I was in Toys in Babeland recently and overheard a wide-eyed het couple talking as they hovered near the display of whips and cuffs.

The woman ducked her head and laughed nervously. "Let's buy a flogger!" she said. "Um, okay, that would be cool," her partner replied. They stared at the display. "Which one should we get?" I thought about offering them my opinion, but decided to leave them in the capable hands of the TIB staff. However, if you shop in places where the help isn't so helpful, here's a quick guide to selecting and using your first flogger.

First, the length: Choose a flogger with tails no longer than 18 inches, because shorter floggers are easier to aim accurately. My arm is 17 inches from fingertip to elbow, and that's how I check lengths when I'm toy shopping.

Next, look for a flogger that has supple, velvety leather tails that are at least a half-inch wide. Suede tails are good, or a soft tanned leather like deerskin. The width and the weight of soft leather tails mean that when you swing the flogger, they move through the air more slowly than thinner, lighter tails, such as ones made from hard, skinny cords or rubber. Using this kind of flogger on someone's flesh produces a deep, warm, spread-out sensation. BDSM people call this sensation "thumpy" or "thuddy," and it's the kind of stimulation that many people find almost massagelike and easy to eroticize.

Flogging Tips: Never hit someone on the back of the neck or across the kidneys, and avoid the spine. It's generally safe to flog someone on the asscheeks, the area over the shoulder blades, and the middle back, and on the front or the back of the thighs. You can lightly flog someone's chest/ breasts (unless they have implants) and genitals.

Always begin slowly and gradually increase intensity. Establish "slow down" and "stop now" safe words with your partner. Nervous about your aim? Start out by holding the whip handle in one hand and "choking up" on the tails with the other, leaving only the last six inches of tails free to flog with. As you gain skill, decrease the choke bit by bit.

Flogging may leave red marks or bruises, depending on how hard you hit and how delicate the recipient's skin is. This can be a charming next-day reminder of a kinky evening--but inconvenient if you've scheduled a massage appointment.

Good book to read: Flogging, by Joseph W. Bean.