Enjoy Being Spanked? Here’s What You Need To Know About Impact Play

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Although my earliest erotic fantasies consistently portrayed me in submissive roles, I didn’t discover how spanking could change my sex life until I was 20 and hooking up with multiple dominant men whose relationship with me centered around them whooping my ass and me proudly sexting them pictures of my deep-purple bruises the next day. It was intense, and a bit scary sometimes, but that was why I liked it. I feared the pain, yet I also knew that the men spanking me understood my boundaries, since we had negotiated them ahead of time.
It was hard to explain this to my friends, who were beginning to worry about me: Yes, these men were hurting me intentionally, but I wanted them to hurt me. I had the control; I was able to stop the spanking (although I rarely chose to), and I dictated how hard I’d be struck.
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These concepts are some of the basic tenets of impact play, which is defined as “a person, known as the top, striking another person, known as the bottom, with either their hand or another tool, for the purpose of sexual gratification,” according to Sue Vannoy, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boone, NC. The most common form of impact play is spanking, and it’s often considered a “BDSM gateway drug” since it’s so frequently portrayed in mainstream media. And while spanking is part of the BDSM ecosystem, it’s definitely practiced by a lot of people who don’t partake in any other kinks.
But still, spanking and other forms of impact play can be intense and potentially dangerous, so it’s important that people don’t think you can just randomly hit your partner during sex — engaging in impact play involves adhering to a set of best practices that ensure that all acts are safe, pleasurable, and consensual.
“The key word is consensual,” Vannoy says. “Abuse occurs when one partner hurts their partner physically, emotionally, or verbally as a way to gain power and control over the other without their consent.”
So, to clear up any misconceptions, here are some do’s and don’ts of impact play.
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DO negotiate consent and boundaries.

It’s crucial to establish boundaries before you’re in the bedroom half-naked and under the influence of your arousal (and that’s true of all sexual acts). An effective way to do this is by creating a yes/no/maybe list that categorizes every sexual act into three sections: things you are generally down for, things that are completely off the table for you, and things that you might be into after negotiation or under certain circumstances. Make sure you and your partner draft your lists separately, and then compare and contrast them in a non-sexual setting.

If you’re eager to engage in impact play, be sure to address whether you’re comfortable receiving bruises or welts. Also, don’t assume that a “yes” today is a “yes” tomorrow — it’s important that you check in to see if your partner is still comfortable with your established boundaries before playing again.
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DON’T forget that the person getting hit should be in control.

Even though they are considered the “bottom,” the person receiving the spanking has all the control. A good top wants to ensure the bottom’s safety and enjoyment, so they must yield to the bottom’s needs and respect their limits. Before impact play occurs, the “number gauge” can be an effective way to communicate how hard the bottom wants to be hit. The top can begin by striking the bottom relatively lightly, and then the bottom can say, for instance, “That’s a three for me — I want you to hit me at a seven,” which gives the top more information than the bottom simply saying, “Harder!”
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DO choose a safe word.

Just because boundaries have been negotiated, that doesn’t mean that the top should continue the action if the bottom needs to “tap out.” This is where safe words come in. Sometimes we do say “no” or “stop” when we are genuinely enjoying what’s happening (especially if we are role-playing), so establishing a specific safe word that’s outside of the realm of what’s usually uttered under the circumstances is ideal. People use words like “Jupiter” or “pineapple,” but you can also use “safe word” as a safe word to really communicate the point.

“Responsible partners will also use safe words, such as ‘red,’ ‘yellow,’ and ‘green’ to indicate ‘stop’, ‘slow down’, or ‘yes, please keep going,’” says Keely Kolmes, PsyD, a psychotherapist in Oakland, CA.

Another important thing to keep in mind? There are times when the bottom may be unable to speak (like, if they’re gagged), in which case Dr. Kolmes suggests having a physical cue, like dropping a kerchief.
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DON’T strike the wrong areas.

There’s a reason most pop culture depictions show people being spanked on their behinds: Most of the body doesn’t have enough fat or muscles to safely hit. According to Vannoy, impact play is safest on areas of the body where there’s plenty of fat and muscle, like the butt and thighs. Fleshy areas with some delicate tissue, like the breasts and groin, are considered safe to hit if caution is exercised and boundaries are negotiated, but be aware that hitting this area carries a higher risk of injury.

The head, neck, spine, and all joints ought to be avoided, along with areas that house our internal organs, like the kidneys (they’re located just above the butt on the lower back). Just remember: It’s very easy to accidentally strike one of these areas if you’re using a flogger or an impact device with a longer range. So try practicing your blows on a pillow or the arm of a couch to gain accuracy before using a new tool.

Of course, you know your body better than anyone else, and part of being a conscientious sexual being means making decisions that are difficult to navigate in higher-risk sex acts. Check out a map of impact play safety zones if you’re ever unsure of an area’s risk level.
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DO incorporate tools and toys if that turns you on.

While we’re talking about tools, it can be quite thrilling to introduce new objects, like floggers or paddles, into impact play. Just be aware that varying shapes and materials can feel dramatically different, even if they appear similar. A great way to measure the intensity of a new toy before purchase is by testing it on the inside of your arm — it will only take a few taps to gauge how much sting or thud a tool has to it. Toys with more edges on them, like multi-tailed whips or paddles with holes in the center, have more sting to them than solid ones.

Of course, you don’t need to use a toy to enjoy impact play, and you might find that you prefer to use hands. “For some people, it can be more sensual for there to be direct skin contact,” Dr. Kolmes explains. “People enjoy spanking, because they find it sensual, and that can include not just the spanking but the fondling that may occur during a spanking.” You can even vary the sensation of spanking by using an open or closed palm (an open palm will sting more than a closed palm, and a closed palm will have more of a “thudding” sensation).
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DON’T blur the line between consensual spanking and abuse.

Corporal punishment and physical abuse are non-consensual acts — unlike impact play, which is consensual, negotiable, and carefully regards boundaries. There are, however, some instances in which a pre-negotiated spanking can unintentionally go too far (again, that’s when safe words should be used). Although it is certainly possible to misjudge the intensity of a blow, Dr. Kolmes points out that “a good top will pay close attention to [the bottom’s] breathing and other subtle ways to read them.” That doesn’t mean that the top has to be a mind-reader, or that this can replace verbal consent and communication throughout — it just means that the top needs to be perpetually conscious of the bottom and looking for signs of discomfort in addition to negotiating boundaries and getting enthusiastic, verbal consent.

It’s also possible to spank a person with whom you have a consensual repertoire at a completely inappropriate time. “When the pain occurs in an environment where there is fear, then the pain is not pleasurable,” Vannoy says. “But when pain occurs in a safe environment where there is trust, then the body can experience the pain as pleasure.” Meaning: Just because you’ve consented to spanking in the bedroom doesn’t mean that you consent to a swat at your butt when you’re out with friends. When you receive a blow you’re not expecting, it can feel anywhere from uncomfortable to traumatizing.

Also, someone’s enjoyment of giving or receiving a spanking is not an indication of their personal views on corporal punishment and abuse. So just because someone’s into impact play doesn’t mean that they condone violent or abusive behaviors. (And on that note, you can absolutely be a feminist and crave a good spanking.)
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DO engage in “aftercare” once it’s all over.

Once you and your partner are done, it’s important that you both take the time to make sure that the other feels physically and emotionally safe, and that they enjoyed themselves. This is especially important to do if you’re the top, since bottoms can feel particularly vulnerable after such an intense sexual experience. In the BDSM world, this is called “aftercare,” and it’s one of the many rewards at the end of impact play.

“Partners who engage in impact play together must know that they can trust that their partner [has] their best interest at heart,” Vannoy says.

Aftercare looks different for every couple, but it can involve cuddling, talking, massaging, or anything else that makes them feel good together. And while some people may not need this type of post-coital attention, most people need some sort of transition out of the spanking headspace in order to enjoy it in the first place. So be prepared to give your partner the time and space they need to come back down to earth.
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DON’T be afraid to continue your BDSM sex education.

If spanking piques your interest and you want to explore impact play or BDSM more, take the time to become familiar with best practices before jumping into anything new. A responsible kinkster knows how to play in a way that’s sexy and safe!

Some great places to start are The Center For Sexual Pleasure and Health and ReKink.com. If you’re interested in ethical BDSM porn, you can check out Kink.com. And once you’re hooked, you can join a kink-friendly community site, like FetLife or FindaMunch.
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