Suddenly spanking seems to be everywhere – in movies, on TV (there have been scenes in Desperate Housewives and CSI, among others) and in romance novels (even the proper queen of historical romance, Johanna Lindsey, included a spanking scene in her book Keeper of the Heart).
Some of the best-selling books on Kindle aimed at women are futuristic or fantasy romances featuring brutish warriors or stone-cold cyborgs who soon have the heroine over their knees. Laurann Dohner, Michelle M Pillow and Mandy M Roth are coining it, churning out male dominance shorts with titles such as The Barbarian Prince and Begging For It.
Stalls at the recent Sexpo in Johannesburg did a brisk business in paddles and other spanking toys, and an “Over The Knee” (OTK) demonstration was held by Bella Rouge, an adult toys retailer.
Bella Rouge owner Jenni Osrin goes as far as to say erotic spanking has gone mainstream.
She and others interviewed for this story were very quick to make the distinction between safe and consensual spanking that brings fun and spice into the bedroom and the heavy BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) scene that often involves professional discipliners. It’s even removed from the male spanking fantasies of old, such as the role-plays set in schools.
“I think many women would prefer to imagine themselves in a luxurious courtesan-style scenario,” Rowan Spelling, former editor of The Erotic Review in the UK, wrote in a recent sex column in the Daily Mail.
Indeed, in many of the best-selling spanking stories, after a few paddling episodes, the heroine melts the heart of the stern hero and there is much cuddling and vows of love by the end.
Most women keep spanking in their fantasies. Some would hate to actually be in the position of receiving or delivering it, while others don’t bring it up because it would be embarrassing or awkward if one’s partner thought it offensive or ridiculous.
That wasn’t a problem experienced by Cathy*, who met her partner James* at a “spanking party”.
She says she wouldn’t have a relationship if it wasn’t with a spanker. “We know that we could never be 100 percent happy without spanking in our relationship.”
The couple have an array of spanking tools – her favourite is a cane, his is a thick slipper. They have also used a Jokari game paddle, wooden spoons, a bath brush... pretty much anything that catches their eye.
So what’s the appeal?
Osrin says the sense of surrender can be “a massive relief” for modern women who expend so much energy controlling every aspect of their lives.
“All your stress just goes right out the window,” she says. “You can really just be yourself in the bedroom. You can explore your fantasies and let all inhibitions go.”
The same applies to men, she says. They, too, find it erotic to allow someone else to decide how and where to direct their pleasure. “Some men like a woman to take control in the bedroom.”
Clinical sexologist Marlene Wasserman, popularly known as “Dr Eve”, says: “Couples can reach new levels of trust with each other. It increases communication and arousal levels can be heightened.”
Apart from those with BDSM proclivities, some people do it because they’re merely curious. Others get a thrill out of doing something “naughty, unusual, and kinky”. Some are sexually adventurous and occasionally enjoy it as part of the sex play. A few may be pressured into it by their partners.
“It really is about power exchange, so either gender may take on a certain role at a certain time in which one agrees to be dominant (the spanker ) to the submissive (the spanked),” says Dr Eve.
Cathy says she finds sexual spanking quite addictive. “I lose myself completely and quickly go into what we call ‘subspace’. This is when the endorphins kick in, and you literally get a high.”
Sh says it leaves her feeling totally relaxed and loved. “My partner is attentive and focused on me.”
The anticipation is the worst and best part. “You can see the arm going up and you just know that in a second there is going to be searing pain going through your backside. My partner knows this, and he always builds the anticipation before every stroke,” says Cathy.
“That’s the beauty of a spanking. Loving and hating it. Dreading it and yearning for it. The anticipation and the satisfaction.”
James, she says, “loves the thought of the spanking more than the spanking itself, and he loves the way his bum feels afterwards.”
What follows soon after a spanking session is “mind-blowing, deeply satisfying sex”, says Cathy.
And, like any couple feeling satiated, they kiss, hug and cuddle.
“Sometimes we take pictures of our handywork and just lie and admire it, stroking and soothing our bums and being grateful we have each other,” she adds.
Still, however popular a fantasy, spanking isn’t spoken about much. It can also be controversial.
“There will always be the people out there who think that it is promoting abuse,” says Osrin. “Spankings have to be completely consensual. And they also have to be done for the right reasons. It either turns you on or it doesn’t.”
You should engage in spanking only with someone you trust and with whom you have discussed your limits, say the experts. It’s important for both parties to know exactly what the other one wants.
It’s best to start off slowly, with an OTK hand spanking, slapping gently and building it up, all the while checking that the spankee is still enjoying it.
Xena*, a professional dominatrix in Johannesburg, agrees that there is a still a stigma to spanking. “People think you are strange, a pervert that needs to see a psychologist. But, in fact, spanking adds a different edge to your life. People fear what they don’t know.
“It’s all about letting go of your social inhibitions. Women in this country are brought up to hate their body, and we’re not taught to ask for what we want.”
However, Osrin feels that increasingly people are exploring their sexuality and becoming more adventurous.
“Whenever I suggest spanking as a form of adding more spice into a relationship, it is always met with curiosity and eagerness,” says Osrin. “It’s definitely being accepted as a part of a normal intimate lifestyle.”
She says everyone should explore some kind of alternative play in the bedroom. It doesn’t have to be spanking. It could be role-playing, the erotic use of food, or simply exploring with toys.
“We are all creatures of habit and it’s very easy to fall into a routine in our sex lives. While this is safe and comforting, it is also repetitive and boring. So, keep the spark alive and explore something new,” Osrin says.
* Their names have been changed