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Rise of the Dominatrix: How to Make $300 an Hour Doing Sex Work ... Without Having Sex

For some women who become pro-dommes, working in a dungeon can be one way to cope with a brutal economy.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia commons


Professional dominatrices (dominant women who submissive men hire for consensual sadomasochism) are not a recent addition to the workforce; before her death in 1836, a London-based dominatrix named Theresa Berkley operated an early 19th century equivalent of what would be called a BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) dungeon today. Submissive men went to Berkley’s establishment to be chained up, whipped, birched and caned, and she enjoyed a loyal clientele. But in Berkley’s day, professional domination was very underground; for that matter, it was very underground as recently as the 1970s and 1980s. But with BDSM having become increasingly visible (at least a more softcore version of BDSM), professional domination has become increasingly plentiful. And in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, more and more women have (according to well-known professional dominatrices like Mistress Nina Payne in New York City and Mistress Bella Vendetta in Massachusetts) been looking to professional domination as a possible source of income.

The 1990s were a major turning point for BDSM, which invaded mainstream pop culture in a big way during that decade. Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Joan Jett and other musical stars brought sadomasochistic imagery to their audiences, and Hollywood films like 1994’s “Exit to Eden” (starring Dana Delaney and Rosie O’Donnell) depicted sadomasochists as a combination of sexy, humorous, fun and edgy. References to BDSM have even found their way to mainstream television programs ranging from the sitcom “Frasier” to the long-running daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Before the 1990s, vanilla porn films (that is, porn films that aren’t sadomasochistic in nature) avoided depictions of even light BDSM; now, it isn’t unusual for vanilla porn to include scenes that involve mild spanking or light bondage. Clearly, the depictions of BDSM one found in “Exit to Eden,” sitcoms, daytime soaps and San Fernando Valley porn films during the 1990s were depictions of softcore BDSM rather than extreme BDSM, but even so, they made pop culture kinkier than it had been in the past. And as BDSM became more visible and more talked about, professional domination became less controversial.

With the public awareness of BDSM having increased considerably , struggling actresses and struggling singer/songwriters realized that there was more money to be made working in dungeons than waiting tables or working at Starbucks—and during the economic crisis of 2008-2011, people in the creative arts aren’t the only ones who are struggling. There is no shortage of unemployed women with advanced business degrees from major universities; these days, having an MBA doesn’t necessarily mean that one won’t end up working in a dollar store. And for some women who become pro-dommes, working in a dungeon can be one way to cope with a brutal economy.

In the BDSM world, some pro-dommes work on a full-time basis and don’t have any type of job outside of professional domination. But pro-dommes aren’t necessarily full-time pro-dommes; many pro-dommes approach professional domination as part-time work or temp work. And in a terrible economy, the thought of making $200 or $300 an hour (which is what some experienced pro-dommes are still making) is certainly appealing to a woman who is struggling financially. But women who are experienced in the BDSM scene are quick to point out that professional domination is much more challenging than some novices might think it is.

“There are always a lot of young girls wanting to get into stripping or pro-domming or some other kind of sex work, and they think it’s going to be a lot of easy money,” explained Massachusetts-based Bella Vendetta, who has been a professional dominatrix for 11 years and has done fetish modeling for, and other well-known adult websites. “But that is definitely not the case. It’s a lot of hard work. There is certainly money to be made—certainly more than working at the grocery store or some other minimum-wage job. But pro-domming is not easy money, and there are tons of competition.”

Susan Wright, president/founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (a BDSM rights organization), said that the majority of women who get into professional domination do so on a part-time or freelance basis—and she has found that many college students and single mothers like professional domination because of the flexible hours.

“A lot of women who go into pro-domination are looking for something to help bridge the gap,” Wright observed. “There are some women who go into pro-domination services and really feel a calling for it; it’s something they intend to make their long-term career. But I think the percentage of women who feel that way is smaller than the percentage of women who are looking for something to help bridge the gap. I think there is a larger percentage of women who are looking at it as something to do part-time or something to do until their career gets started. You find a lot of students doing it, and women in the arts are drawn to pro-domination services because they can do that part-time and still have time to devote to their art. It’s something they can do to make money without having to work a 40-hour week, and it’s also good for single mothers for that reason; they can spend more time with the kids.”

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