Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through our Formspring. This week’s question is: How can I safely engage in impact play?
Impact play is the term used to describe a variety of activities that encompass one partner striking, usually repeatedly, another partner for sexual gratification. Impact play falls under the BDSM umbrella, and entails play such as whipping, flogging, spanking, slapping, and even punching. While some prefer to utilize toys and tools such as whips, canes, paddles, and riding crops, others prefer to use their hands. Furthermore, it should be noted that some people’s preferred method of “impact play” is to cause deep tissue bruising, which is more dangerous than other forms of impact play and requires more practice to master.
Regardless of how it’s implemented, however, safety is paramount. In order to safely incorporate impact play into your sexual activities, I first and foremost recommend that you keep in mind the following guidelines, many of which are true for any kinky play:
– Have a safe word (or two.) Safe words are important because they allow room for explicit consent to be given in a type of play that might entail typical indicators of non-consent (such as struggling, the word “no”). In other words, safe words allow people to communicate their discomfort or desire to stop/pause play. They’re also particularly helpful in bondage scenarios, and for instances when vocalization isn’t possible, such as if a player is gagged or mute. In these cases, players can have a safe-signal, such as dropping a handkerchief to stop play. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that both tops and bottoms can use safe words; they are not just the responsibility of the bottom. Common safe words are “green,” “yellow,” and “red”: green indicates “yes,” yellow indicates “pause/slow down,” and red signals “stop.”
– Start slowly. It’s best to have a full understanding of your boundaries and desires exploring serious impact play, and to communicate them with your partner. Starting slow will also allow you to build up to higher sensations and harder impacts. Indeed, you may find that in the height of sexual arousal, you or your partner’s pain threshold is higher than usual– this is natural, and due to the rush of endorphins the body experiences. Also, pain sometimes takes a while to process, so it’s important to allow time between impacts to give the bottom space to understand the pain, feel it, and safeword if necessary.
– Practice, practice, practice! Before engaging in impact play, you should have a good understanding of the tools are being used and how hard a human being can safely be hit. Those who are topping should learn how to wield their striking implement of choice, as well as how hard and where to hit. For example, a top should take care to not strike as to wrap the tail of a whip/flogger around any part of the body. You can practice by hitting pillows and other inanimate objects, while paying particular attention to where your hits are landing– consider it target practice! Kink Academy has a host of great instructional videos, and in some cities, you can find groups that meet for whip practice. Fetlife is a good resource to find information on local BDSM/kink groups and events.
– Certain parts of the body are more suitable than others for impact play. While light impact play is suitable against the face, feet, hands, breasts, lower legs, and genitals, heavy impact play should only be exercised against places with high fat and muscle content– so, the thighs, buttocks, lower shoulders, and at either side of the spine. Keep in mind to not hit at the front of side of the body, where you run the risk of hitting vital organs. You should never engage in heavy impact play against the face, neck, head, fingers, toes, or over skin that is healing. For a great informational image on the body parts safe for impact play, visit page 21 of the New England Leather Alliance’s manual, “Basic Guidelines for Safer Sex and SM Interactions.”
– Make sure your toys are in good shape. Toys that are in disrepair can cause unintended injury. Furthermore, keep in mind that some materials, such as leather, cannot be sterilized before/after play, which can result in the transmission bacteria or even diseases, especially if the impact play draws blood. For this reason, it’s recommended that if you are using their impact play toys on multiple people, you do so above clothing. I also suggest that you own your own toys for personal use, which will allow you to safely play in a public space devoted to BDSM, if that is what you desire.
– If you are engaging in slapping, keep in mind to always use an open hand. You should also be aware of any jewelry, such as rings and bracelets, which can cause unintended injury, or earrings, which can be accidentally torn out. Moreover, the one doing the slapping should take care to have trimmed fingernails, and should aim for the center of the cheek, which is the safest place to slap. Also, while a flat hand will leave a red imprint, a cupped hand can cause deeper bruising. Furthermore, if you are back-handing, be aware of where your knuckles land, as this can cause accidental harm. Finally, you should keep in mind the possibility of whiplash, so it’s important that the top not only know how to hit, but also that the bottom knows how to be hit. Protection against whiplash can involve the top holding the bottom’s face on the opposite side where the slapping will happen, so that the head stays in place when the slap lands.
– Lastly: never hit someone somewhere or in a way they do not want to be hit. People’s boundaries should always be respected, and while someone might enjoy one type of impact play, they may not enjoy others. Similarly, people have different desires regarding where they can and cannot be hit, just as people have varying opinions on leaving marks. Finally, you should keep in mind that there are different “types” of pain– while some hits sting, others provide a heavier blow. People’s preferences vary along this axis as well, and will use different words to describe the impact, such as “thuddy” versus “stingy,” or “superficial” versus “deep.”
If you would like to learn more about impact play, I recommend that you visit Smitten Kitten’s video, Impact Play: Things That Go Thwack. Note: the video and link are not safe for work (NSFW), and the video depicts nudity, sex, and impact play.