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.