Learning to Love the Singletail


For those who do not know, the singletail is a particular type of whip, but at the same time the one we think of most often when people use the word “whip”. A singletail is the kind of whip Catwoman and Indiana Jones carry. In the BDSM world, anything with flexible tails is classified as a whip, including floggers, cat-o-nines, and so on. This leads to a lot of confusion: if someone says “I brought my bag full of whips”, you have no idea if they are referring to a bag full of floggers or singletails or both. So for the rest of this essay, I will just call it the singletail, and those of you unfamiliar with the term should substitute “whip” in your heads. (For those of you who want to know the precise instrument I am discussing, it is the signal whip from this Wikipedia page.)

The singletail has a oddly mythical status in the kink community, probably borrowed from its exotic depiction in movies and popular culture. Singletails are considered edge play at some dungeons and can make it onto the list of banned activities. Tops approach the singletail as an art to be learned, more so than other toys, which they tend to be willing to just pick up and hit people with. Some singetail instructors recommend six months or more of practice before attempting to use a singletail on a person, and want you to be able to perform delicate aiming tasks.

Given all that, it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I first approached the singletail from the top side. I had plans to practice every day for a year, take numerous classes, go to regular group whipping practice sessions, and so on. I started on this program, and definitely learned some things right out of the gate. For example, many of the items sold as whips in the kink stores are not braided tightly enough to function as a singletail. The actual tightly-braided singletails are smooth tubes with leather strips that are around a quarter-inch wide at the base, and these toys tend to be recognizable by their high price tag.

Also, I quickly became comfortable with the way the singletail swings. It takes a little getting used to, but after a minimal amount of practice, you can kind of feel where the tail is in relation to yourself, and where it is going. With this in place, it is pretty easy to avoid the basic bad moves, like hitting yourself in the face or whacking the walls or other obstructions. Most of the danger of the singletail is in the tail going wild and hitting someone (the top, the bottom, a bystander) in the face, so it is important to get to a point where the singletail is mostly under control.

After the initial rush of effort, I tapered off. The amount of practice involved seemed to be daunting, and it looked like a long path before I would get to do what I wanted: hit people. With all the warnings I had been handed in class, I was too scared to try the singletail on an actual live person, until someone used one on me.

The top who first singletailed me was no expert herself, though she had been practicing for a while and had a good feel for the toy. She used a simple precision move, not super-sexy but guaranteed to place the whip pretty accurately. The first time, her control was not perfect and some hits were much stronger than others, but they all felt really good. The pain of a singletail hit is exquisite and hard to describe. It has the slow burn of a cane strike but with a more immediate response and a different tenor of pain. It is as tasty as pain gets for me. We regularly pull out the singletail during my bottoming sessions with her these days.

Encouraged by the bottoming experience, I tried out the singletail on two of the pain bottoms I am seeing. It turns out that it is a lot harder to cut someone than I had expected. Part of this is the particular singletail I own, which is a tad on the stiff side, has an air-resistant cracker, and is four feet long (as opposed to the six feet of a bullwhip). There are singletails that are made to cut, especially longer bullwhips or whips with weighted tips, but the short signal whips usually found in dungeons are typically not so dangerous.

The singletail is definitely temperamental. Slight variations in the depth of the hit cause large variations in the sensation, but these are all benign: when a little too close, and it starts to resemble a lighter cane hit, and when too far away the tip brushes the skin lightly or misses entirely. Even with a precision stroke, the singletail tends to wander a bit from side to side and up and down. Aiming for a relatively large target like the back or ass makes it unlikely that the strike will land on a dangerous part of the body. Even if it does, the lack of momentum in the singletail tip means that the only bad effect will be a more painful hit. The likelihood of misses and overly strong hits means that it is important to be playing with a patient bottom who can take a good deal of pain.

One of the people I am seeing is a patient pain bottom, and we have arranged for singletail practice during our occasional get-togethers. Sometimes I miss her ass and land a stroke in the small of the back, but she handles it. Sometimes I miss entirely and get a nice crack, which has a psychologically stunning effect even without the touch. We have had a couple strong scenes, even with the oopsies. It hits my buttons as a top, and I have been much more motivated towards daily practice with something to look forward to.

With the singletail now resident in the living room, my toppy partner and her bottom boyfriend have started picking it up and playing with it – a hanging singletail is pretty much irresistible. They have gotten pretty good even without classes, and I intend to show her how to land it on him at some point.

In the BDSM world, we often play funny mind tricks with ourselves. We sometimes blow things out of proportion so that we can use them in our personal erotics, erotics which demand fear, pain, or other extremes. For most kinky people, the sound of a whip crack travels directly to the crotch. But perhaps it works that way specifically because we have set it up to, amplifying the mainstream mystique of the singletail and harping on the dangers involved. We hide the singletail, restricting its use and reserving it for displays of prowess by lifelong masters. This makes the singletail psychologically powerful, but has the unfortunate side effect that it simply is used less often.

The singletail definitely demands more respect than your average flogger or cane, due to its propensity to go wide or hurt more than expected. But at the same time, it is just not all that badass of a toy, and should probably be listed in the same category as knives, needles, and fire play.

I think we should learn to love the singletail. The pain/pleasures involved are too good to be so rare. Are you interested in the singletail? If you can buy one (which is a question – they are expensive), go for it. If you cannot, borrow one from a friend. Find a singletail like mine, that is relatively short and unthreatening. Take a class or two and then just start messing around. Spend a little time getting past that point where the tail flips around and hits you in the face. Once you have a feel for the swing and the crack, find a tolerant pain bottom and … hit them.


  1. Thanks for this informative and interesting piece.

    • Jacky: Glad you liked it! I’m liking your blog.

  2. As a relatively new top, this is a useful and informative piece. I’ve stayed away from singletail play since I really don’t want to cause any pain I didn’t deliberately intend. But it would be nice.

  3. I love the singletail whips so so much. Get a pavlovian response when hearing them crack and some of the most intense scenes I’ve had has been with them.
    Am going to learn this summer hopefully. Going out to one of those brilliant parks that we have in London and practice together with a friend who is a good teacher. Took me a very long time to realise that I want to be able to handle that toy, in the meantime I’ve broken a fair share of lamps and such while goofing around with a partners whip.

    Alex Cobra is a briliant whipmaker and handles his whips in way I love so much.
    They are so expensive and waiting list is long, but at some point, one is going to be mine.
    If you are on the english scene and see him at some point, well. It is such a beautiful show.
    And it fucking hurts, he loves to push you a bit further, a bit more than you think you can take. There is some good videos on youtube as well.

    Really good piece of writing, and agree on the ‘mythology’ of the whip itself. I’ve found that using a singletail has become slightly gendered on the fetish-scene, which is slightly frustrating.
    Any how, my rant stops here.
    All the best


    • Ve: Glad you liked the essay!

      Yeah, I stayed away from the gender issues around the singletail in this essay, but they are pretty wacky these days. Around San Francisco, people joke that the crack of a singletail is the mating call of a male dom. I’ve seen a number of guys try to learn the singletail with this really aggressive attitude and I don’t think that worked too well for them.

      The funny thing is, I have always associated the singletail more with women tops, I guess because of all the cultural iconography that associate the two: catwoman, dominatrixes in popular culture, and so on. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m so into the singletail – I tend to prefer toys that I read as female-gendered. (I have some gender things going on.)

  4. re: needing years of practice. A pro-domme friend of mine gave me a five-minute lesson with a huge six-foot bullwhip, having me aim at a Mr S plastic shopping bag. After I was able to hit that reasonably accurately, she replaced the bag with her back! I almost wet myself (in a bad way 🙂 but gave it a go. Staying on the safe side, I managed to lightly hit her a few times (and miss completely a bunch more). It was nerve-wracking, but also confidence-building: it’s not so hard to avoid practicing on someone without lacerating them.

    Two hints she gave me: 1) when you first grab the whip, hold it out sideways (handle parallel to the ground) and rotate it until you find the position where the whip sags the most. 2) the loop on the handle isn’t just for hanging the whip up–put it around your wrist and you may find it makes the throwing motion easier and less stressful on your hand.

    She likes Happy Tails whips (order online).

  5. Happy Tails has stopped making singletails. I have two of theirs I love. How about some sugestions on a whip maker you know is good. Thanks

  6. Reblogged this on syrens and commented:
    Having taken single-tails 101 last year, I’d like to learn more (and, y’know, actually acquire one of these wee things).

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s