Impact play, or ‘spanking’ to you vanilla normies, is the quickest dividing line for separating out those who are ‘in the lifestyle’ and those who are becoming increasingly uncomfortable as this sentence progresses. Whether it’s a polite love tap or a pant splitting bruise, a smack on the ass is the international invitation to the pain for pleasure club. For those curious about taking a walk on the wild side and those already sore and squirming in their seats, it can be hard to put a finger, let alone an open palm, on why exactly this unpleasant act can have so much appeal. Hopefully I can shed some light on why they, or um, we, or perhaps you yourself, find this baffling and taboo enterprise so alluring.

Whether BDSM is a way of life for you or just one of the first entries in a list of porn genres, it’s worth remembering what those letters stand for. Our D usually is meant to mean domination, and a dominant/submissive role dichotomy is integral to many, many forms of kink expression. Spanking then is just as much about the archetypal parental role as it is about not that- the significance of a dominant and authoritarian figure taking control, giving us permission to temporarily abdicate our personal autonomy and responsibility (within the confines of an agreed upon, safely negotiated structure), has an incredibly erotic appeal.

Moving on to the S & the M, sadomasochism seems to be at the heart of what scares people about kink in general. Why should something that hurts feel good? Perhaps more disturbingly, why should hurting someone I care about feel so good? The answers and theories and downright guesses are long and varied but generally come down to our bodies natural tendency for homeostasis or equilibrium. Our bodies compensate for the pain with a rush of feel-good neurotransmitters. Spanking in particular gets much of it’s draw from the ability to elicit pain without actually doing much harm, meaning the rush of painkillers often outlast the damage they’re meant to treat. On top of that, pain has a way of focusing the mind on the body, of getting us out of our heads and into the full experience of our senses- instead of stressing over our performance or how we look when we’re sweatily twisted over the back of a couch, we’re able to let go and fully feel everything that sex entails. Study after study relates ‘subspace,’ the mythical and somewhat mystical dissociative mind set of someone receiving pain, with the hypnotic state of clinical trancework or religious transcendence. Said another way, for some folks a wallop on the back side is like seeing god, a way to unlock the physical experience that many religions rely on through ritual, pharmaceutical sacrament and hypnosis.

The other half of the question is why would any good and decent person be turned on by the idea of causing this kind of pain? Again the answers are numerous and mottled, but for the most part that very question seems to be part of the answer. As much as the ACA’s Secular Sexuality seeks to normalize and destigmatize a wealth of sexual behavior, there’s still something sexy about dirty. Light all the scented candles and turn on the Enya, stare longingly into each other’s eyes before sweetly bedding one another, and we are still talking about an inherently transgressive act. The very art of defying convention and participating in scandalous, hot and nasty sex brings out the mischievous in many of us, and turns the adult act into shared play.

That connection, the intimacy of playing games and being silly, even if that silliness involves leather costumes and ball gags, creates a connection few other things do. The trust inherent in allowing someone to bind you, to harm or penetrate you at their leisure and under their control, bridges the gap between strangers or lovers. Love and, as it turns out love making, really is just a game.

As with all games it’s important to play safely, follow the rules, have fun and try not to take anything too seriously. Whether you are exploring kink for the first time or finally crossing that Alien v Predator fantasy off your bucket-list, do your homework, over communicate, and above all else take care of each other. Regardless of what, who, how or why we like something, from butterfly kisses when we wake up to licking toes to 18” paddles, it all comes down to enjoying ourselves and keeping each other safe. Happy whacking.