A Student’s Unspoken Story: Life in Sadomasochism

The typical depiction of sex work. / Creative Commons

A Brooklyn College student, who operated under the name Mistress Renee, was a dominatrix for about six months. She took sessions that could last from 30 minutes to multiple hours, depending on what the client requested.

“I catered to all fetishes, from sadism and whipping/caning to body worship – essentially, the men would pretend I was a goddess and compliment me for an hour. My boss encouraged me to define my limits as I encountered them, so the question isn’t so much what was I expected to do as what didn’t I do,” said Mistress Renee. “The rules of the dungeon were: don’t inflict any pain that would require hospital attention; and don’t engage in any sexual acts with the clients.”

Her job was to arouse them, not to physically assist them with the act as many would believe.

There are many forms of sex work besides stripping and prostitution. “I wouldn’t engage in sex acts – intercourse, oral sex, handjobs, etc – however, S&M is inherently sexual.”

As with most jobs, there are expectations associated with playing the role. “The expectations, more or less, were to dress the part as a dominatrix while in a session – make-up, hair down, ‘dominatrix’ outfits – sit with the client for a few minutes beforehand to see what they were looking for in a session, and have the session. I’ve slapped guys around, spat in their mouths, dressed them up in embarrassing ways to mock them, used them as footstools, etc. It is important to note, however, that in the end it was based on what they had specified they were looking for.” Mistress Renee continued, “Customer service was the main part of my job.”

Sex work isn’t seen as customer service in the United States, that classification is usually reserved for waitressing and retail. Professor Anna Wilking, who is part of the anthropology department at Brooklyn College, and who had studied sex work in Ecuador, had another view.

“Especially in countries where it’s legal, it’s just seen as another job,” said Wilking. “There’s quite a few reasons why women turn to sex work, why anyone turns to sex work. For the women I worked with… they were freelance so they worked in the streets,” she said. “They wanted to work on the streets so they could arrange their schedules around their kids… The number one reason they turned to sex work was so that they could come and go at their leisure.”

“I was working this absolutely soul-sucking job in a restaurant,” Mistress Renee said. “The hours were absolutely terrible. It was stressing me to the point that my hair started falling out. I was working every second I wasn’t in school. It was a nightmare. So I quit. But I still needed a source of income… I’m an absolute overachiever when it comes to school, so a night job was one of the best choices for fitting a job into my schedule. I was able to do homework while there and not in session. It was really lenient and a good environment.”

Television shows and movies joke that strippers and prostitutes have “daddy issues,” terrible home-lives, do drugs or all of the above.

“Here we have a very distinct tradition around sex work. It’s always something that is seen as exploitative to the women who do it and a labor of last resort,” Wilking said. “We tend to pathologize women who engage in sex work.”

This mentality also makes it seem like there are only two types of sex work, both very physical and seen as dirty. It is argued that in places where sex work is decriminalized, it is easily regulated and safer for all parties that are involved.

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