The pleasure principle

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Is S&M sleazy? Only if you do it properly, as the old joke goes. For some – like Formula 1 boss Max Mosley – it is an enjoyable, consensual sex act and nobody else's business. Author and 'professional spanker' Peter Jones defends Mosely's stance, as the court decides on his privacy case, and explains the appeal of spanking. Alice Wyllie reports

Some girls, they like candy, and others, they like to grind,

I'll settle for the back of your hand somewhere on my behind.

Treat me like I'm a bad girl, even when I'm being good to you,

I don't want you to thank me, you can just spank me. Mmmm.

Hanky Panky, Madonna

SPANKING, when done by one adult to another, is seen as something of a naughty joke. Something from a Carry On film or a punchline in a saucy seaside postcard, perhaps. However, for a lot of people it's a serious and vital part of their sex life, something that fulfils their fantasies, whether they're the spanker or the spankee. One of those people is motorsport boss Max Mosley, who is suing the News of the World newspaper over allegations that he indulged in "Nazi-style" sado-masochistic spanking with five prostitutes.

The married 68-year-old is seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the newspaper, arguing that the incident was safe, consensual and above all, private, and the outcome of the case is due to be decided this week.

"I fundamentally disagree with the suggestion that any of this is depraved," he has said. "I think it is a perfectly harmless activity, provided it is between consenting adults who want to do it, are of sound mind, and it is in private."

Mosley is not the only person who believes that consensual sex acts – no matter how depraved or perverted they're perceived to be by readers keen to absorb the details over their morning boiled egg – should be a private matter. The 55-year-old lawyer Peter Jones (not his real name) is the author of a new biographical book, Confessions of a London Spank Daddy. He has spent the past eight years arranging encounters with women in order to spank them. His wife is unaware of his secret life as one of London's most in-demand spankers, and he believes he has the right to keep it that way.

"Spanking is depicted as tawdry or even funny, but it really isn't," he says. "For many people, it's a need they have within them and their sex life would be incomplete without it." Jones only spanks women and doesn't charge for his services, because he gets as much enjoyment out of it as they do. They come to him for a number of reasons, citing everything from the endorphins that the pain releases to the sense of humiliation. They often invent scenarios and colourful reasons to be spanked, which have even included one woman who asked to be spanked for receiving a speeding fine.

"It's amazing to see their responses," he says. "Often these women are in their 30s, 40s or 50s and have always fantasised about being spanked but never acted upon it. Some may have told their partners, who've responded with disgust or laughter. Some have found that their partner did indulge them but just wouldn't spank them hard enough."

Jones gets frustrated at anyone who sees spanking as a form of abuse. "It's not abuse, because it's wanted and needed. One woman asked me to slap her face. I was a little wary about that, but I changed my mind when I saw how much she enjoyed it. It's all discussed beforehand and I don't mind hurting these women if that's what they want and need."

"Need" is a word that Jones uses repeatedly to describe the strong desire that enthusiasts like himself have to spank or be spanked. In his autobiography, Confessions, published posthumously in 1782, Jean-Jacques Rousseau described how his childhood experiences of spanking sparked a life-long desire to be treated in this way: "Miss Lambercier ... exerted a mother's authority, even to inflicting on us ... the punishment of infants ... Who would believe this childish discipline, received at eight years old, from the hands of a woman of 30, should influence my propensities, my desires, my passions, for the rest of my life ... To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments, and the more my blood was inflamed by the efforts of a lively imagination the more I acquired the appearance of a whining lover."

Not everyone is willing to be as open as Rousseau about their spanking fantasies. Mosley's wife was unaware of his extracurricular activities, and he also risked losing his high-profile job with Formula 1 after the revelations came out. It's no wonder, really, that he chose to keep details of his sado-masochistic sex life private. Derek Cohen of the Spanner Trust, which acts to defend the rights of sadomasochists and was borne out of the infamous 1987 Operation Spanner case, is pleased that Mosley is taking legal action.

"Max Mosley's privacy has been invaded and I sincerely hope that the outcome of this case will recognise that," he says. "Be it the colour of your underwear or the kinky sex you like to partake in, it's up to you if you want to reveal details of your private life.

"There's an element of titillation about this story that makes it very hypocritical. It condemned Mosley's actions, but at the same time, by revealing the intimate details of the event, it served to turn people on."

Tuppy Owens, of the Sexual Freedom Coalition, agrees. "It's what I call double pornography. They're titillating their readers with it," she says. "People's sex lives are their own and should remain as private as they choose, so long as everything is safe and consensual. The real danger is that people's lives can be ruined by these revelations. Sadly, I've known people who have killed themselves after details of their sex lives have been made public and exposed to their otherwise unaware friends and family."

That erotic spanking remains taboo seems a little strange, since we know that sadomasochism is as old as human nature and, thanks to literary works and published psychological studies, it's been a fairly common staple of the British bedroom for more than a century.

It featured in John Cleland's 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill, and also very heavily in Victorian pornography.

Hundreds of thousands of engravings, photographs and books of that era featured depictions of spanking, including erotic novellas such as Lady Bumtickler's Revels, The Whippingham Papers and An Exhibition of Female Flagellants.

Sue Maxwell, a sexual and relationships therapist with Relationships Scotland, explains some of what lies behind the lure of this sexual practice.

"A desire to spank or be spanked will usually stem from a childhood experience of spanking. It's not actually about sex, but about fear. When you're in a fearful position you become aroused – not sexually, but physically. When people then enter adulthood, they want to recreate that feeling of arousal, so spanking becomes a more sexual thing.

"What a person sees as sexually strange depends on their own view of sexuality," she adds. "Most people view their sexuality – whatever that may be – as the norm and can be quite closed-minded when it comes to recognising that someone else might find something arousing that they don't and vice versa.

"The same goes for spanking; for people who have no desire to spank or be spanked it can be difficult to understand, particularly because some people view it as a violent act."

The fact that some of Jones's clients feel unable to tell their partners about their personal fantasies and sexual desires illustrates just how secret spanking remains.

No doubt Mosley is hoping that the outcome of his court case will prove spanking really is nothing more than a bit of "Hanky Panky".


&#149 In May, HUGH GRANT won 58,000 in a court judgment for invasion of his, his ex-girlfriend LIZ HURLEY's and her husband ARUN NAYAR's privacy following paparazzi photographs that were taken of them on holiday in the Maldives. They had specifically selected this small island for the privacy and seclusion that the private resort at which they were staying claimed was available.

&#149 Actress SIENNA MILLER won 37,500 plus legal costs from the Sun and the News of the World for invasion of privacy in December last year, after they published nude photographs of her taken while she was filming Hippie Hippie Shake. They agreed not to republish the photos and to delete all copies. Yesterday it emerged that she has launched another legal battle against News International and photo agency Big Pictures relating to a series of articles and photographs about the star and her rumoured boyfriend, married actor Balthazar Getty.

&#149 In May, Harry Potter author JK ROWLING and her husband, DR NEIL MURRAY, won a landmark court of appeal ruling establishing that the law protects the children of celebrities from the publication of unauthorised photographs, unless their parents have exposed them to publicity. Rowling brought the case in her son's name, in an attempt to ban publication of long-lens pictures of him taken when he was 19 months old by an agency photographer. One of the pictures was published in the Sunday Express magazine and Express Newspapers settled the case out of court.

&#149 TONY and CHERIE BLAIR won damages in November 2007 for infringement of privacy from Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard. They took action over long-lens photographs published in the Daily Mail, taken in "secluded and private places" when they were on holiday at Sir Cliff Richard's villa in Barbados. The Mail settled out of court for an unspecified sum.