Spanking is a form of corporal punishment that generally consists of striking the buttocks of a child or teenager, usually by the parents. In British English, "spanking" means only with the open hand. In American English, it can be with either the open hand or an implement such as a paddle. Some countries prohibit spanking as a form of discipline, and many organizations dedicated to the health of children oppose spanking as a form of discipline. In Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the word "smacking" is also used, but this can refer to slapping the child's hands, arms or legs as well as its buttocks.


The verb "to spank" has been known in English since 1727, possibly onomatopeic in nature.

English and several other languages have a specific, common verb for "spanking", that distinguishes it from corporal punishment applied on the buttocks. Thus in Latin the only word derived from "culus" (buttocks) was "culare" meaning "to spank", similar to the Italian "sculacciare"; in Spanish "azotes" or "nalgadas", from "nalga" (butt); in French, the verb is "fesser", also from "fesses" (buttocks).

In homes and schools

Spankings are most commonly administered to children by parents, though in some countries it is also done in schools. Historically, boys have tended to be more frequently spanked on average than girls.

School corporal punishment is banned in most of the western world, including every country in Europe, Japan, South Africa and New Zealand. There is no consensus on how much paddling occurs in U.S. schools. Some estimates place the number of paddlings at approximately 350,000 a year, while the National Association of School Psychologists places the number at 1.5 million cases a year. The anti-C.P. campaign Center for Effective Discipline claims that the number of students struck in 2006 in U.S. public schools was 223,190. In the United States, black students are more likely to be hit than white students, and male students more likely than female students, for the same infractions.


Some studies have suggested that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to be angry as adults, use spanking as a form of discipline, approve of striking a spouse and experience marital discord. Older children who receive corporal punishment may resort to more physical aggression, substance abuse, crime and violence, according to certain studies. However, what is defined for the purposes of such studies as "corporal punishment" may include general brutality as well as ordinary moderate spanking.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (online on Aug 19, 2008), mothers who reported spanking their children are nearly three times more likely (6% vs 2%) to also report using forms of punishment considered abusive to the researchers "such as beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than the buttocks, or shaking a child less than 2 years old" than mothers who did not report spanking, and increases in the frequency of spanking are associated with increased odds of abuse.

Alternatives to spanking

Opponents of spanking suggest numerous methods of non-violent child discipline which they consider to be at least as effective as spanking, while lacking the negative side-effects they attribute to spanking.

Agencies that oppose spanking

Several agencies responsible for child health have issued policies against corporal punishment.

United Nations

UNESCO recommends that corporal punishment be prohibited in schools, homes and institutions as a form of discipline, and that it is a violation of human rights as well as counterproductive, ineffective, dangerous and harmful to children on several levels.


The Australian Psychological Society holds the corporal punishment of children is an ineffective method of deterring unwanted behavior, promotes undesirable behaviors and fails to demonstrate an alternative desirable behavior.


The Canadian Pediatrics Society reviewed research on spanking and concluded that it was associated with negative outcomes, and recommended spanking be discouraged by physicians.

United Kingdom

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health supports advocacy to protect children from all types of assault including spanking and opposes striking of children in all circumstances. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also take the position that corporal punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances.

United States

The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that corporal punishment possesses negative side effects and limited benefits, and recommends the use of other forms of discipline to manage undesirable behavior. The American Psychological Association believes that the use of physical punishment in institutions that care for children is unlikely to improve problem behavior and poses the risk of significant negative side effects including poor self-esteem, hostility and a greater likelihood of using physical aggression.

Legal status

According to Save the Children, the corporal punishment of children within families (whether strictly speaking "spanking" or not) is illegal in 24 countries.

Year Country Comments
1979 Illegal
1983 Illegal
1987 Illegal
1989 Illegal
1994 Illegal
1997 Illegal
1998 Illegal
1999 Illegal
2000 Illegal
2000 Illegal
2000 Illegal
2003 Illegal
2004 Illegal
2004 Illegal
2005 Illegal
2006 Illegal
2006 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2007 Illegal
2008 Illegal
2008 Spanking allowed, smacking on face and head prohibited
2008 Spanking allowed, implements forbidden to be used on children under 24 months or over 12 years old
2008 Spanking forbidden by local courts
2008 Spanking forbidden by local courts
2008 Spanking forbidden by local courts
2008 Spanking forbidden by local courts
2008 Spanking and smacking allowed, marks on body prohibited
2008 Spanking allowed, with some restrictions, depending on state

Non-punitive and voluntary spankings

Spanking exists in spheres of life distinct from punishment. Note the issue of legal consent which may or may not represent a defence to criminal liability for any injuries caused during the spanking. Apart from the erotic and from fraternity/sorority type initiations, which may have their origin in educational (domestic or boot camp) types of discipline, these include:

Folkloristic spanking traditions

In Latvia there is a tradition of hard spanking on Palm Sunday (called Pussy willow Sunday) morning. The spanker sneaks into the potential spankee's bedroom and wakes him or her up. the whipping is done with pussy willow branches or (rarely) birch. This ritual spanking is often applied to the bare buttocks. Usually young men catch girls or young women and order them to bend over for spanking. Spanking on the bare bottom was optional, but in some areas completely naked whipping with pussy willow branches has been done too. Sometimes spanking is done in early morning with aspen tree birch, while people are sleeping naked or in nightgown.

Religious customs

On the first day of the lunar Chinese new year holidays, a week-long 'Spring Festival', the most important festival for Chinese people all over the world, thousands of Chinese visit the Taoist Dong Lung Gong temple in Tungkang to go through the century-old ritual to get rid of bad luck, men by receiving spankings and women by being whipped (as in the Ancient Roman -unisex- Lupercalia); the number of strokes to being administered (always lightly) by the temple staff is decided in either case by the god Wang Ye and by burning incense and tossing two pieces of wood, after which all go home happily, believing their luck will improve.

Pomlazka is a pagan Czech Easter festival One prime example of a pagan Czech Easter celebration is the "pomlazka". Farmers used to believe that a whipping after the winter period guaranteed health, prosperity, and most importantly a good harvest.

Birthday spanking

There is a custom in certain circles to administer spankings to the buttocks of the birthday celebrant. Customarily, the person receives the number of smacks corresponding to his or her age, plus "one to grow on", often harder than the rest. A possible origin of this tradition is the smack often given to newborn infants intended to help them start breathing.

As a sexual act

Spanking is a part of sexual foreplay for some adults, often as a lighthearted playful activity. There is a genre of pornography that incorporates spanking as a sexual fetish.

See also


External links

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