Spanking! It’s a time-honored sexy tradition. It features in ancient Roman fertility festivals, in Victorian erotica, and in modern pornography. It’s safe to say that impact play has been around for a long time, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But no one is born with a riding crop in their hand! Impact play can be fun when practiced safely, but it takes some preliminary learning, and a lot of communication. So let’s take a look at the basics, including how to get started!
What is it?
Impact play is, at its heart, any sort of consensual sensation play involving whipping, slapping, spanking, or otherwise striking the other person for mutual pleasure and enjoyment. You can use a hand, repurposed tools (like a wooden spoon), or a toy designed for the purpose of impact. The person doing the spanking is the “top,” and the recipient is the “bottom.”
Most commonly, impact is aimed at the buttocks: this is partly because it’s an extremely safe area to hit, being cushioned with a lot of fat, and it heals quickly, and also because the butt is associated with sexual activities in general. Other common areas to strike are the thighs (similar to the butt, there’s a lot of protective fat), the upper back (often for flogging or whipping), and the upper arms.
Impact should not be done on the lower back (where the kidneys are), on the belly (where the rest of your internal organs are), or the throat or neck. There are also people who enjoy impact on the soles of the feet (called bastinado, after an old torture technique), or on chests, genitalia, or across the face, but those are more advanced and can definitely cause injury if done improperly—on other words, they’re generally outside the scope of this introduction.
When first presented with the idea of spanking and impact, it might seem a little counter-intuitive. Toddlers are told “It’s not nice to hit our friends!” and that’s a concept we, as a society, have agreed on. It’s not uncommon for people to look at BDSM and consider it abuse at worse or, at best, a little unsettling. Even people curious about spanking can be uncomfortable with the idea that someone may want to spank them!
Impact play is, of course, consensual; if it’s not consensual, it’s not play, and that’s the crux of it. Ultimately, impact play is about experimenting with sensation. Beyond that, the reasons are as varied as the people who do it. Some people are masochists who genuinely experience pain as pleasurable in some capacity, or sadists who enjoy inflicting pain on a willing recipient. Some people who enjoy power exchange appreciate that it’s a tangible way to give control to the top, who can then choose what sensations the bottom is going to receive. Some people like the humiliation aspect; some people find satisfaction in receiving a punishment; some people just think butts are neat. Some people are aiming to achieve sub space, which is a sort of endorphin high that can come from pain, not unlike the “runner’s high” that marathoners often experience. (Some absolutely don’t want to reach sub space, and that’s totally valid as well.)
What’s the first step?
So, you’ve got a desire to get spanked, you’ve got a friendly individual who wants to spank you, and you know where it’s okay to get hit. Time to get smackin’, right?
Before any impact happens, it’s important to communicate. The bottom should express what kind of sensations they’re looking for, where they’d like to get hit, and how much. Both should agree on what tools or techniques should be used, and what kind of care will be needed after.
And you need to agree on a safeword to stop all play immediately. Something as simple as “No” or “Stop!” is totally fine if you agree to it, but for many people, they instinctively say “no” when the sensations are intense but don’t actually want to stop, or it may be used as part of a roleplay scenario to add a bit of realism. That’s why we often use safewords that aren’t likely to otherwise come up in a sexy scene, like “swordfish” or “Mitch McConnell” or whatever. Most experts advise against anything extremely complicated. Impact can make your brain a little fuzzy, and you don’t want to sit there trying to remember how to pronounce “sesquipedalianism” when you’re trying to end a scene.
A common or popular approach to safewords is the stop light system. “Green” means “I’m fine, continue;” “yellow” means “I’m reaching a limit or would like a break;” and “red” means “stop immediately.” I like this system because it’s useful not only to stop play when it’s too much, but to communicate throughout and, in addition, is very compatible with checking in, which is another important thing to remember. Sometimes, especially if you’re new to impact, it’s a good idea to ask your partner every now and again how they’re doing, because they might be at a limit and not have noticed yet.
Also, safewords are not just for the bottom to use! A top can absolutely realize they hit a limit and tell their partner that they need to stop. Anyone can use it for any reason. It can mean “This hurts too much, I need to stop” or it can mean “I should not have eaten that burrito for lunch and I am not feeling sexy right now.”
Finally, no one should ever be punished for using a safeword. Even if you have an extremely in-depth 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship, it’s important for everything to continue to be pleasurable and consensual. Telling someone that they’re wrong for stopping play, whether directly or through passive-aggressive behavior, is manipulative at best and abusive at worst.
What do I hit with?
Now we get to the fun part.
If you’re brand new to impact and you don’t have any tools yet, it’s entirely possible that you have some available to you already: hands. Some people always prefer hands, due to the intimacy of human contact. It’s also a good way to learn how to properly strike someone, because there’s physical feedback. If the top’s hand stings, there’s a good chance the bottom’s bottom does, too.
Hands do have their drawbacks, though! They can be very awkward to use in some positions; they can tire out very easily; and there are some sensations you can just never get from a hand that you can get from a toy.
Impact sensations exist on a spectrum of “stingy” to “thuddy.” A “sting” sensation, at its extreme end, feels like snapping a rubber band against your skin. It’s a very surface sensation. A “thud” sensation is deeper, felt less in the skin and more in the muscle beneath. Think of the pain you get from a really intense massage, only briefer. I also tend to use the descriptor “slap” or “slappy” for a sensation somewhere in the middle. If you’re starting out, I personally suggest something with a “slap,” and from there, you can figure out if you prefer one end of the spectrum or another.
For a first impact toy, I would absolutely start with a basic leather or pleather paddle. They’re pretty intuitive to control, usually inexpensive, and because of the broad surface and slightly flexible material, they slap really well, make a great sound, and are pretty easy to control for harder or gentler strikes. The Heart Impression Slapper Paddle by Sportsheets, or any of the others in that line, offers an excellent middle-of-the-road sensation that isn’t too intense. A silicone paddle like the Tantus Pelt is also a pretty good starter toy. It can skew a little bit more on the stingy side, but not to the extreme of some other toys.
Another nice middle-of-the-road toy is a basic light flogger, especially one made of vinyl or PVC, but there’s a bit of a learning curve with these! You should hit with the ends of the falls striking skin, rather than the length of them. With the latter, you may end up accidentally wrapping the falls around a thigh or a hip, which can cause a lot more damage than intended. The Scandal Flogger was actually a surprisingly gentle toy, sensation-wise, and the handle is comfortable to hold onto, so you can easily practice. It takes some work to build up pain, which is nice if you’re still figuring out your pain tolerance.
If you are looking for something on the extremely stingy end of the spectrum, you’ll probably want something skinny and floppy. Something like the Scandal Bullwhip will definitely provide that sensation, but it’s another one that’s very hard to control. If you do try to use a whip, always make sure the top has eye protection—glasses, goggles, or a wide-brimmed hat if you really want that cowboy feeling—and practice a lot before use on a person. My favorite stingy toys are actually not proper whips. The Tantus Dragon Tail is designed like a classic style of whip, but it’s shorter, with a very solid silicone handle. It’s not nearly so hard to control as a bullwhip, handling a bit more like a paddle, but leaves an extremely similar sensation. I also really like the Tantus Tawse It Overboard, which mimics the tawses used for corporal punishment in public schools in Scotland until 1987.
If you’d like something thuddy, you’ll want something much more solid and, for lack of better word, dense. The best starter “thud” toy that I’ve found is, hands down, the Sex & Mischief Shadow Ball Crop by Sportsheets. It’s a simple rubber ball on a stick, but it’s pretty weighty. A skilled partner can either hit hard and get an instant deep-tissue thump, or hit more lightly, so that it’s still thuddy but takes longer for it to build.
Above all, try to experiment with a lot of different types of toys and sensations! Hit gently, hit harder, hit slower or faster, and experiment with different materials and shapes. One of the reasons that I love inexpensive impact toys is that I have a broader range of things to play with. And don’t be afraid to try out a toy again that you may not have liked the first time, or to experiment with a sensation you previously thought wasn’t for you. Sometimes our tastes change!
Once stung, thudded, or slapped to everyone’s satisfaction (or until someone needs their safeword), it’s time for aftercare. What this looks like can vary a lot, and it’s a good idea to discuss aftercare needs prior to play, but some of this might be learned by experience! There are some basics, though, that most people will need.
Hydration and a snack are a good idea at this point. Obviously, you’ve all exerted a lot of energy, so you’ll need some calories and fluid. Some water or a sports drink, some candy, or some cheese and crackers are all easy when you’re exhausted and can help replace a lot of what was lost. A lot of people also get really cold after impact, so this is a good time for a cup of tea or cocoa.
You might also need to take care of some physical injuries. Use your best judgment, but you can’t go wrong with lotion or massage oil for some red skin or mild welts. OTC creams or gels can help with bruising (unless, obviously, you want the bruising to stay there). If the discomfort is severe, some Aleve or Tylenol may help. A shower or a bath can also feel nice, or a warm or cold compress.
Don’t forget your emotional needs! Even if you enjoy a spanking, it can be intense and even scary. Some cuddling (a partner, or a plushie, or a willing pet) can help a lot, or wrapping up in a blanket, but some people don’t want to be touched at all. You might need to talk, or you might need to not talk—this is why it’s valuable to discuss first, so you’re all on the same page.
Finally, don’t forget that tops need aftercare just as much as bottoms do, and some of it is unique to their experience! They might need a hot or cold pack for a sore spanking arm, and might need some reassurance that what they did was welcome and enjoyable. It can be scary to receive a spanking, but it can also be scary to give one and to cause harm to someone, even if it’s consensual.
Overall, discussing the scene at some point is going to be really helpful, whether immediately following or the next day. Knowing what worked, what didn’t, and what you enjoyed is important, and means that next time, you might have even more fun.
I hope this introduction was both helpful and entertaining, and gives you the courage to go ahead and ask a friend or loved one which paddle they might like to try. Happy spanking!