This paper uses autoethnographic data to examine how sex work and disability converge within commercial female domination and BDSM realms. It explores the nuances around access to healthcare and even internal sex work support when disability is involved. There are few accounts of disability and professional dominatrix work and how it can affect being a successful entrepreneur. This autoethnographic account explores common questions people have regarding BDSM and being a disabled working professional. Exploring the relationships between mobility aids and sex tech, access to medical support, and giving, receiving, and mediating different forms of pain and its influence on sex work, and in particular professional dominatrix work. This paper investigates the importance of fluidity in human sexuality and how ableism can shape sexuality, including within both lifestyle and professional lives of sex workers. There's a glimpse into how disability can affect orgasm, but also how ableism and the whorearchy can dictate that those who identify as professional domme's should be anorgasmic and aren't entitled to consensual sexual gratification. When exploring sex and disability, adaptive equipment needs highlighting more. Within this paper, I highlight not only purpose-built devices but sexual aids available within the BDSMsphere that can allow access to pleasure in ways that are rarely spoken about. And most importantly, I explore how navigating the healthcare system as a sex worker and pro-domme isn't as straight cut as it should be, how activists' messages from previous years are still being echoed, and how many sex workers, allies, and myself are still chanting the mantra for equity in healthcare for sex workers and those who practice kink. It is a much-needed look into queer crip theory and the world of professional dominatrix sex work that hasn't been platformed before.
As a disabled Dominatrix, 1 I use a cane not only to produce satisfying sensations for submissives and clients but also to help me move and access the world in ways that, without it, would be a struggle. Many sex workers experience some form of disability, yet very few accounts of sex workers are published, and even fewer regarding sex workers who have a disability. This paper discusses perspectives I have gained working as a disabled Professional Dominatrix, focusing on relationships between mobility aids and sex tech, (in)access to medical support, and giving, receiving, and mediating different forms of pain. I discuss common questions people ask, the barriers I have experienced, and access to medical support as a sex worker.
I have multiple disabilities, like many with chronic illnesses. I seem to collect more as I age. The primary ones that affect my mobility are Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) 2, periodic fever, arthritis, hip dysplasia, spinal damage, and spinal cord damage. With EDS, I am highly symptomatic and live daily with full dislocations and injuries, triggering chronic pain from damaged tissue and nerves. I was born with many of my conditions. They are genetic and are my normal. However, it took many years to be diagnosed; some went unnoticed until recently, when the damage was too late to fix. I started in the adult industry years before I was fully aware I was disabled. Instead, I attended appointments as a medical mystery and dealt with long periods of medical investigation prior to diagnoses. Medical Mystery is used by many UK-based healthcare providers and professionals when they can't fully understand someone's symptoms and test results. Doctors often told me I wasn't old enough for a particular illness. Disability has no age, but medical professionals will tell you it does.
One reason I was probably drawn to sex work was that it was apparent my body and mind couldn't handle a standard 9 to 5 job. Many traditional jobs have strict rules about taking breaks and expectations to stay standing or seated for long periods, which doesn't allow for proper management of many health conditions. I wanted to train as a sex researcher and therapist from my late teens, but such education was not possible due to my limitations in funds and energy. The adult industry has provided both funds and energy for me to pursue this dream, and whilst I go through phases of missed work due to flare-ups, I am slowly reaching my goals.
I argue that the first-hand experiences of disabled dommes reveal critical insights into understanding: 1) the fluidity of human sexuality and how sexual ableism shapes understandings of sexuality, 2) disability and orgasm, 3) ableism and lifestyle and professional events, 4) adaptive equipment and sexual aids available in the BDSM scene and dungeon, 5) healthcare and the treatment towards sex workers working as pro-dommes, and 6) the right for consensual sexual gratification, disability, and to work as a female Dominatrix.
A Dominatrix is a person, often a woman (but they can be any gender), who in BDSM controls the relationship dynamic at the time. This can be in a personal relationship or a service-providing relationship. Danielle Lindemann (2010) defines professional dominatrices (pro-dommes) as:
Women who receive money to physically and verbally dominate male clients (whom they call "submissives," "subs," or "slaves") through spanking, flogging, verbal humiliation, bondage, cross-dressing, and other tactics. It should be emphasized that although the interaction is erotic in nature, pro-dommes are not prostitutes-intercourse, oral sex, or manual gratification are rarely components of the exchange (588).
This definition opens up a debate about whether or not dominatrices are sex workers or if they are an entirely different type of service provider. However, much of the existing research on sex work classifies pro-domme work as erotic labor (Lindemann 2010, 2012; Levey and Pinsky 2015; Pinsky and Levey 2015; Levey 2018; Hester et al. 2019). For example, Hester et al. (2019) recognized fourteen forms of sex work and labeled those who provide services under BDSM, kink, and fetish as sex workers.
Unfortunately, many academic and mainstream definitions of a dominatrix miss the diversity of people who practice this work. The Oxford dictionary, for example, defines a dominatrix as "A dominating woman, especially one who takes the sadistic role in sadomasochistic sexual activities." This definition, like many, is outdated, using a gender binary and furthering the idea that all dommes are ciswomen. Such definitions erase the trans and non-binary mistresses working professionally online and offline. Moreover, this particular definition focuses on sadism only. Many service providers take charge of the situation, and sadism never enters their sessions. Take a pro-domme who role-plays as a Mommy Domme. In these scenes, often, there is a caring element that the domme uses to gain control. Not all submissives are masochists. A pro-domme might control their submissives by splashing food and other items over them, appealing to their desire for sensation play. These individuals seek stimulation from the various delights foods and liquids can excite. As a final example, during pet play, where one person roleplays an animal such as a puppy, and the dominatrix holds the pet owner's role, the pro-domme is not engaged in "sadomasochistic sexual activities." One reason many past studies have only looked at cis women being dominatrices is that the word dominatrix is a gendered noun for a female ruler. It has typically been used to refer to only cis women who take a dominant role in BDSM relations, thus erasing the gender diversity of practitioners. Often the focus has been on the sadomasochistic aspects, rendering invisible those who offer a more caring style of control and those who prefer activities such as sensation play that do not necessarily have a sadistic element. I use the term dominatrix within this paper to refer to cis women, trans women, and non-binary who identify with this term to reflect the ever-growing diversity and fluidity of the field of professional domination. Men and masculine of centre people who engage in the dominant role are regularly referred to as Doms, a shortened version of dominant.
Many mainstream and academic definitions of "dominatrix" and depictions of pro-domme work are highly problematic because dominatrices have not written them. These definitions rarely echo lived experiences. Those with first-hand experience providing these services can offer insights into these complex terms and experiences. While there is much academic writing about pro-dommes, much of it is based on interviews with dominatrices. There have been few autoethnographic accounts from writers with first-hand experiences. Therefore, this essay fills a much-needed gap in research and writing about dominatrices. Further, in this essay, instead of drawing from the academic literature only, I also utilize the insights of other sex workers (O'Nomis 2013; Sloan 2015; Mac and Smith 2018).
Autoethnography is a research method where the author uses personal experience and narrative as data. Doing so can reveal insights unknown to "outsiders" and uncover vital information about subcultures, institutions, and social phenomena. Anthropologist David Hayano (1979) has argued that autoethnography is a researcher's use of ethnography to study their "own people"(99). Carol Ellis and Arthur P. Bochner (2000) define autoethnography as "an autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural (739)." I use autoethnography and first-hand expert knowledge to expand public knowledge and understanding of disability and sex work.
Dominatrix work is something I have much experience in personally and professionally. I have been moving between different areas of the adult industry since my late teens. For various reasons, I happily float between various sectors, including professional domming, adult sex toys, erotic fiction, sex and relationship guides, sex coaching, sex education, camming, and even escorting. The adult industry is my home and has been the most supportive regarding flexibility and disability. It is an area where I can use the diverse skill sets I have learned throughout my life without the many restrictions and judgments that can be found in mainstream labour.
I am writing from the perspective of an individual dominatrix and sex worker. I cannot speak for all adult industry workers as we all have different backgrounds and motivations for entering the industry. Our skills and how we use them are incredibly varied. Both dominatrices and those within the disabled community are sexual individuals in their own unique way. I am a disabled dominatrix who has her own sexual likes and dislikes, my own fetishes and kinks, and different levels of romantic and intimate connection with others. Therefore, while I use my personal experience in this article, my goal is not to make broad generalizations regarding all pro-dommes. Instead, I use an autoethnography of sex work to expand public understanding of sexuality and disability and disrupt ableist discourses of sexuality.
Welcome to Pro-Domme Work: Pro-Domme Labor, Disability, and Access
My work as a dominatrix varies, both in session content and location. Events will often have their own rules or scripts about the types of play allowed at them. Some of this is due to the venue rules and restrictions. Other restrictions will apply based on what type of fetish and kink the event showcases. So, for a human pony event, I am seated in a carriage – some of those have better suspension than many standard wheelchairs - with a whip in hand and pulled along a track by a person dressed in BDSM gear that makes them resemble a horse. The relationship between the people involved is a roleplay of equestrian life, but often with a touch of sadism: to get your horse to go faster, pull heavier loads, or bind weights onto them to push their limits but also train them for the future.
Then there are FemDom events, kink events with play, and high teas. Female-led events might include clothed women served by silent naked men who are not allowed to even gaze upon the women but still offer valuable services such as pouring drinks. As pointed out in previous research, the relationship between dominatrix and client deviates from traditional heteronormative relationships and expectations that many other forms of sex work may include. A dominatrix's "work does not require the use of 'strategic flirting,' like exotic dancers, to make male clients feel desired and important" (Pinsky and Levey 2015,440). This becomes very important and noticeable when attending BDSM events as a professional dominatrix with a submissive. Some events are play focused where lifestyle and professional individuals interested in BDSM may have pre-booked for a dungeon party or pegging event; some may be simple drinks and conversation. Some events follow a similar system to the hankey code that first rose in popularity in the 1970s. Many events vary in accessibility; while most are now wheelchair accessible, others still have stairs or other impediments and are seeking ways to make things more accessible. When it comes to dominatrix-style events, including ones I have been a house mistress at, intercourse between domme and sub is rare. You may see facesitting, forced bi, and pegging, but actual penile to vaginal intercourse seems to be very seldom. Many paying submissive clients are those with penises. However, not all identify as cisgender, and when in a paid session, they may divert away from their socially known gender preferences and identity and explore roles that are more non-binary. That is not to say that there are no specific limits to what can happen; many types of events offer different experiences and opportunities. Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey writes about her many experiences of BDSM events in her memoir, including some events where intercourse was part of the show (Bisbey 2020). Usually, I attend female-led and FemDom events, and I am sure there are significant differences between event types and codes of conduct. Many events are important when developing a successful professional dominatrix career. Thus, finding events that fit not only an individual's niche but also their disability needs are critical.
A study by Julie Fennell (2021) on sex and the BDSM subculture found that of those involved in the BDSM scene, 61% of people found the experience mostly sexual, and 35% engaged in no kinky sex and focused on the non-sexual side to BDSM, while up to 4% of individuals could relate to it being both. However, of those with minimal involvement in the BDSM scene, 83 in the study said that BDSM was more sex-focused, while 14% of individuals saw it as non-sexual, with 2% seeing it as both sexual and non-sexual (11, 12). In my experience, this study is pretty accurate regarding the distribution of views about BDSM as a sexual or nonsexual practice. When I have experienced UK munches (easy-to-access events often for beginners), I have seen many people walk into them openly seeking someone to connect with sexually. However, when I dive deeper into events that are classed for extreme players, there are more elements of psychological fulfillment and sadomasochist compatibility.
Different events can offer different fulfillment as well as being a great way to gain a more verified status within the scene. Attending events and working with other Mistresses can be key to a successful business. Professional domination takes sexual entrepreneurship to a new level. It is already slowly becoming acceptable for women and non-binary individuals to deviate from the patriarchal expectations of acceptable employment for women, where many can take control of their own sexualities and bodies for their own financial gain and benefit without the control of men. "This new femininity" constitutes a hybrid of discourses of sexual freedom for women, intimately entangled with attempts to recuperate this to (male-dominated) consumer capitalism" (Harvey and Gill 2011, 52) These women, like myself, participate in consumer capitalism even as the services and content we create become focused on our desires rather than men's. To be successful as a professional dominatrix, you also must employ multiple entrepreneurial skills such as social media and networking. As Harvey and Gill (2011) note, "she can be seen in magazine sex advice, in advertising, and across social networking sites" (52). While the time in session is much less when compared to standard 9 to 5 employment, pro-domming requires work outside of sessions to build up my business and customer base using the methods noted above. Events and social media can be important places to show off expertise, network with other providers, and find potential clients. When I first entered the adult industry, I found a few other providers that I could trust, I thought it was a competitive career, but I have found that you can find the right people you can connect with and form not only beneficial business relationships but also form personal friendships. Like any other successful business, collaborating with others is helpful in commercial sex work, such as professional domination.
I have found that whilst munches and beginner clubs can have more disabled individuals attending them due to being free or inexpensive, these events can be more stigmatizing for those with visible disabilities. Whereas, when attending a paid high protocol event (high protocol events have high expectations and standards you are expected to follow when attending, often, there will be listed rules), I have found more acceptance of visibly disabled bodies. At these events, the focus is on learning about who I am as a person rather than stigmatizing me for needing extra support or the need for mobility aids, for example, as I walk the dance floor from my seating to the dungeon play area with a walking stick. UK brothel and sex work laws and laws such as FOSTA/SESTA in the US can make networking and collaboration harder and sometimes lead to doubt about what is legally acceptable when trying to expand and grow as a professional dominatrix. I am certain professionals would be more relaxed and safer if these restrictions were not in place.
There are benefits to attending events and being a disabled dominatrix, as there often is at least one submissive who wants to help. Some will even have a particular kink for being a piece of human furniture, so they will quickly form a position on all fours to offer their back as a supportive bench. At some events, you can also find yourself a submissive willing to fetch drinks, hold floggers, and simply be useful. This is not special treatment for being a disabled dominatrix; this is special treatment for simply being a dominatrix. If these things were to happen at everyday events for vanilla individuals (people who do not engage in kink or BDSM), it might be seen as performing something helpful out of pity or that the individual playing the helping role has lost their autonomy. At BDSM events, the submissives will see to their domme's needs, including being human furniture and fetching items for non-visibly disabled dominatrices. It helps you feel more normal and like you are there as an individual, not as a disabled individual.
Generally, free or cheap events may seem accessible, particularly to those from marginalized groups where income may be limited. However, due to the lack of rules and protocols that attendees must follow, can lead to stigma and discrimination. Preston "Wexx" is the first Asian international fetish titleholder and the first Mr. International Rubber (MIR) of color. Wexx also noticed that marginalized groups were underrepresented within the kink and fetish community, particularly at events. Underrepresentation can also make events feel less safe for those with marginalized identities to engage in kink and BDSM. Preston "Wexx" noted that events that offered protocols and rules that attendees must follow were often safer for those within marginalized groups. He also highlights that events with such standards are often paid events rather than beginner-free events or cheap ticket events. He designed an assessment guide for fetish and kink events and vendors to help see where they need to improve accessibility. This guide can also be used for those looking to attend accessible, less stigmatizing, and less discriminatory events. This guide is not just for those with disabilities but also covers other underrepresented minorities. "My Spend Guide evaluates and identifies kink events and fetish vendors that may or may not practice, preach, and promote antiracism, inclusion, equitable representation, and safety. [It was] designed it primarily for [Preston Wexx's personal use], but it may be useful for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC); trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folx; women; disabled people; and other marginalized folx. Use [this] handy guide to inform how and where you spend your hard-earned money" (Wex 2020; par. 1). The guide utilizes a ranking system in several areas to judge whether or not a particular event offers an inclusive space. Not only does it investigate reports of past incidents, but it also highlights if a particular event has set protocols for dealing with issues if and when they arise. This is the kind of information event organizers should be providing to all attendees, which would help make kink and fetish events more inclusive as well as more fun and accessible (Spend Guide).
Disrupting Ableist Discourses of Sexuality
Popular culture discourse often erases the sexual desires and needs of disabled people. Compulsory able-bodiedness shapes our understanding of sexual capital, causing others to see disabled people as desexualized (McRuer and Mollow 2012; Gill 2015; Erickson 2015). A critical disability lens can help us examine what the world views as sexual and what it classes as non-sexual. Experiences of disabled pro-dommes push back on ableist notions of human sexuality and desire.
An ableist framing of sexuality suggests that sex is for and about people who are pain-free, comfortable, happy, fit, and conventionally attractive, and have genitals that get hard/wet and are orgasmic and responsive on-demand. Further, ableist sexual discourses position only people who are able-bodied as able to have "real" sex, experience love, or be kinky. In Stefani Goerlich's (2021) book The Leather Couch, she analyses ableist notions of BDSM and sexuality. She states that many individuals will fall into the category of disabled at some point in their life. This means that if we were to follow the ableist equation above, most people would be classed as those unable to love, have sex, and fulfill relationship goals at some point in their lifetime. The ableist equation also does not factor in concordance or non-concordance (concordance is when the body responds to sexual stimulation with physical signs such as lubrication and erection, non-concordance is when people engage in sex, but these responses may not happen), and the many reasons why individuals may not experience physical arousal (sometimes it is as simple as being tired!).
Disability and Orgasm
My experience has much to teach about understanding the complexities of disability and orgasm. My body does respond with excitement when performing acts of BDSM. Not in the same way it turns me on when enjoying erotic massage, intercourse, or attempting to have a clitoral orgasm and not always with wetness. However, you can see the exhilaration in my eyes, which in turn excites my submissives
As my disabilities change, my general body changes, and even my outlook on how I see pleasure changes. I may not be able to enjoy things like a non-disabled person, but I will still want to experience them to the fullest. I have irreparable spinal damage, and it can affect my ability to orgasm. So, when I struggle to orgasm due to that damage, I still want to perform the acts with an intimate partner that produces earth-shattering sensations. Although the same physical results may not be achieved, mental connections can be formed.
As the years go on and more spinal damage happens, my orgasm not only gets harder to achieve but weaker, and I can even have a physical response that comes from orgasm but not feel it. It really depends on what is going on in my body and whether or not I am having a flare-up, but easy orgasms seem long gone. I have tried mindfulness methods such as the ones suggested by Lori Brotto (2018) in their book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, but the damage is physical and permanent. I have investigated stronger vibrators, but these do not help with nerve damage. While I would love to regain the experience I used to have during genital stimulation, I doubt it would feel the same. For me personally, BDSM or any other form of sexual stimulation cannot replace the old things I used to enjoy and experience. However, I take a different approach, where for the most part, it is ok not to replace those sensations and instead focus on forming new connections elsewhere. Focusing on the new can make things more erotic and pleasurable rather than looking to the past, which can dampen any possibility of future enjoyment. Loree Erickson (2007) writes about how the societal understanding of sexual pleasure can be oppressive towards those with disabilities as it does not consider other forms of sensation individuals may experience and explains "[t]he emotional pain around sex and sexuality for people with disabilities is real and oppressive, in the most systemic sense. Numerous studies have provided ample evidence that while people who are disabled have the same range of sexual desires as able-bodied persons, these needs are going largely unmet, having a negative impact on quality of life and sexual self-esteem" (43). Loree shares much of their own experience in their article about how they shifted their perception away from the outlook society has typically about what is sexy and pleasurable and found that they could still be sexy and achieve pleasure too. They write, "[a]fter lots of encouragement, my best friend who happens to be an excellent photographer convinced me to take topless pictures sporting my new nipple ring. One of these pictures was the first photo I ever liked of myself. It wasn't the same as the mainstream magazine/movie/porn sexy; it was something deliciously different. When I look at this picture and the others I have had taken since I feel sexy; I feel the beginning of liberation and revolution" (47).
Mobility Aids And Pro Domming
Years ago, I walked into a sex worker outreach centre as a sex educator. Mobility aids that sex workers use came up in the conversation when outreach workers mentioned their sex working clients struggled to find adequate accommodations that did not interfere with their work. Most of the sex workers struggling were women with disabilities that were engaging in escorting or street work but rarely pro-domming. I am unsure if this was because some dommes feel the need to show independence and strength due to their work status and not ask for help or that outreach centres are focused on advertising to escorts and sex workers, labels with which many BDSM practitioners may not identify. The support workers wanted methods that were discreet and even sexy. Things like a pillow or a rolled-up towel just did not cut it and made many sex workers feel uncomfortable about using them. It was only recently that I learned that it is not the devices we use to make escorting and similar services acceptable to ourselves or clients; it is how we contextualize them for a client. You can make a mobility aid sound very sexy, as if it was designed to enhance pleasure. For example, rather than saying, "this is my back support," we could say, "I always orgasm better when this is under my back. Would you like me to cum around your cock harder? Then let us use this." It is not about the use of disability aids that is the issue; the general stigma around them makes us feel less sexy and less human, but we can easily turn that around with the right words. Regaining our sexual autonomy rather than letting disability and disability aids desexualize us, we need to speak about them as the sexy aids they can be. Mobility aids make things not just more comfortable but also more fun. Thinking about mobility aids in this way emphasizes what Abby Wilkerson (2015) calls "[critical disability aesthetics" that "create identification beyond normative notions of bodies, lives, and persons" (70).
When performing in a pro domming session, the use of mobility aids is partly taken care of. In some sessions, I can stay seated throughout, focusing on things such as body worship or foot worship and pampering. Spanking benches and sex slings, and swings can be used to take the submissive's weight, make them easy to move around, and even adjust their height to suit me. Some of the furniture and devices are essentially disability aids and devices. Rather than being in creams and white that could evoke hospital or clinical environments, they are made from black leather. There are even medical fetish pieces that can resemble Hollywood movie-style medical items. However, as soon as fetish or BDSM is added, the item becomes sexy and desirable rather than perceived as desexualized or even gross.
The acceptance of clinical-looking disability aids and devices in the dungeon gets questioned less than when I am out in public. The submissives attending may have questions, but they rarely voice them. This could be due to the relationship that forms even during short sessions where I am in control of the situation. Different sessions also have different protocols and scripts to follow, and often the focus is to get through these without falling out of the moment. A client has paid a lot to spend time with me; even if a flash of doubt crosses their mind, it is quickly altered as we engage in our domme and sub-personas. No one wants to waste large amounts of time and money discussing a walking stick when they could be fulfilling fantasies and desires. Very few walking sticks are adapted to my needs; generally, the clinical and prescription devices work best for my disabilities. The belief that as a dominatrix, I must look sexy and alluring always does not align with my experience or with clients' actual desires. As a dominatrix, whether lifestyle or professional, you just have to show you are comfortable in yourself and wear clothes and accessories that make you feel comfortable and confident throughout sessions. Many dommes avoid dressing up for sessions, and some even attend their sessions in loungewear. There are no rules for appearance. What the domme wants to wear is what they will wear. Likewise, what disability devices and aids the domme want to use, they will use as well.
I have met a few dominatrices who will use fetish wear to help their disabilities, as some fetish clothing offers significant body support. For example, corsets can offer spine support and even relieve pain. Spandex and latex can also support achy joints and restrict movements that may cause upset injury. These dominatrices have found ways to keep themselves going whilst also adopting a particular dress code that they can use throughout their work and add to their dominatrix aesthetic.
Lindemann's (2012) ethnographical research into dominatrices shows that the use of disability devices or age-related mobility changes can be added to the dominatrix's personal niche and generally do not hinder the clients' fantasies and expectations and may even enhance it. Lindemann writes, "[d]espite the pressure to conform to conventional standards of feminine beauty, women who are overweight or otherwise do not fit the "Disney domme" mold can still become successful pro-dommes. Because pro-dommes interactional scripts often rely upon the client's perception of dominatrices' expertise and maturity, the ageism and pressure to physically conform that exist within other forms of erotic labor – stripping, for instance - are less pronounced here. Age can function as a proxy for competence and authority. Further, because sessions are often role-based, physical appearance can become less important to a sub, as long as his dominatrix is able to convincingly play a particular part" (164).
Using my disability devices outside the dungeon, even with submissives, can be a completely different story. If performing public humiliation, the public will generally echo words of discrimination, disgust, and mockery. Often these are the words you want to be echoed by onlookers to help tick off the submissive's desires for public humiliation. However, when you add a disability device into the equation, I have found that more negative comments can be directed towards me, the Dominatrix, rather than the submissive. However, there are positive aspects to taking submissives out with you into the public arena when you have a disability, as they can open doors, carry heavy items, and fetch food and drinks from a bar, which can be difficult when wielding a walking stick. They can even fold their body into a human seat at the click of a finger if needed, which often is needed more and more as most public places are reducing access to seating, and what seating is available is less disability friendly as local authorities purposely design seating to make it uncomfortable to prevent homeless individuals from sleeping and lingering there.
Using Adult Toys and Sex Tech as a Disabled Dominatrix
There are still very few mainstream adult toys and sex tech that are fully accessible. As someone who has helped design sex tech, I feel that while there will never be a sex toy or tech that caters to all disabilities, there are certainly ways they could be designed in less ableist ways. I attended an online event by Lovehoney in 2020, and Zachary Zane was on a panel where he stated how some sex toys could be made so accessible and inclusive that they become inaccessible or simply not functional (Sexual Happiness and Inclusivity). Essentially the sex toy company tries to make a disability-friendly sex-aid, and they add far too many features resulting in other features suffering in quality. We currently do not have the ability to build something that would suit a broad audience of individuals with disabilities, and even when focusing on trying to make a product accessible for one particular disability or set of symptoms, the way someone is affected by that particular disability or symptom(s) will vary from individual to individual.
Corporate sex tech companies have a long way to go in making their products function for the non-disabled individual, let alone someone with disabilities. I have explored everything from sex machines that offer various positions to button stiffness on vibrators. I have found that companies that attempt to use disability for marketing their products often ignore or miss these factors, such as differing needs. Many designs are only thought through as a quick fix, or designs may be something that the disabled community needs, but toys are made without significant input from the disabled community resulting in an ableist design. For example, a company designs a finger vibrator; as they have heard, disabled individuals may be more prone to dropping sex toys, so they make a simple ring design. These companies have not thought about how disabled individuals may struggle when putting the device on their finger, they have not thought about how easy the buttons are to use, and the design of the ring does not consider the ergonomics of a finger and the actual stability the sex toy needs to be used with control. They simply whacked a ring on a vibe and shouted, "Here we go, we cater for disabled individuals, give us money."
Larger companies with sustainable incomes in the sex tech industry are failing those with disabilities. As disability scholars have repeatedly pointed out,
[u]nfortunately, there are not many design solutions for adaptable sex toys on the market. Design is probably the discipline that excels in exercising discrimination, otherwise the world would be significantly more accessible. Regardless of the efforts made in terms of universal design and accessibility, the area that has not been explored is the design of technical aids for sexuality or sex-aids. The unprecedented boom of sexual toys and the porn industry in the past three decades has not yet taken into consideration the needs of adults with disabilities. There have been some attempts by companies… but their products remain limited (Morales et al. 2021, 422)
It is generally indie and small-time sex toys and BDSM device markers that think outside of the box. Even before I became disabled with a full medical diagnosis, I displayed symptoms and injuries that affected my enjoyment and working within the BDSM scene. Speaking with indie sex toys and BDSM device makers helped me find devices that could be customized. If I experience a shoulder injury, I could get a customized flogger that I could use without aggravating the injury. Some of these indie sex toy makers are not only willing to listen to the requests you may have as an individual, but some will also research a particular disability or limitation so that they can factor in device weight, handle type and size, and even safe materials if sensitivities occur with certain conditions.
With some dungeon equipment, I have found certain nuts and bolts fiddly and have even had submissives notice this. During their next session, they gifted me a customised rachet to help twist them easier. The same submissive also noted that I found it hard to keep another device in their body whilst trying to juggle other activities. Again, they returned to the next session with a custom-made harness that helped hold the device in place. It is not uncommon for submissives with the skills to do so to take time to change or even create BDSM implements for their Mistress to use during a session, and some dominatrices even set their submissives creative tasks where they must make devices for them to further explore in future sessions with them or other submissives. Even in a professional relationship, there is a level of interdependence, where for a session to be successful, all involved must depend upon each other to make it work. Kate Hardy (2013) highlights that "[m]ost sex work, then, does not simply involve either the body of the sex worker or the client as a passive, docile body, but two active bodies infused with personhood, activity and subjectivity" (Hardy 2013, 49) Hardy uses the notion of intercorporeality to argue that all bodies involved in sexual labour (both client and worker) are not static. They both respond in the scene by being present and aware of the interactions and reactions that may come from touch, sound, and sight. During my sessions, my submissives respond to my intercorporeality by providing accessible devices, making it more enjoyable for them. There are many unseen sides to sex work, including client interactions outside of paid sessions that help further the professional sex worker's career. There is an embodied relationship between the client and the dominatrix, and to fully understand professional dommes and their work, we need to consider this.
This does not mean my disabilities are gone when I can use a particular device that has been made for me. However, I can at least enjoy activities without upsetting these disabilities further. Moreover, these customized devices look similar to other adult industry products. They are crafted from wood, silicone, metal, or rubber and are complete pieces with alterations just for me. These custom indie sex tech and BDSM devices would fit in with the other devices used within the scene. This is in stark contrast to when I have a device adapted under a healthcare service— they can look messy, obviously altered, and very clinical. While those devices can help me function in day-to-day life, they do not allow for discretion. They can even open you up to stigma from outsiders because of their obvious intended purpose as disability aids.
Navigating the Health System as a Disabled Sex Worker
As a disabled individual, I have had to jump through hoops to get the care I need for my conditions. Moving through systems of treatment is a slow process, one made slower by stigma and the assumption that I do not work full-time. When issues started to pop up that interfered with my work, I was put further and further back on waiting lists.
However, when I started speaking up about my career and stating that specific symptoms or conditions prevented me from working as a sex worker, it shocked surgeons, physiotherapists, and other specialists. However, it also meant they referred me to get the help needed sooner, including surgeries that might have been pushed back until things were too bad to fix. Being open about working as a sex worker may shock my health care providers, but it has dramatically helped me get the things I need to make my life comfortable and maintain the ability to work.
The only times I have had health care professionals judge my career choice was when attending the local GUM (genitourinary medicine) sexual health clinic or using mental health services. My experience with the GUM services was that everything I did was bad. They noted signs of my disabilities and classed them as abuse rather than my normal, even after explaining how my disabilities can cause marking. This has put me off using GUM sexual health services. It is commonly assumed that those who do sex work are inherently more vulnerable. Thus, when everyday individuals are confronted with a sex worker with visible marking, they assume that the sex worker is in an abusive situation when there may be other explanations. This may be a way for non-sex workers to morally justify what they are witnessing and maintain a sense of control over acceptable behavioral norms, as sex workers are seen to deviate from these norms (Brown, 2012). It may be that the workers in these situations automatically applied additional vulnerability to my situation due to social stigmas and expectations placed upon sex workers. I will still attend to keep myself and my clients safe, but I do not feel comfortable using those services, and even now, I still experience judgment from some sexual health nurses. With psychological services, I have found that most generally doubt that someone like me could be a sex worker, and some have even written, "She thinks she's a dominatrix," even when I've had therapists sit in a room next to a spanking bench and ask about it.
In Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt's (2000) book, When Someone You Love Is Kinky, they explain in their chapter on BDSM and healthcare, "A Special Chapter for Helping Professionals," that consensual injuries from BDSM practices can lead to incorrect assumptions and even misdiagnosis of abuse or medical condition (103). They note, "most of the injuries in S/M [Sadomasochism] are comparable to those that may happen during sports like touch football or hobbies like woodworking – shallow cuts and bruises, sore or strained muscles." (Easton and Liszt. 2010, 107). Rather than adding more stigma to the marks left from kink practices and performances, they argue when a medical professional is concerned about unsafe methods such as injuries that may not heal well, they should take the time to educate about safer methods.
Easton and Liszt (2010) rightfully point out that medical professionals should treat all patients equally and not withhold treatment due to someone practicing kink. Sex Therapist Dr. Goran Arbanas also compares sports and BDSM injuries in the ISSM(International Society for Sexual Medicine) Webinar on "BDSM in Clinical Context: Guidelines for Professionals" (2022), saying that we cannot diagnose consensual BDSM injuries as paraphilic disorder otherwise we would have to also diagnosis sporting activities that lead to pain and injury as one too, "nobody says that long-distance running is a diagnosis, so in the same manner, BDSM although it can be accompanied by pain, cannot be diagnosed as a disorder because of this simple issue." (Arbanas, 2022). However, many health professionals are uncertain when encountering injuries in their clinics and still learn about biased diagnoses surrounded by stigma. Due to worries about the stigma in kink already, those selling commercial sex via professional BDSM may have extra concerns when seeking help from a health professional when injuries do occur.
There are limited educational resources for medical professionals on interacting with sex workers when seeking medical services. Fritsch et al. (2016) discuss how the decriminalization of sex workers could help disabled clients access erotic services and allow both non-disabled and disabled sex workers to continue providing services safely. While many see keeping sex workers safe as helping them avoid potential client abuse, safety can also mean making sure sex workers can pay bills, afford food, utilize childcare, and access medication. Safety in sex work is not just about the potential risks of abuse from clients; it is also about the inaccessibility of healthcare, housing, and other things we need to keep us alive and healthy. This is why decriminalization is so essential.
Giving pain and being a Disabled Domme
Researcher Dr. Emma Sheppard found a link between people who experienced chronic pain and engaged in BDSM activities which felt reduced pain (2019). Sheppard argues that learning to control your pain can offer great respite moments, whether receiving BDSM pain as a submissive, giving pain as a domme, or experiencing both sides as a switch. The people Sheppard spoke to understood their chronic pain better and gained relief from other forms of pain through giving and receiving pain in the context of a BDSM session.
When giving BDSM pain as a dominatrix, I do not gain pain relief from giving pain to others but rather from being fully involved and having to use high levels of concentration to give my submissive consensual pain safely. I need to make sure I push their physical and mental limits whilst also making sure that the risk of extreme injury is limited. This form of concentration can make me phase out of my own chronic pain bubble and focus on other things in the room.
Teaching submissives and masochists how to manage their pain has also at least reminded me that, at times, I need to check in with my own pain when I may have neglected it. To help my submissives reach their pain goals, I use mindfulness methods, hypnotic talk, sensations from devices, touch, temperature, and more. These can help them push their bodies to handle more. Often, I forget I have these skills to use on my own body, and whilst I am not aiming to cause more pain in the body, I often need ways to help support and sometimes even trick my body to be able to perform day-to-day activities. Personally, I would opt for a massage!
When starting a session with a submissive, we discuss limits and what fetishes and kinks we enjoy. As a dominatrix, I try to session with individuals who match my interests. The sessions are also filled with rewarding sensations for me as I experience my personal pleasures being met. This can help me navigate my own symptoms. Having those limits clearly laid out can also be reassuring, so I can fully relax into the session. Rather than panicking, I know what to do and can remain calm if and when a problem arises.
However, not all pain is created equal. Chronic pain that lingers as you try to survive the day can feel very different from other forms of pain. Sometimes I am unaware of my pain as I am so used to it. This can make other injuries or pain-related conditions seem minor to me when others would seek medical intervention. Some medical professionals would say I am managing my ongoing chronic conditions well by being able to ignore them like this, and others would tell me I am not coping well due to repeated injuries I have not acknowledged. As a BDSM practitioner, I know that acknowledging someone's pain, whether it is a submissive or even another domme's, can give great relief. Acknowledging pain is what I do when giving pain to others; I recognize their limits and pain. I have found that for most of my life, I have been gaslighted by medical professionals even when tests and scans confirmed my pain, and this gaslighting and refusal of acknowledgment has led to more pain and poor management. Accepting consensual pain from others helps me see that physical pain is indeed real rather than something medical professionals would tell me I am being hysterical about.
All of my experiences as a disabled domme disrupt tired ableist stereotypes. Ableism plays a large part in the shaping of what is sexually acceptable. BDSM can offer an area of sexual expression against societally imposed sexual norms. In pro-domming patriarchal and heterosexual norms are often challenged, for example, expanding notions of sexual gratification and challenging the assumption that the ability to orgasm is the end goal for fulfilling sexual satisfaction. Moreover, as a disabled pro-domme, I challenge what is considered sexual and erotic as I discover new forms of embodiment to explore and enjoy.
Accessibility at professional and lifestyle erotic events is slowly improving, yet these improvements are still very slow. While improvements are needed at events to make them fully accessible, as seen with the Spend Guide, BDSM-related lifestyle and BDSM-related session socials still seem more accessible than other forms of sex-related events. Equipment within dungeons used during BDSM sessions is more accessible than many commercial sex toys, allowing those with disabilities, including myself, to find easier-to-use items. There is still a large gap in sex toys that need to be addressed by larger companies to make their products more accessible and enjoyable to those with disabilities. The benefits of different roles that submissives can fulfill for a pro-domme can help not only the submissive explore areas of their sexual wellbeing. However, they can also help a dominatrix with disabilities explore their sexual needs and wants in a consensual way that is not always accessible in vanilla lifestyle situations. Larger commercial sex tech companies have much to learn from smaller indie sex toys and BDSM equipment vendors when making truly accessible sex toys. Some items in the BDSM scene and dungeons could be altered to cater to those not seeking fetish gear, making them useful as accessible vanilla sex devices.
Healthcare providers need to learn how to be empathetic without stigma, and from the looks of things, this area has only changed slightly over the years. Sex workers require input and support from health professionals, which is still sorely lacking. Access to support healthcare providers is still rare, and many would benefit from more training around sex work and BDSM practises. Many providers would benefit from hearing and listening to sex workers and professional dominatrices' stories rather than trying to overwrite them. Whilst some providers accept it as a form of work, many still do not understand that sex work, and professional domming is a form of consensual and (in some places, legal) labour. More education regarding sex workers and dominatrices would help bring in more accessible healthcare. Equity is a must, where inclusion and an intersectional understanding of needs are the norms, not the exception.
Within the sex industry, whorearchical expectations of what a dominatrix is allowed or not allowed to do to maintain their sex worker status add additional stigma that needs addressing. The only way for these things to change is for more pro-dommes to speak about their wants and needs rather than only talking about what they think other people expect of them. Even though pro-domming allows for more authenticity than some other forms of sex work, there are still many assumptions about and expectations for what it is acceptable for a woman to enjoy sexually. More people must be willing to talk about what they want and like without societal stigmas to challenge and dismantle these expectations broadly.
BDSM deviates from popularized and dominant ideas about sexual pleasure and human sexuality. The ableist framing of sexuality and popularized views of sexual pleasure show how sexual ableism and heteronormative views are still ripe in the world, even when there is more awareness around alternative sexualities, sexual practises, and disability.
Many individuals will experience a range of functions in their ability to experience sexual pleasure and orgasm over their lifetime. Sexual pleasure is still primarily focused on orgasm, and there is still much need for education on alternative forms of sexual pleasure that are not orgasm-focused, particularly when thinking about disability.
Larger commercial sex tech companies have much to learn from smaller indie sex toys and BDSM equipment vendors when making genuinely accessible sex toys. Some items in the BDSM scene and dungeons could be altered to cater to those not seeking fetish-appearing items, using them as accessible vanilla sex devices. In part, it is all how something has been marketed that makes an item feel accepted to a particular person's sexual and sexuality needs. Many BDSM items can cross over into vanilla sexual play, leaving BDSM behind if done correctly.
More research is also needed on chronic pain and BDSM, particularly considering the individual voices and perspectives of sex workers. More information is needed on disabled sex workers and a greater look into how those who are into BDSM are not desexualized and how those with disabilities are not all asexual. From my experience, I have found dominatrix work to be physically accessible with devices of the trade equipped for my disabilities. In contrast, others may have different experiences depending on their disability needs. For me, disability was not the main factor in my choice to become a dominatrix. However, for others, I can see it being more accessible than navigating other forms of work that may limit the time needed to care for their disability. In saying that, it is obvious to me that even if someone adopts a professional dominatrix persona during their professional sex worker life, that persona can be there as a part of making a living rather than a way for them to manage their career or parts of their private personal life crossing over. Some may define themselves as a lifestyle as well as professional BDSM practitioners. However, at the end of the day, professional dominatrix work is just a job option some individuals with disabilities may try to make ends meet. Just like other jobs, what happens at work can simply stay at work.
- Bisbey, Lori Beth. 2020. Dancing the Edge to Surrender: An Erotic Memoir of Trauma and Survival. Self-published.
- Botto, Lori A. 2018. Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire. Vancouver, BC Canada: Greystone Books.
- Easton, Dossie and Catherine A, Liszt. 2000. When Someone You Love Is Kinky. California: Greenery Press.
- Ellis, Carolyn, and Arthur P. Bochner. 2000. "Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher as Subject." In Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd ed., edited by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 733–68. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
- Erickson, Loree. 2007. "Revealing Femmegimp: A Sex-positive Reflection on Sites of Shame as Sites of Resistance for People with Disabilities." Atlantis 31(2): 42-52.
- Erickson, Loree. 2015. "Why I Love Hickies and Queer Crip Porn." in Coming Out Like a Porn Star. Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy, edited by Jiz Lee, 224-229. Berkeley, CA: ThreeL Media.
- Fennell, Julie. 2021. "It's complicated: Sex and the BDSM subculture. Sexualities, 24(5–6), 784–802. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720961303
- Fritsch, Kelly, Heynen, Robert, Ross, Amy Nicole, and Emily van der Meulen. (2016). "Disability and sex work: developing affinities through decriminalization." Disability and Society 31(1): 84-99. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2016.1139488
- Gill, Michael. 2015. Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. https://doi.org/10.5749/minnesota/9780816682973.001.0001
- Goerlich, Stefani. 2021. The Leather Couch. Clinical Practice with Kinky Clients. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003006961
- Hardy, Kate. 2013. "Equal to any other but not the same as any other: the politics of sexual labour, the body, and intercorporeality." In Body/Sex/Work. Intimate, Embodied, and Sexualized Labour, edited by Carol Wolkowitz, Rachel Lara Cohen, Teela Sanders, and Kate Hardy, 43-58. London: Palgrave.
- Harvey, Laura., Gill, Rosalind. 2011. "Spicing It Up: Sexual Entrepreneurs and The Sex Inspectors." In Gill, R., Scharff, C. (eds) New Femininities. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230294523_4
- Hayano, David M. 1979. "Auto-Ethnography: Paradigms, Problems, and Prospects." Human Organization 38(1): 99–104. https://doi.org/10.17730/humo.38.1.u761n5601t4g318v
- Hester, Marianne, Natasha Mulvihill, Andrea Matolcsi, Alba Lanau Sanchez and Sarah-Jane Walker. 2019. The Nature and Prevalence of Prostitution and Sex Work in England and Wales Today. London: Home Office.
- International Society for Sexual Medicine. 2022. ISSM Webinar on BDSM in Clinical Context: Guidelines for Professionals." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96biCFKfrRI
- Levey, Tania G. 2018. "The Emotional Labor of the Professional Dominatrix. In SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781526432247
- Levey, Tania G., and Dina Pinsky. 2015. "A Constellation of Stigmas: Intersectional Stigma Management and the Professional Dominatrix." Deviant Behavior 36(5): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2014.935658
- Lindemann, Danielle J. 2010. "Will the Real Dominatrix Please Stand Up: Artistic Purity and Professionalism in the S&M Dungeon." Sociological Forum 25(3): 588–606. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2010.01197.x
- Lindemann, Danielle J. 2012. Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226482590.001.0001
- Mac, Juno and Molly Smith. 2018. Revolting Prostitutes. The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights. London: Verso Books.
- McRuer, Robert and Anna Mollow (eds.) 2012. Sex and Disability. Durham: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822394877
- Morales, Ernesto, Edwards, Geoffrey, Gauthier, Veronique, Courtois, Frederique, Lamontagne, Alicia, and Antoine Guerette. 2021. "Toward sexual autonomy and well-being for persons with upper limb mobility limitations: the role of masturbation and sex toys." In The Routledge Handbook of Disability and Sexuality, edited by Russell Shuttleworth and Linda R. Mona, 418. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429489570-37
- O'Nomis, Anna. 2013. The History & Arts of the Dominatrix. Self-published.
- Sheppard, Emma. 2019. "Chronic Pain as Fluid, BDSM as Control." Disability Studies Quarterly. Vol 39(2). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v39i2.6353
- Sloan, Jolene L. 2015. "Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM practice." Sexualities, 18(5–6): 548–563. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460714550907
- Wilkerson, Abby. 2015. "Embodiment." In Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, 67-70. New York: NYU Press. https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9781479812141.003.0024
- Wexx, Preston. 2020. My Spend Guide. https://mirubberxx.com/spend-guide
- Zane, Zachary. 2020. Sexual Happiness and Inclusivity. Lovehoney. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc_zUxNYBvQ
There is no solid definition of what a Dominatrix is or isn't and I strongly feel that it varies from individual to individual. There is a tendency for people to tell service providers what they are and are not and generally this is seen as a form of whorearchy, a hierarchy of types of sex work where some forms are seen as better than others, and a particular service is better or worse depending on what boxes the provider ticks to satisfy others. Whorearchy is the inbuilt system of stigmatization within the sex worker workforce. There is also the myth that Dominatrix's don't provide sexual services. For example, Danielle Lindemann (2010) pushes this belief by claiming that a 'real' dominatrix will rarely perform or engage in sexual acts throughout the chapter "Will The Real Pro-Domme Please Stand Up", particularly "Legitimacy as a dominatrix, within the discourse here, is connected to the unwillingness to perform sexual extras. "Purist" domes, as has been demonstrated, authenticate their own work by contrasting themselves to the "fakes," the "hookers," "hoochies," and "prostitutes" who may perform these acts during their sessions." (103).
Return to Text
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a hereditary disorder affecting connective tissues and varies in its genetic cause and how it affects individuals. However, chronic pain and fatigue are common symptoms for people with EDS.
Return to Text