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If you’ve ever had a partner palm your bum during sex or teasingly whip your hip with the towel after a steamy shower, you’ve engaged in impact play.
The same goes if you’ve ever had a partner go Consensual Christian Grey on you — or you’ve done the same to them.
Intrigued? Maybe little turned on? Read on for an impact play 101 lesson.
Kinky or not, no type of sexual play is!
Impact play, defined
Impact play is any practice that involves one person receiving impact — for example, being spanked, punched, whipped, or flogged — by another person for the sake of gratification, explains Lateef Taylor, a pleasure-based, queer-inclusive sex and kink educator.
“The gratification can be explicitly sexual,” they say. But the gratification can also be about nonsexual feelings. For instance, stress release.
Daniel Saynt, founder and chief conspirator of NSFW, a private members club for sex, kink, and cannabis-positive millennials, adds that impact play is typically considered an element of BDSM — that’s bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism — play.
“It’s a stable in a Dom/sub relationship,” he says.
Thuddy vs. stingy play
As you might imagine, both the implement used and the person behind the implement doling said impact will greatly affect the way that impact feels.
Not to mention factors like the receiver’s pain tolerance, current stress levels, and degree of hydration, as well as the weather, the relationship between the giver and receiver, and more.
Generally speaking, the sensations of impact play can be broken down into two categories:
- thuddy play
- stingy play
Taylor explains: The wider the implement and the bigger the area struck, the thuddier the impact. So, a paddle is going to create a thuddier impact than a foot, while a foot is going to create a thuddier sensation than a whip.
You may like one type, you may like multiple — everyone’s different
“Impact play could incorporate your hand or feet or a wide range of kinky tools,” says Saynt. “Each tool brings new sensations, and as you explore each, you’ll likely find a favorite you choose to return to often.”
Enjoy whatever forms of impact you and your partner(s) find gratifying, and don’t worry about the rest.
If weeks, months, years, or decades down the
road romp you find yourself interested in types of impact play you’d formerly side-lined, you can absolutely return to them then.
It’s completely normal for your sexual interests to evolve overtime.
Whether you want to dabble in some light spanking or full on flogging, it’s crucial that all impact play adheres to RACK principle — that means it’s Risk Aware Consensual Kink.
The below blips are good starting points, but be sure to do your own research.
As a reminder impact play *without* consent is not impact play at all, but rape and assault.
Where to strike
As a general rule, the meatier the area, the safer it is to hit.
“Buttocks, legs, thighs are all OK,” says Saynt. “Some engage in a little light tapping of genitals or breast, too.”
“You want to stay away from major organs, as well as your spine, so skip the tummy and lower back,” he says.
You should also avoid:
You can find a helpful color-coded graphic of where is and where isn’t OK to hit here.
Risks to be aware of and mitigate
Yes, there are universal rules of where you can and cannot hit. But folks have individual preferences, boundaries, and triggers.
To find these out, you and your partner need to communicate, communicate, and maybe communicate some more.
Before play, Taylor recommends negotiating the below:
- What do you like your bits called? What names do you like to be called, if any?
- Have you had any experience with impact play before?
- Where do you want to hit?
- What do you want to be hit with?
- How do you feel about marks? If OK, where do you like them?
- Do you bruise easily?
- Do you have any medical concerns to be aware of?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Is this going to be sexual for you?
Safe words and safe cues
A safe word is said to indicate that you have been pushed beyond your boundaries, comfort zone, or pain threshold.
You might be wondering, “Wait, what about STOP?” During any ol’ play, STOP should halt all play.
But during certain impact play scenes, stop doesn’t actually mean stop. For instance, during an assault or kidnapping fantasy.
A safe word is a word you and your partner designate ahead of time to actually mean STOP during the play. So, maybe during use “grandma” or “giraffe” to mean “stop” while you’re acting out a fantasy.
Saynt says you might also choose to use the stoplight system.
“During the stoplight system, ‘red’ signifies stop and care and ‘yellow’ signifies slow down,” he says.
It isn’t uncommon for someone to lose their ability to speak during a moment of bliss, sensation overload, and pleasure, says Taylor.
That’s why they recommend establishing a non-verbal safety “word.”
For example: Maybe four thigh taps or two snaps means stop.
This is especially important if:
- you don’t know how you’ll react with a new partner or implement
- you’re combining impact play with something like a ball-gag that restricts your ability to speak
If it’s your first time exploring impact play with a new partner, Saynt recommends using a number scale to communicate how much impact you can or want to take.
“One means unnoticeable and ten means to your limit and the most you can take,” he says. “Begin with a few light swipes and then have your partner tell you the number of pain they’re feeling, plus what number they’d like to get to in that scene.”
Slapping is basically hand spanking that happens on body parts other than the bum.
- face cheeks
- pubic mound
Taylor actually recommends mastering slapping on meatier surfaces like the bum before exploring these (^) more delicate surfaces.
“It’s best to start with light slaps before moving onto stronger ones,” says Saynt.
But proceed with caution. “If you’re going too hard with this you can potentially knock out your partner,” he says.
Think slapping but with a closed fist instead of a flat palm.
“Light to heavy punching of the chest or buttocks are a great way to safely play with this thuddy form of impact,” says Saynt.
“Be sure to stay away from the face, spine, or any major organs, and any other place that doesn’t have your partner’s blessing,” he says.
While other tools tend to be a little better and more exact for impact, kicking involves using the feet to deliver sensation.
You can lightly kick the same areas that are typically safe for impact play, says Saynt.
“Light kicks on the ball sack or vagina can be fun if you’re into a slight rush of pain,” he says. “Just do so lightly and work your way up to keep from hurting your partner.”
You already know this can be done with a hand. Did you also know spanking can be done with implements like a belt, paddle, or slapper? Yep.
“For some, spanking provides a feeling of release,” says Saynt. “Plus, it can be a great tool in a Mommy or Daddy fantasy scene.”
“Usually multi-tailed and made in leather, latex, or rubber, a flogger is a great tool for both teasing a partner and for delivering mind-blowing impact,” says Saynt.
Draw the long tails across your partner’s body to prepare them for the flogging, he suggests. “The anticipation for the final release is amazing.”
Fleshier parts like the buttocks, upper thigh, and back (but not spine or shoulders!) are best. But flogging anywhere requires a lot of skill!
“Definitely reserved for those more familiar with impact play, whips provide a stingy sensation,” says Saynt.
“When done incorrectly — or correctly depending on the experience you’re looking for — it can result in open gashes on your skin.”
Skill and aim are key, he says.
A cane is a thin to medium stick that can be used to administer super localized sensation. Typically, to a muscle-dense area.
“Aggressive caning will result in welts so it’s important to be measured in your approach to this tool,” says Saynt. “Go light your first time and slowly work your way up to more impactful strikes.”
“After any impact play session, aftercare is a must,” says Saynt.
This should include debriefing what happened, sharing what you each liked, and communicating how you’re feeling now.
It should also include tending to each other’s physical needs. This could mean:
- icing any bruises
- tending wounds
- preparing and eating food
This article is intended to serve as an overview on impact play — not a step by step instructional guide.
For that, Taylor recommends hiring a professional Dom(me), going to a sex party, or going to an impact play workshop at your local sex shop.
There are also the following books that you can purchase online:
- “The Ultimate Guide To Kink: BDSM, Role Play, and The Erotica Edge” by editor Tristan Taormino and contributor Barbara Carrellas
- “The New Topping Book” and “The New Bottoming Book” by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy
- “Vanilla to Kinky: The Beginner’s Guide to BDSM and Kink” by Jonathan Wolf
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.