When you hear the word “kink,” it’s totally normal to imagine a living room full of masked party guests engaging in an orgy (à la Eyes Wide Shut), a leather-clad dominatrix whipping someone in her dungeon, or perhaps a particularly naughty bit from the 50 Shades of Grey novel. The world of kink refers to unconventional sexual practices, like BDSM, which stands for bondage, discipline, masochism, and sadism. While kink is still very unfamiliar, taboo, and misunderstood to many, it’s an important sexual tool and even a profession for others.

“I think of kink as a sexual orientation,” says Miss Grey, a San Francisco-based dominatrix. “It’s a way for people to develop their sense of eroticism and sexuality, and there’s nothing that can be done to alter this. It’s a part of who we are.”

In her work as a dominatrix, Miss Grey dominates clients using methods like captivity, torture, spanking, electrical play, orgasm control, humiliation, and more to help them explore and discover their sexuality in mutually safe and consensual way. We sat down with her to learn more about her field of work, what a dominatrix even is (and what it isn’t), how she thinks about safety, and more. Plus, with a name like Miss Grey, we had to get her thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey.

LOLA: Thanks for sitting down with us! Tell us about yourself and how long you’ve been working as a dominatrix.

MG: I’ve been a professional dominatrix for 12 and a half years. I got interested in this type of work because I was in a very long-term, vanilla relationship. My partner didn’t share my interest in power exchange in the context of sex. I wasn’t able to explore this with my partner, but didn’t want to go outside of the relationship. We negotiated a way for me to do this work and set clear boundaries about what would and wouldn’t happen in client sessions. This protected our sexual relationship but allowed me to explore a different type of intimacy that doesn’t involve sex with my clients. I also knew a professional dominatrix and trained with her in her dungeon.

LOLA: How would you define the term “dominatrix”?

MG: To me, a dominatrix is any person who identifies as female who consensually negotiates power exchange with another.

LOLA: What’s your philosophy or mission in your work?

MG: My mission is to facilitate meaningful and sincere connection with people who want to engage in kinky play. Many are experienced, but many are in the process of discovery. I support my clients in exploring their fantasies in a safe and consensual way.

The sense of gratitude my clients express for the opportunity to go to a certain place, and to know that I’ve done something with someone that is intense and emotional for them — this is tremendously rewarding for me. I shepherd them into an incredibly intimate world and back to reality. It’s not just about guys getting off. It’s so much more than this.

LOLA: What’s your day-to-day routine like?

MG: For 10 and a half years, domination was my only source of income. But two years ago I took on a job in higher education, which occupies my weekdays until 5 p.m. I take domination sessions on weekdays evenings, weekends, and on holidays.

LOLA: Do your coworkers at your day job know you’re a dominatrix?

MG: No — it’s totally in the closet. There’s so much discrimination and misunderstanding in this business. In my work as a dominatrix, I don’t share my name or real identity with clients, though they have seen my face. Many want to get more personal. I do have to dodge these questions. I remind them that it’s not a part of our professional relationship.

LOLA: What is the process like for scheduling a session with you?

MG: First, I recommend clients read the Desires and Taboo pages [of my website] before contacting me. I’m an expert in electrical play, for example, but do not engage in sex, intimate body worship, sessions with non-consenting minors or individuals, or activities that compromise anonymity and privacy. Reading about my own interests and limits gives clients a sense of the flavor of play I enjoy.

On the Appointments page, I request clients fill out a questionnaire that asks them about their history, interests, availability, and limits. My clients are mostly male, but I play with all genders and orientations, as well as couples. Once they’ve completed the questionnaire, I get a sense of whether or not I feel comfortable. Were they respectful? If I decide to move forward, we set up a 15 to 20 minute phone call to go over the questionnaire and negotiate how the session will go. I take it very seriously — not only for their safety, but also for mine.

LOLA: Speaking of safety, how do you approach that?

MG: I like to think I’m an expert at reading people; it’s a huge part of what I do professionally. But if I have the slightest concern or am not sure about someone, I never take the session. Appointments must be made in advance. Clients fill out an intense questionnaire and speak with me on the phone. I also check references on clients. If a client has seen other dominatrices, I’ll reach out to the other professionals and inquire about their comfort with the client. I make it difficult to make an appointment with me, which tends to weed out folks with bad manners.

LOLA: What happens during a session?

MG: I request that clients come to my private studio at the agreed upon time freshly showered and in clean clothes. When I answer the door, I’m in full costume and ready for the session. I’ve prepared by gathering any equipment that will be needed. We greet each other and I’ll go over anything outstanding, if warranted.

I usually start slow with a warm up, ramping up progressively until we’re at the level that’s right for the client. But if a client is a heavy bondage enthusiast, they may not want this type of progression. It depends on the client. That’s why preparation via the questionnaire and phone conversation is critical. Successful sessions only happen if interests and boundaries are properly fleshed out and expectations are appropriately set. Sessions can last anywhere from an hour to 24 hours, which is negotiated beforehand.

LOLA: Do you have any other rules and boundaries in place for working with clients?

MG: I don’t want clients to touch me without permission. They can ask, but I likely won’t give them permission — this is not a part of the session. I also don’t want to be asked for personal information or about my private life. I’ve only ever had to ask someone to leave the studio for violating my boundaries one time. Almost all of my clients are amazingly respectful.

LOLA: Are there any misconceptions about dominatrices you’d like to clear up?

MG: The biggest one is that we just do it for the money and that this is the only way we can make money. It’s hard to do this type of work for the money alone. Also, I have multiple degrees! Most dominatrices I know are the smartest, funniest people I know who have intentionally chosen to not take a corporate or more conventional professional path. We are not just “dumb sex workers.” It takes a certain intellectual and emotional caliber to be a successful dominatrix.

LOLA: We have to ask — given your name, what are your thoughts on the 50 Shades of Grey franchise?

MG: The best thing about that book and movie is that people finally know how to spell my name!
The book came along long after I chose my name and started my business. It offended a lot of people because it depicts unrealistic scenarios and significant violants of boundaries, which portrayed people who engage in BDSM in the wrong light.

That being said, as much as I want to hate the book, it was hugely popular and facilitated discussion about taboo sexual desires, intrigue, and fantasy in popular culture. In that sense, I can forgive it for being overly simplistic and in some ways quite misogynistic. It got people talking.

English Taylor is a San Francisco-based women’s health and wellness writer and birth doula. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Healthline, Refinery29, NYLON, Modern Fertility, and THINX. Follow English and her work at https://medium.com/@englishtaylor or on Instagram at @englishtaylor.