Let’s begin with A Gun for Honey (1958), a hard-boiled detective novel with the twist that the detective is a sexy young woman, Honey West (who later had her own TV series starring Anne Francis).
Early in the story, the naked, dead body of Helena Collier is found. There is one odd thing about it: she has a red bottom, ‘as if she had been spanked’. There’s a good and obvious reason for that: as one of the suspects later admits,
‘Helena was a spoiled, ruthless little brat, so I turned her over my knee and spanked her bare bottom until it was raw.’
I’m not altogether sure about the pathological authenticity of that, post mortem, but one thing that’s certainly true, and generally acknowledged, is that spanking has a distinct effect on the color of bottoms. They may sometimes only turn a healthy pink, a different way of putting color in her cheeks,
but it’s also the etymological basis of the verb tan as a synonym for spank:
she’ll get such a hiding that her bottom changes color!
We know this. But do we need to see it?
Some creators of spanking imagery, such as the artist J. K. Perez, evidently believe that we do, hence some of the spot color in this otherwise rather likeable toon:
I’ve just implicitly given away how I feel about that. An awful lot of modern spanking pictures, especially but not exclusively porn, seem to assume it’s essential to show a bright red bottom; some people even go to the trouble of adapting existing imagery, including even callipygean non-spanking pictures, to fulfill that supposedly fundamental element of the genre. And I really hate it.
At this point, it’s worth applying the usual rule I have for thinking about porn and many other disagreeable things in life: I may dislike this, but if it gives pleasure to others, is not unlawful and causes no demonstrable harm, just let it alone. It’s not for me, but why should my tastes dictate what’s available to anyone else?
The trouble with the ‘does no harm’ criterion as applied to spanking is that, demonstrably, it does do some harm, however minor and temporary, which is there for all to see in those seemingly inescapable red bottoms.
There are two broad lines of argument asserting the harmfulness of porn. And I’m sorry if I make anyone feel uncomfortable by going into them, but it’s necessary in order to develop the case I’m making.
It is a core, undeniable ethical principle concerning child pornography that if there is a photograph showing abuse, then abuse has taken place, and anyone who chooses to look at that photograph for sexual gratification is complicit in that abuse. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to other forms of porn, including spanking porn where, hopefully, the models with reddened rears are of legal age, chose to do the work and were properly paid for it (or else are exhibitionistic masochists giving their services for free).
I am even less persuaded by the other argument, which applies more broadly not only to photographs but also imaginary material like drawings and stories that have no prior original outside the creative human mind. The claim is that people who look at abusive or violent porn end up reenacting it, so that porn creates and sustains in life the things it represents in fantasy. I have no doubt that a tiny minority of porn users are indeed abusers and rapists; they are contemptible, and should be locked up. But when the porn constituency also includes a large majority of reasonably well-adjusted individuals with no criminal or sociopathic tendencies, the case for a simple causal connection has got to be wildly overstated, or mistaken: porn may be used by rapists, but they are not rapists because they use porn. And I say that, remember, as someone who actively dislikes porn.
But there is a third kind of harm that is less often recognized because the people it most affects are easy to marginalize. I’m talking about us. Material that is created purely to service our kink implies a statement about exactly what that kink is: if you’re into spanking, this must be the sort of thing you like. Well, that’s fine if it is; but what if it isn’t?
To illustrate what I’m getting at, take a look at this nice picture of Kylie Minogue onstage in 2002:
There are people online with the technical skills to doctor the photo by adding the color red to a certain area of Kylie, which would supposedly make it into a ‘spanking picture’. It’s a hypothetical example, but there are plenty of unlovely real equivalents out there. So the assumption is that what spanking enthusiasts most enjoy is not the spectacle of spanking but its physical effects, realistically rendered or, in the case of red-bottom porn photos, authentically produced. It sends out the message, received well beyond the narrow ranks of spanking porn users, that spankos are sadists.
Some are, and it is not my purpose to criticize or rebuke them for their tastes: enjoy what you like, so long as the other person involved does too. But include me out: my enjoyment of spanking scenes has little to do with the infliction of real pain, and the ubiquitous literalist red bottom imagery makes me wince. What’s more important is that it unavoidably has the same effect on ‘normies’ who don’t share or instinctively understand our proclivities, and are unlikely to accept them as an ordinary element of human diversity if what they see is easier to interpret as a desire to glory in suffering. If we present ourselves, or allow ourselves to be seen, as gleefully red-bottom-fixated sadists, we marginalize ourselves. That’s the damage.
But as I started out by saying, spanking does have a physical effect, and I am not recommending that we should naively ignore it altogether, even if the essence of our pleasure in the trope lies elsewhere. And since this has been the serious part of the argument, we can have some fun exploring the other possibilities in the second part of the article.