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The F lagellation Fact Sheet: Reference

compiled by Dirk, with Slakker and David Stein

Table of Contents




Preface: Tongue-Lashings

Don't let the title instantly put you off -- this fact sheet deals with a wider variety of sins than you might imagine. Here we discuss ANY SM activity that involves striking the body with a light flexible or semi-flexible implement to produce sensations on skin contact. This includes the sorts of games people call beating, belting, birching, caning, corporal punishment (CP), flogging, lashing, paddling, scourging, strapping and whipping as well as flagellation. All of these have important aspects in common and it makes sense to discuss them together.

Not covered here are games where the implement involved is a part of the body -- striking with the hands themselves is covered under spanking and punching, with the feet under kicking -- or a heavy weapon capable of deep bruising and fractures, such as truncheons, day sticks, clubs and so on. These latter will be dealt with separately at a later stage.

Why use the term 'flagellation', which for many people has overtones either of religion or the 'kinky' 1960s with its 'fladge'? As it turns out, no one term is entirely satisfactory. Some of the terms above, though they are sometimes used more generally, are derived from the names of particular implements, and although for some people 'whipping' or 'flogging' don't have to be done with whips or floggers, for others they are restrictive and confusing. And new coinages like 'percussion play' (as used, for example, in Jacques 1993), are too general and not yet in wide enough use. 'Flagellation', although it derives from a word meaning 'whip', now has a much wider application. Its associations with religious self-mortification are more appropriate than they might seem: religious flagellation, like the SM variety, was (in theory) consensual and not for the purposes of punishment. Both SMers and psychologists have in the past used the term in its broad sense and some continue to do so (a recent example is Bannon 1992).

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Here is an overview of the various terms for activities covered in The Flagellation Factsheet. Where the word is a verb derived from the name of the implement used, you will find the implement discussed under What to Use below.

  • Bastinado - Traditional form of punishment or torture involving beating the feet. The soles of the feat are very tender and anyone seeking to replicate this in an SM context is best advised to be very gentle and to use a soft whip or other light implement. See Safety: Where and where not to hit.
  • Beating - Striking typically administered as punishment, particularly in connection with childhood punishments such as spanking, caning or belting but also used (perhaps more so in England, where some schools referred to corporal punishment with the cane as 'beating') of more 'adult' scenes like whipping. Can mean more 'violent', bruising striking such as punching, as in the expression 'beating up'.
  • Belting - Striking with a belt. In everyday language, sometimes used more generally: "belting someone in the mouth" is more likely to involve the backs of the hands than a belt.
  • Birching - Striking with a light wooden rod or bundle of twigs, traditionally from the birch tree.
  • Caning - Striking with a cane, as in the traditional school punishment, normally across the buttocks. Some notes on caning technique are under Running the Scene: Caning.
  • Corporal Punishment (CP) - Originally, retributive punishment involving the infliction of pain, often though not exclusively through blows administered with some form of flexible object like a whip or cane, as practised in some legal systems and military and educational contexts and within some families, and now wholly or partially outlawed in many countries. The term can also include striking with the hands, an activity covered elsewhere under Spanking.

    In an SM context, usually refers to caning or whipping of some sort, and often implies an element of role-playing derived from instances of 'real-life' CP in which the bottom is 'punished' for some real or imagined infraction, mimicking, say, (British) public school canings, naval floggings, parental 'woodshed discipline' or even a punitive fantasy entirely of the participants' own invention . In North America, the term is normally used in the narrower sense; in Britain it is sometimes used simply to describe the physical activities of caning and whipping without necessarily implying roleplaying or a 'punishment' element.

  • Flagellation (Flag, Fladge) - Latin flagellare, to whip, is from flagellum, the diminuitive of flagrum, a scourge or whip, particularly one used in punishing slaves, and presumably with a stinging effect since it was used metaphorically to mean the sting of conscience. First used in English for the self-whipping of mediaeval religious flagellant cults, and later for other non-punitive beatings such as the 18th-century whippings of the mentally ill carried out as supposed medical treatments or the 'health-giving' birchings traditional in saunas. In the modern era used by psychologists and sometimes among practitioners to describe SM-related whipping etc. for erotic stimulation. Though currently out of fashion on the SM scene (the shortened forms sound very dated), and burdened with religious overtones, the term can still be used in its general sense.
  • Flogging - A term that can be used for striking with a variety of different flexible implements, sometimes used as a general term for these sorts of activities. In British naval usage, a 'flogging' involved the use of a cat, in public schools it is most likely to require a cane, and it has also been used of riding whips, as the expression 'flogging a dead horse' attests. Today some SMers restrict the term to the use of the implement known as a flogger. Ideas on flogging scenes can be found in Running the Scene: Flogging.
  • Lashing - Striking with a stinging long-tressed implement or lash. 'Lash' is also used of each stroke with such an implement, as when in 'real-life' corporal punishment an offender is sentenced to a certain number of lashes.
  • Paddling - Striking with a paddle.
  • Percussion Play - Recently-introduced term used by some SMers to group together all activities involving striking the body surface, not yet widely accepted and perhaps too general to be useful, including slapping, punching and pummelling beside activities like whipping and caning. Nothing to do with torturing someone by subjecting them to lengthy bongo solos.
  • Scourging - Striking with a scourge, as once practised by religious flagellants (see above). Loosely used, the term suggests whipping severely enough to draw blood, and has religious overtones.
  • Strapping - Striking with a strap, typically of leather.
  • Whipping - Striking with a whip, or any object that can be used as a whip. Because of the wide variety of implements covered by the term 'whip' the expression can be used very generally; although it's not likely to include the use of less flexible implements like canes and paddles, there are extensions of meaning, as in the expression 'pistol-whipping'.

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What to Use

There are a wide variety of flagellation toys, and each type behaves differently with respect to the physical factors described below, consequently requiring its own particular set of techniques. Some are made to traditional designs, originally intended for non-consensual use on humans, such as the 'cat o'nine tails' and schoolmaster's cane, or on animals, such as riding crops and bullwhips. Others are adaptations or original designs made with SMers in mind, and still others are improvised 'pervertibles' like slippers and wooden spoons.

All these implements have two basic components: a handle (which in some improvised implements like rulers can be simply the end you choose to hold) and a striking surface. This striking surface is usually what's used to classify the implements. Its flexibility can vary from the relatively rigid wooden paddle through canes to the rubber of a purpose-made flogger. It can be flat and broad, as with paddles and slippers, or thin and long, in which case it is usually called a tress. Implements with tresses can have a single one, as with classic whips, or multiple tresses, as with cats and floggers. It can also combine two or more effects. Some tresses, for example, have cutting tips. And while only the loop at the end of a riding crop is intended as the contact point on a horse, some tops have developed techniques that utilise both the loop and the more rigid shaft.

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Flagellation Physics

Physically, what is happening during a beating is that energy is being transmitted from the top to the bottom's body surface. The cells are compressed, causing nerve cells sensitive to pressure to respond, and in most cases at least some of the cells are unable to absorb the energy and are damaged or destroyed, provoking a pain response too. Even fairly light beatings cause some tissue damage, though fortunately you can go a long way before damage to the surface becomes life-threatening: a greater danger is in damaging vital organs near the surface, which is why certain areas of the body should be avoided as explained in the notes on Safety.

The impact depends to a large extent on the amount of energy being transmitted, which in turn depends on factors like the force of the blow, the distance the implement travels and its velocity when it hits. The other important factor is the manner in which the energy is transmitted, which will vary according to the implement and the technique used. Some materials and designs are more efficient at this than others and will consequently require less effort for the same effect. A flexible implement will bounce, with a certain amount of energy reflected back, whereas a heavier, more rigid implement will not, and may cause deep bruising. However, a more flexible instrument will also be easier to accelerate: some of the most dangerous flagellation toys are whips, because the tip can move so fast. Something with a large contact area, like a paddle, will spread the energy, giving a more superficial effect across a wider area; something with a smaller contact area, like the tress of a flogger, will be more localised but more destructive, and particularly if it has sharp edges, is more likely to cut into the skin.

Tony de Blase (cited in Jacques 1993:229-230 and paraphrased slightly here) has summarised the physical factors involved in the effects of different toys as follows:

  • Flexibility, from inflexible clubs and paddles to somewhat flexible rubber hoses, riding crops etc. to very flexible cats and bullwhips.
  • Weight: consider a baseball bat versus a chopstick, a fly-swatter versus a paddle, a shot-loaded bullwhip versus a cheap paper-filled Mexican bullwhip and a deerskin cat versus a latigo leather cat.
  • Contact surface: generally, for equal force, the thinner the implement, the more damage done. Surface characteristics -- a studded versus smooth paddle, flat versus rounded whip tails, knotted versus unknotted whip tails, smooth deerskin versus rough hemp rope etc. -- will also change the feel and force of the toy.
  • The 'stroke' of the implement with its two distinct aspects, the sting and the thud. A light cat will give lots of sting but little thud, whereas a heavy rubber hose will give little sting and lots of thud. This can also vary with manner of use: a heavy whip laid across the back will give some sting and lots of thud, but, worked so only the cracker at its tip will hit the same back, will give virtually no thud but will cut the skin bloody.

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Flagellation Implements


Wooden rods or bundles of twigs taken from a tree, normally the birch, and used traditionally either in corporal punishment (on young offenders in the Isle of Man until very recently) or, as bunches, for arousing the skin in a sauna. These dried-out rods and twigs are stimulating but do relatively little damage, and can be used safely in areas of the body where other implements cannot. Trimming the thin tips helps reduce whipround and, since the twigs are prone to breaking during use, the bottom (and perhaps the top if the action is very energetic) should have some form of eye protection.


Thin, semi-flexible rods that have a long history as an implement of corporal punishment. They are made from a variety of materials and in range of sizes, each one of which has its own particular qualities. Softer materials, like hazel, are often very flexible and resilient. They will strike with more speed and more "cutting" capability, but because of their compressibility they strike with less overall force than a more dense material such as rattan. Some modern materials, such as fibreglass, combine flexibility with high density to produce sensations not possible with natural materials. However, most caners prefer the psychological effect of natural bamboo and rattan canes.

Longer canes strike with more power and therefore require more skill and greater caution; larger diameter canes cause more of a "thud" when they strike, while thinner canes produce a sharper stinging. Larger canes are also far less likely to break the skin and cause bleeding, although they do bruise beautifully. Smaller canes won't traumatize as large of an area, but they are apt to slice the skin. For details on using a cane, see Running the Scene: Caning .

  • The Domestic Cane is straight, usually of bamboo, with a grip at one end made of a material like wound string.
  • The Malacca Cane is relatively thick, and has a knob at one end for gripping.
  • The Schoolmaster's Cane is also of bamboo or rattan and is traditionally steamed or soaked, then bent at one end and allowed to dry, to create the characteristic curved handle. This can be replicated at home on a cheap straight bamboo cane from a gardening supplier.
  • The Switch is a cane that has been split at the striking end, producing two tongues.

A good cane should be flexible, allowing it to bend with each stroke. If made from a natural, porous material, it should be covered with several good coats of varnish to enable effective disinfection. Length is typically between 60cm (2') and 1m (3') -- 80-90cm is most common. Longer canes (up to 115cm/42") are acceptable for experienced caners only because their use requires greater skill. A diameter of 7mm (0.25") is good for general purposes -- slightly thinner for a real sting and larger (up to 20mm/0.75") for a thud.

Cane Care: Store in a dry, cool place, away from sun, heat and moisture, hung vertically to keep it from developing curves and bends. Every year or so, sand the varnish from the tip of the cane, so the naked wood is exposed. Stand cane, exposed end down, in a flower vase or other water-filled container overnight, to allow the wood to absorb the water. Then varnish the tip to keep the moisture within the cane. This will make the cane last much, much longer, and will maintain its flexibility.


Similar to floggers (see below), except that each tress is terminated in a knot or a metal weight, which may or may not have a cutting edge. These can easily cause harm and are not recommended for novices.

  • The Cat o' Nine-Tails is the most infamous cat, traditionally made of three lengths of 'sheet' (rope) cut into three with each tail knotted at the end. It was a traditional naval punishment, and could reputedly be laid on so heavily as to flay flesh to the bone -- though bearing in mind that offenders were expected to be back at work the next day, it's likely that some of the more lurid contemporary accounts are less than reliable.
  • Scourges - The mediaeval scourge as used by the Flagellants was of a cat type, made of leather thongs with knotted ends. Other implements in this period were made of whipcord (hemp): an example in the museum in Salzburg castle has tiny sharpened shards of metal threaded into the end of each tress.
  • Improvised Cats - A cheap but effective version can be made of leather bootlaces, as suggested under Floggers below, but with a simple reef knot in the end of each tress.


Implements with a number of flexible tresses. The business end is often made up of leather straps, but it can be made of many other materials as well, including rope (whipcord), horsehair, rubber, silk, rawhide and even IV tubing. Generally speaking, the thinner the material is, the more it will sting. Thicker, wider, and/or heavier materials produce less sting, but the loss in sting is offset by a greater propensity to bruise. The slapping thud of a heavy flogger is usually easier to cope with than the stinging sensation of the lighter ones. For details on using a flogger see Running the Scene: Flogging .

  • The Standard Flogger is a many-tailed whip with a solid handle. The tail is made from leather straps of medium weight. A basic leather flogger is a good device for novices because it is relatively safe, and fairly easy to use.
  • Martinets are small floggers of French design, usually having six leather tresses of the same length as the handle and originally intended for the punishment of juveniles.
  • The Horsehair Flogger is made from hundreds (or even thousands) of strands of long hair taken from the horse's tail. At first glance, it doesn't look like much of a weapon, but each strand of hair whips into the skin, and the sensation is a stinging you won't soon forget.
  • Improvised Floggers - You can easily improvise your own flogger by obtaining strips of the correct material such as leather (perhaps about 1cm (0.5") wide) and plaitting one end together. This will give you a fairly basic but nonetheless usable handle. Leather bootlaces are also a suitable and easily obtainable material, provided you can find them in lengths of 1m (3') or more.


These are characterised by a broad, flat striking surface attached to a short handle and are designed to be used at short range on the buttocks. They are normally made of leather or wood, sometimes of rubber, in a variety of shapes and sizes; their origin is as a more comfortable alternative (for the top) to the palm of the hand and indeed some are even made in the shape of a hand, alongside popular shapes like rectangles and 'ping-pong bat'-style ovals.

Since the force of the blow is distributed across a wide area, it is very difficult to cut with paddles and the sensation is more diffused, though stinging can be achieved by directing the force laterally across the curve of the buttocks. Some leather or rubber paddles are reinforced inside with a rigid rod of wood or plastic that makes them more likely to bruise. The affinity of paddling with spanking sometimes leads them to be classed together, though obviously it is possible to be much more severe with an insensate implement than you could hope to be with the bare hand.

  • The Spencer Paddle is an oblong paddle about 45 x 10cm (17" x 4") and made of thin (8mm/0.25") plywood with holes drilled through its surface.

    Inventor Harold Spencer, a schoolteacher in the Eastern U.S in the 1930s, reasoned that a solid paddle created an air cushion that softened the blow, and that holes would allow the air to escape, giving a firmer connection.

  • Slappers are made by hinging another flap of leather over the upper side of the striking surface. The result is to create a very loud and distinctive slapping noise, and to lend a little extra weight and a secondary impact.
  • Wooden Spoons and Spatulas are everyday kitchen 'pervertibles' that can be used as mini-paddles: choose the lighter, smaller kind with the broadest business end and make sure the surface is smooth and splinter-free (sand down if necessary). Spoons feel more intense, spatulas have more a slap. Can be used lightly and subtly, including on areas other than buttocks: try light, repeated strokes on thighs. Short, light wooden or plastic rulers (30cm/1') can be used in a similar way; longer metre (3') rules or yardsticks are more unwieldy but very dramatic. Be aware that some of them have metal ferrules protecting the ends.
  • Other Improvised paddles - Before the purpose-built paddle, other objects were resorted to by the sore-palmed corporal punisher; as the name suggests, boat paddles may have been the inspiration, though they could be rather heavy and unwieldy. The slipper was a monotonously regular form of retribution exerted on the British comic book character Dennis the Menace: proper leather slippers with a reasonably stiff sole are required, and the rubber soles of traditional gym shoes or 'plimsolls' were once put to this use in some schools. Plastic and wooden beach spades have their uses, and anyone with minimal DIY skills will be able to produce their own paddles from plywood or chipboard sheets sawed into the correct shape.

Riding Whips

These usually consist of a long rod of cane or fibreglass covered in leather or fabric, thickening at one end for a handle (perhaps with a loop of leather to help secure the grip) and terminating in a thin, flexible tress such as wound cord or a leather tongue. Only the thin end is intended to contact with the horse; the length is to allow enough leverage for it to be accelerated rapidly with a controlled flick of the wrist without causing the rider balancing problems. With consensual games on humans, however, these whips can be used in all kinds of different ways, and once mastered they are probably the most adaptable contact toys of all. The end can be used for cutting and stinging, and wielded with much more power than would be advisable on horseback; the solid length can also be used in a similar way to a cane. Best of all, they are widely and cheaply available from sports and tack suppliers, so there's no need to pay a perve shop premium. Try a few to find one with good balance.

  • The Riding Crop is a basic toy that is an essential for beginners, usually around 60cm (2') long and terminated in a loop of leather. Broader leather loops have an additional use: they are ideal for careful ball beating. Some crops have two tongues like a miniature slapper (see Paddles above).
  • The Lunge Whip or Quirt is designed for use with carts and coaches, providing extra length so that the driver can reach the horses - 90-120cm (3'-4') - and terminated in a wound cord tress. They look very dramatic and although they are not as adaptable as crops, they can cause intense stinging in skilled hands. They are, however, prone to breakages and the tresses can easily become unwound.

Riding Crop

Straps and Belts

Belts, doubled over and gripped at the buckle end, are a traditional weapon of parental discipline. Lighter, softer leather about 25cm (1") thick is most effective, and obviously studded belts should be avoided. A number of other purpose-made articles have been adapted from the belt.

  • The Strap, sometimes used in education, is a simple strip of leather. A shorter strip (30cm/1') is more controllable.
  • The Tawse has elements of both straps and paddles: it is leather with a handle and a striking surface cut into fingers. The traditional instrument used for punishing Scottish schoolchildren and young offenders had two fingers, each about 5cm (2"); other models have more.


Single-tressed (single-tailed) implements usually made of whipcord or leather. Despite their popular associations with SM, real whips are rare in scenes because they are very difficult to use and can be very dangerous. The characteristic 'crack' of a whip is produced when the tip breaks the sound barrier and even a light object moving at such a velocity has the power to slice flesh to the bone. Being able to use one responsibly means a good deal of practise and in most cases they are best left as decorations on the dungeon wall.

  • Bullwhips, familiar from their circus use, are the longest and most lethal whips, made of plaited leather and 2m (6') or more in length. Swinging such a whip safely requires a large amount of space and they are completely useless in the average playroom. Those interested in bullwhip skills can check out the Bullwhip FAQ.
  • Signal whips are similar to bullwhips but much shorter -- less than 1m (3') -- and therefore slightly safer and more suited to the playroom, though they still require a good degree of skill to control. They were originally designed to control dog teams.
  • Lashes are usually single-tressed whips, or a general term for whips. See 'Lashing' in the definitions above.

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Links and Resources

Flagellation Links

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Some of the descriptions of implements are taken from Slakker's original ABC of BDSM. Thanks to Ted for the information on the Spencer Paddle, and to Rodney for suggestions.