-sitting-on-bottom position. There is a lot of information that I can't go into here that you really MUST read.

After all this technique he returns back to basic equipment for a bit and talks over the pros and cons of certain restraints. This is a good place to go to if you are trying to figure out what equipment to invest in. I highly recommend this bit if you are asking yourself questions about how to tell what is a quality piece of equipment or what might be of use to you in your playstyle.

The last bit of the book deals with special techniques. This part fell a little flat for me. I wish he had spent more time talking about special considerations for large bottoms, especially large male bottoms. Since a lot of the people I know (and have partnered with) are large people it seems like they should be given more than a passing mention in the book. For those that do need this sort of information, I'll recommend that you go check out (Hanne Blank's book Big Big Love) that I reviewed awhile back.

He does cover some fun stuff though. My favorite bit in this chapter was the simple tell tale bondage bit that examines forms of simple and fun bondage in which the gist is that there is a tell tale sign that happens if the bottom tries to escape. One of the simplest was having a coin held between the bottoms fingers (toes...body part...) and something else. If they did not remain still the coin would drop. I love mind games like that, very cool!

The book wraps up with a very simple glossary and a bibliography. There isn't any index, which led to a lot of pouting on my part! I'm one of those people that really NEEDS an index so that if I want to find "double half-hitch" I can figure out that I need to turn to page 163 pronto.

All in all, I loved this book! I think it will become an absolute staple of the community. I even loved the illustrations, they seemed to reflect the great variety of players out there. The pictures included people with piercings, tattoos, larger bodies, and various personal styles. My one complaint is that rope could have been "colored in" to allow a better understanding of which rope was going where. I also would have enjoyed seeing more minorities included, I'm afraid that since many illustrations in books tend towards showing people with typically Anglo characteristics, people might get the very off base notion that Anglos are the only kinky folk. I was very happy the book wasn't just full of images of Japanese women in bondage though, gads they are beautiful in those images but it is nice for people to see other body types and ethnic backgrounds participating in such a wonderful art.

Who would I recommend this book to?

To anyone who has ever even wanted to "fool around" with bondage. Pure and simple this is THE book to get.

Who would I not recommend this for?

This isn't a book that was written to make you hot. If you are not really interested in learning technique and instead want hot stories or pictures you'll have to look elsewhere unless you are a geek like me that gets off on details.

I know you all were waiting long enough for this review, but it really took THAT long to read this book and test drive it. It is FULL of information that is unique to this resource and I think it is a modern classic. It doesn't get any better than this, folks!


This review is Copyright © 1999 Vamp Ire.

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