I filmed my first spanking video while wearing the silver key charm my boyfriend had just given me on a chain around my neck. The video shoot took place a few days before New Year’s, and Adam had given me the necklace on Christmas Eve, when he told me he loved me for the first time. I kept it on even when I pulled down my underwear—plain white bikini panties, a touch of innocence I had to purchase especially for the shoot, since I didn’t own any—lay over the lap of a man I’d met only minutes earlier, and squirmed and yelped while he spanked me and a camera recorded the scene to be immortalized on the internet, forever available to the spanking website’s paid subscribers.
Earlier that morning, I’d Ubered to the North Hollywood apartment of a casual friend who also happened to be a popular spanking model, and who had recruited me for this shoot. We rode together into the Valley—the mythical Land of Porn—and stopped to buy snacks and coffee for the crew, and the whole time I jabbered about how magical it felt to be in love (for the first time, though I didn’t mention that—I was thirty, and ashamed of being such a late bloomer). We arrived at a rented house in Van Nuys to which I would return for subsequent shoots over the next three years, a nondescript cottage where I wasn’t sure anyone actually slept in the beds or ate at the table or cooked on the stove. It seemed like a dolls’ house, coming to life only in scenes viewed through an outside eye.
And I was happy to be a doll. I was nervous, yes, worried I might do a bad job or look unattractive on camera. And then there were the “scandalous” images of me that would find a permanent home on the Internet, even if they weren’t connected to my real name. But I had fantasized about doing something like this for a long time, for as long or maybe longer than I’d fantasized about being in love, and now all my dreams were finally coming true.
The shoot was professional and non-exploitative, if low-budget and more than a little silly. We shot ten scenes in basically one take each, with the director manning the main camera, and his assistant on a second camera angled toward my face—the “reaction shot.” I played a bratty prep-school student whose age was never specified—the target audience salivated over young-looking faces like mine, but the company didn’t want to court controversy. Similarly, they danced the line between porn and something oddly wholesome: my bare bottom being spanked was the centerpiece of each scene, but the director avoided even the slightest shot of my vagina, and my top half always remained covered up.
The content of each scene, with predetermined scenarios but improvised dialogue, was equally innocent. My male co-star played my tutor who believed in old-fashioned discipline, and as my bad behavior progressed from not doing my homework, to cheating on a test, to throwing a party on my parents’ yacht, so too did my punishments grow more severe: from a hand spanking to strikes from a leather strap, to the climactic moment—ten full-strength whacks with a gigantic wooden fraternity paddle. I actually had some fun playing a smart-mouthed teen, a role so opposite from my usual quiet self. I had an excuse for every transgression: I hadn’t finished my homework because I was volunteering at an animal shelter; I’d borrowed Dad’s credit card so I could get him the new suit he wanted as a birthday surprise. It was sort of like an improv performance, with, of course, some partial nudity and smacks to my bottom thrown in. But I was a masochist who had been spanked before, and even the fraternity paddle didn’t faze me.
I went home that night with a bruised backside and a thousand dollars, surprised by how easy it had been. At the same time, I vowed never to watch the videos, suspecting if I viewed myself as I appeared through the camera’s eye, as I appeared to the men watching my image on their computer screens, I wouldn’t like what I saw. All my imperfections—the little bumps on my skin, the pockets of fat under my arms, my too-thin eyebrows—would come out, overshadowing the beauty I wanted so badly to possess. So I chose not to look.
When I told Adam I wore the necklace during the shoot—I wore it all the time, I never wanted to take it off—he said he wished I’d saved the necklace just for him. I had thought of that key charm as a hidden symbol between us, a secret sign that even if another man was spanking me, and more men were watching me on their phones and computers, I belonged only to Adam. But he didn’t see it that way. He didn’t seem particularly angry about what I’d done—he stated his opinion, I promised not to wear the necklace to another shoot, and we moved on to another topic—but I hadn’t yet learned how good Adam was at holding on to resentments, at letting them fester inside him. I’m not sure if he held on to this particular transgression. I only know I should have been more careful.
Adam didn’t spank me about the necklace, but he did spank me. Sometimes he spanked me as punishment—if I was being whiny, or I was late for a date, or once when I knocked over and broke his electric toothbrush. We were in a BDSM relationship, he was the dominant and I was the submissive, so this was par for the course. Still, with Adam, it was hard to know how much of the punishments were a game, an excuse to engage in a flirtatious form of foreplay we both enjoyed, and how much of it he took seriously.
I accepted this uncertainty, his flashes of unpredictable anger, because when Adam was good, he was so good. Our first Christmas together had been, like the spanking video, both wholesome and very, very naughty, but altogether magical. We celebrated Christmas Eve with his family—mine was on the other side of the country—and I spent the night at his apartment, then Christmas day was just for the two of us. We had pancakes at IHOP and took a walk on an empty beach, where he held me close as the wind whipped my hair across my face and the waves swept salt spray through the air. We went home and warmed up with hot chocolate, watched the Muppet Family Christmas (my favorite) followed by Bad Santa (his)—and he spanked me.
This was not a punishment spanking, and it certainly wasn’t the sort of spanking I performed on camera, but it was one of the things that had made me fall in love with Adam so deeply. I had never been spanked as a child, and while I’d enjoyed other aspects of BDSM play like whipping and bondage, I’d never fully understood the appeal of spanking until Adam told me to get over his lap on the couch for the first time. It was almost luxurious, lying on my stomach with my limbs spread out over the entire sofa, and we could stay like that for an hour, usually with the TV or a movie on, Adam spanking me just hard enough to sting and then rubbing and soothing the pain away, teasing a finger across my ass and my pussy until my entire body was wound tight with anticipation, until I belonged entirely to him. It felt like being taken care of, it felt safe, and usually—and especially on that Christmas evening—it led to sex that brought us even closer together.
That first Christmas, a few days before my first spanking video, life seemed almost perfect; the only problem was that I wanted to be perfect too. I was on a quest to erase my physical flaws, and the ones that defied my efforts loomed so large I can still remember their exact location years later. On that first Christmas, I had two pimples along the left side of my jaw, and I told myself that over the next year, I would conquer my skin once and for all. Then my next Christmas with Adam—and my next spanking video—would truly be perfect.
I had always wished for physical perfection, but for most of my adult life, it had been a goal I daydreamed about without believing I’d actually reach it. It was the same way I thought about love, most of the time, and about taking part in something as risqué as soft-core porn. But now I had achieved the latter two, and that accomplishment seemed to reawaken my desire for the first. My longing for beauty was a deep one, reaching back to my early childhood, and it was dangerously intertwined with my yearning for love and physical affection. My parents, particularly my dad, were not always able to express their love for me through words and physical touch, and while I knew my dad loved me, I didn’t feel it. And then in elementary school, I discovered the Playboy magazines in my father’s bedside drawer. I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and lie on their bed on my stomach—the same position I would later take when Adam spanked me—and I would gaze entranced at the images of models like living dolls, with their glowing airbrushed skin, their miraculous, gravity-defying breasts. Somehow I determined that if I truly wanted to be loved, if I wanted someone to hold me and treasure me like a precious doll, this was what I would have to become.
By the time I entered high school, my dad had stopped subscribing to Playboy, and my worship of those models had been buried beneath the more practical concerns of college applications and grade point average. On a logical level, I understood that my dad loved me through the pride he took in my academic achievements, and, once I graduated college, through the way he supported my attempts at a writing career. But at the same time, I never completely quieted that part of me that wanted not to be respected, but to be adored.
With my small breasts and not particularly photogenic features, I was never going to be a Playboy centerfold; starring in spanking videos was about as close as I would come. After that first shoot, I made a few videos for another spanking company, but they didn’t pay as well, and I found myself eagerly waiting for the first company to return—they were based in Britain and only shot in the US once a year, usually in December or January. I was doing other jobs, editing and tutoring, but for that year, much of my energy was devoted to Adam. I lived for those moments when he had me over his lap, when he told me how beautiful and spankable my ass was, kissed the top of my head and called me a good girl. When he made me feel adored.
That year, I wore the key charm Adam had given me almost every day. We went on two magical vacations and I began to feel like a part of his family, but at the same time, Adam had a dark side I had to take care not to trigger. He would blow up if I stayed at work a few minutes late when we were planning to meet, or if I left my phone on at night and the sounds of the notifications woke him. I focused on correcting my behavior, just like I focused on fixing my appearance, seeing a dermatologist and working out to sculpt my “spankable” ass. I was still trying to craft my perfect self, to maintain our ideal relationship, even if it was getting harder to do so.
That December, a crop of stubborn bumps bloomed across my forehead, despite all the dermatologist’s creams and pills. The pill he prescribed did make me lose weight, though, and when I filmed the British spanking video a few days before Christmas, I felt momentarily adorable in jean short-shorts and a crop top, an outfit I would never have worn in my regular life, and in the schoolgirl skirt and party dress and all the other costume changes. My male co-star this time was gigantic, and in one scene he lifted me onto the fireplace mantle and spanked me there, and I squealed with genuine delight. After the shoot, I started to tell Adam how insanely big this guy’s hands were and how wild it felt when he spanked me, but Adam quickly told me he didn’t want to hear about it. Which seemed fair.
Adam’s and my Christmas didn’t shine with the exhilarating spark of the first, when I’d just heard the words I love you for the first time, but in a way it was even better—now we had traditions. We went to IHOP and the beach again, shared hours of sweet sex and cuddling, and added a new ritual: driving around to look at Christmas lights. As I shivered in the December evening, gazing at windows and roof eaves strung with miniature glowing globes, I dreaded the moment Adam would drop me off at home. I never wanted this day to end, and maybe a part of me knew it would never be like this again.
The new year started ominously: the night before New Year’s Eve, I discovered a rash of bumps all over my upper back. Adam and I had a casual New Year’s at his apartment, and when he said he felt under the weather and didn’t want me to spend the night, I was relieved—I didn’t want him to see the bumps I was hiding under my hair, especially since I’d picked them into a mess of angry red scabs. Those scabs eventually healed, and Adam and I continued our relationship as normal, but pressures were mounting: Adam had decided to buy a house, always a stressful endeavor, and my freelance editing work was picking up to the point where I couldn’t drop everything to hang out with him—a fact he didn’t appreciate. I was constantly exhausted, trying to keep up with my work and also keep Adam happy. And worst of all, at least to my mind, was the way my skin was rebelling. Not just my face, but my chest and back were regularly erupting in acne, and I began to be bothered by small flesh-colored bumps on my arms—keratosis pilaris, I’ve since learned, a common and harmless skin condition. I’d probably had these bumps for years without noticing, but now every irregularity of my flesh consumed me till I picked it off, or burned it away with chemical peels ordered off Amazon. Soon my left arm—it was always the worse of the two—was a nightmare of red bumps and scabs and peeling skin, and I stopped going out in public with bare arms.
Spankings and sex with Adam weren’t the blissful experience they once had been, as now I was consumed by shame and the frantic effort to hide my marred skin. I no longer wanted to spend the night with him, not even when he purchased a house and I would have had my own bathroom to spend hours picking and plucking and obsessing in. I would mention my skin problems to Adam, but I would do almost anything to keep him from seeing them, even applying temporary tattoos over every scab on my arms and back. The tattoos annoyed him, my waning interest in sex irked him, and he was hurt by my reluctance to move in to his new home. I did want to move in, I told myself—often fingering that key charm as I thought about it—I just had to fix my skin first.
But the more desperately I tried to repair my skin, the more it rebelled. I overused steroid creams and was left with raw patches that lasted for weeks; the caresses I had once welcomed from Adam were now often painful. I had to stop wearing the key necklace, as my skin was so sensitive that any extra sensation on my chest and neck would irritate it. Meanwhile Adam grew angrier and angrier, and in turn more controlling; he was trying, like me, to fix something by forcing it. For Adam, that meant he wanted to dictate my work hours, a condition I couldn’t accept. So in November, I broke up with him, and I spent Thanksgiving alone for the first time in years. The British spanking company called that same week, wanting to book a shoot just after Christmas, and I agreed but immediately fell into a panic about my left arm, which now looked like I’d had a yearlong case of the chicken pox.
Adam called me in mid-December. We were both lonely, and we agreed to spend Christmas together as friends. We celebrated Christmas Eve at his new home, decorating his miniature tree with Guardians of the Galaxy ornaments I’d bought him—it was one of his favorite movies, and one we’d often watched while he spanked me—but then I ubered home, still not willing to spend the night. That year his extended family had arranged a big Christmas dinner at a restaurant, but I had hoped we could get our beach walk tradition in beforehand. Adam slept too late, though, and we didn’t have time. I wore a long-sleeved dress to the dinner, which was full of overstimulated children and fancy food and made me wish for IHOP. Then we drove around looking at the Christmas lights again, and each one filled me with a longing for something I knew I couldn’t hold on to. All those little plastic bulbs, shining so brightly on their way to burning out.
My arm was still a wreck at the spanking shoot a few days later. I had bought both cream and powder makeup to cover it and woke up at five a.m. to have time to do so, along with applying ample layers of makeup to my face, chest, and back. It turned out the director had no problem with me wearing long sleeves in every scene, and I felt silly to have worried so much. Adam hadn’t been spanking me the past few months, though, and my butt was out of practice; the paddlings and canings were much harder to get through, and I was so worried about getting makeup on my costumes or the furniture that I couldn’t relax for even a moment. Just as sex with Adam had become a gauntlet of fear and anxiety, so too had filming the video. I was relieved when it was over and, as always, resolved never to watch a single scene.
Maybe if Adam and I had parted ways for good after that Christmas, I would have begun to heal. But neither of us could let go of something that had once felt like magic, and we tried to be friends, to remake our relationship on equal terms. Yet our love had begun with me naked over his lap, gratefully accepting both pain and comfort, his little doll who was happy to do whatever would please him. We could never be equals now, and our relationship could never progress from a fantasy—a fantasy like those silly spanking videos I acted in, like those images of the women I wanted to become as a child—into something real.
In September, Adam and I had another huge fight, and we didn’t speak for a month. Then he sent me a long, devastating letter detailing all the ways I’d ruined our relationship, including both illogical accusations—I loved Starbucks more than him, he claimed—and more truthful ones, like the fact he’d never been comfortable with my being spanked by other men. Around the same time I received the letter, the spanking company called to book another shoot, and, needing the money, I agreed.
Almost the moment I did so, it seemed like all the negativity and pain and resentment Adam had conjured through that letter exploded on my face. It started out as small bumps and clogged pores, and over the past year, I’d gotten in the habit of picking these out the moment I saw them. Usually they healed after a few days, but this time, every picked spot seemed to become a gaping wound, the skin peeling off into dime-sized raw spots I couldn’t cover with makeup. As Thanksgiving passed and a Christmas I’d be spending alone—and the spanking shoot—loomed nearer, I drove myself into a frenzy, spending nearly as much money as I would make on the shoot on creams and ointments that promised healing powers, and makeup that claimed to cover any blemish. But with every day, new spots popped up, and I couldn’t stop myself from picking them off. I considered canceling the shoot, but I needed the money, and I knew the director would be annoyed at having to find a last-minute replacement. So I continued applying creams and practicing makeup techniques till the day before the shoot, hoping for a miracle.
There was no miracle. Instead, the opposite occurred: a blemish I’d picked on my forehead had actually risen up, a swollen lump with a scab in the middle of it, as if I’d both bumped and scraped my head. I piled makeup on it, feeling as if I might throw up at any moment, unable to stomach looking at my entire face at once. I went to the shoot, and no one said anything—they were focused on the bottom line and wouldn’t want to lose money by sending me home—but I had to wonder if they would try to edit everything above my eyes out of the video. My forehead hurt, the dry scab pulling on the skin around it under layer after layer of powder makeup, but more than that, my entire body throbbed with a deep sense of shame and ugliness. The sensation was physical, a current of impurity shooting through my bones, and this time the pain of the spankings felt like a punishment I deserved. I’d tried so hard to make my body and my flesh into something perfect, to become an image others would admire and maybe even love, and instead I’d mutilated myself. At the end of the day, I took my payment and went home, knowing this would be the last spanking video I’d ever film.
For weeks that raised wound on my forehead was nearly impossible to hide, and I left the house only when I had to, covered in makeup and avoiding eye contact. I felt I’d been branded for my foolishness: You wanted to be special, the world seemed to tell me, you wanted to be loved because you were flawless, not accepted despite your flaws. How presumptuous, to believe you were deserving of perfection! Over time, the scar began to flatten to the point I can cover it with less makeup, but almost two years later, it’s still there: a quarter-inch raised circle on my forehead, which turns red as an alarm signal whenever I’m flushed. I wish I could say I’ve come to accept it, that I wear it as a mark of all I’ve been through, all I’ve loved and lost and learned. But the truth is, I still look up lasers and microneedling treatments online, and dream of the day I’ll be able to afford them. I hold on to those hopes of remaking myself the way I once grasped on to my doomed relationship with Adam, and the way I still keep the silver key he gave me tucked away, a reminder of a time I once was adored.
Maybe one day, whether the scar fades or not, I’ll be able to cast that key off. Maybe I’ll meet a man who loves me for my flaws, and maybe I’ll learn to love them myself. But for now, it’s enough to dance that line between the flawed, ugly world we all live in, and the perfect one in my head, the one I tried so desperately to inhabit, the one for which I sacrificed so much. I’ve stepped out of that dolls’ house for good now, and it’s harder to live out here. There’s not always someone there to comfort you when you need it, or correct and punish you when you’re wrong. But it’s a big world, and I’m a big girl now—and I’m going to do my best to live in that world, with all its flaws.
And all of mine as well.