Every day, from morning till night, on the upper floors of anonymous-looking loft buildings in the Flatiron district, married yuppie men book time to kiss women's feet, be verbally humiliated, and get walked on, examined, pierced, strung up, and beaten. To think people pay for that when I got it all free in my last relationship.
Unlike my last relationship, though, the sessions do not involve sex. Instead, they usually end with the client masturbating as his dominatrix watches (although sometimes the punishment is lack of orgasm). Professional dominatrices, or "prodoms," range from lifestyle dominatrices, who practice S&M in their private lives, to girls who have vanilla sex with their boyfriends and consider the work more fun than temping. But flogging for a living is a little more intense than filing, and most doms get a charge out of what they do, whether or not they're trying. Because the work is demanding and intimate, they see themselves as closer to therapists than to hookers -- and have deep, long-lasting ties to their regulars.
"I love what I do so much," gushes Danielle, 28, a voluptuous redhead switchable dom (she will play either the submissive or the dominant, depending on the client). We're in a greasy spoon on lower Fifth Avenue, and she's wearing four-inch platform heels and a filmy black top that reveals her cleavage. "I have sessions where the guy pretends to sexually harass me on the street, and then I beat or spit on him. Who hasn't wanted to do that at some point?"
The sessions start at $165 an hour, and though Danielle shares the fee with the dungeon, if she works just twenty hours a week, she can clear 50 grand a year -- tax-free. She keeps index cards on all her clients, with notes about what was done and discussed in each session. "I like to take care of my clients and pay attention to detail. I'm always buying things to enhance sessions and looking for some way to make it more exciting."
One client, whom she's seen more than 90 times, writes stories for her to enact with him in which she plays all the roles. His most recent effort involved his being a slave on an island run by two Olsen-like twins. He gets a job as an actor in one of their movies playing (what else?) the nosy neighbor. In his scene, the twins catch him spying on them in their swimming pool, tie him to a beach chair, and tickle him mercilessly. Naturally, things keep going wrong at the shoot, and he has to keep doing take after take.
I ask Danielle to tell me what names she calls her clients, and she sweetly rattles off the endearments: "Poo-poo boy, poo-poo-head boy, my little lezzie lover, toe licker, toe sucker, motherfucker, little fucking slut, piss boy, shit licker, shit eater, boot licker, bad horsey."
One of her favorite clients is a guy who blows cigarette smoke in her face and likes her to say his name as she sneezes -- as in "Ah-ah-ah-Harry!" One client requested that she have a staring contest with him as he pricked the bottom of her foot gently with a needle.
Ninety percent of Danielle's clients are married, she estimates, and she thinks it's a shame they can't play out their fantasies with their wives. "I don't know why a man can't be honest enough with his wife to say, 'Listen, I want you to go get the dog leash, put it around my neck, walk me around the bedroom, throw me on the bed, and then hit my face a couple times and spit on me.' But I come from a more liberal background."
In her four years at the dungeon, Danielle has seen 50 girls come and go. She thinks the reason she's lasted so long is that she has a life outside work. She acts in plays and independent films and has a healthy relationship with her husband, Tim. "My work is a very important part of me," she says, "but when I close that door, my persona is left with it in my bag that I leave there. My behavior in the chamber does not go beyond the door of the chamber."
But in fact, it does. Like many other doms, Danielle has her own Website, complete with an Amazon wish list, where clients can buy her gifts like the Deluxe Rechargeable Pore Cleanser or Allison Pearson's novel I Don't Know How She Does It. She doesn't see anything wrong with taking gifts on the side. "I've never wanted to date any of my clients. Did I want them to spend money on me and take me shopping? Definitely. But I can make that distinction."
As far as her sex life with Tim is concerned, Danielle says "he is totally uninterested in the lifestyle." They met while working at the New York Renaissance Fair. She was a singing wench; he was a Spanish knight.
"I always said I'd never marry an actor," she says.
"That's all right," I tell her. "He probably said he'd never marry a dominatrix."
When Tim, 30, joins us at the diner, I'm shocked at how normal he seems. He's pudgy and teddy-bear-like, with a calm, easy manner, more nerdy than hipster. Danielle is wild about him, calling him honey and staring at him raptly as he talks.
"When she told me what she did for a living, I was shocked," he says. "I had a suburban, Leave It to Beaver upbringing, and I really didn't know how to deal with it." He was concerned for her health and safety, but once she reassured him on these counts, he was accepting.
"It helps that I'm an actor, too," he says. "And we both understand that this isn't something she wants to be doing for the rest of her life."
Someday, they want to move upstate, buy a house, maybe even have kids. "We want a patch of grass," he sighs. I ask Danielle if she would find new work when they moved.
"No," she says. "I'd probably work less and confine my hours to two days a week."
Does she ever get tired of her job? She smiles. "Once in a while, I'll think, I don't know if I'm in the mood today. But that happens to everyone in the world, no matter what they do."