Clare Kessi

Publication Date


Faculty Advisor

Dr. Natalie Nelson-Marsh


Communication Studies


College of Arts and Sciences


The bondage community is largely stigmatized and misunderstood by normative culture (Moser & Madeson, 2002). Using ethnographic fieldwork, this qualitative study explores how participants in the rope play (BDSM) community in a US west-coast city develop intimacy with their play partners through embodied communication. Research methods such as participant observation, thick description, and semi-structured interviews were employed to acknowledge, uncover, and respect the unique perspectives and experiences of members of this community. This study demonstrates how this subculture uses “hyper-communicative” behaviors such as breathwork, touch, and attuned listening breathwork to create intimacy between play partners. The study found that these forms of “hyper-communication”, along with explicit role assignments, enables partners to co-construct fantasies and create a shortcut to intimacy. The study supports and expands upon the Equilibrium Theory of intimacy and offers practical applications of hyper-communication for non-BDSM practitioners.

Author Supplied Keywords

Social construction, Embodied communication, Intimacy, BDSM


Bondage (Sexual behavior); Communication and sex; Communication and culture; Interpersonal communication; Intimacy (Psychology)

Publication Information

Communication Studies Capstone Project.

Copyright for this work is retained by the author.

Document Type

Student Project