I don’t like porn.
I particularly don’t like spanking porn.
Obviously there must be a lot of people who do, because otherwise porn wouldn’t exist, and if it gives them some harmless and lawful pleasure, who am I to criticize them? The porn itself might be another matter… But I’m not aiming to write just a negative ‘Ten Things I Hate About Porn’ piece. What I want to explore is why I find spanking porn unsatisfying and often unpleasant, whereas I tend to enjoy mainstream spanking material, erotica included.
That takes us back to the reason spanking porn exists in the first place, the fact that there are people who have spanking fetishes and who are willing to buy the stuff. That determines many of the ways in which porn and mainstream are different from one another. With porn, the spanking is the raison d’être, because it is the thing the manufacturers are selling and the consumers are buying, whereas the typical audience for a mainstream play or film or novel isn’t only there for that one element; whether you see it as a commodity or a created artifact, it’s a much more complex thing offering many different kinds of interest and pleasure.
In porn, the primacy of the spanking distorts everything around it. The issue arises from the fact that, in narrative, a spanking is always secondary: it is a response, something done because of something else that happened first. Not a problem in mainstream material, because the spanking exists in a context, so it can arise naturally out of the wider situation. But in porn, where the first principle is that there is going to be a spanking, a pretext is all there ever is: whatever story there may be is constructed for the sole and express purpose of getting the girl spanked.
Of course, it doesn’t need to carry very much credence because it is never going to be seriously examined: after all, the buyers are there for the spanking, not the story. So porn often subjects its allegedly naughty girls to significant and extended punishments for the flimsiest of reasons. They are even, sometimes, spanked for wearing revealing clothes or for masturbating, which illustrates not only the unimaginativeness of porn’s efforts to manufacture pretext but also its utter lack of self-awareness.
The other problem arising from the fact that, in porn, the material only exists because of the spanking, is that there is pressure to get on with the show. Combine this with the perceived need for pretext, and the result is the typical porn scenario where the girl is told why she is being spanked as it is happening. This has the ancillary effect of making it easier to extend the spanking action without falling into the mere repetitiveness of hand striking bottom over and over again.
But a second consequence is that it makes the scenario completely univocal: even when the spanked girl is catechised about her punishment and the reason for it, the only point of view given any validation is that of the lecturing spanker. And that means built-in hypocrisy: it’s conceded that the girl has to do something to justify her being spanked, but she is then condemned for doing it even though the spanking is the object of the exercise.
Compare all this with a well-done ‘vanilla’ spanking scenario. Because there’s a context, both participants are distinct characters and so both have their own point of view. That means the whole question of justification becomes more complex. To take an obvious example, in Kiss Me Kate, Fred isn’t characterized neutrally, but as a swaggering egotist to match the volatile diva who is Lilli: she behaves so unprofessionally that he is provoked into spanking her, but that is itself also unprofessional behavior. There are plays – Springtime for Patsy is a good example – where the spanking is completely justified on its own terms as the retribution that comes at the end of the story; but because it has been a long time coming, so that we have seen the whole situation develop, it doesn’t seem disproportionate as it usually does in porn.
At the risqué end of mainstream, spicy cartoons sometimes handle the issue of the ulterior motive for spanking by acknowledging it and making it the basis of the joke. Take this 1957 Dan DeCarlo toon:
The joke here turns upon the two different points of view: she naively thinks there’s been a mistake over the reason she’s being spanked; he knows otherwise!
The wriest and most self-aware example is this one, also from 1957, by Kirk Styles:
And a quarter of a century later, it had become possible to be much more overt about the mismatch between disciplinary and sexual motives for spanking. Here’s a 1982 cartoon by Deacon Sematones:
That’s ‘pants’ in the sense of panties: she thinks she’s being spanked, perhaps has even been told she’s being spanked, for going commando. She finds that prudish, but a look at the boss’s lascivious face completely belies that idea.
The arrival of nudity turns our attention back to porn. The spanking fetishists who are its core market have a variety of tastes, so there is a commercial imperative for the makers to cover as much of the spectrum as possible in any one piece of product. That means a typical porn spanking will go through several stages, as the girl is spanked first over her skirt, which is then raised so that she is spanked on her panties, which are then taken down to spank her bare bottom, often with nasty gynecological camera angles. In theory, everybody thus gets some images that appeal to their particular shade of kink, and anything they don’t like (perhaps more for those who prefer the milder material) is just the rough they have to take with the smooth.
What is sacrificed by this procedure is any sense that the spanking is a coherent human act. If you’re going to spank a girl, you would put her across your knee. You might also lift her skirt, even in a vanilla context, but you wouldn’t wait until partway through the spanking to do so: you prepare to spank, then you spank, then you stop. And if she’s wearing panties, it’s rarely necessary to pull them down, because it will make little difference to the impact of the spanking; you only do it if you are deliberately aiming for nudity, which is a standard objective of porn but not high on the agenda of most mainstream material.
Spanking porn does assume that its consumers have one thing in common: that they are sadists, and therefore want to see real spanking with real physical effects. In real life, most people are not sadists (that’s even true of some spanking enthusiasts, such as me), and this affects the way spanking tends to be presented in mainstream material: the corporeal consequences of a spanking are not denied – think of the jokes in Kiss Me Kate about Lilli’s inability to sit down – but the idea is reckoned to be more interesting than the physical actuality, so it is generally handled in a stylized way. Here are some mostly familiar examples from the comics:
In media that involve human performers, like film and theater, it’s sometimes piquant to know that a spanking was authentic, but it doesn’t actually matter so long as it seems authentic to the audience. Porn, however, is dominated by literalism: red bottoms and, sometimes, bruised flesh are commonplace. And that results in another issue.
If the main criterion for appearing in spanking porn is that an actress or model must be willing to be spanked, hard, until her bare bottom is red, then the pool of potential performers will be a subset of a subset of a subset. Not all performers are willing to do nude work. Not all of those are willing to do fetish work. And not all of those are willing to undergo real pain. The group you’re left with – really not so much a pool as a puddle – may not always be blessed with exceptional acting or modeling skills or even beauty. Of course, some of them are beautiful (and it’s a subjective judgement anyway), and there is at least one spanking model who is a competent actress (as I know from her non-fetish work). But my point is that there is a built-in limitation meaning that spanking porn is rarely made by people with the highest level of relevant talent, and its technical and artistic qualities tend to suffer in consequence. Does that matter? Perhaps not to its buyers, of which (needless to say) I am not one.
My last major problem with porn is its ubiquity. I’d like to see a lot less of it – meaning (since I also believe in live and let live) that I’d like to be able to see a lot less of it. The results that search engines return for ‘spanking’ are generally dominated by hardcore material, not all of it even spanking-specific; enable a content filter and you are left with the opposite pitfall of child discipline websites. So assumptions about the subject are such that there seems to be nothing between, on the one hand, spanking as something that some adults regrettably still do to some children, and, on the other, fullscale ‘adult’ content. Spanking equals sex: that is how the equation runs now. So a website like this, which deals only with mainstream content and tries to avoid privileging any sexual response over the original integrity of the material itself, is often misinterpreted as a sex site by those from the non-fetish world who happen to encounter it. In this respect, our sense of the diversity and complexity of human experience has narrowed.
The easy online availability of spanking porn has also started to infect the mainstream. We have seen that, when political satirists (such as in the US and Brazil) use spanking imagery and need a short-cut to bypass a lack of talent or time, they will often appropriate a porn picture. It has also gotten into media that are necessarily more creative than that. For my money, one of the nastiest pieces of mainstream spanking imagery in recent years was the 2015 spanking scene in Outlander. It has been said, with some justification, that this was played as, in effect, a piece of spanking porn; it certainly shares porn’s humorless, punitive qualities. Likewise, when mainstream erotic artists have the occasional flirtation with spanking imagery, they will often incorporate tropes from porn, like the bondage, love-paddle and literalist red bottom in this otherwise appealing piece by the Canadian illustrator Joanne Leung:
In other words, we are in an online world where it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between porn and mainstream material, a point which can be illustrated by this photograph:
Most (all?) of the people there have featured in spanking porn; but it is hard to imagine a less ‘porny’ spanking image. If it weren’t for the fact that porn’s limited talent pool means the same faces keep cropping up, it would pass completely under the ‘porn radar’. Might it even be that a group of porn performers got together and intentionally decided to produce a mainstream spanking picture?
But this blurring of boundaries isn’t entirely a recent phenomenon, and we can begin to see this if we go back four decades and dip our toes into the erotic end of mainstream. The 1970s British girlie magazine Mayfair featured in its back pages a regular artwork spread by the celebrated comic strip illustrator Don Lawrence (1928-2003) about the adventures of Carrie. She was an attractive blonde who always found herself in situations entailing the progressive loss of all of her clothes. The paintings themselves were also gorgeous, though they became much less so when other artists took over from Lawrence later in the 1970s.
In an edition from the summer of 1976, Carrie is having a picnic in the country.
There’s an unexpected interruption.
Picnics will entail encounters with country fauna, and country pursuits…
Never get between the dogs and their quarry, if you value your wardrobe:
Whose side will Carrie take: the terrified dumb animal or the horrible huntsman?
Looks like her sympathies are with nature…
An ethical decision, but possibly not a wise one…
And here we see the price of the fox’s life:
That’s from the original artwork. You may be interested in the different color balance used when the piece was printed:
Lawrence’s style, and the nudity inherent in the concept, push this final picture towards a porn-like literalism, but there is still a compromise with mainstream stylization that makes for a powerfully erotic image. It’s not only the ‘heat waves’ radiating from her bottom but also the fact that (unlike in spanking porn) the redness is so precisely confined to just that area of Carrie. It’s noteworthy, too, that this is obviously not the work of the riding whip emphasized in the previous picture: Lawrence actively opts to imply a straightforward spanking rather than a ‘fetishy’ whipping, and the image is the better for it.
And for an even clearer example of an unexpected border incursion, let’s leave erotica behind and pay our final call, to the rural village of Dibley in the mid-1990s.
The British sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, co-written by Richard Curtis, dealt with the trials of a local clergywoman, Rev. Geraldine Granger, played by Dawn French. In the 1996 episode, ‘The Easter Bunny’, she’s trying to explain to her exceedingly dimwitted verger Alice (Emma Chambers) that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist. But Alice insists that she has seen him: indeed, everyone in the village has. Rev. Geraldine’s reaction is stern:
‘Alice, you’re lying, and if you don’t apologise, I’m going to have to punish you. And this hairbrush features quite prominently in the punishment. And your pants don’t.’
And it may be worth spelling out here that Alice is wearing a skirt, so once again that’s her pants in the British sense of the word, less ambiguously known as her panties.
In context, the moment counts for very little: the unapologetic Alice continues to insist on the reality of the rabbit but Geraldine doesn’t follow through. In other words, it’s just a bit of banter, not a serious threat. But even so, it is a reference to a panties-down bare-bottom spanking in an undeniably mainstream piece of work.
The porn, it seems, is always with us.