One way of thinking about whipping is as another way of touching someone. People who are just getting into SM frequently play with spanking; it’s fun to be spanked! It’s a punishment, it’s a strong stimulus, it hurts very pleasurably. But if you’ve ever spanked anyone for a long time you know that your spanking hand wears out quickly!
Well, that’s what whips are for–to allow you to hit someone for a longer time, without tiring out. There are many varieties of whips (cat-o-nine tails, heavy floggers, canes, light braided switches, suede pussy whips, and on and on), all of which feel very different and which have their own individual effect. A whip-loving top will often carry a veritable arsenal of different floggers, but they are all extensions of the top’s touch. Indeed, when I whip or cane someone, I feel as though I _am_ touching them–as though the instrument is an extension of my arm and my desire.
There are deeper reasons why the variety is so diverse. A whipping scene will often start off very lightly, with the top using a small whip to sensitize the bottom and get them into the rhythm of the scene, switching to heavier and heavier whips as the bottom gets deeper and deeper, more and more receptive to additional sensation. Of course, the top may choose to lead the bottom on any kind of tactile journey the top desires–switching from stinging light switches to biting canes to soft fleeces. (Yes, it can feel GREAT when your top stops hitting you and suddenly brushes a velvet cloth against your back! Or maybe an ice cube….) It’s all about physical sensation.
Quite often people in the scene describe whips as being “thuddy” or “stingy”. Thuddy whips land with a solid impact; they shove you, they feel like a cross between a hug and a punch. Stingy whips land with a bite; they feel like a cross between a scratch and a slap. Both kinds of sensation are enjoyable in different ways, and a skilled top can alternate thud and sting (and then some!) to create waves of sensation that wash their bottom into ecstasy.
Most people enjoy a slow buildup when being whipped. This can culminate in an explosive climax of impacts, leaving both top and bottom drained and delighted. Or it can wind down gently, ending casually. Or it can stop feeling good suddenly, resulting in a safweord. Or it can turn into a galloping intense sex scene! But the general “start slow, build up, end intensely” tempo is common to many SM scenes: from gentle to stronger to WOW and then back to gentle, then a little stronger, then WOW!!… and gentle again. It’s the motion of the ocean, as they say. It takes practice to know how to use this to blow your bottom’s mind, but the more you learn, the more skilled you will be, and believe me, these skills– teasing your partner and making them feel better and better and BETTER –are very useful in non-SM contexts as well!
Whips aren’t the end of the story. Some people use paddles–of leather or wood, sometimes with holes cut in them to decrease air resistance and make for a harder impact. Paddles produce a solid “smack!” which can feel like a super-powerful spanking. Some players like canes, which can be thick or thin, stiff or relatively flexible. Canes can produce some of the strongest impacts of all–the “whick!” of a quick-moving cane is distinctive. Not everyone can handle the intensely focused pain canes can produce, but those who can tend to greatly enjoy it. Wooden spoons and kitchen spatulas have been pressed into service as instruments of flagellation. For a while, Nerf bats were very popular in some San Francisco parties I went to. (Bonk!) If none of this makes any sense to you, well, if you have to ask, you might not understand.
Whipping or spanking is sometimes used as part of a “punishment” scene, in which the pretext for the scene is that the bottom has been disobedient or naughty in some way which requires chastisement. This can be fun to do as role-playing, but it may not work in a more long-term D&S dynamic. Bottoms often find it erotic to receive non-damaging sensation from their top–and of course any scene causing permanent damage is not safe nor sane. If your bottom learns that the best way to get enjoyably beaten is to misbehave, you will have a very bad bottom on your hands. It is often then best to separate “play” punishments–which are intended to be fun– from “real” punishments involving seriously broken agreements. Here is where reality and fantasy need to be delicately separated, and here is where the real world differs from S&M fiction.
When whipping someone, be careful. Heavy whipping is usually done on the back or ass, simply because those are the parts of the body which can take it most readily. Be careful of hitting the spine, which can break the skin where the vertebrae come close to the surface. Stay away from the kidneys, as kidney damage can occur if you hit them too hard. Stay away from the neck, for the same reasons you avoided the spine.
Be aware that if you hit someone hard enough (which may be lighter than you’d think) you will bruise them, and if you keep going you can break the skin, which is decidedly unsafe sex; and leather or string whips are tough to clean. For this reason, some dedicated masochists have their own toys which have come in contact with their blood, and henceforth can be used only on them. Whippings like this are very strenuous, but as with all SM, you can start out light and get only as heavy as you want! Bruises will heal (even large ones), as will light cuts or abrasions, but you should know how to avoid unintended damage that won’t be so accommodating.
One thing to watch for (a distant risk, but worth knowing): melanoma, a form of skin cancer, can be worsened by skin trauma. If you see a mole on your bottom’s back that looks uneven, discolored, or different than it used to, avoid that area, and have them see a dermatologist.
There have been posts on s.s.b-b that go into MUCH more detail about the hows and whys of flogging. If you want to know more, post to s.s.b-b and ask, or check out the resources. (This FAQ is not intended to be comprehensive in every area… though it would be nice….)