Claire Glass investigates a new generation of elite college women determined to dominate
New York Press
Kitty, 22, was a theater major at Sarah Lawrence before falling grades and depression led her away from that educational facility and into another. As head mistress at Jezebel's Wall Street Dungeon, Leda taught her to properly swing a whip, for free. Compared with tuition at Sarah Lawrence, the most expensive educational institution in the United States at $60,000 a year, this dungeon discipline may garner more profitable returns for its student body.
Kitty is part of a growing group of college-going women turning to domination since the recession to make a quick buck. Older dominatrices, who spent years honing their craft, warn that the psychological strain of being a dominatrix may drive the money-minded back to nannying. And the looming question may be why some young women, many college-educated at the best schools in the country, are so determined to master what may be their own form of masochism.
"They don't appreciate the art of it," says longtime domme Nina Payne. She speaks in a soft tone that would be just as appropriate for reciting poetry. "Since the recession, people are looking for ways to keep their heads above water, so tons of new girls are coming in and changing the scene." Payne has been working as a dominatrix for the past eight years in Tokyo, London, Australia and the United States. In Australia and London, she says, the average dommes are in their early thirties. Here, her students and colleagues are in their early twenties.
According to Danielle Lindemann, who received her PhD in sociology from Columbia University and wrote her dissertation on dominatrices, long-time dommes all over New York City fear the demise of their craft at the hands of the inexperienced.
"They talked about the difference between real dommes who appreciate it as an art form and undergo training, and the young dommes who see it on the Internet as an easy way to make money," Lindemann says. She didn't approach anyone with this question in mind, but the subject kept coming up. And in Nina Payne's classes, the divide between the experienced and fledgling reveals itself fully.
Payne's students squirm in their chairs like school kids waiting to hear the bell for recess. In her class at CoCo De Mer, an upscale lingerie and sex shop in Nolita, pupils are dressed for the part in Dolce & Gabbana corsets and trench coats. When her students take the reins—or rather, the whips—they're unable to wield them properly. The man hired to work as the night's submissive (another subset of the dungeon economy) winces as a woman in thigh-high boots loses her balance on the upswing, snapping the tip of the whip into his tail bone. "Very dangerous," Payne says. Striking the spine the wrong way can result in serious injury. "It's not as easy as it looks, right?" she asks. There is a sense that confirming this point is a part of the lesson plan. It seems there is a lot to be learned about the dungeon discipline.
Some of the popularity of the profession may be the upsurge of interest in mainstream popular culture. Melissa Febos' memoir Whip Smart, published last year, detailed her many experiences in a Midtown dungeon, and it's not uncommon to see images of women in television, movies and magazines dressed in corsets and ready to use kinky leather and latex implements to satisfy sexual partners.