Good Old Fashioned Spanking: A History

September 4, 2018 5 min read

Good Old Fashioned Spanking: A History

Today we have a pretty weird relationship with spanking. It’s half a punishment that some people still give their kids, and half something many of us like during sex. There continues to be controversy about spanking as a disciplining tool, with many people (including yours truly) weirded out by the disciplinary use of spanking and of the opinion that there should be no corporal punishment of children at all.

But there’s no problem with a nice, consensual erotic spanking—and nowadays, this saucy practice is becoming increasingly mainstream. While some spanking fetishists have expressed hesitance about sharing their love of spanking openly, anyone who likes a good spanking is actually part of a long and venerable history.


From a light slap on the ass in the heat of passion to an elaborate paddling fantasy, humans have been getting their spank on pretty much since they’ve been leaving a record behind.

Ancient Etruscans loved a good spanking, as evidenced by the “Tomb of the Floggings,” an Etruscan wallpainting from approximately 490 BC which depicts a woman bent over between two men as one of them spanks her with a whip. (True enthusiasts can take a trip to see this painting in Tarquinia, Italy!)

The Tomba della Castigazione,” a fifth century BC Etruscan depiction of erotic spanking.

The Kama Sutra, that famous 3rd century Sanskrit instruction manual on how to live a sensual life, also includes advice for lots of stuff we’d today label kinky, including spanking.

In modern Europe, spanking has a long and illustrious history, from descriptions of sexual masochism in Renaissance British poetry to saucy 18th century engravings of a monk spanking a misbehaving woman for “penance” (pretty sure there was an ulterior motive…).

“Penance,” a saucy spanking engraving by an unknown artist, sold in London. Late 18th century.

Spanking was depicted in classic works of European literature. Published in 1782, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions is considered the first autobiography.

 It may also be one of the first literary accounts of the erotic pleasure of spanking, as an adult Rousseau recounts that a spanking form his childhood inspired his erotic tastes later in life.

Spanking was also depicted in some not-so-classic literary works, case in point: the huge erotic novel industry in 19th century England. 

Victorian people were massively kinky, and their love for erotic spanking was so intense the practice was even dubbed “the English vice.” Endless porn novels, with titles like A History of the Rod, Tales of Fun and Flagellation (written, obviously, by Lady Gay Spanker), and The Whippingham Papers, entertained Victorian spanking enthusiasts. 

This was accompanied by a truly stunning array of illustrated and photographic spanking porn of basically any type imaginable, such as:

A fantasy scene of a man “birching” three sex workers, circa 1890

Across the pond, in the 20th century United States, spanking was portrayed as both a tool to “discipline” disobedient wives and to fire up a dull sex life. “Wife spanking” was a common practice and a longstanding, salacious newspaper topic, where it was often portrayed as a husband’s rightful punishment of a “misbehaving” wife.

In Classical Hollywood cinema, as Jezebel reports, the line between erotic play and domestic violence was often blurry, with spanking portrayed as necessary to “tame” women who “naturally” craved domination—and thus, inspire their love.

Of course, today we reject the sexist idea that husbands have a right to “punish” wives, and many of us reject the idea that parents have the right to physically punish children, too. 

But erotic spanking remains a sexy treat.

staged fantasy of two bound “ancient Greek” or “Roman” slaves, one of whom is about to get spanked, circa 1890.

So why do people love spanking so much? While some (like our dear friends Rousseau and Sigmund Freud) might trace the development of a spanking fetish to childhood trauma, spanking fetishists take offence to this and remind us that a love of spanking can be part of a healthy sexuality which doesn’t necessarily relate to whether you were spanked as a child. 

For some, spanking is about the pleasure of role play or dominance and submission; for others, it’s motivated by a love for the tingly sting of a firm hand (or paddle) on the backside. Physiologically, a little extra pressure stimulates erotic nerves are hidden on the ass under a healthy layer of muscle and fat.

New to the world of erotic spanking, or want to expand your repertoire? There’s nothing wrong with some good ol’ fashioned consensual spanking in bed. 

If you want to get more hardcore than a stray slap—or refine your technique to perfection—check out this handy guide to getting, well, handy. As you enjoy the tingle, feel extra good knowing you’re truly part of human history.

Reina Gattuso
« Reina Gattuso is a feminist freelance writer whose work has appeared at Bitch, Time, The Washington Post, and more. She is a columnist at Feministing, where her work focuses on sexuality and power, gender, pleasure, and violence. She's currently working toward her MA in Arts and Aesthetics in New Delhi, and her work on sexuality, consent, and popular culture has been featured and cited in several academic publications. » All posts →