A Reality in Ropes: Emily Bingham’s Diary of a Rope Slut

Erotic memoir; 2016, self-published.

I have many theories about the things that separate those of us who are kinky to our very cores—to our marrow, our DNA—from those who are not. One of these theories concerns the promise of new sex: that rush of excitement and possibility when we meet someone and have a connection, a spark, and know that it is likely to lead to something, and we suspect that something will be thrilling. Whether that thrill will last, we cannot know, but that moment of potential is magic.

For people who do not have a layer of specific desires that involve more than touch, skin and hair, wetness and orgasm—let’s respectfully call them “vanillas”—the possibility of attaining those things is the trill that gets the heart pounding, the breath accelerating, the eyes dilating.

But for those of us who do crave more than the relative simplicity of bodies intertwined—we fantasize of scenarios, equipment, power exchange, as well as skin on skin—the anticipation of straight sex is also a wonderful thing, but it’s the discovery that someone is into the same things we are that really gets our heart pounding.

Fucking? Sure, sounds great! I love to fuck. Oh, you’re into…oh, you have three floggers and a single-tail, you say? Calm down, my pounding heart.

In my opinion, to the kinky, finding someone who shares our kinks is the equivalent to what vanillas feel when they find someone who “merely” wants a good fucking.

We need that extra layer.

Fucking is good, very good. But for a shared kink, our blood pressure, hormones, pheromones go through the roof; our sense of logical behavior tumbles through the basement floor. I am lucky in that while I (long ago) had a series of partners with whom I had often great vanilla sex which I will remember to my dying day, none of them were interested in my kinkier hints and suggestions. When I finally met the person who was, we ended up married—and we have been for quite a long time, now.

Emily Bingham’s erotic memoir Diary of a Rope Slut might not prove my theory about the lengths we will go to, the things we will put up with to find the kink we need, but it certainly illustrates the tendency.

*

I am new to the genre of erotic memoir, but because of this book I’m now intrigued by it. As with most memoirs in this age of “creative non-fiction” one has to ask how much of any such story is true and how much embellished for dramatic or erotic effect, but I feel that most of this book certainly rings true—for the awkwardness and disappointment of so many encounters discussed, if for no other reason.

Diary of a Rope Slut is a story of sexual discovery and self-discovery, arranged in the structure of thirty chapters, each an encounter with a new man. This is not to imply that Bingham’s journey of discovery depended on each, or any particular man. She’s on her own quest of self-satisfaction here, not hoping to find identity through another, through the gaze of another (though she sometimes welcomes the gaze, in her later pursuits, but more on that later). But any erotic quest without partners would be a rather limited story, yes?

Bingham begins the story shortly out of high school, still living at home and inexperienced in any sex, let alone indulging in the kink of her fantasies. The early encounters described are somewhat dismal and depressing. Learning experiences, let’s call them. Her very first sexual experience is especially awful and boring (aren’t they all?)—the male in question not even given a nickname, as every following man is—and even her first encounter with Kink, with a married man met in a chat room who indulges her rope request in a hotel but really just wants to fuck, leaves her disappointed…yet tantalized that there are people who’ll actually do this.

Ms. Bingham, as with so many kinky people, has fantasized of bondage since early childhood. She begged and cajoled her classmates to tie her up with jump rope since age four, and her father’s hidden porn stash didn’t lean at all that way, leaving her to wonder if something was “wrong” with her, even though she knew it felt so right.

Things initially slide from dull to worse, with nice breaks in between: finally moving out of her tiny, stifling hometown, she has a (very hot!) series of encounters with a man she calls The German, who does understand the drives and practices of BDSM, but this relationship, like so many, ends because of distance, both geographical and emotional.

Moving to Milwaukie and then Madison, Wisconsin, she ends up with the truly pathetic Guitar Guy, one of those people in whom we all wonder what our friend ever saw in the first place (or wonder what we ourselves did). Semi-abusive, Guitar Guy promises kink and delivers a watered-down version for a bit, before losing interest and the whole thing pretty much goes downhill from there. They live in squalor; Bingham lives in unrequited, unsatisfied desire. His abusiveness (what did she ever see in this guy?) leaves a lasting frustration, even as we cheer when she finally just gets the hell out, financially worse off or not.

Etcetera, for quite a while. No one has complete dating success, and Bingham picks a few losers and is willing to tell us about them. But then haven’t we all, kinkster or vanilla? One does question her judgement occasionally, but then, so does she. Her honesty in discussing some of these losers, or sometimes just mismatches, is one of the reasons I’d give pretty good credence to the veracity of these memoirs.

She meets some men who are dissatisfied by her; she meets some with whom there is an initial spark but their divergent sexual tastes lead them apart sexually, though they might remain supportive friends. It’s called Life.

*

Along the way, she does meet men, and communities, interested in rope and the arts of tying, and she also begins to write, taking classes and meeting writers as well. (Bingham, it should be noted, has had short erotic stories published in a number of highly-regarded anthologies.)

Things progress in fits and starts, and one of the major leaps forward is when she meets a man she calls Mr. Photo, in a chapter titled The Game Changer.

They meet in an informal rope-group meeting that Bingham has hosted in her apartment, and while he seems physically unimpressive at first, there is something about him she finds intriguing: he photographs women, bound. She agrees to visit his studio.

Until this moment, Bingham has seen rope bondage as something to be done with partners with whom she shares a certain intimacy—usually sexually, though on occasion as something sensual and intense, though not necessarily ending in intercourse. But the experience of being bound for the purpose of a photo is something new—yes there is an intimacy to the binding part of the equation; there’s still the handling of her body, the wrapping of flesh in rope—but then he backs away, stands behind a camera, and gives instructions.

She’s hooked.

While Bingham and Mr. Photo never consummate the relationship (well, technically), their collaborations awaken something in her that goes beyond the usual desire to be tied—her horizons have been expanded. In one passage she beautifully tries—but can’t quite succeed—to describe the joy of suspension bondage; what many rope bottoms describe as “flying” but isn’t quite the right description for her. But it is pure joy.

*

She moves to Portland, away from the social confines of even a larger Midwestern college town like Madison. Finally surrounded by her own kind, Bingham begins to navigate a whole new set of joys and problems: the Scene.

She meets fantastic men, and less than fantastic men. She meets a lot more photographers with varying levels of professionalism and varying levels of talent (not to mention personal sexiness). She describes the good and the bad, and the occasionally scary.

She also gives us the hot—in one spectacularly arousing chapter (to my taste, anyway), she describes an evening with The Sergeant, an overpowering and dominant force who sounds frightening in his aggression but it seemed to thrill the author, and me as well. Quite a chapter, that.

As she navigates the Portland scene, Bingham gives us glimpses into the small-group politics of a community based around sexual behavior: the jealousies, the lies and rumors; rivalries, friendships and alliances and attention-getters, both joyous and annoying. And there are many annoyances in such scenes, it seems. To someone who’s lived their entire kinky life (though not erotic life) with one partner, this was all fascinating.

*

As Bingham becomes more habituated into the Portland rope and kink scenes, her interests center more and more around photography; word gets out that she’s a willing model. All this got me thinking, as while I am certainly not new to restraints, nor art, I am still unfamiliar (though fascinated) by rope.

In rope bondage, as I understand it, there is a creative (yes, creative, not just sensual/sexual) triad formed between the union of the person tied, the person tying, and the rope itself. In the photography of rope bondage, for the model at least, there is a different triad: the model’s body, the rope, and the art, or image. (How many such images achieve or even aspire to “Art”, with a capital “A”, I cannot know.) The final goal can be a document of the emotional/physical event, the tying; or, conversely, the tying can be the means to the end, the desired image. Bingham meets many local photographers, through her rope clubs and via references, and agrees to work with quite a few of them. (It is interesting to me that all of the photographers she works with are men, whereas there are many rope Tops mentioned who are women.) The results vary widely.

I do wish that Bingham had elaborated on her motivations and enthusiasm for moving from merely being tied to being photographed while tied, more deeply than she does in the book. I’m not asking for an intellectual thesis, but she expresses her love of rope in small doses throughout the memoir, woven into the accounts of tying sessions with different people—the arousal of restriction itself; the sensuous feel of the rope itself against her naked skin; obedience to an attentive but dominant Top. But I do wish she’d given us a bit more insight into her thrill of being documented so (another form of capture, for instance?).

I’ve known many artists’ models, and many if not most are not in it just for the money (in fact, Bingham states that she never charged, it is a hobby, or rather a passion), nor merely to help artists fulfill their vision, though there is often that. Many models see their work as their own art—sometimes an artist wants something very specific to be merely fulfilled, but in many other cases, a successful modeling session is when she/he is not just model, but perhaps muse and sometimes even collaborator: their minds meet, they understand each other, the model uses her/his body as expression which feeds, and feeds off of, the artist’s conception of the project.

I’m sure this happens in rope bondage art as well—sometimes the artist just wants a body to fulfill an idea; sometimes they want an individual—and that individual will determine how the project progresses and ends. I would like to have heard Ms. Bingham’s thoughts a bit more deeply on this subject, with as much modeling as she’s done.

*

Her modeling projects become bolder, and, slowly, more explicit as well. During one shoot, when not just her bound body but her genitalia and her manipulation of it become a focal point of one artist’s project—which she did with full consent, mind you—I couldn’t help but feel like some small thing subtly shifted. I am not criticizing this decision Bingham made, not in the least. I am quite nonjudgmental in these matters. I did not feel like she suddenly went from making “Art” to making “porn.” Yet I did wish for a bit more reflection on her thoughts, both at the time and since. The session was a fun one as she relates it, and I sensed no regret. But did she too feel a shift had occurred?

I was also sometimes surprised at the risks that Bingham was taking, going to unknown guys’ apartments to take off her clothes, be bound helpless, and have photos taken, all based purely on her trust in their decent humanity, and what scant references she could gather. It all sounds so different than the world of art models that I have dealt with—the rope community’s art projects retain a sense of the sexual, of touch, that the wider art world, even when nudity is involved, largely lacks—or is supposed to. But just when I question myself for worrying about her safety—she is entitled to her own agency, is she not?—Bingham expresses relief several times through the book that a session hadn’t gone wrong when there were moments it seemed it might.

And, in fact, in perhaps the central chapter of the whole memoir, it does.

*

In what is perhaps the central chapter of the book, things do go horribly wrong—a breach of consent, and trust, though not during one of the many photo shoots. As happens so often, the situation is messy and ill-defined, leaving the author confused and self-doubting; and as also happens, there are doubts among those she once trusted once she begins to relate her account.

It is not pretty nor pleasant. Do not, however, let this unpleasantness dissuade you from buying the book, if you are otherwise interested. This is, after all, a story of self-discovery, and going public with a truth no one wanted to hear was an incredibly important part of Ms. Bingham’s life and growth, painful as it was.

It is strange to be writing this review in the midst of the post-Weinstein, #MeToo era. It feels as if things have changed, and to do what Ms. Bingham did not that long ago—expose an abuser, who was highly regarded in her local Scene—might seem “easier” now.

But we’re only a month or so into this new era, and it could reverse itself almost immediately, face a backlash, achieve nothing. So to point out her bravery a few years ago, is not to diminish those who are doing it now: hate mail, hostile tweets, threats—women still face great risk and virtually no reward for doing what is right. I was glad to read that there were others who shared with the author their experiences with this abuser; it made Bingham feel less alone, which is among the few rewards, I guess: knowing she did the right thing.

Unfortunate but inevitable questions are also bound to be raised: in engaging in such frequent risky behaviors—going to strange men’s houses to be photographed naked and roped, being known as someone who goes to BDSM clubs, you name the “sin,” the “shame”—was such a thing more likely to happen?

This is at the heart of so many raging discussions and arguments over consent, and victim-blaming, and slut-shaming and rape culture. The fact is, I don’t want to even get into them here. No means freakin’ no. The change in narrative is jarring here, I will say, having read so much of the book as erotica.

It could be said that Diary of a Rope Slut is a book about compulsion, the kind that I mentioned at the start of this review. We all have needs, yet many people who truly want kink in their lives have to subordinate those needs, hide them—from their spouse, their family, their church, themselves. Bingham did not.  This is not just a hot book, but a brave one. It is a confessional, proud and occasionally embarrassed, all at the same time. Taking the additional, time-consuming step of writing the book about these events, baring it all, so to speak, is an additional act of bravery.

Bingham broke out of her boring and stifling early environment and went for it, explored—did the things many people only wish, deeply, desperately wish, they could do, if only they had the guts, or the time, or the different set of circumstances, or…you name your own reasons for wishing you’d done more courageous and satisfying things.

Or, better yet, start doing them now.

*

A note: One more reason I wanted to review this book, apart from the many questions and thoughts it raises, and the hot, fun joy of it, is that the book itself is facing an injustice: it is perhaps the poster child for Amazon’s unfair, arbitrary, and opaque system of making erotic material—but only some erotica material—as hard to find as possible, without outright banning it.

I am not “blaming the victim,” but Bingham chose what turned out to be an unfortunate title-and-cover image combination to try to get past Amazon’s Risk Management Department, the enforcers of What Is Obscene and what is not. This is a tragedy, because the image—of Bingham herself, in her underwear, uncomfortably bound and nearly suspended in rope—and the fun and ironic title itself, are both wonderful.

But someone at Amazon decided that it was all too risqué and risky, from a legal/consumer reaction/whatever perspective, and Diary of a Rope Slut has been banished to what erotica writers call the Erotica Dungeon—and meanwhile, the silly erotic novel Rope Slut has not. (Ah, checking, I see Rope Slut no longer appears, either. But it did for quite a while.)

Try to type in either Bingham’s name or the title, even the full title, and you will not be shown the book.

To find it, you must type in both “Emily Bingham” and “Diary of a Rope Slut”, word for word, and you’ll still have to click on “Show All Results.” Only then will you will be linked to the buy page; or, you can find the book from Bingham’s Author Page.

This is ridiculous, and so unfair, and not Bingham’s problem alone. I have read so many accounts from other authors who have had similar problems, or at least warnings that something or other has been flagged—but Amazon will never, ever, explain what the exact problem is. This is the fear all of us writers of the filthy live with.

*

As a new reader of erotic memoir, I highly recommend Ms. Bingham’s book—it is both fun, as erotica, but thought-provoking because the events were real. It can be found here. As I understand it, there is a hardback edition that contains many of the images from the photo shoots described in the book, but I can’t find a link to it.  Her website and blog are here.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions for other quality erotic, especially BDSM memoirs, I would welcome them in the Comments.

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