The Damsel in Distress - Stella Harris

May 09, 2022

When I teach a beginner’s rope bondage class, people always want to know what they can do with what they’ve learned. What kind of scene can they put together with just a few basic ties? And that’s when I tell them about “damsel in distress” style bondage. 

The “damsel in distress” has captured imaginations all the way back to early myths and legends, where a young woman is offered up as a sacrifice for any number of reasons. Perhaps you remember images from Greek mythology textbooks depicting Andromeda chained by the sea, in hopes of appeasing a sea monster?

From myths to fairy tales to religious texts, for centuries artists have found stories to justify putting beautiful women in all manner of predicaments. Clearly, this archetype captures the imagination. 

In more recent history, the damsel in distress was practically its own genre of adventure comics, with serials such as The Perils of Pauline (1914) ( and The Perils of Nyoka (1942.) Perhaps the most common (and comical) damsel in distress is the woman tied to the railroad tracks — a regular occurrence in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959.)

  The damsel in distress isn’t confined to the canvas or the page – it’s also a prominent trope in live performances from the circus to the stage. Everything from a ‘lovely assistant’ sawed in half by a magician to a circus girl bound to a spinning wheel, so knives can be thrown at her. 

What all of these examples have in common is that they allow plausible deniability as to the prurient nature of this content. 

But by the mid-to-late 1950’s, Irving and Paula Klaw’s work made  the sexual appeal of the damsel in distress explicit. No longer couched with flimsy plots of excuses, the bondage became the point of the work. Thanks to them we have images of Bettie Page with wrists and ankles tied to the arms and legs of a chair, or bent backwards over an ottoman, all with the now-classic white cotton clothesline. 

The online writing community Everything2 defines the key points of the damsel in distress fetish: 

“The enthusiasts of DiD are most commonly men who enjoy the concept of kidnap and rescue fantasies, which usually involve women bound, cuffed and controlled…DiD enthusiasts are not so much interested in black latex, pvc and cuffs as they are interested in the raw, natural look of white cotton rope… Interestingly, sexual menacing or assault is not necessary to create an appealling DiD scene. In fact, in judging DiD scenes in movies and television, violence against the damsel is often a detraction. Blood or bruises make the scene less pretty. More often, it is the idea of a woman being helpless and begging for release.” (

Part of the appeal of the damsel in distress as a fetish or bondage aesthetic, is that it’s fairly approachable. The positions don’t have to be extreme and the scenarios don’t have to be elaborate. And as with all kink, the trope can be transformed and subverted to suit your interests and needs. The “damsel” can be a person of any gender, and whether you rescue them or they rescue themselves is entirely up to you. 

Because the classic poses are often sitting or laying down, these can be some of the safer bondage positions for a beginner to try. Look up some Bettie Page images for inspiration, and let your imagination do the rest — thigh high stockings and black pumps optional.

Stella Harris, Certified Intimacy Educator and Coach. Author of Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships and The Ultimate Guide to Threesomes. Learn more at: