I must say he was absolutely gorgeous … six feet, long black hair and a well-toned body.

Mistress, Love, and the Proper Domme

November 1993 Penthouse VariationsHe had just finished paying me a great deal of money for a dominance session, and we had hit it off, so to speak. So we chatted while he had a glass of wine, put his clothes back on, brushed his hair and donned his jacket.

I was curious about his motives for answering a “De Sade” ad in our local adult paper, The Spectator, and for negotiating for a paid scene. It seemed to me that a man who was this good-looking, intelligent, and sensitive could have found a lady who loved him enough to cater to his not-very-outrageous. submissive needs. So, I asked him a few tactful questions.

No, he did not want to know where he could go to meet other people in “the scene.” The idea that there were social groups for adults who liked bondage and discipline, or fetish costumes, seemed to frighten him. Yes, he had a girlfriend — they were engaged to be married. Had he ever talked about any of this (I gestured at the dungeon) with her? “Absolutely not!” he blurted. “I have to go!” And, like a bunny with a tail wind, he went.

As I packed up my gym bag (yet another heap of lingerie to rinse out, the spike heels too high for a walk to the bus, my makeup kit, tit clamps, a suede whip, Tanith Lee’s latest book and a wire brush). I wondered which part of our encounter was too dreadful for him to share with the woman he apparently planned to share the rest of his life with. Was it simply kneeling? Confessing to having wicked thoughts and daydreams? Was it the lipstick? The feel of warm, oiled, heavy chrome beads being inserted carefully, one at a time? What consequences did he imagine would follow such exposure?

On my way home to the woman who is my lover, I kept thinking about all the men (and the occasional woman) who responded to my ad. Most of my clients seemed to assume that S&M was something you could not do with somebody you loved, somebody who might also love you. The ideal mistress had to be a stranger. Why? There are many motives for seeing a professional. Very few people have elaborate dungeons in their own homes or an extensive fetish wardrobe. Some people are erotically excited by exchanging money for pleasure. Some of my slaves had wives who were ill. Others felt they were too old or disabled or just too busy to find a partner they did not have to pay. But most of them were simply ashamed of themselves and didn’t want anybody else to know their dirty secrets.

None of my clients got as many scenes as they would have liked. Very few of them ever found a mistress who was compatible or genuinely interested in their needs. Most of them hopped from ad to ad, hoping that every time a new domina opened shop, she would somehow work the magic that nobody else had successfully performed.

What could possibly make the guilt, isolation. frustration and the tiresome chore of living a double life worth it? Respectability. I suppose. Male privilege? Or perhaps heterosexual privilege? Denial? — of course.

This is not solely a heterosexual problem. Many same-sex couples who want to explore bondage and discipline have broken up because they assumed that they could never play rough with the person on the next pillow.

A good S&M or fetish scene isn’t simply a matter of acting out a passage from Story of O or duplicating the latest Kim West ad. There is no such thing as a generic B&D fantasy. All the participants have to be comfortable and familiar enough with their own erotic trigger-points to describe them to each other. It may seem easier to communicate this embarrassing or risky stuff to a stranger. But I believe it actually damages one’s self-esteem. over the long run, to feel that one’s innermost self is so beyond the pale that it can only emerge in a brothel or an alley. Dominance and submission is, after all, a form of sex. And romance makes all kinds of sex so much belier. When you know your loved one sees the truth about you. your secrets and fears, and that person’s love does not fail, it eases some of the loneliness we all carry around inside our skulls.

A good S&M scene requires the same qualities — trust, honesty, safety, risk-taking, creativity, personal growth, mutual respect and affection — that a good relationship possesses. Commercial S&M often takes the form of obsessively trying to create one perfect scenario. Since each new mistress or master doesn’t quite get it right, you demand the same impossible fantasy from the next person you hire. But a committed partner will try harder to give you what you want, and you will be more inclined to forgive any imperfections. You don’t have to do the same scene over and over again; you can build on it. And it becomes chapter one of a long and surprising book. It’s the difference between hiring somebody to help you jack off and making love.

So how does one create this sort of relationship? It takes patience to get from missionary-position coitus to corset training and crop kisses. Try thinking of your partner as a novice rather than as a hostile, disapproving obstacle to your gratification. You didn’t wake up one day with a head full of bondage positions and verbal abuse. It took you time to put it all together. Your partner might need some general sex education and loosening up.

Try sex manuals, erotic videos, massage classes and field trips to fetish shops to introduce new ways the two of you can express your desire for one another. Always respond positively to your partner’s curiosity, answer questions and treat fears with respect. Remember that we are all much more likely to try something new if it looks fun, easy and rewarding. If it isn’t clear to your partner what she or he is going to get out of all this a little reluctance is understandable.

This means that you probably have to be the top, at least in the beginning. You can’t expect somebody to automatically know what to do with those handcuffs and that riding crop. And don’t be lazy — don’t do exactly the same things to your partner that you wish some hooded icon of your libido would do to you. Tailor your experimental efforts to your lover’s fantasies. Try not to scare the less experienced person. Make sure your partner knows that if she or he doesn’t like it, you’ll stop at once.

An initial scene that includes a little bit of kink and a lot of really good vanilla sex will probably make your partner eager to learn more. A little further down the line, you can mention that you’d like to return the gift of submission and completely serve his or her pleasure.

Sometimes, despite all your efforts, your lover or spouse will be indifferent or negative to your need for imaginative sex. But that need not be the end of the relationship. A neutral partner might be willing to oblige you occasionally or trade some of your favorite activities for some of theirs. If the two of you are determined to remain together, your partner may allow you to seek out casual playmates for S&M. But remember that the essence of this sexual specialty is consent. If your partner really finds S&M repellent or silly. Don’t manipulate or coerce. It won’t work, and it isn’t fair. Separation may be the only sensible solution.

When a man and woman, or two men or two women, who already own leather jackets and shackles engage in courtship and mating rituals, they still have to decide how to integrate S&M into the rest of the relationship. Very few S&M relationships resemble the fantasy ideal. Both partners might be bottoms (or, more rarely, tops). Even if your role preferences are neatly polarized. it’s possible for a bondage bottom to find herself or himself paired with a top who is mostly interested in, say, flagellation. Being a feminist, I am offended by the notion that the dishes must always be done by the bottom, although I must confess that if I ever found a slave who would really do all the housework, I might consider wearing my leathers around the clock. And you wonder why S&M educators talk so much about negotiation and communication skills!

Personally, though, I am not excited by the reality of having a full-time submissive. It’s the change in status from autonomous adult to shivering, restrained, helpless flesh that I find exciting. If somebody is already down on the floor. I don’t get to have the fun of catching them and wrestling them down. I don’t like what usually happens to bottoms who never get out of role. Although it’s difficult to generalize, I’ve seen quite intelligent men and women become unable to keep a job, make the simple decisions involved in shopping for groceries or maintain good grooming habits. Often they start drinking too much. And they usually become boring and selfish in bed. The subconscious reasoning seems to go like this “I’ve given up my independence, so you owe me complete and instant fulfillment of all my S&M fantasies.” Constantly harnessing your will to another’s inevitably creates resentment that erupts in provocative. Rude, even violent behavior.

For myself, I would rather do heavy, hot sessions with an eager masochist once a week and walk out of the playroom with both of us feeling very pleased with ourselves, than to constantly supervise an incompetent dependent and punish her for being rebellious three times a day. I’ve never had a bottom who didn’t need to be punished once in the course of our relationship. But if I need to punish her again, either we’re not compatible or she is incorrigible. Rather than correct the bottom again, I’ll send her away. S&M that is always scripted as serious punishment, as opposed to playful discipline or cathartic, erotic humiliation, makes both partners feel bad.

And I don’t like what happens to me when I try to become full-time mistress or daddy. I become rude to waiters, find it impossible to wait my turn in line, don’t listen, don’t ask questions, can’t accept help and can’t admit I’m ever wrong. “Top’s disease” is so unattractive. I don’t feel very believable as a dominant when I’m so rigid and brittle that the smallest inconvenience or demur makes me furious. The same skills that make an S&M scene hot don’t really work when you have to pay an overdue telephone bill in person.

Besides, I’m not 100 percent top, and I don’t know any honest masters or mistresses who are. All of the people who wear their keys on the left like to switch from time to time, although very few of us will talk about it. Bottoms who are scandalized by this fact are going to have a hard time keeping any top happy. Do you really want to go under for somebody who has no idea what son of emotional and psychological state they are putting you in? Do you really want to let somebody hunt you who has forgotten (if they ever knew) what a quirt or hot wax feels like? If you really love your owner or your sadist, don’t you want her or him to be happy — even if that means occasionally rolling over? Or is your devotion such a fragile thing that it can be shattered by any evidence of your top’s humanity?

Finally, I can’t maintain my sobriety if I lie about what I want. Sexual dishonesty will lead me straight back into the destructive habit of abusing drugs and alcohol. Owning my own submissiveness and my sadism — not letting anyone make me feel guilty about either one of them — is a major pan of the program I have to work to stay clean. I can’t be in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t validate this. It’s too dangerous for me.

My favorite S&M scenes are based on what both of us want right now, not what we think we should want or can get. This keeps me from falling back on a rote scene (first you’ll kneel and strip, then I’ll tie you to the bed, then I’ll use the soft rubber whip, then I’ll use the soft leather whip, then I’ll get out the cane, then I’ll turn you over and go for the clothespins, etc.). This means that the onus is not entirely on me. If my panner has read an article on removing hair with hot wax and is intrigued, she’d better say so. It also gives me room to enact my own agenda, instead of simply acting out a script the bottom hands me.

My best relationships run in a similar fashion. One night. I might want to be served dinner and then given a back rub and pedicure by a pretty slave girl. On another night, I might want to be a teenage boy who is going to tie up the local cock-tease and have his way with her. Or I might be a stem leather daddy showing his boy how to take it like a man. I might want to put on my spike heels, step on somebody’s throat and cane them until my arm is tired. On the other hand. I might also want to put on my flannel jammies and watch Bringing Up Baby. If I can’t have my evenings off with cocoa and animal crackers, I don’t want to be your Bitch Goddess.

Couples into S&M can have the same problems keeping the sex intense that vanilla people face. Running a household and making a living can be so time-consuming that by the end of the day, lacing on a PVC jumpsuit or getting into those leather jodhpurs seems like just one more awful chore. Since I work at home, it’s especially important for me to close the office door and force myself to get out of worker-bee mode. I have to eat, shower and then lay out my toys and the evening’s outfit. The ritual of gelling ready for a scene becomes a kind of foreplay. By the time my boots and gloves go on. I’m ready lo kick ass.

I also need to remember to take vacations with my lover. Getting away from the telephone and the television allows us to remember why we fell in love. Perhaps because I write so much pornography, I tend to forget that I can be inspired by other people’s work. If I feel that I’m gelling too predictable, I may give myself homework. For example, this week my assignment might be to find a place to do a quick scene out-of-doors or figure out how to do bondage in the kitchen instead of the bedroom. Or I might put away the six toys I always reach for and make myself use less familiar equipment.

Having an open relationship also keeps things from going stale. If my partner catches some other top’s eye, she is free to return that person’s wink. The thought that some other pair of tender, downy buttocks might get my attention certainly makes her think twice about using her safe-word too quickly. If we meet somebody we both like, we might set out to seduce her together.

We’re not immune to jealousy. But I never had a monogamous relationship where I wasn’t accused of wanting to sleep with other women anyway. If I’m going to have to go through the trauma and drama, I’d rather get some nooky, as well. Of course, we insist on safe sex with outside partners, and there are certain people who are off limits to both of us, simply because they don’t respect our primary bond with one another. I expect to be asked for permission before my property lays down under someone else’s sadistic touch, and I think bottoming for anyone besides my current girlfriend would be asking too much. When my lover comes back to me after having a date with somebody else, I want to hear all the details. I’m enough of a voyeur to find it arousing, and I’m proprietary enough to want to rise to the challenge and take her back again.

Our arrangement may not work for other couples. The point is, you don’t have to set up your relationship according to other people’s rules. You can learn a lot by playing with other people in the community. A lot of S&M history, traditions, customs and techniques are passed on orally. Most competent mistresses or masters acquired their skills by apprenticing to a more experienced top or bottom. And playing with other people need not be a painful or threatening experience. It can be an exciting way to make new friends. It’s tricky to figure out what limits you need to set — for example, no sex, no romance, no overnight stays — but if both parties follow the rules, non-monogamy can bring you much closer together and give you a new erotic charge.

Just as I allow a submissive lover time on her own to build a career, go to school, spend time with her family and maintain her own life, I want to be left alone to do my writing, schedule speaking engagements and workshops, cope with the bills, telephone my mother and vacuum the rug. I don’t expect her to polish my boots when she’s got the flu and I don’t want to rise from my sickbed to administer six of the best and a punitive clyster. Taking care of each other when we’re ill, depressed or in trouble is as much a part of loving each other as getting a new leather uniform shirt for Christmas or organizing a very elaborate birthday spanking.

I need that affirmation because I live in a world that tells me S&M is aberrant, sick, violent and hateful. It is increasingly illegal to depict my sexuality in photographs or movies. S&M literature is always being confiscated, banned or burned by government officials or prudish, politically correct gay or feminist activists. My ties to blood relations are usually strained to the breaking point. If you are publicly identifiable, you face job discrimination, street violence and the loss of custody of your children. That’s a lot to deal with. It’s why every S&M publication, every leather organization or event and every kinky man or woman I recognize on the street is invaluable to me. I need all the evidence I can get that I’m not completely alone, not despicable, not crazy.

Someday we will all realize we have more to lose than we have to gain by remaining fearful of one another and hidden away. Before we can even think about changing the negative stereotypes of S&M or creating a better, safer, bigger social space for ourselves, we have to find one another. For us, the act of creating a satisfying, healthy S&M relationship is as politically radical as AIDS activists chaining themselves to a pharmaceutical company’s delivery truck. To amend a once popular lesbian slogan “An army of lovers in latex cannot fail.”

Oddly enough, “remaning fearful of one another” seems to be the primary tactic from both major parties in our current political climate. Perhaps we could all benefit from a Congressional Mistress put to appropriate use. … This article originally published — as you may have guessed by the cover picture used above — in Variations magazine back some 30+ years ago. Still today many people could benefit by at least becoming aware of the diversity of humans.

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