My dominatrix days, and what they did to me

Nichi Hodgson

Nichi Hodgson on the lingering burden of hard-earned knowledge about human sexuality

16 September 2018 22:51

I never meant to be a dominatrix.

I intended on it, yes. But the decision was purely academic. I needed the money.

Over the years, the odd psychotherapist has tried to imply that I have an ulterior motive I cannot catch the feeling of, tied to being a child of multiple divorces. But what other way was there for a Bronte-country class-straddler with no known writerly relatives to get the fees needed to break into journalism?

Introduced to the craft by a wily American whose ebony curls were as taut as her teaching methods, I applied myself in earnest. While I was a natural actress, a skill honed from years of playing against type in the biannual plays of my girls’ school, I was not a natural sadist. Instead, since I am a pleaser by nature, the clients enjoyed my verbal dexterity when it came to abusive screeds but generally lamented to the mistress that ‘Beatrice’ was simply too pleasant to satisfy them. In time, I channelled my frustration at not being able to deliver nastily enough in to a genuine seam of irritancy, eventually learning to erupt with aplomb. ‘Beatrice has come on!’ a chatty narcissist we nicknamed ‘the Ham’ (long before gammon was an insult) would say. In delight, I’d grimace a bit more.

As the bookings went on, I found I could tap into Beatrice’s venom at will. The sadism came from my watching just how intense their fear of their own shadow selves would be. And the masochism, when they vomited up their sin and left me to clean it up. The pleaser in me didn’t mind cleaning it up, even though I was not aware at the beginning that I would be. I just imagined lounging on my sofa, stilettoes propped up on the arm, proud as knives, while they regaled a list of all their daily thought-sins. Often, that’s how we started. But there was always a cleaning job to do at the end.

Naturally, in time, it took its toll. And that toll was the keen awareness I developed to be able to predict, with around 89 per cent accuracy, what men both hurt to hide and ached to reveal when it came to their own sexuality.  In the six or so years since I metamorphosed into the media professional I was always flexing my crop to become, that ability remains.

Incidentally, today, it doesn’t matter that most people who meet me have no prior knowledge of what I used to do – saying that I now write about sex and relationships for a living is enough to freeze them. You’d think with the emergence of a keen narrative about the ‘empowerment’ of carnal pleasure, the notion that modern sex is healthy for our souls, it would make people more pleasantly curious. But as the writer Deborah Levy puts it so very well, ‘truth is not always the most entertaining guest at the dinner table’ – and this is rarely truer than when it comes to the darker longings of our loins.

Of course, I cannot hide what I now do for a living, that would defeat the object. But no matter how benignly I hold my body, how wide I ply my smile, I watch people (ok, let me be frank, I watch men), betrayed by their micro-expressions, show me, not their disdain or mockery, but their fear. I hear as they think, ‘This girl is on to me and she will tell my better half.’ ‘Her confidence is not proportionate to the size of her tits.’ And yet ‘why am I over-interested in the words passed over imperfect teeth, pursed between rosebud lips?’

And what of the women? Their reaction is not so uniform. An inch of distaste on occasion, and sometimes a furtive glance at their male partners, followed by a possessive stroke when the topsy-turvy sinks in. But more often than not, they meet me with delight at the levity of it all.

Cat-curious, they come back to the matter several times over the course of our conversation and relish the more absurd details. Often there’s a confession.

Of something they tried, and the ensuing chaos and panic from their partner as they did so. Or they ask for advice, gleefully detailing all the tools of the domme trade they have already tried, and enquiring about BDSM equipment the way men do of stereo sub-woofers in electrical outlets.

Always, though, I gauge the innocence of my female audience, in so much as I never over-reveal anything that might alarm them. I shouldn’t do this, but I feel protective towards any woman who hasn’t realised the depth of what most men have come upon so routinely, and usually, deliberately via the internet, whatever their purpose in accessing it might be (frisson, boredom, research, compulsion).

Instead, I offer to teach. Teach them one of the many confidence tricks I sought to employ when I picked the wrong paddle, missed a blow, or when it became patently obvious the fantasy I had been commissioned to enact was impossible to inflate. Teach them to know that the shape of their leg, hip, breast, whatever it may be, with the right mindset propelling it into a desired motion, will grow most erections. And teach them to make their own staring shield.

Five years since I dommed my last, the awareness of this shade of our psyches has become something of a testy albatross on a tedious day, an apotropaic skill on the rest. It’s a burden some of the time, and the summer brings more episodes of eyes a-darting and trousers a-readjusting to shrug off than the rest of the year. When finally the cool of Autumn comes, the boots and the coats and the toe-shrouding shoes provide the necessary damp hush of my senses.

But not before one of those baking early September days blazes its last. On the train to a family dinner last week, a professional man with a face the colour of over-ripe butter leered indulgently in my direction. With little biceps bristling beneath my television journalist dress, five hard stares were exchanged between us. Then, he chanced it – and gurned flirtatiously. With a guillotine snap, my patience bolted, and I stared him down until he retracted his gall right back into his presumptuous ball sack.

A touch too vitriolic? Not really. If domming has taught me anything, it’s that women spend too much time absorbing or deflecting unwanted male outpourings, and that a drench of hard stare is a powerful and useful thing. If anything, domming has deepened my empathy towards men’s plight; the fearsome shrink of male sexuality that is now such a vivid social fright. But there is a time and a place in which to best express desire, and the train ride I take with my love is not that place.

A word on love. When I first met my partner I was hypervigilant beyond extravagance. As we wend our way into a third year of a soft knot, I’ve stopped imagining a furtive fetishism that forces him to dark-web porn-page pounding, a phantom clutch of soft fingers about his throat when I’m out of town for the day. There is trust. Not absolute trust. That would be foolish, although that gap in my trust is purely based on statistical reasoning and not his behaviour. 89 per cent of the time I believe he will abide by the barely vocalised but pronounced terms of our monogamy. At night, we sleep soundly, skin to skin.

As The Long Term has become a rabid possibility, I both forget, and have flashbacks to the Mondays when I wrenched off the duvet and shivered into latex for a 9am, and the Fridays when I instructed my last client of the day to bring good red wine, which I would sip in session, and then again as I washed and rinsed my week’s worth of dildoes, setting their neon hulks out to dry on the bright white bathroom sink.

Occasionally, when people ask me about the strangest things I experienced, I remember, not the lightly muscled and bespectacled academic who requested scissor play, and turned up with a dossier on penectomies enacted by betrayed wives, but the man I sent to A & E after a fake assault went awry and his grey briefs metamorphosed into a ruby red Andy Warhol flower print before my eyes, courtesy of a kiss from my stiletto heel.

Naturally, I gave him his money back and stressed that it would be better to be honest with the glassy-eyed junior doctor waiting to tend his wound at St George’s. Naturally, he never called again. But in the aftermath I called my loveless ex with a fetish for sex-war wounds. I didn’t charge my ex for that phone call. That, I regret.

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