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.
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.”