Nature or Nurture: Where Do Spanking Fetishes Come From?
CW: Mention of child/sexual abuse
“Where did the fetish come from? Why am I like this?”
Every hardwired spanko I’ve ever known has spent time mulling these questions. We’ll probably never be able to zero in on a definitive answer that applies to everyone. Sexuality is complicated, reliable research on fetishism is scarce, and we all have different backgrounds despite our similarities. My reasons may not match yours.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think about. I’ve heard a number of hypotheses from different people over the years and formed my own opinions about my situation. Here are some theories to chew on.
Years ago when I was still a citizen of Facebook Land, I connected with a lady who fully believed in reincarnation and the idea that our past lives influence our present. I told her I had the fetish and that it was important to me that spanking be used for good rather than evil. She posited that in a past life I may have been a perpetrator of sexual violence and had returned this time around to make up for my horrific deeds by writing about the ins and outs of ethical kink.
I have no hard opinions on whether reincarnation is real, but if it is, I’d hope my immortal spanko soul wouldn’t be the type to commit such atrocities. Either way, I shall continue to attend to my mission and sing the praises of affectionate fanny tanning. Maybe if I’m good, I’ll come back next time as a spanky deity.
On second thought, scratch that. I’d rather come back as her.
(Artist unknown. If you know who made it, tell me plz, for it is great.)
“Were you abused as a child or something?”
A vanilla friend asked me this when I started practicing kink in my mid-20s. It’s not an uncommon question for spankos to hear. Society typically assumes we’re like this because we were all spanked as kids and never learned what real love felt like, or something along those lines. My parents weren’t hitters aside from a passing swat to my butt when I was being a little shit, and even that was exceptionally rare. The whole bare bottom OTK ritual never happened in my house. Within the fetish community, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete pattern in this regard. Some of us were spanked as kids, some of us weren’t, and we all have different opinions about whether spanking kids is okay.
That being said, I do believe exposure to my friends being spanked OTK at an early age was traumatic and influential to my development of the fetish. If I’d never seen that happen, I’m not sure I’d be this way. More on that later.
I’ve heard some spankos who grew up in homes where corporal punishment was common refer to it in purely positive terms. Some even claim to have acted out on purpose because they craved that closeness and attention. It’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about the link between fetishism and trauma because it’s such a subjective experience. What traumatizes one child may seem like a normal or positive occurrence to another.
Many kinksters believe there’s a ‘spanko gene’. This is due to the fact that for many of us, the fetish has been present our entire lives, as far back as we can remember. This is the case for me. I remember sitting in a circle in preschool while the teacher read a story that mentioned spanking and looking around wide-eyed, confused about the fact that no one else seemed to think anything of it. WTF? Did none of you hear what I just heard??
I’ve talked about this with a few different people. One woman on Fetlife connected the spanko gene to our natural temperament, noting that most people she’d met with the fetish were particularly sensitive if not empathic. I would agree with that. Another person said he suspected the fetish was a matter of neurodivergence, like being on the autism spectrum. I’m not knowledgeable enough about such things to confirm or deny this. It is clear, though, that most spankos feel the fetish is not just a thing we do. It is inherent to who we are.
Some peeps believe women like me become kinky because the patriarchy has brainwashed us into craving forceful masculine dominance. While this may be the case for some, it doesn’t ring true for me, personally. The people giving and getting the spankings I saw in person and in movies/shows as a kid were equally male and female. I don’t view administering corporal punishment as a particularly masculine act. There are lots of hairbrush and paddle-wielding maternal types out there.
If you peruse the kink community, you’ll quickly notice the desire to receive isn’t remotely exclusive to women. Tons of men love being spanked too. Misogyny is indeed an issue in the scene and some women go for that vibe for whatever reason. In my case though, my fetish didn’t start there and I don’t think this theory holds water across the board.
In his 1927 essay, “Fetishism,” Sigmund Freud argued that young boys, upon noticing their mother has no penis, are terrified by the thought that because she is dickless, they might someday become dickless too via castration. This “fright” boys feel in the presence of female genitalia is allegedly universal. They then mentally substitute the female non-penis with the focus of their fetishism as a “token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it.” This coping mechanism, Freud claimed, also allows men to avoid becoming homosexual “by endowing women with the characteristic which makes them tolerable as sexual objects.”
Oh Freud, you dead, special man...
Being that I’m not a member of the frightened penis club, I have nothing to say on this matter. I feel dumber for having read about this and will never get those 15 minutes back. Why did I do that?
My personal theory
I can only speak for myself based on my history. I’m no expert in developmental psychology and respect the perspectives of spankos with other experiences. The following is a pervy laywoman’s musings, not gospel.
Though my parents weren’t spankers, I was surrounded by many who were and they would often punish their kids in front of me. Some were intensely religious and saw corporal punishment not only as a means of discipline, but a righteous duty ordained by god. The first boy I ever had a crush on was once beaten with a belt so badly, he had to stay home from school the next day.
What I saw and heard wasn’t just scary and disturbing, but also confusing. Adults told us kids not to yell or hit and yet there some of them were, yelling and hitting, often. We were supposed to trust them, but they would resort to violence on what seemed like a whim at times. I quickly came to see adults who spanked as unstable, untrustworthy, unkind people whose actions didn’t match their words.
Beyond that, spanking always seemed sexual to me. Young children don’t have the language to describe such feelings, but I felt them all the same. Adults told us to keep our ‘private parts’ covered and to alert them immediately if anyone tried to touch us there. Whenever some saw fit, however, they’d expose their kids’ butts and smack that intimate area in spite of begging, struggling, and tearful protest. Some would do it in front of guests like me or out in public, even if it meant strangers might get a glimpse of their kid’s underwear or genitals. They would threaten and talk of it openly regardless of who was around, laughing and joking about it at times as if it was something they actually enjoyed. It all seemed very, very violating.
While no one around me appeared to give much thought to any of this, I thought about it endlessly, questioning what the whole thing meant. Why were some adults violent toward children? Was hitting okay or not, especially in that place on bare skin, and what did it say about those who did it? Were we kids allowed to say no to being touched like that, and if so, to whom? Mom and dad would warn me to stay away from strangers, then drop me off at the houses of friends of theirs who’d make a big ceremony of swatting their terrified children. The parents who spanked seemed infinitely more unhinged and dangerous than any stranger, in my little world.
I’ve read that most fetishes are neurologically ingrained during our formative years while the wiring of our brains is sorting itself out, usually as a consequence of some emotionally charged event. Neuroplasticity happens throughout life, but not to the same extent as when we’re small. Much of what we absorb through the age of 8 or so tends to solidify and stay there, which is why learning a foreign language to the point of fluency, for example, becomes more challenging after that point.
I believe my constant rumination about spanking when I was tiny, coupled with my hazy and uncomfortable view of it as a sexual thing, cemented it into the area of my mind that manages sexuality. The thought of spanking was the only thing that activated that tingly feeling of intense interest and emotion associated with arousal, and that became clear as puberty approached and other kids began showing me vanilla porn. That’s nice, I would think while they tittered in awe over oral and intercourse, but it doesn’t affect me like the thought of that thing I can’t talk about.
Over time, I romanticized those intrusive sexual thoughts, fantasizing every day about elaborate disciplinary scenarios my imagination could mold to my liking. I assume this was a means of coping with how much my initial exposure to spanking had scared me. In this way, I was able to wrench a bit of control back from the fear that had hijacked my thoughts. The concept of spanking remained scary and embarrassing when it came up in real-world, non-consensual contexts. It became pleasurable and thrilling, however, to marinate on fictional corporal punishment at the hands of characters I’d seen in movies or faceless people who didn’t exist. I began to desire it, wondering how I’d feel if it happened to me.
When boyfriends came into the picture, I’d imagine them pulling me OTK, craving that raw, passionate power and intimate attention from them. Regular sex was fun for the most part, but it seemed so basic. I wanted something deeper and more nuanced from the people I loved—my version of romance and devotion—though I couldn’t even bring myself to say the associated words out loud. Spanking. Discipline. The shame of being different prevented me from exploring kink until well after college. I had to unpack and sort it all out, defining the details of who I was, what I wanted, and how I could seek it out in safe, healthy ways.
There’s more to my story, but that’s the short version. Discovering I wasn’t alone and that spanking could be handled respectfully and affectionately between adults, without all the horrific abuse I witnessed as a kid, was healing. I make a hard distinction today between consensual and non-consensual butt smackage. They’re two entirely different things.
While some spankos weren’t traumatized by the act like I was as a kid, I believe we may share these things in common:
Being exposed to spanking via some emotionally significant event, likely at a young age.
Thinking about it often enough to solidify it neurologically. For many of us, this included sexual interpretations due to the physical closeness and butt-focused vulnerability it entails.
Attaching it to mental narratives that appealed to our sensibilities and made us feel good. Those fantasies may have involved love, sadomasochism, or any number of themes that spoke to us as individuals.
I could be right or wrong, and I don’t know why spanking fetishists end up like this while most people don’t. I also don’t know why THIS was the thing our minds latched onto. I assume we all learned about feet and diapers and balloons and needles and pregnancy and bodily fluids at a young age too, but none of those stuck in sexual terms in the way they did for people with those fetishes.
I used to worry about the ‘why’ quite a lot, thinking the fetish was a sign something was wrong with me. If you’re currently in that place, don’t trip about it too much. Fetishes are far more common than we realize. The important thing is to embrace who you are and make it work. If you can indulge in ways that are healthy, considerate, and inspire good feelings for everyone involved, you're golden in my book.