Whipping, also known as flagellation, is one of the most common forms of impact play, along with spanking, flogging and beating. It describes the activity of being hit, either by oneself or another, with a whip or similar item (items) such as a crop, strap, rope or birch.
This activity is a form of sado-masochism, where pleasure is derived from inflicting or receiving pain.
With whipping an element of D/s may also be involved (though it does not have to be), where one person asserts their dominance over the other. Inflicting pain can be used as a form of punishment or as a display of superiority. However it may also or instead be a form of sensation play, where the person being whipped learns to associate such experiences with pleasure. To some extent the body processes pleasure and pain in a similar way so the brain can be ‘tricked’ into confusing the two, in much the same way as it can be with extremes of temperature, so they begin to be unable to tell which is which. At some point, the body begins to produce endorphins that give a sense of euphoria (comparable to the ‘high’ experienced by distance runners).
Whips have a very long history. An instinctive weapon, they have been used from the earliest of times, for example to tame or control wild animals. In ancient Egypt they were seen as a status symbol, and many carvings of Pharaohs depict them holding a flail in one hand and a crook in the other. There are many associations between whips and slavery, so along with their physical capabilities they have also become fetishised as potent symbols of control.
When most people think of whips they are thinking of various forms and length of single tail, or a cat o’ nines, though bdsm enthusiasts will often include floggers, crops and canes, for example, in this definition.
When used for striking flesh they can cause considerable damage in careless hands. Expert practitioners pride themselves on what can be a highly skilled operation – striking with extreme accuracy and to considerable effect. Whipping may be intended to inflict anything from the lightest, most featherlike contact, to breaking the skin on first contact. It’s important that whippings focus only on muscular or fleshy areas such as the middle of the back or buttocks, otherwise serious physical injury can be caused. The neck area should always be avoided, for example, as should that below the rib cage which can result in irreparable damage to the kidneys.
Flicking a long whip can cause the end to move at such speed that it actually goes faster than the speed of sound, creating a sharp, cracking noise – in the same way a supersonic aircraft does.