The Trouble With Professional BDSM

Some people seem to have a lot of issues with providing BDSM as a professional service. The group I’m most confused about are the “lifestyle” BDSM practitioners. Some of them have a problem with the lifestyle Dominants/submissives/switches who are also professional. They don’t seem to understand that you can be both; they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, being both can be amazing, if you are able to make it work for you.

First of all, I want to clarify, for those that don’t know, the term “lifestyle”* and how it’s used in BDSM. It implies that BDSM and fetish play is something you do in your day-to-day life. You do it because you enjoy it; you are genuinely into it. It is your “lifestyle”.

When someone is strictly a lifestyle BDSM practitioner, they generally don’t ask for compensation. Sometimes they may ask their play partners to help provide toys, safety and cleaning supplies, etc. but it’s usually negotiated casually and not expected of the Dominant and/or top to supply. I am a “lifestyle” Dominant in that I genuinely am into BDSM and practice it in My personal life.

Onto professionals. This is where some people get their “lifestyle” harnesses in a bunch. I regularly encounter other lifestylers who have difficulty grasping that one can be genuinely into BDSM and also do it professionally. This confusion leads to a lot of misinformation and abuse. They call Us “fake” and “money-grubbers” and “prostitutes”, without understanding that what We do is no different than someone who really loves to fix cars and does it for friends and family, but also does it for a living, i.e. gets paid to do it.

Now, do these confused people also call doctors, makeup artists, and journalists those same names? No. They are lauded for their education and training and sharing their knowledge and experience and creativity. They are thanked for the service they provide to others.

BDSM professionals, however, are often not treated with the same respect. Despite Our having spent years learning techniques and safety through books and classes and mentors, accumulating the tools and wardrobe of Our trade, securing a space to practice Our craft, etc. — like any other professional — We are routinely treated poorly by the non-professionals in the BDSM community. They sometimes consider themselves the “real” practitioners of BDSM. This is nonsense. Anyone who is doing it is just as real as anyone else. We may love it just as much as you – and quite possibly more. Those of Us who are truly into BDSM don’t suddenly become “fake” when We make it Our vocation, We are dedicated. Wanting to help people be happy and fulfilled – including Ourselves – doesn’t make Us “prostitutes” (not that there is shame in being one), it makes Us smart. We aren’t “money-grubbers”, We, like everyone else, want to be paid for what we provide to others.

Imagine a person who loves to teach and wants to become a teacher. Once they get paid to teach, does that mean they suddenly stop enjoying teaching others? That they are only in it for the money? That they don’t care about their students? All because they get paid to do it? Of course not. Then why do people seem so confused about when someone offers BDSM professionally?

One issue that I believe makes this difficult for some people to understand is that many people just don’t know how to deal with eroticism. Since sex is taboo in most societies, primarily because of religion and other sexually repressed groups and individuals, the cumulative effect of years – centuries – of indoctrination about the “evils” of sex and the body is that people just short-circuit when it comes to thinking about it, watching it, doing it, and even the notion of paying for it. So, when people are asked to compare work like farming with work like tying someone up and spanking them, they just lose all ability to think analogously because of the negative effects of this indoctrination. “But-but farming is good…and-and bondage is bad!” Why is that? Because growing food and selling it to people who are hungry for corn or wheat is somehow more noble than selling (consensual) bondage to people who “hungry” for rope or chains?

Another issue is that the bulk of people who are professional are women. It’s almost always the women who are treated like garbage and called names. Men are not treated with nearly as much contempt. Sure, there aren’t as many of them (less demand, for one), but for those that exist, I never have seen them questioned, treated with such cynicism, and berated the way women are. Why? Misogyny.

One of the cornerstones of most societies is that women are sex objects. This is an interesting irony when sex is usually a taboo subject. Because of these mixed messages, some very real, lose/lose dilemmas are created for women (a subject to explore in another article). Our job is to provide idealized and unwavering beauty, on-demand arousal, and erotic and/or sexual satisfaction at the whims of any man who desires it, but to make a living at it? Unacceptable. We are not supposed to be making money off the thing We are supposed to be providing for free.

In closing, I’d like to pose some questions to those who have a problem with professional BDSM. Is your issue that those of Us who ask for a fee to provide (always consensual) power exchange, bondage, flogging, femme play, etc. think that what We do somehow diminishes you and/or BDSM as a whole? That women shouldn’t be charging to provide people with erotic experiences? Or is it that you are envious that We are disciplined, dedicated, and talented enough to make a living doing it?

tl;dr: Being a BDSM professional does NOT mean:

– We do not genuinely like and enjoy what We do (Some of Us have been doing this for years and years.)

– We are only in it for the money (But if someone is, no big deal; it’s no different than any other profession.)

– We are all “prostitutes” (A way to shame women who have the audacity to own their bodies and sexuality and capitalize on their erotic interests and talents.)

– We do not care about Our clients (This doesn’t even make sense.)

*I personally don’t like the term “lifestyle” and use it reluctantly (and in quotes). The reason is that the term “lifestyle” is something that is often used pejoratively by those who have problems with people who do things they do not approve of, such as people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans*, etc.; they will say someone is “living the gay lifestyle”. The intent behind the phrase is to imply that people are choosing to live as they do, which is of course repugnant to them,  and the effect of this is that it disenfranchises them as deviants from society’s acceptable code of conduct. I don’t feel like I’m living the “BDSM lifestyle”, but that it’s just a part of who I am. So, instead of “lifestyle Domme”, I prefer something like “genuine Dominant” or “Alpha Femme”.

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The Trouble With Professional BDSM

7 thoughts on “The Trouble With Professional BDSM

      1. some lifestylers think they are genuine bdsm and that many pros, in their opinion, are in it for the money. But many pros started out as lifestylers. So why not make a living from what you’re already passionate about?

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      2. It’s very simple: being a professional in BDSM is no different than any other profession. People become doctors because they are passionate about medicine and helping people heal, they become architects because they love to design structures and see them come to live, they become actors because they are passionate about embodying characters and telling stories. The act of making a living at something does not automatically change a person’s relationship to it.

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  1. It’s an interesting point, and an interesting take. I certainly don’t shame or look down on professionals but as a “lifestyler” I think the reason many of us object is the idea that a constructed scenario with a beginning and end must be inherently artificial, and I think that, despite the way it can look to the uninitiated, people of the kinky persuasion can have an unusually particular aversion to emotional artificiality. I think people resist the idea that someone is being condescending or even just overly generous by indulging them, partly because of an isolation and a guilt that forms around their own sense of being unusual.

    The big reason though is that I think the majority of kinky people are only comfortable with it in their own lives if they know that at a deep level the person they’re playing with cherishes and respects them in the cold light of day, as it were, and I think because of a certain level of generalized insecurity they are unable to be easily convinced that that respect and decency exists. So I think it makes even people who share the same interests uncomfortable because it’s hard for them to believe a stranger could regard other strangers with care, dignity, respect, and so on. So really I think people are worried about a very powerful act being carried out in an exploitative context.

    My own particular worry about the professional side of things is actually the flip side– I often worry that the professionals themselves are the ones who are exposed to exploitation. I’d love to know what your experience has been, but I guess I worry that you as a Pro don’t get treated as a real human being, that they prefer you as a caricature, and that they might use you in a way that’s unhealthy, whether psychologically or in the context of their lives outside their kink.

    I guess the real questions I’m asking are 1) do you think the people you interact with in the context of providing your talents for money are generally as on the ball and as conscious about what’s taking place as you are? and 2) To what extent do you find that consideration important?

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