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Downsized Nine-to-Fivers Turn to Kinky Sex Work

As the economy takes a spanking, many women are doing freelance fetish work to supplement their incomes.

"I've seen it before," says Linda, "during the tech bust in 2002. Women who thought they would always make a decent living in the tech sector lost their jobs." They came looking to Linda's industry for freelance work, and now it's happening again: professional women whose cubicle-bound careers have been downsized are entering Linda's corner of the " gig economy" -- a corner that involves whips, ropes, and occasionally, nipple clamps.

With staff jobs evaporating and former nine-to-fivers cobbling together incomes through scattered side projects, freelancing as a dominatrix -- or "pro-domme," as industry types prefer to call it -- has become a plausible gig option. As a former call girl, I know plenty of people in the industry, and I recently spoke to several who have started doing kink work to supplement their incomes. (I've changed their names to protect their privacy.) They agree: The sector is poised for expansion as more unemployed and underemployed women begin looking for extra cash.

Linda began working in a dungeon when she was a student. Now she works a regular day job, picking up occasional domination gigs at night to supplement her income as an editor. Throughout her time in the industry, she's seen "regular" jobs and kink jobs happily coexist -- even complement each other. She knows women who were self-employed pro-dommes before the tech boom began. Then, she says, "during the boom, they got tech jobs." And after the bubble burst, they brought their skills back to the kink industry and built new websites for themselves with the updated skills they'd acquired.

Many freelance dommes prefer to work a regular shift in a commercial dungeon with equipment and advertising provided by management. They do much of what you'd expect, specializing in bondage, verbal humiliation, spanking or paddling, whipping, and genital torture. Some aspects of domme work -- nipple-clamping a customer, wearing a strap-on dildo, allowing a man to worship your feet -- are familiar to traditional call girls, but the more rigorous assignments could make some prostitutes faint. Still, working a shift at a dungeon can provide a more similar structure to regular work, which adds a level of comfort for those just doing it as a side gig. The busy night shift works well for women with regular day jobs, but some women prefer the early shift -- neighbors, relatives, husbands, and children are less likely to wonder what you're up to while the sun is out.

The money's not bad, either. Jessica, a pro-domme in her late twenties, apprenticed at a dungeon before striking out on her own. In Manhattan dungeons, she says, the typical cut on a $200 session is 60-40 in the dungeon's favor. To people who make their entire living in the sex industry -- professional escorts who get $500 an hour, for instance -- such rates can seem abusive. But freelancers see it differently. "If you're making $8 an hour at your day job, $80 is awesome," says Jessica. "There's no shortage of women willing to work at those rates."

Jessica recently got a new day job working for a website designer three days a week, leaving her time to see a few regular fetishists. Like other freelancers, she's responsible for her own health insurance. Does she want a full-time tech job with benefits? "In this economy? Forget it," she says. "I didn't really try to get a full-time job." She embraces her role in the gig economy -- one gig, her tech job, enhances her resume, while her fetish work makes life in New York affordable. What's more, her part-time tech work makes her a legitimate freelancer, which comes with perks. "I joined the Freelancers Union for medical insurance," she says, an option she wouldn't have had if working exclusively as a domme.

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