Differences in Perception

Mark left a thoughtful comment on my last post, emphasizing the difference between professional and lifestyle D/s relationships. The original post was about the focus on man’s pleasure and the male context as the default one at the expense of the female one. His point was that while that’s true for the professional context, it’s not necessarily true for the lifestyle one, where the negotiation, dynamics and goals can be very different. Oddly enough, I actually think we’re both right.

His point about the difference between lifestyle and professional interaction is undoubtedly true, but the latter part of my post was more about the common representation and perception of femdom. And I think it’s pretty clear that the professionals dominate (*ahem*) that sphere. They are who journalists turn to when they want a quote, an interview or a sex advice column on kink. They’re the obvious inspiration for high end fashion shots and for instagram celebrities looking to shock. They’re commercially incentivized to produce glossy appealing imagery, which gets posted all over twitter and websites like this one.

Any regular readers will know that I huge respect and appreciation for pro-dommes – they’ve literally changed my life. But I can’t pretend that they don’t have significant distorting effect on how society perceives femdom and male submission. Good non-professional representations of femdom are rare and hard to find. Certainly not something the average person will regularly encounter.

This is from a series called ‘Strong Women’ by the photographer Marco Tanaglia (found here). I think it’s a good example of my point, as it’s pretty clear what type of strong woman has influenced this image.

Working from Different Baselines

This article – The female price of male pleasure – isn’t femdom and isn’t even recent (Jan ’18). However, I found it thought provoking and it’s my blog, so here it is.

The basic thrust of the article is that men and women operate on very different scales when it comes to sex and pleasure. For men the range is boring to awesome, for women the range is painful/scary/coercive to awesome. That leads to very different baselines and different normal expectations. On top of that, society has conditioned us to make the male expectation the default one, to the point where people don’t even realize other expectations exist, which in turn distorts any discussion about it.

Although it’s  not about kink and femdom, I think the articles basic point is actually equally applicable to them. If you look around at the online representation of femdom, it would be hard to argue that male pleasure isn’t the primary focus of 95% of it. The dicks might be getting squashed, smacked, beaten, locked up, teased or laughed at, but the dick is still the primary focus. It’s ironic that in a realm where the purported focus is female pleasure and male pain, it’s typically still the women clambering around in the uncomfortable outfits while the men get to sit back and soak in the sensations they crave.

I don’t really have any wise words on how to address this. Hell, this blog is just as guilty of perpetuating the status quo. But if a discussion is going to be productive, all parties have to at least be operating with a shared understanding and a common context. So perhaps just acknowledging the different contexts and baselines that are operating here is a useful first step.

It was tricky to pick and image for this particular topic. I figured a dominant woman enjoying both a candle lit bubble bath and a bound silenced slave to drip hot wax onto was a pretty good representation of what should be pleasure for all concerned. This is Goddess Viper,  a pro-domme based in Manila, with the image taken from her twitter feed. My thanks to Lucy Sweetkill for the original article link.

Chemistry over Cash

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the topic of pro-domination and the amount taken as tribute. In that post I argued that the number one factor that drove tribute was the local cost of living and property prices. However, that’s not the whole story. If you look just at a single city and take an average across tribute values, you’ll still find a non-trivial variance. I’ve occasionally seen as much as a two times variance in hourly rate within the same metropolitan area. So what gives with that? Is the experience offered by some pro-dommes that much better?

…There’s a slight pause at this point while I strap my flameproof pants on…

In my entirely personal and anecdotal experience, the answer to that question is no. Among the various well established and independent dommes I’ve played with, I’ve never observed a correlation between session quality and tribute rates. I’ve had lots of amazing sessions and I’ve had a few very average sessions, and which was which always came down to personal chemistry and all the other intangibles that  go along with great kinky play. The amount of cash I had to show up with never made any difference. It’s the same story with equipment and general professionalism. I know dommes with mad scientist levels of equipment stuffed into their play space who charge less than dommes who play out of hotel rooms.  I had one domme who was charging 50% over the average San Francisco rate show up two hours late to our session, where Lydia, who charged around the average for Seattle, was never once late in 100+ sessions.

Of course you should never ever haggle over tribute rates. A pro-domme, or a sex worker of any type, can set her rates at whatever she wants and absolutely have that rate respected. If you don’t want to pay it, then don’t contact her. However, don’t be tempted to think that higher necessarily means a better experience. If you’re budget limited, you’ll almost certainly be able to find an amazing domme who doesn’t charge more than the average for her part of the world.

Of course, everything I just wrote applies only to regular professional kinky play. If you’re into findom of the kind depicted by Sardax here, then all bets are off.

Money, money, money

When it comes to paying a professional dominant – the ‘tribute’ in the industry parlance – it’s said that you get what you pay for. My social media feeds frequently features this sentiment expressed in various different ways, both by pro-dommes and their clients. In other words the quality of the dominant and the experience she offers correlates strongly to the size of the tribute she demands. But is this true?

I can obviously only comment from my limited personal experience, which is entirely with independent and well established pro-dommes.  However, within that limited set, I’d say the number one correlation with the tribute amount isn’t the skill of the domme, but the cost of real estate in her location. High cost cities make it expensive to maintain both a playspace and a personal residence. They also tend to have a highly paid client base who can afford higher fees. So Manhattan has always had very high hourly tribute rates. San Francisco wasn’t too bad a decade or so ago, but has become a lot more expensive in recent years.  Seattle isn’t in San Francisco’s league yet, but is beginning to trend in that direction.

Keeping all this in mind, if there are any American submissives out there with cash on the hip, vacation time in the bank, and a kinky itch to scratch, my top recommendation would be to visit Los Angeles. It’s got a huge and talented pro-domme community, but its sprawling layout leads to a cheaper cost of living and significantly lower tribute rates. For example, Isabella Sinclaire is undoubtedly an outstanding domme, with the skills to match anyone in the world. Yet, her rate for 2 hours is (at the time of writing) $500, which is significantly below the SF average and way below the NYC average. She also has an amazing and well equipped play space.

I hated LA when I first visited it back in the 90’s, but it’s probably the one place in America I’d now consider living outside Seattle. If you’ve not been then I definitely recommend it. Just steer clear of the Hollywood tourist traps.

This shot is from Isabella’s instagram feed. Her contact information for scheduling professional sessions is here.

Gone but not forgotten

Spotting this image on tumblr brought a wry smile to my face. Those that have been around the femdom blogverse a while may recognize it. For those that don’t, this is Ms Marie with her husband in their basement. She wrote an excellent femdom blog 7 or so years ago, and I still occasionally see photographs from it surface on tumblr and twitter. One day her blog just vanished. As far as I know, she never posted or commented again.

Sex blogging is a strange form of interaction. With casual acquaintances we typically share a narrow and very shallow view of ourselves. It’s a personality puddle. With good friends we deepen and also broaden that sharing. Maybe a lake or sea rather than a puddle. By contrast, sex blogging is a dark water filled mine shaft. We share intimate personal details and yet retain this incredibly narrow focus. Readers know things that our closest friends aren’t aware of, but also don’t know things we’d casually drop into a conversation with a slightly annoying work colleague. It makes the transitions – when life changes and bloggers stop or move on –  all the more strange.

I often think of bloggers I used to read and (in some cases) swap comments with – Ms Marie, hmp, scott & Em, D from Dumb Domme, Saratoga, Suzanne, Axe, Bitchy Jones, Disheveled Domina and many others that have currently slipped my mind. In some cases I know a little bit of the context around why they stopped. In most I’ve no idea. I hope they’re OK and don’t regret what they shared with the world. I hope they know that at least one of their readers appreciated their posts and still reflect back fondly on them.

Protonmail vs Gmail

When the FOSTA-SESTA bill was passed into law there was a rush of sex workers and clients moving from Gmail to the enhanced security of Protonmail. Since then I’ve noticed a backlash to Protonmail, with complaints about its reliability resulting in some people moving back to Gmail. At the same time I’ve also observed some confusion about the security issues involved, with comments like “Gmail uses encryption anyway” or “I’m on a VPN, so why does it matter?” Obviously, everyone can make their own judgement call about utility vs security, but I’d like that decision to be an informed one. Hence, this post to dig into the issues.

When it comes to encryption, Gmail does use an encrypted connection between you and their servers. That’s nothing unusual. So does pretty much every internet service that carries personal data (banking, shopping, email, etc). That’s necessary to stop people in your building, coffee shop or  IT department sneaking a look at what you’re sending and receiving. Obviously this is a good thing, but pretty much irrelevant when it comes to law enforcement. Even if they could do it (which they can’t), they’re not going to try and hack your internet connection and reconstruct your emails from the data you send.

Similarly, while a VPN (virtual private network) is generally a good thing for privacy, it’s irrelevant when it comes to law enforcement and email. Normally, even with encrypted connections, it’s still possible to see what sites someone is visiting. With a VPN, a remote computer (typically in another country) makes all those connections for you, and you just have a single encrypted connection to the VPN. That’s great if you don’t want someone to be able to trace your interactions with sites like eros or slixa, but kind of pointless when it comes to Gmail. If you’ve got a public web presence tied to a known email account, there’s absolutely no value trying to hide the fact you’re connecting to that email service. The fact you’ve got the email address on your website proves that you must be using the service.

The key difference between Protonmail and Gmail is how the data is stored on the email servers. In Protonmail the data is encrypted so that even the people running Protonmail can’t read it. That is absolutely not true for Gmail. Google’s entire business model is based on mining user data. In some cases it’s even possible for third parties to access the data. As Google describes here, they will produce the content of your Gmail account in response to a search warrant. And, as they document here, they produced user data for around 80% of the legal requests they receive each month. So if a prosecutor has your Gmail address and a search warrant, he can read your emails. The bar for obtaining a search warrant is simply showing probable cause. That is not a high bar. In contrast, even if US and Swiss law enforcement cooperated to get hold of Protonmail data, it would be a jumble of meaningless numbers. They’d need the account password to make sense of it.

One could argue that there are easier and more likely ways for law enforcement to hassle sex workers than trying to access their email accounts. Or that if an investigation has reached the point of getting search warrants, it’s unlikely to be stopped simply by a lack of email data. However, in the current climate, I tend to take the view that safer is always better. Would you want to bet against the possibility of a prosecutor going on a fishing expedition after scraping the web for pro-domme and escort email addresses? Or getting hold of the data from sites like eros or slixa and then using some bullshit sex trafficking story to get a load of warrants signed off? No tech company is going to want to be perceived to facilitate sex trafficking, even if the trafficking story is a fiction with zero relationship to reality.

As I said at the beginning of the post, the utility vs security trade-off is a matter for individual judgement. But nobody should assume that there isn’t a trade-off involved here. Gmail and Protonmail offer very different levels of privacy. Personally, even though pro-domination is legal and I only engage in non-sexual BDSM activities, I’ve switched to Protonmail for my personal account.

If anyone has questions about any of this feel free to leave a comment. I’m absolutely not a legal expert, but I do know a bit about computers and networks. I also added some follow-up thoughts in a subsequent post.

This domme certainly takes security seriously. She doesn’t ever turn her computer on. That’s hardcore security.

As far as I can tell the website originally associated with this image has ceased to exist.

More on Demarcation

This is a follow-up post to my one from yesterday. That tackled the perennial discussion of what sexual activities are acceptable for a domme and why the obvious answer of ‘all of them’ never somehow seems to stick. In that previous post I argued that a large number of pro-dommes are invested in defining domination in a legal safe way, which naturally puts certain activities outside the definition.  While I obviously think that’s true, it’s also only part of the picture. The other part is the out-sized influence that professional domination has on femdom in general.

In any sane world, femdom would be a generally recognized preference, and professional femdom a narrow subset of it that operates within certain legal boundaries. Actually, in any sane world, those legal boundaries wouldn’t exist and sex work would be decriminalized, but lets set that aside for the moment. The general point is that people’s sexual behavior shouldn’t be defined by the professional label. Nobody would take the escort definition of the girlfriend experience (GFE) to be how a man should actually interact with a girlfriend. Yet the pro-domme dynamic is often the lens used to view femdom in general. So any distortion created by the laws around sex work tend to distort how people see the bigger picture and the definition of female domination.

This blog is part of that problem. Over the years I’ve tried to link to and feature the blogs of many lifestyle female dominants. I’m sure I could have done a better job, but I try to share the broadest view of femdom that I can. However, for most femdom bloggers, sharing information is optional and secondary to their kinks. For most pro-dommes, sharing information is a key part of their marketing and essential to how they make money. That creates a public information imbalance. Most femdom blogger avoid sharing photographs for reasons of privacy. Pro-dommes hire professional photographers and take endless snaps of themselves between sessions. My social media feeds are full of them, and I love featuring them here. It makes it easy to create a visually interesting posts. But it’s a distorted view of femdom.

I’ve no idea how to resolve this problem. Pro-dommes have been a hugely important and positive part of my life. I’m happy when I encourage people to visit them. I also think that if I tried to create a blog that featured no professional content at all my readership would plunge. The images they share are undoubtedly striking. At the same time, I don’t think I present a balanced view of femdom. Or a view that leads people towards what I’d like femdom to be. Instead I reflect an information imbalance that’s detrimental to that vision, and I’m not sure what to do about that.

I’ll leave you with a shot that exemplifies my problem. This is of Mistress Iris as captured by Miss May. It’s a lovely image and Mistress Iris is a fabulous domme, but it’s also as relevant to femdom in general as the Noma cookbook is to the average home cook.

You can find Miss May’s professional site here. She offers bespoke web and graphic design services for the global Fetish, BDSM and erotic industry.

Mistress Iris is an LA based pro-domme, who travels extensively. You can find her professional site here.

Demarcation

There’s one topic of discussion in femdom communities that seems to repeat itself with the inevitability of elections, taxes and the return of pumpkin spice lattes. That topic is: What are the appropriate sexual activities for a domme?  The naive reader might assume that the answer is a simple one: Whatever the fuck she wants. After all, the clue is right there in the name ‘dominant’. As in the person in control who gets to make the decisions. Yet somehow that seemingly obvious answer never seems to stick.

This topic recently surfaced once again in a bunch of my social media feeds, and prompted a strong and well written response from Domina Victoria Rage. By coincidence, Mistress T also just published a good post on the topic as well, in that case prompted by a very confused sounding pro-domme client.

I think a big part of the problem here is to do with the laws around sex work in most countries. Pro-domination is typically legal, where any kind of paid sexual act isn’t. Torturing someone for money is A-OK, just don’t make them feel good with an orgasm. Most pro-dommes therefore want to draw very clear lines between their profession and anything that crosses that legal boundary. Hence, in their view, any domme blurring that line isn’t just making a personal choice, she’s challenging their legally safe but entirely arbitrary definition of what domination is. It’s almost seen as an attack on their very identity.

It’s a bit like an old fashion union – “Sorry mate. More than my jobs worth to touch that dick. I’m strictly rope and strap work. Whole different process if you need those pipes cleaning out. I’d love to help, I would, but my governor would be on me like a ton of bricks. Demarcation she’d say. Escort’s a totally different job code and time sheet. We don’t touch the dicks and they stay away from the ropes.”

Here’s someone indulging in all sorts of sexual and kinky acts. However, she’s also filming it, which makes it porn, so that’s legally fine. Presumably the pornographers have a great union, because they get to cross all sorts of lines that show up when no camera is involved.

I believe this is by the artist incase – tumblr here and patreon here.

More Opting In or Out

I’m continuing my thoughts from yesterday’s post – Opt In or Opt Out. If you haven’t read that already, then I’d start there, otherwise this won’t make much sense.

When it comes to scene negotiation, I think there’s a fundamental tension that’s challenging to resolve. On one hand everyone wants scope for creativity and spontaneity. Working out a strict plan of action beforehand or stopping every 5 minutes to discuss the next activity is no fun. On the other hand, people can have very different views on what activities need discussion and what don’t. It’s not so much a question of failing to negotiate, but failing to spot the need to negotiate. If I think hoods are an opt in item then I will not mention them, as I don’t think I need to explicitly bar them. If the domme thinks they’re an opt out item, then me saying nothing leaves them on the table as a viable option to stick over my head mid-scene.

I don’t have any great suggestions to resolving this tension, other than trial and error and playing with the same people repeatedly. A few things I try to do from the submissive perspective are assume that…

  • Any common themes in femdom and BDSM are things I have to explicitly opt out of. For example, I’m always explicit about ruling out humiliation scenes as that’s not my kink but it’s a common one.
  • My opt in’s are sticky. If I opted in to something in a past session, the domme is probably going to assume I’m still in for it, even if we haven’t discussed it. So if I’m feeling differently about it, then it’s down to me to bring it up and opt out.
  • Opting in for X may well be treated as also opting in for things closely related to X. For example, there are a lot of different types of impact play, yet they rarely get negotiated separately. If that’s a problem for me, then I need to be explicit about how narrow I want my opt in to be.
  • A domme isn’t going to remember my particular opt outs between sessions. So if I discover during the course of play we’re on different pages on what needs discussion and what doesn’t, then it’s down to me to bring that up again next time as necessary.

I’ll leave you with a vintage image of an activity that is opt in for most dommes I know. However, there was one domme who, mid-scene and totally out of the blue, tossed me a pair of fishnet stockings, a garter belt and a pair of frilly panties to put on. It turned out to be fun, but I was certainly a bit surprised at the time. I think she was equally surprised by just how long it took me to figure out how to get them all on properly.

This show is from mrunderheel’s twitter feed.

Opt In or Opt Out

A couple of comments to my previous post got me thinking about the dynamics of session negotiation. Specifically, what gets treated as opt in and what as opt out. In theory, if you listen to most kinksters, all play has to be consensual and explicitly negotiated ahead of time, so everything should be opt in. The reality can be murkier.

The comments in question – from Servitor and Al about my pet peeve of ‘gotcha questions’ –  were slightly different but both raised the same basic point. I might not like questions designed to trip a submissive up, but that’s a valid thing to do for some scenes. Your kink is not my kink and all that. I absolutely agree with that. It can be a fine style of play if you’re into that dynamic or the roleplay requires it. But it’s also not quite the point I was trying (and probably failing) to make. Gotcha questions are a specific activity or style, and yet often get used without discussion. Which brings me to this posts title. My pet peeve isn’t so much with the approach itself, but that it is something I have to actively opt out of. Shouldn’t the default be opt in? Not so much YKINMKBYKIOK, but that YKINMK – and it’s in my session damn it! – BYKIOK.

I can think of other examples where the default is the reverse of what you might expect. Bondage for example. That’s part of almost every scene I do, yet I don’t think it ever gets negotiated. It’s treated as an intrinsic part of kink that you’d have to explicitly request not to do. Impact play is another. I’ve lost track of the number of times I didn’t mention impact play in session negotiation, yet 10 minutes later somebody was whaling on my ass. I suspect that’s probably because almost all domme’s like it so much! Neither of those activities count as a pet peeve for me, because I also enjoy them, but it might be an issue for someone else.

What exactly gets treated as opt in versus opt out clearly varies from domme to domme. At one extreme, every domme I know treats edge play activities like piercing, cutting or breathplay as opt in. They always get discusssed first. On the other side, along with bondage and impact play, I’ve typically found blindfolds and hoods are opt out. If I don’t call them out as an issue then there’s a good chance they’ll be pulled out at some point and I’ll have to start negotiating mid-scene, which is never my favorite time to do it. In between those two groups there’s a lot of fuzziness. For example, face slapping for some people is a very specific activity to be discussed ahead of time, for others its just an intrinsic part of kink that it’s up to the submissive to opt out of.

I’ve more to add here, but I’ll save that for the next post. In the meantime, I’ll continue my photographic theme of impact play. If this gentleman has a desire to opt out of caning, he probably needs to speak up asap.

This is from the High heels & Fetish tumblr.