Pleasure, Community, and Marginalization in Rope Bondage: A Qualitative Investigation into a BDSM Subculture

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Jones, Zoey




Rope bondage subculture is a social world positioned underneath the broader umbrella of pansexual BDSM subculture. It is characterized by its own norms, spaces, words, practices, art, career opportunities, events, identities, and more. The status of rope as a sub-subculture spread across and between locations renders it mostly invisible to outsiders. As such, although there are a few studies on rope bondage, its discrete social world has rarely been recognized in academic research, and never as the primary focus. Through my insider status I investigate the shape of the rope bondage world and the experiences of some of the people within it. I draw on 23 qualitative interviews with people who practice rope bondage in Canada and the United States to investigate peoples' experiences of rope bondage practice and subculture. My analysis is supported by a theoretical foundation informed by symbolic interactionism, feminism, critical disability studies, and critical race theory. I explore the theoretical and methodological intricacies of conducting qualitative research on rope bondage from the inside, while prioritizing and theorizing ethical participant-centered methods informed by select kinky etiquette and practices. My findings suggest that rope bondage subculture is characterized by almost indescribable experiences of pleasure, belonging, and joy, along with experiences of conflict and discrimination at personal and structural levels. It is both a vibrant social world and a subculture informed by (and reflective of) the racism, ableism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and classism that plague wider society. The accounts of disabled and racialized rope bondage practitioners are crucial to understanding both oppression and resistance in this world. I build upon Weiss' (2006) concept of unintelligibility to argue that kinky pleasure that is not strictly, normatively sexual appears to be unintelligible to most BDSM researchers. Further, in some respects, kinky pleasure is unintelligible—or at least ineffable—to some of the practitioners themselves. My findings show that understanding the texture of rope bondage's pleasure requires listening to how rope bondage practitioners theorize their own desires, pleasures, and lives. This work offers theoretical, conceptual, and practical tools to understand rope bondage practitioners, complex sexualities, BDSM, and participant-centered research on deviantized demographics.


Criminology and Penology
Sociology - Theory and Methods




Carleton University

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