The SandMUtopian Guardian Magazine

Reading Room
   This is one of several articles on Flogging, which appeared in our magazine, The SandMUtopian Guardian, covering all aspects of this popular activity of BDSM pairs (or more). This first installment appears in Issue #30 and is still available as a Back Issue.


by Mitch Kessler aka "Sir Adam"

     According to Webster’s New American Dictionary, the word “flog” comes from the Latin “flagellare” and means, “to beat with a stick, whip, etc,” ... but often dictionary definitions omit important nuances. In actual usage, beating a person with a stick is more appropriately called “drubbing,” and hitting a dog with a stick is usually called, “hitting the dawg with a stick” — and is a thing which “any fool” can do. When modern English was being assembled (largely from parts manufactured abroad) punishing people by hitting them was called “whipping,” especially if an actual horse-encourager was used. Beating or drubbing, not to mention “boxing” and “cudgeling” implied a less formal chastisement and referred to blunt trauma injuries inflicted with fists or pieces of timber.

   “Flogging” was more often applied to various shipboard misfortunes. When a sail, or rope or a spar becomes unfastened in a high wind, it moves from side to side with a violent chaotic motion sailors call flogging. A sail might “flog itself to pieces” in a storm, in which case the sailor who neglected to “lash” it more securely might, himself, be flogged for his inattention to duty. In British sailors' lingo, “catting” does not mean “to hit with a cat,” (or to gad about at night looking for pussy) but to “tie something securely with many turns of rope.” Hence, a man being flogged with a cat was first “catted” to a grating ... but sailors, who seem to enjoy arcane and obscure word usages, would call the tying up “lashing” and the whipping would be called a flogging. Our Modern English and the British Navy got organized in the same century and this punishing nomenclature came ashore for all of us to enjoy and be confused by. The point of all this lexicography is to establish that “to flog” suggests some kind of back-and-forth motion, used with more finesse than when “a fool hits a dawg with a stick.,”... whereas “whipping” (on land) refers to a sharp reversal of motion, as exemplified by the snap of a single-tail whip.

   In olden days flogging was entertainment only for the spectators. The “beadles” who did the whipping got all tired, thirsty and sweaty ... even if they didn’t get scratched, bitten or punched by the victim -- for whom the exercise was not supposed to provide any pleasure at all. Later, when more or less consensual flogging became a Darkside sexual thrill ... there were no witnesses to consider and the “victim” wanted to suffer. The Flog-ers still got tired and sweaty, but enjoyed what they were doing, or were paid enough not to care.

   Today, with our Safe Sane and Sensual flogging style it’s not easy for the same flogging to satisfy everyone concerned. The spectators can be either bored or horrified ... The Dungeon Chaperones may approve or not ... The flog-ee may get too much or too little sensation — and the Floger-er still gets hot and sweaty. Nonetheless, in BDSM’s “good society” the ability to flog acceptably is the rough equivalent of the expectation elsewhere that one dance acceptably. Fortunately, flogging is easier than dancing. The motions are simpler, no one has to walk backwards --and the music can be ignored.

Why Flog?
   Ultimately the purpose of a flogging is to inflict pleasure. This might be the pleasure of having endured a torturous ordeal “with honor,” or the complex pleasure of simultaneously causing, witnessing and vicariously sharing the other person’s struggle with pain. There is a point at which the “agoniste” exceeds that which you’d expect from non-contact athletics. When that level of intensity is reached, attempts at verbal/intellectual understanding become almost counter- productive. If you understand the desire for such intensity, no explanation is necessary. If you do not understand, no explanation will be sufficient. Those who explore these quasi-mystical extremes get there by a route similar to that followed by other athletes. There is an innate talent and desire, molded over time by experiential learning and self-discovery. Following this path guarantees distressingly uncomfortable experiences, and includes the possibility of injury ... although unlike competitive athletics, the chance of suffering a disabling accident is exceedingly remote.

How to Flog and Be Flogged
   For the Bottom, being flogged is simplicity itself. You stand there with a bare back or bare butt, or both, while someone waves a bundle of soft leather ribbons in your general direction. Once you grow accustomed to standing in one place without fainting, you might find you actually like some contact with the implement. In that case, you still just stand there ... but now you add verbal and non-verbal communication skills to your routine -- and will be expected to, “remember your safeword.” Some people enjoy being hit so hard it hurts ... sometimes so it hurts a lot. Sometimes it even makes marks or draws blood ... which some people like a lot as well. Once you realize this, you realize there is yet another demand placed on the Flog-ee ... making sure the Flog-er has a general idea of how hard to hit, before starting to do so. Informing your Top of your limits (in no uncertain terms, if necessary) is called “negotiation.”

   A flogging Top needs leg and foot endurance , but can move around a bit, which relieves strain and fatigue. The active partner also needs a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, aerobic conditioning and upper body stamina. The Flog-er is also usually presumed to be the one responsible for hearing the safeword, a cue to stop hitting, should it be uttered. This includes making sure the ambient noise level does not cover a frenzied cry of “toothpaste” (when a Flog-ee likes to use words like “Mercy” or “nopleasestop” as part of the scene, unmistakable safewords like this sometimes get used.) -- or make provision for someone else to hear and signal a cue -- to-stop.

Flogging Scene Structure
   Every flogging is at least slightly different, even between the same partners using the same equipment and the same scenario. The range of what different people do at different times in different combinations is virtually infinite, and ranges from the merely symbolic to the ... and this is not necessarily a bad thing ... profoundly traumatic.There are as many ways of “doing a flogging” (or S/M) as there are combinations of people doing the doing. There are, however, some common features that exist to a greater or lesser degree in all floggings. Old-Guard ‘70s Sexual Revolutionists will recognize this pattern from Masters and Johnson’s landmark books Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Dysfunction. The analogy is not far-fetched. S/M is sex. It’s just that there are different cultural norms about where and with whom you are allowed to enjoy it.

   First there is a “decision” or “negotiation” phase which may take place days before the actual event. This is where the consent, “bargaining and acceptance” takes place, and limits are set. The process may be as simple as two strangers noting the pocket in which each carries their Black Hankie. The more explicit the negotiation, the fewer chances there are for surprises ... which is not always a good thing. Although it may never be explicitly stated in words, somewhere in this process is the determination of, “what the scene is about” ... the relationship being enacted ... if there is fantasy or role-playing involved ... what is to be done, what is to be imagined, and what the aftermath is hoped or expected to be. Much of the sense of “safety” -- emotional and physical, will be established in this phase. Between new partners, discussion and exploration can occupy a great deal of time, to very good purpose. In well-established couples it may consist of nothing more than saying, “Wanna Play?”

     This is the time to find out about possible health considerations ... a weak back for example, or cardiovascular diseases. By inquiring into these things, a Top shows experience, expertise and caring, which increases his or her perceived dominance. Practically speaking, even young, apparently fit people can suffer from conditions the Top should know about and have a plan for. The two most important are diabetes and asthma. Diabetics may respond to stress by passing out ... which may be a trivial, even common occurrence requiring only a bit of rest — or a sugar imbalance requiring adjustment or even emergency medical care. The person with the problem is the one responsible for knowing what ought to be done about it. Under stress, asthmatics may experience sudden difficulty in breathing. Again, the sufferer should be able to propose a plan for evaluating and responding to the problem should it arise. In most cases, for asthma, this means having their medicated inhaler within easy reach. People with seizure disorders should also reveal the fact, along with instruction on how to respond to an incident.This is not only about the flog-ee. It is also important that if the flog-er has any pre-existing conditions, his/her partner should know ... and should have means to quick-release any restraints and know how to respond. It might be worth mentioning that “more” is not always “better” in discussion and planning. If events do not follow an overly-explicit plan (once called an “agenda”) disappointment follows ; especially if fantasies, hopes and desires become confused with actual abilities and intentions.

   Play can begin long before the first blow. Even the physical process of dressing for the event, selecting the gear to be used, or moving from the “ordinary world” to the space in which the flogging takes place, influences what is to follow and how everyone feels about it during -- and after. Some people will use scenarios with assumed characters, plot points and dialog to get them where they want to go. For others, the simple act of assuming the positions of flogging, the moment of putting on a collar or restraints create the desired mood and level of excitement. It is neither polite, nor even accurate to assume that “scripted” or “theatrical” is the same thing as “artificial” or “insincere,” as anyone who has studied acting can attest to -- nor can quick-starting pairs be assumed to be casual or perfunctory in what they do.

Setting the Stage
   As a flogging begins, purposeful action is the key to “success”— fumbling is the enemy of enjoyment. This is the last point at which to adjust lighting, temperature and sound levels. This is where blindfolds and other “props” go on, where clothes come off, where final adjustments are made. The actual work might, depending on personal factors of all kinds, be done by the Top alone ... by the Bottom alone ... each attending to their own “spheres” — or by a Dungeon Attendant of some kind. These choices will also affect the psychic impact of the experience.

   When the intent is affectionate, sensual ... or at least non punitive -- a flogging should start at a much lower intensity than it will eventually reach. At the very least, this helps the flog-ee adjust to the physical stress gradually, and establishes trust in the flog-er’s ability and intentions. It also affords the flog-er the opportunity to estimate the flog-ee’s resolution and probable endurance. These moves are introductory ... even a bit tentative. Specially selected warm-up floggers might come into play at this point.

   The boundaries between stages are not clear cut. Stimulation “ends” essentially when the Top notices that the Bottom is responding to it. More importantly, this stage is the point ... at last ... at which things are starting to be FUN ... HOT ... SEXY. The flog-ee is beginning to relish the sensations and anticipate more ... the flog-er is beginning to feel the way the scene is going to go. Both will probably be breathing more quickly, and through flared nostrils. This stage might include verbal exchanges such as “threats” promises, or reassurances. It might also include introductory or exploratory touching, such as muscle-kneading, skin stroking, light slaps, pinches or scratches -- anything by which the Top communicates, “I’m here,” and the Bottom responds appropriately.

   This is where the flogging- proper occurs. It progresses from a low end, through a mid-range, to a peak, and back again. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal will be most frequent and intense at this stage. The Top will most likely either be establishing a pattern and rhythm, or will be deliberately randomizing the blows. Most Bottoms will have more pleasure from regular, predictable impacts; more of a sense of punishment from chaotic sensations. Ideally, both parties will be intensely focused on each other. At least, one hopes the Top will be devoting complete attention to the Bottom’s reactions and what is causing them. Some Tops will want to devise strategies to remind them to check their Bottom’s condition from time to time without breaking either partner’s mood.

   Just as with “vanilla” sex, partners may want to prolong the experience ... or even take a break without actually losing contact. This might be because of the Bottom wanting more, but being, for the moment, unable to continue. “Intermediate Safewords” are useful for this situation. Some Tops develop an uncanny ability to not throw the blow that would have caused the Bottom to use the safeword. Part of the trick for doing this is to watch for a deep intake of breath (which is not a gasp) immediately following a stroke. The ribcage expands, the Top sees it, and does not land the next stroke. The Bottom is amazed, and often impressed! In a few moments the scene continues. Another cause for a pause might be a non-catastrophic physical problem that should be corrected before continuing -- for example, a foot-cramp or a too-tight wrist cuff. (Which could occur in vanilla sex, too ... come to think of it).

     Prolonged “hands over head” posture, especially when combined with tight wrist cuffs, can leave the fingers deprived of blood. For people not suffering from a circulatory disorder, up to twenty minutes of reduced circulation is essentially meaningless -- so long as there is a perceptible pulse, no swelling and no discoloration of the fingers. Still, after 15 or 20 minutes it becomes advisable, and reassuring, if the Top grasps the fingers of the Bottom, feeling for unusual coolness with the palm of the hand. Another quick check is done by pressing any unpainted fingernail until it turns white, then releasing. The pink color should return within a second or two. Otherwise it may be time to change position and adjust the cuffs.

   From time to time the Top may want to assess the amount of skin and muscle trauma by feeling the heat of the skin. With experience, this can be done without making contact by slowly bringing the underside of a wrist or forearm close to the back. If it feels as if there is a dry heat rising from the skin it means the flog-ee has been well and truly stimulated. It could be time to look forward to ending the scene, or backing down and building up again. An intense fiery heat could be the first sign of bruising. Inexperienced Tops can get a sense of this, without over-flogging, by trying the technique on fresh, fiery-red sunburns. A good painful first-degree burn, (such as a lobster-red shoulder sunburn) will put out about the same heat as the beginning of blue bruise concerns.

   Some people actually reach orgasm as a result of being flogged. This gratifying reaction is more common in women and more visible in men. But actually this is a fairly rare treat. More often, the peak of a flogging scene is the point just over the absolute limit of the flog-ee’s tolerance. It is usually the point at which the Flog-ee will use the safeword, even if the consequence is the irrevocable stopping of the scene, or the imposition of some pre-agreed penalty or default. Not every flogging can, or should, reach this point. Some flog-ers will consciously strive to stop the flogging exactly one stroke before the flog-ee “safewords.” The sudden remission of pain in this way can actually have more impact on the flog-ee than escalation.

  Ideally, a flogging ends with both sides feeling really good. Good, however, is experienced and expressed in different ways for different people. Either party might feel spent, exhausted and languorous, or energized and alert. For most people, sexual arousal is more probable after a less-than-to-the-limit flogging than to one that “tested out” the parties.

Refractory Period
   Enough is enough! ‘Nough said? In addition to completing the Masters and Johnson analogy, there is an “afterwards” period ... at least for intense flogging -- that approximates the post-orgasmic changes (most noticeable in men) after genital sex. Emotionally, the flog-ee will need either 1) to receive after care: be comforted, reassured, cuddled, or 2) to be “abandoned,” ie: left alone to enjoy “inner space” or just to become composed. Some people’s whole objective in being flogged is to trigger an endorphin release -- which they would like the leisure to enjoy. (Yes, this is very similar to “rolling over and going to sleep” ... but what can you do? It’s one of those things you just have to work out or get over. ) But physically, ... a well-flogged person is stressed, fatigued, probably dehydrated, possibly disoriented. They may have broken skin (and therefore subject to infection). They are very susceptible to chill. It’s generally considered the flog-er’s responsibility to meet those physical needs without subverting the overall experience -- even if the flog-ee’s emotional need is for “abandonment.” In that case, a typical “Top Ploy” is to throw some kind of cover over the flog-ee, and leave something to drink within easy reach, after making with some scene -appropriate pseudo-harsh remark. Improvisational Theatre can be “contrived” without being insincere.

   My own feeling is that abandonment should be simulated and not real. Playing in public, the flog-ee (unless there is specific agreement to the contrary) should not be left alone. Even in private, the flog-er should keep the flog-ee under observation, even if hiding to do it.

   Flog-ers need their own brand of aftercare sometimes. These are mostly emotional needs for (not necessarily in this order) 1) admiration, 2) declarations of submission and/or satisfaction, 3) reassurance of forgiveness for excesses, real or imagined. Flog-ers’ physical needs ... muscle massage, something to drink ... a shower -- usually can wait.

   One of the benefits of Public Play (at clubs or parties) is that it is possible for others to tend to both parties’ after-care needs.

Adam and Gillian's features a wide variety of floggers in many textures, colors and prices.
Adam and Gillian's Sensual Whips and Toys    40 Grant Avenue Copiague NY 11726
Publishers of the SandMUtopian Guardian Magazine from 1995 - 2000
(631) 842-1711