In a world dictated by self-control, one specific ancient art of Japanese bondage concentrates on the complete surrender of that – giving your power to another person through trust and communication. 

Uhthur and Vehssuhl, both chosen stage names, started practicing Kinbaku as a way to elevate their own pleasure, but eventually decided to let outsiders also benefit from what they had learned and even participate in their experiences.

I was not quite sure what to expect when Ruth Chapa proposed this project to me: interviewing a couple that practices rope bondage. When I walk into the room, the first thing I see is about 200 pieces of already cut rope lining the furthest wall and a frame composed of several wooden beams meant to sustain the weight of your average adult. 

“Does anyone want a white claw?”

This is not the way I imagined starting a Q & A with a couple that has their entire living room set up to practice Kinbaku, which is not particularly like Scrabble, but I’m about 25 minutes late and want to make a peace offering. Uhthur and Vehssulh both shrug and say “Maybe afterwards.” 

So, it’s Shibari that you guys are practicing? Correct me, I know very little.

Uhthur: Shibari is not wrong. If you speak to someone Japanese they might call it that, but if you’re doing this type of surrender of control, like a torment or a torture type thing, it would be more Semenawa.

Vehssuhl: Kinbaku

Uhthur: Or Kinbaku. Semenawa starts when she wants down. When she can hardly take it anymore and I keep pushing her, it turns into Semenawa. 

I’ve worked with models that like to practice rope bondage for pictures but we’ve always referred to it as Shibari, it’s the only term I’ve ever been familiar with.

Vehssuhl: Yeah, it’s the most popular term, I think it covers about 90% of the basics.

Uhthur: I think what it is that Shibari literally translates to is ‘tie’ and Kinbaku translates more to ‘the art of tying.’

What I’m understanding is that Kinbaku is a more personal term and Shibari has to do more with artistic endeavors?

Uhthur: I would agree with that, but there are Kinbaku performances as well. The first, which made me cry – we were watching a very established couple, and it was really deep to see her sobbing and crying. That’s a little more different than what I would consider a Shibari performance to be, if I’m just taking her up and flipping her around. There’s less fluid motion, it’s more just tying her into certain positions. 

I think I’ve actually seen a Kinbaku performance before. I was at the box in New York, there was an individual with breast implants and they were tied to a point in which they were purple and strained. Their penis was also tied and they were crying on stage. It was  emotional. They performed anal and it was very forceful. It was a performance, but it was not necessarily a pretty performance, it was real and raw. 

Uhthur: That’s kind of the essence of Kinbaku, that rawness…. That shame and vulnerability. The suffering, all that. And yeah, what you’re describing does sound like it had a very strong Kinbaku theme. 

How long have you two known each other?

Vehssuhl: About 3 years.

I’ve noticed that you guys actually take your pleasure and share it with other people. Tell me a little bit more of what that is like.

Uhthur: That’s one of the cool things about rope. We don’t consider ourselves to be in an “open relationship” but we’ll have sex with other people or we will definitely “tie” with other people. Especially with rope, you can connect on an emotional or sexual level without being in a relationship or without as much risk or commitment as having sex with someone. 

Vehssuhl: There’s a depth that you can’t really experience with other people that you can experience with rope. 

Do you guys check on each other a lot when you’re playing with rope?

Uhthur: Yes, it’s heavily communication based. Depending on what the vibe is, I might not be asking her if she’s ok but I am going to trust that she’s going to tell me.

Vehssuhl: All types of check-ins are negotiated pre-scene. Sometimes verbal queues are great, especially during practice time. You have to practice this to be good at it.

Do you guys have a safe word?

Vehssuhl: During a period of time, we did, and then we found that using a safe word ended play that really could continue especially when what you’re trying to accomplish is giving up your control. 

Uhthur: It felt kind of false to us to have a safe word… It’s like, can’t we just talk to each other like we’re humans. 

Would you say that the trust built because of the tying or that you built the trust for the tying and that your relationship grew stronger because of it?

Uhthur: Both. I like to say that it’s kind of a microscope for our communication as a whole in our relationship. For example, if there was a time in which she wanted to say a safe word but she allowed me to push her past that and she sees that I don’t harm her or that it was pleasant afterwards, that builds a lot of trust. And I’ve built a lot of trust in knowing that she’ll tell me if something is not ok.

The whole time I’ve been asking questions, Uhthur and Vehssulh have been creating a scene for us. Ruth has been photographing while I’ve been pacing around this incredibly intriguing couple, balancing a white claw in one hand a tape recorder in the other. My questions have been interrupted by some gasps and grunts, occasional check-ins to see if anyone is in pain, cause like Vehssuhl says between laughs, “This shit hurts a lot.”

Do you feel like, over the years, you have grown a higher resistance to the pain? 

Vehssuhl: First of all, I’d like to say that the ties that didn’t seem accessible are now accessible because his tying has gotten a lot better. The way I perceive pain is the same, the way I process it has improved.

What are you feeling right now? I notice your voice is a little strained.

Vehssuhl: Yeah, for sure. Definitely a lot of pressure on my waistline. The rope that is holding most of my body mass is right there and it’s such a thin area. It’s a lot of pressure. 

You just screamed out a little, is it still the waist?

Vehssuhl: The transitions, there’s just this pulling of the skin. It’s always a shock to feel the pressure change.

By now, Vehssuhl has been suspended in the air for some time, held only by rope. Uhthur has been seamlessly transitioning between different ties. 

At what point does the sex come in? 

Uhthur: It’s rare to have intercourse happen during this. I mean, it does happen, don’t get me wrong but what would happen more is that I’m using a wand on her or something like that.

Vehssuhl: Or the aftercare. 

Uhthur: Yeah, the aftercare. So, after you experience something like this, your body drops a bunch of endorphins and you can get emotional. You really want to take care of somebody when you’ve hurt them for so long so sex might happen then. 

Last question, do you guys think you would for make-up sex after a fight or make-up ties?

Vehssuhl: Make-up ties.

Uhthur: *Laughs*

Photos courtesy of Ruth Chapa