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What Is Impact Play? Here’s How to Try It Safely, According to Experts.

HAVE YOU EVER had the strong urge to spank your partner’s naked bottom? Do you secretly yearn to feel the sting of a crop against your thigh? Does the mere sight of a flogger intrigue you? Congratulations—you’re on the brink of entering the wonderful world of impact play.

Impact play is an umbrella term that covers consensual striking (or being struck) with an object or hand for sexual gratification. (The key word here is consensual!) It can certainly be a component of bondage, discipline, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM), but there doesn’t necessarily have to be a power dynamic at play here. Once in a while, you might just enjoy the feeling of flogging your partner’s behind—or feeling a firm hand against yours. Impact play can involve a wide array of props, and can range in intensity quite a bit depending on your and your partner’s preferences.

Rest assured that craving this particular kind of kink is fairly common. But before you eagerly bust out those whips and paddles, know that this practice requires some special considerations and care to ensure both you and your partner(s) feel comfortable and supported. Whether whips and chains excite you, or you’re just a little curious about how impact play could level up your sex life, read on for some expert-approved tips on how to practice impact play safely.

Why does impact play turn people on?

There are lots of reasons why some light (or not so light) hitting might get you all hot and bothered.

“Most people work really hard to have a sense of control in their lives—whether through their diligent morning routines, disciplined exercise regime, or their diets,” says Alessandra Fabris-Tantawi, LCSW, a couples therapist, sex therapist, and BDSM/kink sex educator.

Because of this, Fabris-Tantawi says it’s not all that surprising that it might be a relief to surrender control in the bedroom.

“It’s a container for people to let go—to feel fully trusting and safe with another person,” she says.

Not only that, but there’s a fine line between pain and pleasure on a neurological level. According to Fabris-Tantawi, these experiences originate from neurons in the same parts of the brain, like the amygdala, the pallidum, and the nucleus accumbens.

Board-certified sexologist, educator, and intimacy coach Lilithfoxx notes that the pain experienced during impact play can also trigger the release of endorphins, mood-boosting hormones that give you a natural high.

“And some people are excited by impact play for the sheer reason that it is considered taboo sexual behavior, and engaging in it can provide the thrill of breaking social or cultural norms,” adds Natasha Marie Narkiewicz, a sexual wellness expert at MysteryVibe.

Plus, Narkiewicz says impact play provides a medium to explore power dynamics, and build trust and communication within your relationship—thereby enhancing intimacy and connection.

How to engage in impact play safely:

Carmen Joseph, a sex coach and founder of No Shame With CJ, says the number one rule for impact play beginners is to create a culture of open communication and safety.

First things first: you’ll need to get enthusiastic consent from your partner before having sex. Be specific about what you want to try, and ask how they feel about it without any coercion or persuasion. If—and only if—they’re 100% down, it’s time to set some ground rules and guidelines.

Follow the guidance below to ensure your first bout of impact play is pleasurable for both of you.

Establish boundaries.

According to Lilithfoxx, it’s important to discuss your fantasies and boundaries ahead of time. That way, you’ll be on the same page about what’s OK to try—no need to hit pause during your romp to talk logistics.

Narkiewicz and Leonor de Oliveira, a clinical psychologist and Head of Sexual Science for Quycky, suggest asking your partner the following questions for some clarification:

  • What is your experience with impact play? What did you like or dislike about your previous experiences?
  • What are you hoping to get out of this experience? Are you looking to be dominated, a power play, a sensory experience, etc.?
  • Do you have any injuries or medical conditions that might affect our session?
  • What type of pressure or sensation are you looking for? Are there any you’d like to avoid?
  • What are your limits with impact play? What would you consider to be going “too far”?
  • What specific areas of your body do you want me to focus on?
  • Are there any specific props you prefer or dislike?
  • What kinds of after-care do you need and like?

Set safe words and safe cues.

Experts agree that having a safe word is crucial when experimenting with impact play. This gives both you and your partner a quick signal to use if you’re uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or just need a break.

Joseph recommends using the traffic light system: Red means stop, and yellow can either mean proceed with caution because you’re approaching your limit, or slow down/soften the impact. You don’t necessarily need to use green, but it’s a nice way of letting your partner know that you’re enjoying yourself and they can keep going.

It’s not uncommon to have trouble communicating verbally during a heightened experience like impact play, says Lilithfox. If that’s the case for you or your partner, try a safe cue instead. This is a non-verbal gesture, like clapping your hands, tapping your partner on the shoulder, or shaking your head from side to side (which Lilithfoxx notes is especially useful if your hands are tied or your mouth is gagged).

Go slowly.

In order to maximize the pleasure and minimize discomfort, you’ll want to build up to impact play rather than jumping right in with heavy-handed strikes.

Narkiewicz says a warm-up might entail getting the blood flowing to a particular part of the body before experimenting with any impact. You can start by massaging that area before progressing to lighter forms of impact, like tapping or gentle slapping.

Once your partner is comfortable with this, Joseph says you can talk about upping the intensity or explore the idea of introducing props.

Location is everything.

In order to avoid injury or trauma, you definitely need to be aware of which areas can handle more impact and which ones can’t.

As a general rule, Lililthfoxx recommends aiming for fleshy, muscular areas like the buttocks and thighs, and avoiding the organs, joints, spine, ribs, and other bony areas.

And always stay away from sensitive areas like the head or neck, she says. While face slapping can be exciting for some, you should only try this if your partner explicitly requests it.

“For more in-depth training on proper technique to safely engage in impact play, consider taking a class,” says Courtney R. Padjen, Ph.D., LMFT, a sex therapist and owner/director of The Centre for Sexual Wellness.

Keep checking in.

Ideally, you and your partner should feel like the line of communication remains open throughout your sexual experience. Lilithfoxx recommends checking in with them regularly while engaging in impact play to make sure they’re still comfortable and consenting.

It doesn’t take much. Every few minutes or so, or whenever you switch up the tempo, intensity, or location of the play, try asking: “How is this feeling for you?” or “Do you like that?”

whip in black and white

Spanishalex//Getty Images

Pro tips for impact play:

Now that we’ve gotten all the safety considerations out of the way, it’s time to talk pleasure.

Keep in mind that impact play is not one-size-fits-all, so you may find that some forms send you moaning and quivering while others just don’t do it for you. That’s why experts say it’s a good idea to experiment with different props and sensations.

According to Lilithfoxx and Padjen, canes and whips tend to offer a more skin-level “stingy” sensation, whereas paddles and floggers provide a more “thuddy” sensation deeper in the muscle layers.

“In my experience, the vast majority of people prefer thuddy, or a combination of the two—with stingy sensations happening about the midway point in play, when your sense of pain has subsided somewhat,” Lilithfoxx explains.

To get the most out of some common impact play activities, follow these pro tips below.

Spanking

“Try mixing up which spots you strike and how long you leave your hand on them,” Lilithfoxx says. “I recommend rubbing the areas you just hit to alleviate some discomfort—which also gives you the opportunity to sensually stroke your partner.”

Remember to always avoid striking the tailbone or lower back, which is where the kidneys are located, De Oliveira says.

Also, Narkiewicz advises avoiding hitting the same spot repeatedly as that could cause the area to go numb with enough sensation.

Slapping

Narkiewicz recommends using an open palm or a light object such as a paddle or a crop.

“Begin with light slaps on areas like the buttocks, thighs, or chest,” De Oliveira adds .

If your partner expresses an interest in some face slapping, Narkiewicz says it’s best to aim for the cheeks and avoid the eyes and ears.

“Be mindful of the force used,” Lilithfoxx adds. “If they have their head against something soft, like your arm or a pillow, you can help mitigate some safety risks. Repeated softer slaps from closer to the face are safer and just as enticing.”

Flogging

FYI, not all floggers are created equal. According to Narkiewicz, it’s important to choose one that’s the appropriate length and weight. Extra long and heavy floggers can be too cumbersome for beginners, making it difficult to control the amount of impact. Opt for one that feels relatively lightweight in your hand and is no longer than your arm.

“Start with gentle strokes on areas such as the back or the buttocks and gradually increase the speed and intensity,” says Narkiewicz.

Never flog above the shoulder blades, or the tips could accidentally end up whipping your partner in the eye.

Caning

“Caning is considered a more advanced prop because a little goes a long way,” says Narkiewicz. “Start with light taps on the buttocks or the thighs and gradually increase the force and frequency.”

Caning can easily leave welts and marks, so you should be mindful not only of the intensity but also of how long you’re flogging for. When you’re starting out, play it safe by keeping the session pretty short.

Whipping

“Whips can take some practice, so start on the air or an inanimate object to get a feel for how it moves and aims,” says Narkiewicz.

Lilithfoxx and de Oliveira recommend starting with gentle strokes on the buttocks or backs of the thighs. Avoid striking the face, genitals, or lower back.

The importance of aftercare:

Impact play can bring up all kinds of sensations, thoughts, and emotions. While practicing aftercare is an important final step after any kind of sex, experts agree it’s especially vital after striking or slapping your partner.

Everyone has different needs following an impact play experience, so the best way to get a sense of how to comfort and support your partner is to simply ask.

“It’s possible to experience what’s called a sub or dom ‘drop’ where the crash of the endorphins can lead to feelings of emotional vulnerability and depression,” says Lilithfoxx. “Aftercare helps ease someone out of their elated space so that it’s not such a jarring transition.”

After-care might entail:

  • Verbally reflecting on the experience, sharing your favorite parts and/or acknowledging things you wouldn’t want to try again
  • Bathing together
  • Cuddling in bed while listening to music
  • Serving your partner some water or a snack
  • Checking for any physical harm and following first aid protocol as needed
  • Applying a soothing salve or lotion to any irritated or inflamed skin
  • Giving each other a gentle massage

Headshot of Rebecca Strong

Rebecca Strong

Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer currently writing about Sex & Relationships at Men’s Health. In her free time, she enjoys generous pours of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, true crime podcasts, and writing music (under her stage name, BEX). Rebecca is a graduate of Emerson College (BA) and The Boston Conservatory at Berklee (MFA). She has also covered health and wellness, fitness, travel, and lifestyle for Insider, AskMen, Healthline, Health.com, Clean Plates, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, Best Life, and Bustle.

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