I’ve put this list together because I’ve been asked about this before, so this note gives me a place to point people who ask. I’m also offering it here in case it’s helpful to others.
A Few Disclaimers
First, this is my list … and I recognize that. I think everyone has a list like this floating around somewhere in their brain. This is just my attempt to make it explicit (for me and others). Your list may be different, and that’s OK. This is not THE list that all others should follow. Maybe you’ll find it useful. Maybe you’ll like a few of the ideas here. Maybe you won’t. That’s OK, too.
This is also not some top telling bottoms what they should or must do. This is me explaining what is important to me, personally, in making decisions about the degree of risk I will take with someone. It’s also my answer to the question I sometimes get: “What do you mean by experienced?”
While this list is what I would consider an “experienced, well-educated” rope bottom, it DOES NOT mean that if you don’t have all of these things, I will not tie with you or that you are a “bad” rope bottom. We are all on the way to getting better, and we all have more to learn. This list is an ideal … I recognize that reality is rarely ideal. This list is not meant as a judgment against anyone in any way.
This post also doesn’t say anything about the kind of person I like to tie with, who I would or wouldn’t enjoy tying, or the type of connection or experience I’m looking for in tying someone. That’s all very personal and subjective. I’m really just trying to point at a few markers that (at least for me) separate “experienced” from “novice.”
However, the degree to which someone is able to do these things does influence my decision about the degree of risk I’m willing to take with that person, how stressful or challenging the tie(s) will be, how closely I monitor and micro-manage the interaction, etc.
You’ll also notice none of my comments have anything to do with shape, size, or gender, nor do they specify any particular level of strength, flexibility, etc. The main things I look for in an experienced rope bottom are a real awareness of their body in rope, an honest recognition of their abilities and limitations, and a willingness to communicate those things openly.
Finally … this list isn’t in any particular order, and it would certainly be possible to combine some of these points in different ways. This is just what makes sense to me for now. It may (and probably will) change over time, and I’ll update it when it does.
Time is a factor.
Time isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing. I know a few 40-year-olds who have been driving all of their lives who still can’t drive for shit. But I don’t know many 16-year-old drivers that I feel confident about, particularly when approaching the on-ramp to the highway …
Have an Understanding of Common Rope Norms
You know the difference between practice, play, and performance. You know that this top ties mostly in line with the Japanese style of rope, that top prefers more decorative rope, and you understand what those things mean (and don’t mean). You know we should try to clear the area under an anchor point as soon as reasonably possible after using it. You know people shouldn’t be asking questions of the top or bottom until after the scene and aftercare is over. Etc. You know … the normal “rope etiquette” stuff.
Prepared for the Type of Rope Desired
This first implies that you have a sense of the type of rope you want to do, and maybe it doesn’t involve suspension (gasp)!
It also means you have already determined that the particular top you’re approaching is an appropriate person for that type of rope.
Past those two (maybe obvious) qualifiers, it means that you know that your body is ready for the rope you want to do through regular practice and conditioning and that you’ve done what you need to do immediately before to get ready (warmup, stretch, eat, hydrate, pee, etc.).
Lastly, it means you’ve got your own “rope bottoming bag” (whether it’s in a bag or not) that has the things you need to help you pre and post rope.
Able to Negotiate Effectively
Some of this is implied in the items above, but this includes all the normal negotiation skills: you know your limits; you know what physical, medical, or mental concerns you should discuss; you know how to negotiate for sexual, SM, and D/s aspects; you know what your aftercare needs are; you know how to negotiate around your risk profile; etc.
Your negotiation comes from a healthy concern with what you want from the experience as much as what the top wants.
Humble and Honest about Experience
You don’t try to “oversell” yourself, you don’t drop names for the sake of dropping names, you don’t exaggerate, etc. You’re honest about your own level of experience and your limitations, and you let those inform your negotiation and communication.
Able to Assess Rope Tops
You are able to watch a rope top tie and have a general sense of that top’s experience, skill level, and style of rope … which informs the type of interaction(s) and rope you are willing to do with them. Once that top starts actually tying you, you can definitely confirm (or alter) your initial assessment. (Pretty much the bottom’s equivalent of this list …)
Able to Assess Hardware and Preparation
You know what a properly-installed anchor point looks like, whether or not the attachments to it are secure, can assess the quality of the rope, carabiners, and other hardware and whether or not they’re appropriate for your planned interaction. You confirm that someone has appropriate emergency release and response materials easily accessible should they be needed. Etc.
Able to Communicate Honestly and Appropriately
Like, umm … you can and will do this when needed (using whatever methods work for you and are negotiated prior to the interaction). You won’t stay silent because you don’t want to seem like you complain a lot, or because you’re too shy, or because you’re unsure. Of course, the degree of communication depends to some extent on the type of interaction, but the key word here is “able” with the assurance that you “will” where necessary for your safety.
This also assumes that you can recognize things that are necessary for your safety.
Update: We often stress with new bottoms that “you are not a robot” … meaning that something that was easy yesterday may not be today; something you were in the mood for last week could sound miserable today, etc. So, you recognize and accept that fact (unapologetically) and feel confident in the ability to say “no” to requests that won’t suit you today and to express your needs and desires as they are today.
Able to Explain Your Body’s Needs in Common Ties
For typical types of ties, you know how your body tends to respond in those ties and you have tested opinions about your preferred placement, tension, degree of torsion, etc.
Able to Assess Placement, Tension and Structure
You can tell when the placement and tension isn’t what you prefer, can asses wether or not the tie is structurally sound enough for the negotiated interaction, can determine whether or not that’s a problem for what you’re about to do, and are able and willing to communicate about that if necessary.
Able to “Join the Dance”
Except in the most extreme play/scene interactions, rope is always cooperative to some extent. (Most bottoms are not rag dolls who lie limp on the floor waiting to be tied …) You have an understanding about this, you know when to resist the pulls on the rope to help maintain tension, when to move with the top as they lead you into a new position, when it’s appropriate to test the tension, when to stay still and centered, etc.
Able to Monitor Yourself in Rope
At minimum, you know the the major self-check moves and tips. You also know how to listen to your body and determine whether or not something is dangerous and damaging versus stressful but sustainable versus just annoying. You’re able, and willing, to make decisions about what your body is telling you, whether that means communicating about small adjustments, asking for new positions or ties, or choosing to stay silent (and accepting the responsibility for the results).
Able to Distinguish Circulation Loss vs. Nerve Compression
You recognize when rope is in potentially problematic locations (both generally and for your specific body). You can usually tell when the sensations you’re experiencing are due to circulation loss or when they’re due to nerve compression, and you know how to respond to each in a way that’s appropriate for you and your risk profile, as negotiated before the interaction.
Update: Being able to self-assess for motor nerve impairment seems to be a skill that most experienced rope bottoms have. This includes self-checks as well as a general awareness of how their body typically responds when tied in certain ways. However, sensory nerve impairment seems to be much more difficult to detect during the experience, and harder to predict. Obviously, the more awareness, the better, but this is one of the more difficult items on the list because: a) nerve damage can be really tricky; and b) it’s also the most common serious injury.
Able to Process Stress When Desired
Where “stress” is defined by your personal needs, desires, and limitations. You’re able to distinguish between injury and stress, understand the level of stress you are able and willing to endure, and have strategies for processing and managing stress that’s within those limits. You also know how to communicate (in negotiation or during the scene) about the level of stress you prefer and have suggestions for reaching and/or avoiding various levels.
Able to Give Timely Feedback and Warnings
If you start experiencing something that feels like nerve compression, you communicate that right away, not two minutes later. If you need a change of position, you have a sense of how long it will take to make that happen and are able to communicate that with appropriate lead time. If you need to come down, you recognize it will take at least three minutes to untie you, so you give a four minute warning.
Able to Communicate about Orientation, Angles, and Levels
In suspension, you understand the impact various angles of the rope and your body have on the stress you experience, are able to make decisions about how you move or hold your body as a result, and are able to communicate about desired orientation, angles, and levels when necessary.
Willing to Call It
Similar to other points, but ultimately you are not afraid to call a scene if it’s not working or if your time is up, no matter what the reason, and without fear.
Able to Take Responsibility Where Appropriate
If both top and bottom communicate as well as they’re able and respond as well as they’re able to each other’s ongoing communication, then both take equal responsibility for whatever happens without accusations. If you decide not to communicate, not to divulge something, not to call a scene, etc., you take responsibility for the results.
Most of these points start with the word “able” … which recognizes that experienced, responsible adults may choose not to do some of these things for reasons that are appropriate and legitimate. And of course, experienced and responsible adults would then take equal responsibility for any negative consequences from those choices …
I also want to point out again that this has nothing to do with the type of interaction, nor are these “qualities” of a bottom with whom I’d like to tie. This isn’t about preferences, it’s about experience. I’m trying to point to indicators that separate experienced from novice. So, I’m not talking about connection, or masochism, or the way the bottom expresses sexuality, or the kind of personalities I enjoy working with, etc. All of that is important in determining who I’d enjoy tying with, and how I’d want that tying to go … but those are separate issues.
Lastly: please read the disclaimers at the top of this writing again.
I’m not an “ideal” and perfect top. I don’t expect to meet “ideal” and perfect bottoms. These are just ideals. In fact, part of the fun of rope for me is working together to get a little bit closer to the ideals.
I’d be curious to hear from others about what’s on their “experienced, well-educated rope bottom” list, and very curious to hear (especially from rope bottoms) about what’s on their “experienced, well-educated rope top” list.