by Gene K.
Just what is it about the sound of a whip that can excite and entice even the most seemingly vanilla boy? To quote my favorite whipmaster:
The crack of a whip is the epitome of s/m… It explodes like lightning from the hand of a god or goddess. It snakes through the air like a dragon’s claw. It’s evil, languid, precise, supremely savage, and sensuous. In short, it is as sexy as it is dangerous.
In a word, it’s really hot.
FROM OXEN TO BOYFRIENDS
Our fascination for whips is an outgrowth of a long history of their use as part of handling large animals like cattle, horses and oxen. Obviously, these big and powerful animals will not easily listen to gentle commands or a flick on the ear. The thick and heavy bullwhip was developed for driving teams of oxen while walking alongside. The long-handled stock whips were meant for controlling herds of cattle while up on horseback. The blacksnake, a bullwhip without a stiff handle, was meant to be easy for cowboys to stuff into their packs while traveling. Even our favorite, the nasty little signal whip, was specifically intended to guide a team of determined sled dogs in the right direction. In fact, in all of these cases, the whip was never meant to actually strike the animal. That could easily make a steer angry enough to start a stampede, and mark the hide making it less valuable later on.
It seems to be our kind, our species, that has a penchant for using whips on the bare flesh of our fellows. Sometimes cruelly, sadistically, sometimes sensually, luxuriantly, lovingly. Take your pick.
Right at the start it is important to be clear that whips are not easy to use and potentially dangerous to both the bottom (or victim) and the top. It is not at all the same as using a belt, flogger, paddle, cane, etc. I worked with whips for nearly four years before I was confident enough to do scenes with guys.
IT’S ALL IN THE WRIST
When I give a talk on whips, I usually start by holding up a couple of Frisbees, and tease the audience by asking, “Who can tell me why whips and Frisbees are so similar?” The answer is that it is all in the wrist action. If you have the suppleness to comfortably toss a Frisbee a long way, then you will probably learn to handle a whip pretty quickly.
In fact, much of the rush, the intoxicating power, comes from the feeling that the sharp crack of the whip is the result of just the merest flick of your wrist. You seem to be getting back so much more energy than you put into the thing. As with any well-made and well-balanced instrument, a whip need only be held with a light grip, so light in fact that most whips come with a wrist loop so that you do not drop it altogether.
The secret to how a whip works is the taper from the thickness at the handle to the almost stringlike or feathery cracker at the business end. In most cases, what makes that unbelievable crack and rips a man’s back open is nothing more than a length of light cord. In my case, I often use just six inches of white sneaker lace. In other words, all that beautiful braided soft leather is just to achieve a very supple, controllable and resilient snakelike apparatus that can generate a tip moving at incredible speed. It is the speed of the whip’s end that does the work and produces that heart-stopping sound. In fact, some people report that the impact is more like being hit with a small-caliber bullet, and thus very different from the heavy thud of a multi-tail flogger.
WHERE TO GO?
Unfortunately, few of us have the space to play with long whips. That leaves the most practical choice for BDSM use the popular four-foot signal whip mentioned earlier. (I do not recommend the three-foot version, which I find just too short to get a nice crack with.) This little baby can be used in nearly any apartment, even in your kitchen. It makes a crack like a small bore pistol, and in experienced hands can genuinely tear someone’s back to shreds. It is just not as dramatic as its bigger brothers, like ten-foot bullwhips.
The secret to success with the signal whip, as with any single tail device, is breaking it in, just like a new pair of shoes or a leather work belt. It needs to be uniformly supple and pliant. Just slathering oil over the thing every night will not do. You need to practice for many weeks until it feels like an almost natural extension of the action of your hand and wrist. A stiff and new whip, just like a new Garrison belt, is almost impossible to make snap. Be patient. And be careful playing outside. You do not want sand, dirt, gravel, grit, road oil, tar or water to get into the lay of the whip. Tough as the whip may be, all these things will quickly weaken the leather.
If you do have access to a large loft (think high ceilings) or some safe and private outdoor space, then by all means get yourself a good six or eight footer. Be aware, of course, that the sound will be exactly like a rifle shot, and neighbors a long way off might complain. As for using the city parks, I strongly suggest not trying to take advantage of all that tempting outdoor space. Someone is going to call the cops, and while you are not hurting or threatening anyone, they will have to respond to a complaint of a disturbance to the peace in a public place. Even in the privacy of your apartment, the sound of a signal whip (along with the attendant screams) is likely to freak out someone living nearby.
I have tried all kinds of techniques for teaching people to crack a signal whip. While you can aim and snap it just like you would a rolled-up towel or belt, I regard that as a cheap shortcut, and one that has very limited use. Moreover, you are not really learning how the whip naturally works. It is not that hard.
I often start by having someone just spin the whip around and around in a steady circle, using just the lightest of wrist action, sometimes just holding the wrist loop in their fingers. The circle is at right angles to your shoulder, as if the whip was rotating on an axle passed crosswise through your body. Do the circle overhand, that is, with the whip spinning always downward toward the floor in front of you. This seemingly dumb exercise will help you get a feel for the natural inertia the whip has because of its weight, its length and taper. It fairly wants to continue coming around with steadily less effort on your part. Also, you are practicing a stable and repeatable motion that is needed for aiming and cracking a whip at a human target.
After a while you will notice that all you need is just the slightest tug backward when the whip is coming down toward the floor to get a little snap, more like a soft “whoop” sound. If you get to that point, you are surprisingly close to finding the technique to make the signal whip actually break into a full crack. Remember, just fingers and wrist. If you are trying to get a crack with the power in your arms, strong as they are, you are just working too hard. I have tested this theory by tying my own arm close to my torso, like when you have a shoulder injury, and found that I could get a perfect snap anyway.
My own practice technique is with a page of The New York Times tacked to a wall. I crack the whip steadily down the long narrow columns, then practice a horizontal stroke by cutting off each of the strips. It makes a mess, but is good for control and accuracy. Dixie cups are also fun to aim at.
Getting the whip to snap is just the beginning. To play with another person, you want to be accurate and reliable. Nothing can spoil and even end a whipping scene faster than hitting your friend on the back of the neck, or wrapping around his waist, or hitting much too hard too soon. So if you want to play with whips, you had better know what you are doing to merit someone’s trust. But a signal whip is much easier to learn to handle than something longer, which does require a lot more aggressive control.
WHERE TO AIM YOUR WHIPS
The basic safety lecture for single tail whips is the same as for floggers, etc. Aim for the soft tissue areas, where there is lots of muscle. You do not want to wound someone on joints, elbows, neck, lower back (where the kidneys are), or anywhere there is connective tissue. The upper back is fine, the butt of course, maybe the legs, maybe the chest. You want mainly muscular and well-padded areas that can handle the severe blows a whip can deliver. There are amazingly subtle differences in the effect of being hit on the upper back vs. just below the shoulder blades; or the meaty cap of the shoulder muscle vs. low around the middle. The same for the ass compared with the back of the thighs. Obviously every person is different. Some guys crave attention to their solar plexus, or their chest and nipples. Others might totally freak out.
Sometimes just the crack of the whip behind someone’s neck is more emotionally upsetting than a solid stroke across the upper back. You owe it to the bottom who is putting his (or her) trust in you to explore carefully, and to find that place that wavers between intense pain and the edge of arousal.
You can buy signal whips at nearly any good leather/fetish shop. An even better option is to contact a whipmaker and have one made for you. Stay away from cheaply braided, lightweight toys you might find at flea markets or novelty stores. A good bullwhip should feel heavy, be tightly braided, and taper smoothly all they way down its length. Blacksnakes are bullwhips but without the stiff handle at the end. They are much more difficult to learn to use. Stock whips have a much longer rigid handle, as much as 16 inches long, and while quite long are somewhat easier to use and more accurate for target work.
There are also various kinds of specialized hybrid whips that are not designed to crack, and are not at all like cattle whips. Some are spiral-wound rather than braided leather, with a wire core. They are elegant, sexy, and quite painful. They are also very easy to use. Instead of a cracker at the end, there is usually a flat strip of stiff leather. They can deliver a blow with intense impact, but will not leave the same kind of welt or cut as a braided whip.
The advantage of buying from your local leather store is that you can try out the item before buying.
A final note for safety. If things get intense and your whip leaves deep welts or cuts, be prepared to disinfect the cracker with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide before you consider using it on another person. This is just basic hygiene.
Feature image: detail of artwork by Gio Black Peter • Image in post of man and dogs: Dresseur d’animaux by Francis Picabia (1923)