It's not often that thanks to Victorian-era erotica, a 15-year-old girl experiences a sexual epiphany. But that's exactly what happened to Katherine* during her sophomore year of high school.
When her debate team stopped at a bookstore on an out-of-town trip, a friend purchased a book of 19th century sex stories. You know what happens next: on the bus ride home, a wide-eyed Katherine pored over one tale about a man and his female servant.
This sexcapade, though, had a special twist: It involved a lot of spanking.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, this is an actual thing! I'm not the only one who thinks this is interesting!'" Recalls Katherine, a 41-year-old photographer in New Mexico. She's thought about spanking since she was a little girl, but it wasn't until she became aroused reading that story that she wanted to be spanked by a man in bed.
Women like Katherine aren't alone: Lots of people are into love taps — over-the-knee or tangled up in intercourse, one item on the foreplay buffet or the main event. "For some people, a good hard smack is going to bring nerve endings to life," says Dr. Yvonne Fulbright, sexologist and author of Touch Me There: A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots.
It's tricky to find out how many people are doing it, but you don't have to look further than pop culture to see we've got spanks on the brain: paddlings make appearances everywhere from old episodes of I Love Lucy to the 2004 flick Along Came Polly to Broadway's hit show Spring Awakening. Back in 1996, essayist Daphne Merkin shocked New Yorker readers with a frank article about her desire to be spanked by a man; even Justin Timberlake promised in his 2006 single SexyBack, "I'll let you whip me if I misbehave." (Were you talking to Britney, Cameron, or Jessica when you said that, Justin?)
Why Spanking Hurts So Good
The posterior is full of its own nerves, and the bum is also located near the body's sensory hot spots — a man's scrotum and a woman's vulva. A naughty maneuver like spanking is a great way to send ripples through the skin and stimulate that entire area, Fulbright says.
Thomas Roche, a 39-year-old erotica writer in San Francisco, says spanking is "hot, emotionally charged and so intimate" all at once. But for him, the allure of spanking a woman is all the "bodily contact"—a submissive woman's rear end and all the parts around it.
Spanking is appealing to different folk for different reasons. "Some people like the punishment, role-playing thing, some people just like the spanking part of it. For some people, it's more innocent," says Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor of Spanked: Red-Cheeked Erotica, who wrote passionately about her love of a good spanking in her former Village Voice sex column. "You have to figure out what part of it you're interested in exploring so you can explain it to the other person."
Once you've figured out your fantasy, how do you ask to be spanked — or to give a spanking? Try renting Secretary, the 2002 movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, and watching it with your sweetie, suggests Bussel. If indie films aren't your bag, she suggests you find a YouTube video or a web site which contains spanking, showing it to your partner and asking what they think about trying it.
Whether you're the spanker or the spankee, Bussel says to approach the "hey, can we try this" discussion forthrightly but without pressure. Since the subject can be off-putting, approach the act as something you and your partner just trying, she says, not something you want to do every night (even if you do).
How To Spank Like A Pro
As for how to perform the spanking, there are lots of ways to do it! First, pick a position that feels comfortable for you. For beginners, Roche suggests lying across someone's lap on a bed so that the spankee's head is supported. The receiver can also bend over a chair or stand against a wall if that's more enticing. You can use hands or spank with an implement like a wooden paddle. Sex shops have lots of fun instruments—if your paddle's covered in fur it becomes a "joke-y, funny prop" and will inject humor into the bedroom, says Bussel.
"It's not exactly painful, depending on how it's done," says Roche. "But if you go too hard, too fast, too far, you can cause a lot of pain. You just want to start soft and explore!" The fleshy part of the rear end, of course, is a great place to start—the backs of the thighs can be more painful and love-tapping the genital area is an "advanced" move not to be done by beginners, Roche warns. Other areas that you should not hit under any circumstances include the backs of the knees, the tailbone and the spine. "Use common sense," he says—or just stick to what Roche calls the "sweet spot," the sensitive area where the butt and upper thigh meet.
In between blows, the spanker can caress the spanked area, fondle the genitals or gently tug the spankee's hair—if that's what the spankee would like. "Afterwards, you should talk about it to see if you read [your partner's] body properly," he says. Find out if those whimpers of pain were in ecstasy or in regret.
But like lots of choices on the sexual buffet, spanking is not embraced by everyone. The butt can be off-limits for a lot of adults, Fulbright warns. While some people find it exciting to have that area touched, others grapple with the psychological element of letting someone access a "taboo" area, even if your partner isn't touching anywhere near your anus.
Katherine knows this taboo all too well: Although her interest in sexual spanking dates back to her childhood, it wasn't until age 37 that she incorporated spanking into her sex life in a way that felt healthy. Her biggest hurdle? Katherine had a physically abusive relationship as a young adult and the first time a sexual partner hit her butt was out of anger, she says. For years, Katherine wrestled with an internal conflict about asking a man to spank her in the context of sex.
Indeed, it's not hard to see how people who were spanked as children (or physically abused in at any point in life) may cringe at spanking during sex. For lots of us, hitting is scary, angry and unpredictable.
Trust Your Spanker
That's why trusting your partner is crucial. Roche has been spanking women since he was 17 and he's seen more than a few "emotional moments" over the years from women for whom spanking exhumed powerful memories. Therefore, trust goes both ways. "You need to know she's going to let you know if something is not right," he says. One idea? Establish a word or phrase, something other than "stop" or "no" (which people sometimes say when they mean just the opposite), that signifies all spanking must cease immediately. "Let's do something else," or, "I'm done with this," are both good suggestions.
Toying with power dynamics can be as alluring as it is discomforting. When it comes to spanking and gender-roles, baggage about power can enter the bedroom on an express train. Although love taps are certainly not exclusively man-on-woman behavior, anecdotally, guys spanking gals is one of the more common manifestations. Some dudes relish lady-swatting, which makes them feel powerful or manly. Roche, for instance, says he loves the "power aspect." But other dudes are justifiably freaked out by such a request. Men are, after all, taught never to hit women.
"Men are nervous about this, too!" Says Katherine. "Inflicting pain on a woman, even erotic pain, is a little daunting!" She thinks many a man is OK with the act of spanking his lady but he may not be OK with the part of himself that likes it—he might be wondering if there's something angry, violent or wrong with him.
If you sense your guy is worried, keep spanking lighthearted: play up the sexiest, most playful parts of a spanking, suggests Katherine, such as the butt being "an erogenous zone prominently displayed," and the fact spanking entails "a lot of squirming and panting!" You or your partner can even role play or dress up in costumes (bad maid, bad student, bad what-have-you).
It's possible that your guy may be the one who wants to be spanked. In fact, it's a hat Bussel has worn many a time before, even with "cocky" guys who are the "opposite of what you might think" when you imagine a submissive man. But what's so hot about spanking a guy? She probably isn't physically overpowering him, says Bussel, so he is making himself vulnerable to her. Since some guys see wanting to be spanked as emasculating, she adds, this means a guy is being especially trusting.
Spanking can be great fun to introduce into the bedroom. Through lots of communication, individual couples need to figure out all the details of the delivery themselves. Safety is paramount, of course, but timing is everything. If done wrong, says Fulbright, spanking "is the kind of move that can totally kill the moment!" But once you've got your partner where you want them, have fun! There's no one right way to spank someone and if it hurts too much—or too little—to be pleasurable, you've got to speak up!
Upping the kink factor in your relationship can actually be a great way for those of us who are more vanilla to break out of shells and experiment with something new. It can also be a way of feeling closer to our partner.
"This being said, there may be behaviors that you are just not open to doing and that is OK too," says Dr. Kat Van Kirk, a clinical sexologist, marriage and family therapist, author and host. Partners should have enough sensitivity to work you into these behaviors as well as be ok with some hard and fast boundaries. Many people into kink have learned to be very good negotiators sexually as very few people have exactly the same proclivities.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
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