Can Shibari Transform How You Do Relationships?

Shibari is amazing for its creativity and play, but it also gives you keys to support you in your relationships. And yes, you can get a lot out of this practice whether you’re single or partnered. Find out more how shibari can transform how you do love!

What is shibari?

Simply put, shibari is Japanese rope bondage; in Japanese, the word “shibari” means “to tie”. Shibari has a deep and complex history, and our modern practice — fathered by artist Seiu Ito —  is somewhat removed: an artform in its own right.


In order for rope bondage to be considered shibari, it needs to fulfil three criteria:

  1. It should be beautiful. 
  2. It should be effective: it must restrain, not just be decorative.
  3. It should be aesthetically Japanese.


Shibari is also known as “kinbaku” and although the two terms are often used interchangeably, kinbaku is sometimes used to describe rope bondage with an element of eroticism. There are many other Japanese words used to describe different forms and styles of bondage, but shibari and kinbaku are the two that are most commonly used. 


So while shibari isn’t synonymous with sex, it is fundamentally about connection. Which is exactly why it’s an incredible tool to help you get better at communicating.

Shibari skills = epic relationship skills

Shibari is amazing for its creativity and play, but it also gives you keys to support you in your relationships. And yes, you can get a lot out of this practice whether you’re single or partnered. Often, live classes don’t require you to come with a partner (and this is in fact a great way to meet curious and playful people). What’s more, rope partnerships do not have to be romantic or sexual: some of the best rope pairings are entirely platonic.


If you — or your partner(s) — are new to shibari, you’re each embarking on a personal learning journey in terms of practical skills: learning wraps, knots and frictions if you’re Topping / tying; and how it feels to be tied if you’re bottoming / being tied. You’re going to learn very important signs to look out for, in order to ensure everyone is safe. But you’re also embarking on a journey to learn about yourself and your partner on an intimate level.


In fact, even if you’re already experienced in shibari, you’re still going to learn an awful lot by tying together: no two rope relationships are the same.


Shibari helps you learn about your bodies — what you and your partner can and can’t do, as well as what you both do and don’t enjoy. You learn about your pain thresholds, and your risk profile, and the ways you respond to adrenaline. You’re also likely going to get frustrated at times, when you can’t remember a sequence, or something doesn’t go the way you were hoping it would.


Try to remember that rope is supposed to be fun, and learning new things as an adult isn’t always a linear process. A class is a great way to get started.

Setting expectations

Rope sessions are often split into two groups: labbing (where you are practising skills) and playing (where the focus is more on the sensations and the connection). It’s helpful to talk to your rope partner beforehand to make sure you are both on the same page on any given day.


While there’s often some level of compromise, knowing what you would both like out of the experience — and what you’re both wanting and willing to do — helps to keep everyone happy. Having conversations like this means you also have to be honest with yourself, and that can be half the battle!


And having conversations like this around rope can pave the way for better communications about expectations in general.

Communicating boundaries

Many of us have to work hard to know our boundaries and limits in everyday life and communicating them successfully can add an extra layer of challenge. Rope offers a space in which to practise this on a very practical level.


Going into learning shibari, you may have no idea what you like, dislike or what your boundaries might be. A lot of it is learning on the fly. You have to also be able to communicate in real time.


As a Top, your partner might ask you to do something that you deem too risky, or that you don’t feel experienced enough for. As a bottom, you might feel pressure to maintain a painful position for longer than is acceptable for you in order to please your Top. Noticing when you’re going past your threshold is incredibly important., Being confident to say “No,” is even more so.


Take the time to debrief after each session, to discuss what you enjoyed and what you didn’t, what you’d like more of and what you’d like less of. 

Negotiation rules that honour consent

And this is where negotiation comes in. In kink and BDSM, we tend to talk about hard and soft limits around what you will and won’t do. Hard limits are generally considered to be non-negotiable, whereas soft limits are often context-driven, and may well be up for discussion.


It’s rare to find two people who are exactly aligned on everything, and therefore some negotiation is inevitable. Advanced negotiation skills take time to learn, and rope is a great conduit.


Some good tips for starting out are to: 


And, again, these tips, and negotiation skills in general, can be brought into real life within a future relationship - whether it’s romantic or platonic. You might agree on some “rules of engagement” when you have disagreements, or you might make a “fidelity agreement” so each of you understands what constitutes cheating in your unique situation, or it might be as simple as divvying up the life admin tasks. All of these things require negotiation, and rope is a great place to flex those muscles.

Using safe words

Establishing a safe word (or sign) is a way of asking to stop without having to actually say, “Stop.” Using a safe word (especially if you’ve never done it) can be a bit uncomfortable at first (just like saying “No,” can be) so experimenting with it can be really helpful. Responding to someone else using their safeword can also feel a bit odd: you might feel the urge to question why it’s being used. Don’t. At least not in the moment. Spend time afterwards discussing why the safeword was used.


The most important thing with a safeword is that it stops play immediately. You can then decide what needs to happen — whether the bottom would like to be untied, or if they just need a moment to breathe. 


Traffic lights — where green means ‘all good’, orange means ‘approaching a limit/ slow down’ and red means ‘stop’ - are a really great idea. Or establishing a scale of discomfort from 0 (nothing) to 10 (the top limit) can be useful too. The Top can check in with the bottom periodically and ask where they’re at. 


While safewords are most commonly associated with BDSM practises, they can also be so useful in other areas of life. You might be able to apply the principle to arguments, to signal when one of you has reached their limit for now, or even in social situations to communicate discomfort or wanting to leave.

Active listening

A part of communication that is often overlooked is the listening side. The Chinese symbol that translates as “to listen” (ting) is a great teacher here: it encompasses the ears, the eyes, the heart, the mind and undivided attention. All the things that are needed to listen properly.


When you are practising shibari, you will have chance after chance to hone your listening skills, and to learn how you respond to your partner’s boundaries, or expectations, or safe words.

Non-verbal communication

Rope also offers a unique opportunity to explore nonverbal communication. If you experiment with rope, and find you enjoy it, you might find it does funny — often lovely — things to your body. 


As a rope bottom, you might find yourself wriggling around to test the rope, or you may get hot, or cold, or notice your skin changing colour. All these are forms of nonverbal communication. Over time you’ll notice what feels nice (or bearable) and what doesn’t. As a Top, if you tie with the same partner, you’ll start to notice - and pre-empt - these things too. 


And then there’s the reflexive responses: flexing your toes or fingers as your rigger runs their hand over them to check sensation; the body slowly losing tension as it sinks into the feelings of the rope.


As a rope Top you have unique access to your bunny’s body, and as shibari skills get more advanced, trust also has to be built. It’s a beautiful thing.


Each and every one of these skills very practically echo into intimacy, romance, dating and relationships.


When you explore the practise of shibari, you’re exploring the practice of how to relate — with yourself and others.


Photo by Miss Anna Bones.


Curious to find out more? Check out Anatomie and their online store, follow @anatomiestudiolondon, and stay in the loop with Anna @missannabones and Eleni @kink.and.cuddles on Instagram.


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Eleni has been active on the London kink scene for almost a decade and works at Anatomie Studio. She is currently training to be a clinical sexologist.

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