Sex Escape: Why Do Men Go to Dominatrixes?
What about men? That was the first thought that came to mind after reading Katie Roiphe’s Newsweek cover storyon the BDSM-themed “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon, in which she controversially speculated that women’s current fascination with the book’s story line of female submission was the result of the “pressure of economic participation” and the “hard work” of striving for equality. The desire for submission is hardly something unique to women.
Who understands this better than professional dominatrixes? With so many speculating this week on Roiphe’s article, I decided to hand the microphone over to women with a unique perspective on the dynamics in power and play.
Several said that Roiphe is actually on to something when she talks about submission as an escape from life’s stresses — only, this reasonable point is overwritten by her wrongheaded focus on women and the impact of feminism. Roiphe wonders whether there is “something exhausting about the relentless responsibility of a contemporary woman’s life … all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world,” and suggests “that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality.” What about the exhausting, relentless responsibility of contemporary people’s lives?
Many men who turn to submissive fantasies do so for precisely the sort of vacation from responsibility that Roiphe suggests women are seeking. Olivia Severine, a transsexual dominatrix living in San Francisco, says most of her clients were “very high-powered” men weighed down by responsibility. “They came to see me as a brief escape when no one was looking at them for direction or leadership,” she says. “The time with me is when they were told what to do, what to feel and how to act … and all the weight of their careers, families, lives, is lifted from them for a cherished few hours.”
Mistress Shae Flanigan, a Los Angeles dominatrix, says her clients are “CEOs, high-ranking managers, lawyers and wonderfully brilliant men from all over the business spectrum.” What they have in common is “that they come to me to create an environment where they don’t need to think,” she says. “Where they can trust me to keep them safe while I weave together an enticing, thrilling, euphoric and painful world where it is literally impossible to think.”
It isn’t that these guys wish they had less real-world power — it’s just, power is stressful, and submission provides a release. “BDSM is a hell of a lot more affordable of a vacation than the Bahamas, I promise you,” says Flanigan.
Melissa Febos, author of “Whip Smart,” a book about her time as a pro-domme, tells me, “As someone who spent nearly four years catering to the submissive fantasies of men, and who eventually had to acknowledge her own submissive fantasies, I can say with some certainty that I think all people experience anxiety about power,” she says. “Aren’t our objects of eroticization often the things we feel unreconciled about?”
Most of Febos’ clients “experienced an imbalance of power in their lives,” she says. For some it was “extreme disempowerment,” like child abuse, racism or poverty; for others, it was “an overwhelming burden of power,” related to everything from wealth to politics. (“During the Republican convention, business at the dungeon boomed,” she says.) All of that is to say that “eroticization stemming from anxiety is not gender-specific,” Febos explains — nor is it specific to the relative power one has in the real world.
“Everyone, regardless of career choice or level of importance, is saddled with the burden of making important decisions about their own lives and the lives of the people around them,” Domina Nyx of New York City points out.