Spanking is back in the news. Le vice anglais was meant to be a dying art — a vestige of a time when men were more repressed, but it’s recently become clear that British men enjoy a thrashing just as much as they ever did.
In the past few weeks a London barrister, Robert Jones, has claimed he was unfairly dismissed after a consensual spanking session with a junior worker, while up north a ‘dungeon master’ called Shaun O’Driscoll, who has thrashed diplomats and a duke, gave evidence at Bolton Crown Court. Then there’s the big one: the claims by the erotic actress Stormy Daniels that she spanked Donald Trump with a rolled-up copy of Time magazine that had his face on the cover.
Why do powerful men like to be spanked? It is a question I have often asked myself during the many years that I have spent researching Britain’s escort agencies and massage parlours (I edit a guide to what’s known as ‘adult services’). Received wisdom once had it that public schools were to blame. Because a generation of men were beaten during their formative years, so the theory went, they yearned to be spanked as adults. But long after the last boy was legally caned, and ten years after Max Mosley’s famous tryst with ‘Mistress Abi’ was revealed in the tabloids, Britain’s S&M business is still going strong.
I’ve asked around and discovered that far from feeling ashamed of their jobs, sex workers in so-called ‘corrective services’ consider themselves a cut above their less assertive colleagues. They dominate not just their clients, but the industry. Such is the demand for spanking that many parlours have their own house dungeons.
In fact, dungeons operate all over Britain, in our sleepiest and most respectable towns. Sometimes it’s just one lady working alone from a room in her own house, but there are grander examples, places with complicated equipment such as the Palace of Kink, a sizeable converted pub in Rotherham run by the very experienced dominatrix Mistress Tanya. There’s also Oubliette, in a detached house in Bedfordshire, which is a family business.
Here, Mistress Paris and her daughter Mistress Serena are available to attend to gentlemen who want to be beaten or even put in a ‘leather body bag’. In the ‘Luxury Bedroom’, a suspended cage hangs beside a picture of Paris. ‘Why not cage your submissive for the night?’ asks the Oubliette website, ‘leaving them suspended with a view over the Eiffel Tower while you enjoy the luxury of the opulent gold and red fin de siècle kingsize bed?’ Why not.
There are equally successful spanking businesses in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. And those who like to imagine this as a particularly English peccadillo will be surprised to learn that the very grandest establishment still going strong is in Scotland. The Glasgow Dungeon occupies a suite of former offices in Sauchiehall Street.
The adult industry, like others, was affected by the 2008 crunch, but in the early 2000s there were several more enormous dungeons, the most magnificent being Victorian Dover, which operated out of a house near Dover Castle, and Mistress Hellena’s Hotel BDSM, a four-storey converted vicarage in Dewsbury. At Hotel BDSM, one room contained an imaginative wheel, mounted on the wall, to which one could be secured and beaten up from different angles.
So what, in our enlightened era, is the appeal? We’re not repressed or puritanical, nor were we beaten at school. What’s going on? I think it’s about giving back control — a reverse Brexit kink, if you will. Many middle-class men like me were brought up to believe that success is everything. We constantly strive hard to be on top of our game at work and so it’s a relief to cede power temporarily. I’m told by sex workers that the old cliché is true: it’s the high-flyers — men who go unchallenged and dominate others in their daily work lives — who are most likely to visit a dungeon. The men who make rules are often the keenest to submit to another’s authority. Judges in dungeons are a given, but some stories I’ve been told about certain MPs would leave you wide-eyed.
There is a return to childhood in the appeal of spanking but it’s not as obvious as a Freudian association with a nanny’s smack. The conclusion I’ve come to is that men like to look back to a time when they were free of the responsibilities of adulthood. The enduring appeal of spanking is not so much about sex as about being comforted.