For some, pleasure and pain are intricately entwined. Both cause sensations on the opposite ends of the spectrum and the combination can be thrilling. That said, impact play — an activity where a person is striked to cause impact in a sexual context — isn’t always painful. There are so many ways to enjoy impact play safely, and many different reasons people enjoy it.
What is impact play?
Impact play falls under the umbrella of sensation play. It is usually related to BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) as it can involve power exchange, where the person delivering the impact is the dom role and the receiver is the sub. If you’ve ever had your ass slapped, or slapped someone else’s ass, you’ve tried impact play. However, impact play is much more than just spanking. “Spanking is only reeling to a smaller subset of impact play using a hand,” Lola Jean, a sex educator who teaches impact play courses, tells O.school. “Impact play can consist of striking with a hand, object, or tool on many (safe) parts of the body.” She also notes that impact play doesn’t always imply pain. “A common misconception is that all impact play hurts or is intended to cause pain, [but] by varying your force or choosing specific objects, impact play can be as painful — or not — as both people want and are comfortable with.”
Why do some people enjoy impact play?
People enjoy impact play for a variety of reasons. “Many [people] like the idea of pushing themselves to see what they’re capable of taking. Some are drawn to the adrenaline rush that comes with pain. Others like the physical sensation of pain,” Jean tells O.school. For some, physical pain can be pleasurable because “endorphins bind to opiate receptors to naturally relieve pain,” writes Maitresse Madeline Marlowe. This kind of pain can bring on an endorphin high (known as the “subspace” in the kink world) that is actually quite similar to a runner's high.
Many people also enjoy impact play not for the physical sensation or pain, but for “the more psychological components” says Jean. A SheVibe writer notes,“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.”
4 types of impact play
Different types of impact play are characterized by the items, body parts, and techniques used. Here are four of the more popular types of impact play, though there are many more. Note that these types of impact play are better for beginner to intermediate people as intensity can be better controlled. Those who are very advanced, may use riskier items such as razors or knives. That requires an even great amount of education, safety precaution, and knowledge of how to care for any resulting wounds after.
Most commonly, spanking involves using the palm of your hand to strike a partner’s butt, but this is just one of many ways to try spanking. To spank, a person may incorporate different tools and different body parts. Some people use a paddle, household item, flogger, riding crop, or other toy for spanking. They might spank someone with their hand or toy on their ass, inner thigh, or another part of their body. Spanking may be part of a role play or power exchange scene, where the person being spanked is being punished for being “bad.” For example, in a teacher-student role play scene, the student may be spanked for being “a bad girl.”
Generally, slapping is very similar to spanking, and is when someone uses their hand or toy to impact a body part other than someone’s ass. However, some people might consider hitting someone’s ass as slapping, too. Someone might slap a person’s cheeks, chest, breasts, or back of their thighs.
Depending on how they’re used, floggers can deliver a wide range of sensations from light, sensual touch, to a fierce sting, and are made of materials such as leather, latex, or rope. Flogging takes technique and skill and may not be the best place to start if you’re new to impact play.
Caning is when someone uses a cane (which looks similar to a large wand) to hit someone, usually in a muscle-y or fatty area of the body, like the thighs or butt. Caning requires skill, knowledge, and safety awareness, and may be better for those more experienced with impact play.
How to try impact play safely
Safety should be top of mind before trying any kind of impact play. Here are a few tips to help ensure everything stays sexy during this kind of play.
- Understand what impact play entails. Many of us have a false sense of what impact play is because porn and mainstream media (hello Fifty Shades of Gray) inaccurately portray BDSM. Researching impact play can help you get a better sense of what is actually involved, helping you make more informed decisions about what you’re seeking. Researching with a partner can also be a fun, safe way to share what looks fun and what doesn’t before experimenting.
- Consider how you want to feel. Impact play isn’t just about the act of spanking, flogging, or caning, it’s also about how you feel while you’re doing it. Spanking will feel different if it’s because you’ve been naughty, because you’re being humiliated, or because you’ve been a “good girl.” Before you arrive at the scene, think about what you want to feel during the experience and what you will need in order to feel that way. Consider the kind of dialogue you’ll have and the power dynamics you’ll create.
It’s also important to consider the kind of sensation you’re seeking. For example, are you interested in more of a “thud” or “sting”? How painful or gentle do you want the impact to be? These considerations can change which toys are used or how the giver uses their hand.
- Establish boundaries, safe words, and consent. Before trying impact play, talk with partner(s) about boundaries, safe words, and establishing consent. Take turns sharing boundaries by discussing things that are a hard no, things you’re unsure about, but might be open trying, and things that are a ‘go.’ Talk about what parts of the body are off limits, how you will communicate the way you’re feeling throughout the scene, and any other needs or expectations you have. Remember that consent can be withdrawn at any time and boundaries can change over time or even within a scene. Always pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues and check in with yourselves and each other before, during, and after a scene.
- Know what areas are body-safe for impact. There are places on the body where you should never do impact play because of major nerves, arteries, or organs. For example, the lower back and stomach should be avoided because of kidneys and other sensitive organs. The tailbone, spine, face, head, and ears can also be risky. Be sure to learn which parts of the body are safe for impact play and how the toy you’re using (for example, a paddle versus a cane) changes which part of the body is safe for play.
- Know how to safely use toys or props. There are some toys and props that require a certain amount of education or training before use. Whips and canes, for example, can deliver an intense blow with little force, or leave unwanted lacerations. Workshops, books, impact play how-to guides, and other tutorials can be helpful resources to learn how to properly use these items. Jean tells O.school that it’s important to “learn how to accurately use the toy you’re playing with even if that toy is your hand. It is really easy to hurt someone or give an unpleasant experience if you don’t know what you’re doing.” If you’re using a household item, be sure it’s safe for the body as many household items aren’t made for impact play and can break, potentially hurting someone in the process.
- Practice on your own body first. If you’re new to impact play, whether it’s spanking, slapping, using a paddle, or flogging, consider trying it on yourself first. This can help give you a sense of what certain intensities and toys feel like. This also allows for some safer practice. Figuring out how to slap someone with your hand, for example, takes more technique than you may imagine. An article in Autostraddle suggests “experiment[ing] with hitting your own thighs or inner arms with different levels of strength and hand positioning. For example, you can hit with your fingers together or apart, and your hand flat or more cupped. Personally, I prefer my fingers together and a bit of a cupped palm, as it makes a more satisfying noise upon impact, and delivers a deeper blow. If you hold your hand on the spot you just hit for a second or two after a spank instead of taking it away immediately, it’ll have a different sensation.”
- Start slow, gradually increasing intensity with consent. You might start by having the receiver first explore the feeling of the toy or hand on their body and then gradually use more impact. Jean says to “Allow them to build up and experience lighter forms before diving into anything too forceful or painful — if that’s what they want of course.” You can use a scale from 1-10 to describe the level of impact and if you want more or less. Jean reminds us that “Impact play is hardly about what the person topping wants, so don’t lay into your bottom.”
Taking things slow is important even if a bottom requests a great amount of intense impact upfront. Gradually working up to harder blows helps prepare the skin “as the blood starts to rise to the surface, which will help increase tolerance and pleasure,” according to Dom(me)’s Life. They add, “Similarly, if you have more than one implement, use the lighter one before going to the heavier one. In addition, varying the pace and alternating heavier blows with softer ones (or using just the tips), can make the difference between a good impact scene and a great one.
- Provide physical and emotional aftercare. Impact play may cause bruises or lacerations, so it’s important to tend to body parts that have been affected. You might consider having ice packs on hand for bruises, Aloe or Vitamin E cream, rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs, and bandaids. Be sure to do proper research on how to care for open wounds.
Aftercare can also mean emotionally tending to the recipient of the impact. The scene may have involved a power exchange element, and cuddling and offering words of love or affirmation to your partner post-play can help rebalance the dynamic. Communicate with your partner about what their specific aftercare needs are.
The bottom line
Many people derive pleasure from impact play. But before trying this type of activity, it’s important to learn exactly what kind of sensations and feelings you and a partner(s) are seeking. Discuss boundaries, safe words, and consent, and keep safety top of mind. Impact play requires a certain level of education to use toys properly, to tend to impacted body parts and wounds, and to care for partner(s) emotionally post-play. If you’ve done your due diligence, impact play can be a pleasurable way to expand your sexual experiences.