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5 dominatrices explain the rules of consent

"People can learn a lot from the BDSM and sex work community about consent and talking about sex in an open and supportive way without judgement."

by Mary Retta
|
May 30 2019, 1:50pm

Image courtesy of Lucy Sweetkill.

Stigmas surrounding sex work persevere in nearly every corner of the globe. As a result, the sexualized power dynamics in BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) practices are often misunderstood. At the end of the day BDSM is not about control like many people think — it’s about exploring the boundaries of pleasure in a safe and consensual way.

“People can learn a lot from the BDSM and sex work community about consent and talking about sex in an open and supportive way without judgement,” said Lucy Sweetkill, a dominatrix based in New York.

Consent plays a huge role in any BDSM scene, whether it’s between two romantic partners or a dominatrix and a client. Not only do clients and professionals consent to the specifics of any session before it begins through both dialogue and paperwork, BDSM sessions require constant communication and the reestablishing of boundaries and safety. BDSM professionals use safe words, check-ins, and reading of facial expressions, and body language to ensure that their clients are safe and comfortable for the duration of the session.

i-D spoke with 5 dominatrices from around the globe about consent in the BDSM scene and their thoughts on empowering women through sex.

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Lucy Sweetkill, New York City

How did you become a dominatrix?
Growing up in the Bay Area, I was always involved in the sex positivity community but I was first exposed to kink and BDSM when I moved to New York 11 years ago. I was very intrigued by my partner’s interest in it at the time, and the porn he was showing me. One day I came across an advertisement for training new doms so I applied and was moonlighting as a dominatrix for about a year. I had a full-time career in the fashion industry at the time so it’s not like I needed a job change, but the experience was very positive for me so I kept at it and now it’s my full time profession.

What role does consent play in your BDSM sessions?
Consent plays a huge role in both personal and professional BDSM scenes. Normally a client will reach out to say what they are interested in and I consent saying I believe I can provide that service. When I meet the client in person I always like to confirm that what they wrote is what they mean before the session begins, because it can be hard to tell tone of voice through email. Sometimes clients are still trying to figure out words to properly communicate their desires, and my job is to help them communicate their needs to me and others. Communication is key — sometimes, if a client is tied up or gagged, communication cannot be verbal, but there still needs to be a constant establishing of consent.

What have you learned about consent since entering the BDSM world?
I’ve learned the nuances of consent since being a professional dominatrix. When I was growing up, the idea of consent was not common terminology. For me, through BDSM and through sex work, consent became both a common word and a nuanced idea. I’ve learned about the different forms and variations of consent — physical, mental, emotional, reading body language. The whole point of BDSM is challenging comfort and expanding your boundaries, and when you are pushing your comfort levels in that way consent must be very present.

What is one piece of advice you would give to women to help them feel empowered and in control during sex?
This question for me is a little hard because empowerment is not an individual thing, its something we need to do together as a community. We have to all help each other feel empowered, because it is really hard to feel empowered on your own. That being said, communication is key. It all comes down to being confident enough to communicate your desires, and that takes practice.

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Yin Q, Brooklyn, NYC

What is a typical workday like for you?
My work has evolved over the years (decades, really). Now, the BDSM and kink work I offer is called ritual work and not dominatrix work. The latter focuses on the erotic power exchange and play, while ritual work provides the client with bondage, sadomasochism, and kink activities but emphasizes their own singular journey — whether it be a meditative contemplation in rope bondage or a whipping to physically and emotionally push through a mental barrier for cathartic release.

What have you learned about consent since entering the BDSM world?
I’ve learned that BDSM and kink is not about control. That’s a common mistake. The dominant does not control the bottom out of sheer supernatural will. Many submissives like to play into the fantasy that they are being pushed to do things beyond their control, but the foundation for that role play to be enjoyable (and not abusive) is the baseline of consent.

Do you find that consent manifests itself differently in BDSM sessions versus during other sex?
Consent must be talked about more thoroughly in kink and BDSM sex than in more conventional sexual practices because the activities — both physical and mental — are more diverse and edgy. Within kink play, struggle, cries of pain, tears, and even saying “no” may not be the flag to stop — thus safe words and ways to check in should be negotiated. In “vanilla” sex, all of those indicators should stop the sexual interaction. When a person consents to kink — they don’t consent to the whole list of activities that that the term umbrellas. Sadomasochism, especially, should be handled with thorough communication, care, and skillful understanding on both the dominant partner and submissive partner’s part.

Anything else you want people to know?
Dominatrixes seem to be held in a different cultural regard than other arenas of sex work due to the power exchange. However, they are just as vulnerable to societal shame, abusive policing, potential client violence, and criminalization of the sex industry. As a progressive culture that embraces feminist ideals of work equality and bodily autonomy, we need to seriously consider how decriminalization of sex work would help combat violence against women, assist sex trafficked victims, and help protect those most marginalized within our communities.

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Miss Foxx, Mainly the UK, US, and Dubai

How did you become a dominatrix?
I became a dominatrix when I ended a long-term relationship a few years ago. I was introduced to financial domination around that time, and the progression to dominatrix has been very natural for me.

What role does consent play in your BDSM sessions?
Consent is very important to have from the very moment that a submissive submits a real-time request form to when they come to meet me. My form is very clear and states that I will only practice the fetishes the submissive has agreed to with me. In a face to face setting I will always read a boy’s body language to understand whether I have pushed him to his limit. With online play, it's much easier for a submissive to walk away if he does not want to continue, and to speak up if he is being pushed too far.

What have you learned about consent since entering the BDSM world?
I have learned that when a submissive approaches me he trusts me to provide a safe space. It is in both our interests to ensure our session is fun and enjoyable for both parties.

Do you find that consent manifests itself differently in BDSM sessions versus during other sex?
I find that during vanilla sex, the idea of consent is rarely discussed. As a professional dominatrix if a boy tells me “no,” I always respect that decision.

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Mistress Carmen, San Francisco

How did you become a dominatrix/what drew you to this line of work?
I was invited by a friend to a lingerie party, so I bought a riding crop and corset off of Amazon and went as a dominatrix. Upon arrival to the party, a man sheepishly asked me if I was a dominatrix. When I said no, he told me, “Oh, well my girlfriend is a dominatrix. You two should meet.” It’s been three years since that fateful meeting and several workshops, kinky shopping trips, and sessions later, I’ve never looked back.

What role does consent play in your BDSM sessions?
Consent plays a role the moment my client completes their submission form. I require knowing their interests, hard limits, as well as physical and mental limitations. All of those things are received in a space of non-judgment. We discuss those things again in-person before we begin our scene as a person’s comfort level may change the day-of. It is the duty of any Dominant to respect those limits and to try to never go beyond them. Consent is only valid in the ability for the person to both state it and revoke it.

What have you learned about consent since entering the BDSM world?
Since entering the BDSM world, I have learned that it is important to have a clear and uniform set of safe words. If anything impedes the act of providing consent, then you are not providing a space of valid consent. If they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, then it isn’t valid consent. This is not to act as a buzzkill. However, BDSM has been such a space of healing for people’s trauma regarding sexual identity, gender identity, mental and physical wellness, as well as upbringing — that I cannot set the standards of these spaces to high regard.

Do you find that consent manifests itself differently in BDSM sessions versus during other sex?
I think vanilla or “other sex” people practice sexuality without safewords. I understand that it may seem odd to establish safe words for seemingly normal activities. But no matter your proclivities, state your interests, state your boundaries, and don’t relent or back down when those boundaries are violated. It is perfectly normal for a seemingly normal thing to bother you. Don’t try to tune it out. You owe that person nothing.

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Dia Dynasty, New York City and Houston, TX

How did you become a dominatrix/what drew you to this line of work?
I started working as a professional dominatrix very soon after answering an ad on Craigslist: “Chinatown dungeon hiring — will train,” offering a full fetish wardrobe and flexible scheduling. I went in for an interview and felt an immense, enthusiastic joy at what I had discovered - a place to be a pervert and get paid. I was thrilled to be fully stepping in to this experience of learning more about BDSM and expressing my sexuality — and getting paid to do it!

What role does consent play in your BDSM sessions?
Consent is paramount to all of my sessions. It is the thing that is discussed in emails and agreed upon by the persons involved. It is the thing that is checked on during the chat before the session. Consent creates the parameters that hold us accountable for every little thing we do.

What have you learned about consent since entering the BDSM world?
In addition to learning the very idea and definition of consent, I have learned that it is an agreement of trust. One places trust in another when something is consented to, because consent is also relevant to boundaries. Impassioned or “enthusiastic consent” is advocated over forced or coerced consent, and making a distinction between these nuances is also important.

What is one piece of advice you would give to women to help them feel empowered and in control during sex?
Womxn: Find your pleasure. Find out how that feels/smells/tastes/looks/sounds. What helps you feel sensual? There is not one-size-fits-all in this, so take the time to find what that is for you. Own these things about yourself and find the words to communicate them to get your pleasure on. Bring sensuality into your life by incorporating one thing each day, keeping it with you like a talisman of power. Pleasure is transformative!

Anything else you want people to know?
I am looking forward to the effects of what empowered women and femmes can bring to our damaged culture.

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