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Rope Bottoming’s Dark Side


“Why do you do rope?” his text read. We were discussing play that could get intense.

“Connection, passion, sensation, or transcendence,” I shot back. The standard answers.

“OK but what’s the dark one? Almost always there is a dark one as well.”

Now there’s a question I hadn’t ever heard in all my time rope bottoming. So it intrigued me, and I pondered it. I’m still pondering it.

If almost always there is a dark side, almost always people are reluctant to talk about it, if they even can name it for what it is. Especially in the U.S., where the first commandment seems to be, “Thou shalt appear to be happy as often as possible,” and the second, “If thou feelest unhappy, thou shalt put a positive spin on it.”

The light side is easy. We love to live in the light, strive for the light, show ourselves in the best possible light. “Put your best foot forward.” “Put on a happy face.” My mom’s refrain ringing in my ears: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I want to say not-nice things. I want to do not-nice things. It’s part of why I do rope—it’s beyond the boundaries of the nice, carefully modulated and filtered world. Maybe it’s part of why you do rope too?

This dark side of rope bottoming, maybe we feel it subconsciously even if we don’t recognize it, invite it in. It’s that shadowy feeling, that voice whispering that we deserve pain, suffering, or objectification, that we’re inadequate or wrong or just plain bad. Maybe it has its roots in abuse or neglect or trauma, and if so, my heart is with you. No one deserves that kind of pain. But there it is.

We think the shadow side is a fault, that it shouldn’t be there and we’re not normal for having it. So we ignore it, avoid it, tamp it down. Shove it as far back into the corners of our minds as possible. But here’s the thing: It’s part of us. And it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we want it there or not.

“Ugh, how can I get rid of it?” I lamented to a friend who is well-practiced in self-exploration. “Now that I can see the shadow, how do I make it go away?”

I was expecting him to recommend counseling, cognitive therapy, neurolinguistic programming, whatever. His answer was surprising. “That probably won’t ever happen,” he said. “But you can learn to dance with it.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked. (“This isn’t a fucking cotillion,” I was thinking.)

He went on to explain how you can dip into the dark side but not let it rule you. How you can explore it and whirl with it and maybe even fall down with it, all the while recognizing that it’s just one part of you, and you can choose when to be with it and when to sit out.


How freeing it was to hear all of this, how amazing to know that not only is there nothing wrong with me for having a dark side (pretty much everyone has one, he said), but that it’s OK if it stays there. And it has brought a new depth, understanding, and freedom to my rope bottoming. Getting tied up feeds a need that was always there, but now it has a name. And naming it has given me a new power. Now I can look at that shadow and say, “I know you’re there. You don’t scare me anymore, and you don’t control me. I’m choosing to dance with you right now.” And I remind myself that there are many reasons I do bondage, and the shadow is just one of them.

(Actively incorporating something like trauma or abuse into BDSM play is actually called shadow play, by the way, and you can find writings about it online. But that’s taking the concept further than what we’re talking about here.)

The answer I eventually gave about my dark side to that very insightful rope partner, it doesn’t matter here. What matters is that maybe you’ll see your own dark side, if you have one, a little more clearly and realize that instead of its being something to shove back inside and feel bad or not-normal about, maybe you can figure out how to dance with it—to deepen both your rope bottoming and your understanding of yourself.

What are your thoughts about rope bottoming’s dark side? Please share them in the comments below!