When Chicago Rope was started, we intentionally designed the curriculum to give people a solid grounding in the basics before moving them on to more advanced ways of tying. We have also emphasized conceptual classes, taught by a variety of instructors, to direct people away from the idea that rope must be highly technical at the expense of having fun.
I didn’t have this kind of foundation when I was learning Japanese rope, and I started doing suspensions too soon. Luckily, I had enough previous experience working with physical and energetic bodies, both in BDSM and elsewhere, to be able to figure most of it out on my own, but it’s not an approach that I would recommend. I also was fortunate to have regular partners who were happy to almost endlessly lab various ties and positions with me while I was learning.
Part of the reason I moved into suspension so quickly is that it is what I saw everyone doing on social media and at play parties. I mistakenly thought that it was the ultimate goal in rope bondage, just as I suspect many people new to rope do. While there is some value in learning to do rope suspensions eventually, I don’t think it should be a primary focus for new people.
The dirty little secret of the rope community is that suspensions are mostly for show. Most of the rope that I do for intimate play does not involve full suspension. It’s complex, distracting, and unnecessary. I understand that until you’ve already mastered suspensions and realized for yourself that they are not actually more exciting than other kinds of rope play, it can be difficult to believe someone who regularly suspends in photos and live play telling you that they aren’t important.
It can sound elitist, like only certain people should be doing suspensions. But that’s not far from the truth. If you don’t have the knowledge to assess and communicate the risk level of practice, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Rope suspension is an advanced skill, and everyone who does it competently (and quite a few who don’t) have put a lot of hours of study and practice into learning how to do it. It’s not that difficult to get someone off the ground, but it’s not easy to do it well.
When I teach people who are just starting out with rope suspension, I make sure that they do so in ways that will minimize the risks and give them the best opportunity to safely experience how suspended bodies move in rope. Before ever considering suspending for play, one should be fully confident doing so in a lab environment. When I see or hear about people who are relatively new to rope and who have not put in the lab time to properly learn suspensions using them in pick-up play with new partners, I can’t help but be concerned.
There seems to be a disconnect somewhere. I have to wonder if they are somehow missing what rope is really about, and whether they (and perhaps more importantly, their partners) understand the risks of what they are doing. As a rope educator, event organizer, and community leader, I feel some level of responsibly for this. Are we giving people the wrong impression about why we do rope? What can we do to encourage people to not rush into suspension, and to make sure that when they do start suspending, they understand the risks involved and how to minimize them?