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SocietyJune 11, 2017

Zen and the art of getting your ass spanked


Interested in getting kinky but don’t know where to start? A spanking class could be just the introduction you’re looking for. Rebekah Holt went along to one.

It’s April 2017, a sunny afternoon in Melbourne, and I am down on all fours in leggings and a shirt in front of another woman. She’s pleasant, youngish, and also from New Zealand.

If you walked in right now it would look like a yoga class, like someone getting a correction to their pose.

But she is actually asking me if I would like her to spank me.

The woman kneeling beside me is Caitlyn Cook, a teacher, writer and host of tantra themed workshops in New Zealand and Australia. This one is titled The Art of Zen Spanking. I’d had four hours to think about whether I want to be spanked and only in the last ten minutes have I made up my mind. One of the deciding factors: if I’m going to get spanked I would kind of prefer it to be someone from home. Kia ora etc.

In the information all course attendees are given is a note that you are free to choose how involved you want to be. That includes whether to remove some items of clothing during the spanking part of the workshop, in negotiation with your partner.

I wasn’t going with a partner so I had known there would come a point when I had to decide to participate or simply observe. Jesse Thomas Hall, who leads the course, did point out that you can technically spank yourself but that would defeat the object of the workshop: learning how to inhabit and feel confident in your Yes and No responses with a partner. And negotiating ‘impact play’ – otherwise known as spanking.

That morning I had deliberately put on knickers that gave ‘maximum coverage’ and a pair of leggings of trouser-like thickness. I look like I could be going to brunch with friends.

When I arrive at the venue it feels like a kind of yoga studio, with one big space and several smaller rooms to the side. There is the usual amount of candles in corners and pillows to sit on. People file in. They’re mostly white, middle aged, and in couples.

Jesse introduces himself. He teaches kung fu and chi kung and also works as a tree feller –  something I will remember quite suddenly later in the day when he says a particular physical position allows for “greater wind up”.

We sit in a circle to introduce ourselves and say what we want to get out of the day. I say I am a journalist and that I am interested in the female perspective around expressions of the erotic. Specifically, in the movement among women to rescue kink from the Benny Hill ghetto.

In January I attended one of Caitlyn’s tantric touch workshops in Auckland because a mutual friend said I would like her work around consent and how to navigate what you do and don’t enjoy in intimate relationships.

I’d liked it: it was sort of like a yoga course with breathing and trust exercises crossed with very pragmatic advice about locating what you feel the most authentically enthusiastic about erotically.

The only real awkward moment came when I kept accidentally matching up with a very young man for the hand massage section of the course. The third time he maybe not so randomly wandered into my path for the partner selection I said “I think you need to start seeing other people”. What I wanted to say is “look, this is not my Mrs Robinson moment, OK?”

Jesse uses some partner exercises that feel similar, but without the negotiated touching of strangers’ hands. He asks us to walk around the room and randomly make requests of each other, to which the reply must be ‘yes’. The catch: nothing will be acted upon, so you really can ask anything. It’s all about how you feel when you know you are going to say yes.

Some things I am asked:

  • Can I take you glasses off and throw them in the corner?
  • Can I smell your hair?
  • Can we have a pillow fight?
  • Can I hold you down and lie on top of you?

Some things I ask other people:

  • May I shake your hand? (five times)
  • Could I give you an ankle massage? (once)
  • Could I comb the hair on your forearms? (just once and look, it was lush glossy arm hair)

Afterwards we all sit back down and discuss the discomfit of saying yes to things that you may not want to do. I realise that with people I was uncomfortable about in any way I had made the hand-shaking request – I was trying to dial down the encounter to a kind of passing business gesture. Others in the group are obviously far more confident about asking outrageous questions. They’re the ones who are also very open about being involved in the kink and BDSM scene.

I know that I’m portraying myself as Queen Vanilla of the Middle Aged Highlands here, but in my defence I had made a decision to react authentically throughout the day. That is, after all, what Caitlyn and Jesse were advocating.

And Queen Vanilla would like you to note that when she asked the person with the lush arm hair that question they took a tiny sharp in breath and said “fuck yes”.

We move onto trying out saying No to each other. Some things I am asked:

  • Could I kiss your cheek very softly?
  • Could I take your glasses off? (What is with the bloody glasses people?)
  • Could I lie down on the bean bags with you and spoon?
  • Could I give you a hand massage?
  • Would you like me to rub your head and neck? (this was arm hair combee)

Some things I ask:

  • Could I shake your hand? (four times)
  • Would you like a massage between your shoulder blades?
  • Could I take one of your earrings out? (watch me leap tall boundaries in a single leap)

I notice that when we know we have compulsory “no’s” scripted most of us are less silly and more thoughtful and tender with our requests. It’s as if we know rejection is coming so we feel more confident about asking for what we really want.

Afterwards we talk about how it felt to say no to the things we would have actually been interested in saying yes to. I realise that when the Arm Hair Combee actually offered me something I liked I made a show of maintaining eye contact, sighing deeply and saying “noooo” like a woman who really means oh god yes, please yes.

Spanking workshop leader Jesse Thomas Hall.

We have lunch, and then the spanking begins. Jesse remarks that the room we’re in is often used for erotic play parties. He advises us not to lick the carpet.

He asks Caitlyn to join him for a demonstration of how to negotiate spanking: where you might want to be spanked, where it is unsafe to, and how to ask for it to be harder or softer.

Jesse doesn’t use spanking implements like paddles in his courses. He believes that using your hands heightens the connection: more contact, more sensitivity, more intimacy. But he tells us he has used paddles and has liked it – so no offence, paddle users.

Jesse and Caitlyn then demonstrate aftercare – essentially asking the person who has been spanked if they would like a blanket put over them, or a back rub, or anything else to help. It reminds me of how you put kids to sleep.

As everyone else is matched up it’s clear I’ll have to partner with Caitlyn. I decide that because we have mutual friends and intersecting interests, it doesn’t feel weird or wrong. In fact what it does feel like is the most caring hostage negotiation imaginable as we both carefully ask each other how we feel and if what we’re doing is OK.

Maybe because of that I decide to flip my normal inclination when it comes time to decide on roles. Instead of maintaining some control and being the ‘giver’, the spanker, I decide to be the ‘receiver’. I was appalling at ball sports at school but do momentarily visualise my bum as a wicket keeper’s glove.

Caitlyn kneels beside me and I kneel in front of her on a rug which I really hope is protecting me from the sex party germs. She asks if I am ready and I have a think. It’s a yes.

And so, for the next 15 to 20 minutes I’m given a series of mild to moderate spanks on my bum and thighs. I can’t say that I am in pain or uncomfortable but neither am I in a state of physical ecstasy. What I do enjoy is the gentle weirdness of the entire situation.

It occurs to me that I am being too observational: I’m in my watchful journalist mind rather than being (ahem) in my ass. So I try to shake my intellectual state off and just be a body reacting to touch.

Around us I can hear percussive slaps skin to skin and the murmured negotiations between couples. Out of the corner of my eye I notice some people stripping off but I can’t make out any detail because I have taken my glasses off. Maybe that’s why I was being asked about my glasses earlier?

Tantra coach Caitlyn Cook

I had been worried I would laugh uncontrollably from nerves or hysteria at some point, but I don’t. I begin to stretch out and press my arms and chest on the floor and Caitlyn starts to massage my lower back. When she does this I do let out the kind of noise that would be considered a little intimate for a session with my physio.

Jesse announces there is 20 minutes left for spanking before the aftercare starts. I turn and look at Caitlyn “Jesus, did he say 20 minutes? I don’t have the upper body strength for this.”

She asks if I would like a massage. “Oh god, yes I would,” is my immediate and involuntary response. When it’s time for aftercare, Caitlyn asks if I would like a blanket. Yes, yes I would.

She tucks it around me and kneels behind me with a hand on my shoulder.

“Would you put your hand on the back of my head,” I ask?


She gently rubs the back of my skull.

When aftercare time is over we have a debrief. Caitlyn lies down beside me and asks how it was for me. I explain that I’m on the fence about the spanking. “I think what I needed was be the receiver and what I really wanted was a massage.”

We talk about how if you are a ‘giver’ it can be a way of controlling situations. We also discuss the giving role in women’s identity, which is some fairly fancy post-spanking pillow talk right there.

And then it’s Caitlyn’s turn to say what she would like… but another thing I have learnt is that I don’t spank and tell.

On my way home I kept thinking that maybe trying something like this is about hope. Yeah I know, but hear me out.

Trump is in the White House, the UK is about to go off like a cheap parallel import firework and women still don’t have equal pay. So I decided to head off to see if I like having my ass spanked.

OK, it’s not Obama 2008 capital H-level hope. But when it feels like everything is spiraling out of control, when stupidity has taken the wheel, when you want to tell the village it was meant to take that you have been leaning in so fucking far you are actually face down dribbling on your gratitude journal… Maybe what you do then is you take a breath and you pause and you examine what you want. Is it a yes or is it a no? And then you decide if you want your ass spanked or if you don’t. But you decide.

Maybe it’s about having some very precise and particular control at a time when there doesn’t feel like any. If you feel like society is spanking you constantly then perhaps you need to find a place to negotiate when and how hard.

What I don’t expect from the day is the kind of enforced evaluation I go through. The no and yes exercises forced me to spend time examining how I truly felt. This feels like the truly erotic part. I spent a day asking myself what I wanted, and I liked it.

Oh and yes, my ass was a bit sore the next day.

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