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53

When a professional dominatrix 
decides to start a family, her life 
changes in ways she never expected

By Yin Q.
Illustration by Marianna Tomaselli


My husband kneels by my bedside, his nose to the floor with his hands stretched out in a yogic “Child’s Pose.” I enter the room to stand at the crown of his head and he moves to press his lips to my boots. I pull a soft leather hood over his face and Robert disappears. His body is the one I lie next to every night, but his identity has morphed—no longer the man who chides me over the grocery budget or the jolly father who throws his daughters over his shoulders. His face is a dark spot against the white bedroom walls as I instruct him to stand at the far end of the canopy bed. Quickly, I weave a web that binds him to the metal frame. My fingers pause by his chest, squeezing his nipples—those sensitive triggers that activate his groin. From the experiences I’ve had as a professional dominatrix, I’ve learned that the body can be taken to greater lengths of pain if the entrance is first through pleasure. For many people, the line between pleasure and pain is not clear—a deep tissue massage, a spicy Indian meal, the 17th mile of a marathon. For sadomasochists, that threshold is our limbo stick to lower, again and again, until our limit is reached.

I peruse a collection of instruments lain on the windowsill: a slim bamboo cane; a thick, deerskin flogger; a single-tail whip. I select the single tail, an elegant and exacting instrument. I am a sadist; I adore the tear of the skin, the pain that so effectively and visually trembles the flesh. Later, I will satisfy my sexual needs, gripping the welts as the slave’s body presses over mine. Then suddenly, a baby starts to cry, a meowing muffled from behind two sets of closed doors and a hallway. The sound is faint and yet it hooks into my gut and swells my chest. It’s time to breastfeed.

I chose to be a professional dominant in bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism (BDSM) 13 years ago as an extension of my personal curiosities. I remember buying my first crop at the N.Y.C. shop Leather Man. My high school girlfriend and I were celebrating at Gay Pride when I saw my first leather daddy in the window—a buff mannequin dressed in leather chaps and an officer’s cap—demanding that I get on my knees and crawl into the store. I pulled Dee in, and suddenly, I was trembling in a shop that smelled of sex—primal and ecstatic. Black leather gear and heavy steel instruments hung in rows. The men raised their brows at us and turned away, but one sales person asked me if I needed help (“Sir, yes please, sir”). And that’s how I found home.

That evening, I pulled out the crop and swung it at Dee’s bottom. She, in turn, threw her boot at me as her form of playful objection. I didn’t know about negotiations or safe words then, but soon learned. I picked up books on BDSM and began to participate in formal classes taught by the leather community, adopting their code of “Safe, Sane, and Consensual.” Upon completing my Barnard senior thesis on BDSM, I sought hands-on apprenticeship from the masters and madams of the craft, and embarked on a career as a professional dominatrix.

I chose this line of work neither to support a drug habit nor to make my way until a real job popped up. I worked in the sex industry with deliberation—it satisfied my personal interests and was a lucrative business. My roommate at the time questioned me. “You have a degree from a prestigious college, why are you limiting yourself to this kind of work?” But to me, this work felt important and worthwhile—I was helping others, like myself, explore their vulnerabilities. I encouraged clients to embrace their sexuality, to find pride in submission and strength in masochism, to transform shame into reclamation, all in a safe space. My roommate was coming home miserable from the menial duties and tedious social politics of her office job. So really, which one of us was actually the one limiting herself?

I had once enjoyed the control I had over my husband—bound and helpless—but with a truly helpless baby in my care, I found that to be a burden.

Professional BDSM work does not usually incorporate overt sexual activity. In fact, most professional dominatrixes adhere to a kind of sorority pledge that, while the client may satisfy themselves, the dominant lady is not to directly engage in the physical relief of the client’s, ahem, tension. It’s a funny dividing line in the sex industry, and there are always harsh whispers for the professionals who cross that line. I’ve always been safe in my corner, touting a solid reputation in the industry as a bondage aficionado and experienced sadist, but I shrug my shoulders at the theoretical dividing lines: escort, prostitute, porn star, stripper, erotic masseuse, dominatrix, whore.

Eventually, I created my own BDSM studio in the financial district of Manhattan. Located on the same street as a strip club, a sex shop, and a boxing gym, my private loft was a sanctuary for consensual sexual violence. Outfitted with custom suspension beams; a heavy, metal cage; and a designer bondage chair, the studio was aptly named “The Dojo.” There, I conducted sessions where men, women, and couples explored their inner desires. I tied and teased, dressed men in panties and women in strap-ons, and caned the bodies of consenting adults. I was good at my job and I loved it.

Now for the inevitable, “But then....” Robert and I met at a piercing demonstration at Babeland, a sex toy store on the Lower East Side. I was assisting another domina as she taught a class on how to safely use needles in sensation play. Robert was the demo-bottom, the human pincushion. After the workshop, we went to a café and discovered that we had both just moved from San Francisco to New York. Our story unfolded like a kinky version of When Harry Met Sally, both of us dating other partners while confiding our failures and hopes to each other, until we fell in love. That love spawned the growth of a heartbeat and toes, and a storm of baby food and diapers quickly swept away the life I once knew.

During my first pregnancy, I tried to be a goddess Earth mother, but wasn’t. There were magic moments, especially when I felt the first flutter of movement, but much of the time, I just felt big and unsuitable for a life amongst subway stairs and leather thigh-high boots.

After I gave birth, my days started to feel like a Saturday Night Live skit: the “Dommy Mommy.” There were evenings I would trot from the cage to the crib, checking on each of my dependents. Power exchange had been upended. I had once enjoyed the control I had over my husband—bound and helpless—but with a truly helpless baby in my care, I found that former domination to be a burden. I didn’t want my partner to be immobile, I wanted him to be changing diapers and helping with the two, four, and six a.m. feedings. Robert did all that, sure, but he’s also a bondage fetishist. It was one of the reasons we got married: our sex lives fit. So once a week, he would need that fix, and I, with swollen breasts and depleted libido, felt what so many new mothers feel toward the partners they love: utter dispassion and resentment. These two pillars—motherhood and sexuality—were toppling over me. And along with babies come their accessories. Our Manhattan apartment could not accommodate the accumulation of sensorial stimulation toys for both children and adults: pacifiers and ball gags; swaddle blankets and straight jackets; cribs and cages. So, naturally, we moved to Brooklyn.

While I despise the Madonna/whore binary, there was something about becoming a mother that made my career uncomfortable. Not in an ethical way—I just no longer had the empathetic capacity to involve myself with the erotic needs of others. I was no longer curious or patient enough to deal with my clients’ desires. After I returned to the Dojo from maternity leave, while a client exhaled to prepare for my cane, my mind wandered from my subject’s pain to what I should buy—kale or spinach?— for dinner. I was no longer in the game. It was time to move on.

I am not alone in my struggles with libido after motherhood, but I wonder if I felt the diminishment all the more drastically because it also drained my professional interest. Sexuality had always been a fluid thing in my life—an ever-present trickle of curiosity in childhood, a flood in my teens and 20s, then an ocean with high and low tides in my 30s. Pregnancy offered sudden spurts and dry spells, and early motherhood ushered in a prolonged period of stretch marks, sleeplessness, and low sex drive. My sexuality became introverted. My fingertips felt reserved for private encounters. I had grown a child inside my body. Now more than ever, it was a sacred space. And since Robert and I were financially secure enough to give up my income, I packed up my whips, wheeled the cage onto a moving truck, and receded from professional domination.

I left sex work only to face the reality that sex had become work. As a single woman, I had counseled married-with-kids couples on how to keep their sexual tension alive. As a mother, however, I realized that back then I knew nothing. But I did follow my own advice: I dressed in clothes that made me feel sexy (and still fit me); I selected mood music that wouldn’t wake the baby; I took out my ropes and whips, which were now kept in a locked trunk, and role-played the sexy me until I really felt sexy. As the saying goes, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I faked it for four years. Not the orgasm, but the feeling sexy part. Just as you can force a smile until your brain starts to register happiness, you can go through the motions of sex until the heat actually starts to rise. With the proper equipment, including my husband, I worked my body to orgasm without feeling sexy in my brain until a nanosecond before. When the climax was reached, that victory was a relief in so many ways. Sometimes, getting myself to orgasm felt like a lap around the track, something I needed to pump out to stay in sexual health. The release of oxytocin definitely calmed me afterward and the pulsations, though they were not as strong as my pre-motherhood orgasms (for years), were a lovely reminder that my body is for my pleasure.

When I left my BDSM career to be a swing-pusher, I found myself isolating behind a wall of the unsaid. While other stay-at-home parents could openly lament the professional identities they had passed off, I had four scarlet letters attached to my resume: BDSM. Pre-children, I was adamantly out to my social circle. I felt a duty to challenge the mainstream perceptions of sex workers and kinksters, but as a new mother, I hesitated to risk scrutiny of my children. I hesitated and hesitated until the hesitation felt like shame, the same kind of shame I had spent my career trying to help clients cast aside. I became accustomed to muttering broad lies about my past career under the pretense of protecting my children.

Parents should protect their children—from sugary cereals and violent video games. Parents should protect their children from busy streets, drugs, sharp knives, and other hard realities. We even need to protect them from ourselves sometimes—our anger and frustrations, our anxieties, and our sex. But as they grow, our protection turns into education. We teach them to handle sharp knives, to choose their own foods. They should learn what our anxieties are based on, that anger is human and can be a useful emotion. Our sexual activities should never be in front of their eyes, but neither should our sexual identities be hidden.

My five-year-old recently found my vibrator when I left it on the nightstand. She turned it on and was delighted by the purple “pocket rocket” as it sputtered across the floor. When she asked me what it was for, I pressed it behind her shoulders and told her it was for massaging muscles. She opened her mouth and let out a choppy breathed “a-a-a-ahhh” and didn’t need any more explanation. Perhaps when she starts puberty, I’ll buy her one for her own private explorations. I suspect that another more formidable instrument will be found one day—probably from her snooping rather than my carelessness—a whip, perhaps, or Robert’s heavy metal cuffs. I don’t fear that conversation in the least.

When I left my BDSM career to be a swing-pusher, I found myself isolating behind a 
wall of the unsaid.

I do, however, fear the day that someone—some playground bully or perhaps even a vindictive adult—will tell my daughters that their mother is a whore. I fear the hurt and confusion it will cause. Explaining sex work to my daughters might be more complicated, but perhaps in the next 10 years, views on sexual commerce will change. Sex work activists are already progressing their cause in social justice and health organizations, re-claiming the word “whore.” It’s a word with a big, open sound; a word that could swallow one’s identity. I write the word now; I say it out loud, appropriate it, so I’ll be ready to face it again with confidence.



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Tags: Sex , bondage , BDSM , parenting
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