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BDSM curious? This professional dominatrix explains the truth behind her job

BDSM and kink have just about gone mainstream but what happens if it’s what you do for living? Not necessarily what you think, says professional dominatrix Miss Ria Harpsichord

There’s no denying that BDSM has been slowly creeping into the mainstream. For a start, the Fifty Shades franchise has dominated the shelves of bookstores and sex shops alike for the last decade. And while the hype may be in decline, it made ‘kink’ a household word.

But there are also the more subtle influences; body chains, chokers and harnesses re-emerging in everyday fashion, handcuffs and blindfolds in the bedroom, the more widespread publishing of kinky erotica and the rise of remote-control sex toys (we’re looking at you We-Vibe) . 

Last year, rapper Kanye West made it to number 3 in the UK charts with ‘I Love it’, a song in which he boasts about being a ‘sick f*ck’. And, with the release of ‘Bonding’, a Netflix drama about a dominatrix who joins forces with her gay bestie, there doesn’t seem to be any sign that this trend will be slowing down anytime soon.  

With all this access, it’s easy to assume we understand what BDSM is.   

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Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue

But do we really?  

Wait, what is BDSM anyway?

You’ve probably heard the acronym thrown around a lot, but not everyone knows what it even stands for:

Bondage: Being constrained either literally or metaphorically. (Think handcuffs or not being able to leave work till the end of the day.)

Discipline: Rules to obey – if these rules are broken there will be a ‘punishment’.

Sadism: Pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on others. (For example, burning your ex’s house down.)

Masochism: Pleasure from having pain or humiliation inflicted on yourself.

People who participate in BDSM are typically divided into two categories; a Dominant or a Submissive.

If you want to know more about BDSM – Read MoreBDSM: A how-to guide for beginners

Miss Ria Harpsichord (pictured, below) has been working as a ProDomme for the last three years. A ProDomme, or Dominatrix, is a female professional dominant – the woman in charge(as opposed to a ‘submissive’).

Here are a few things she shared with us:   

You need to enjoy it

chair-dominatrix-Healthista

‘One thing to know about men is that generally they just want to feel useful’

Domination is generally accepted as having power and influence over people. In a more sexual context, we can understand this to mean taking control in the bedroom – that it’s all about being more aggressive.

But according to Ria, being a professional dominant entails a lot more than simply ‘dressing up fancy and cracking a whip’.

Her job requires a certain duty of care when it comes to her Subs.  A ‘sub’, that’s short for submissive, subordinate or ‘bottom’ is someone who relinquishes control or responsibility to another.

As such, she describes her role as more akin to that of a guide: ‘You’re more of a facilitator than someone who’s just doing what they want,’ says Ria.

‘But a domme should always be enjoying her position of power, especially if the person that you’re playing with is interested in pleasing you,’ she says.

There are kinks and fetishes you’ve never heard of

As it turns out, BDSM can go beyond sex and there are some surprising kinks.

For example, chastity, which is when a person denies themselves all forms of sexual intercourse is actually a type of kink.  ‘For some people, saying ‘You’re not allowed to cum’ or having to wear a cock cage around their penis can be really sexy.’ A cock cage or chastity cage is a tool used for orgasm denial which prevents sexual activity involving the wearer’s genitals. ‘I call it a penis prison,’ laughs Ria.

Puppy play, when someone pretends to be a dog, can also be a release for some of Miss Ria’s subs. ‘A lot of puppy play isn’t very sexual or demeaning, it’s more like getting to be a little kid again,’ she says.

But by far the most surprising was also the most mundane, a type of kink called ‘Normaling’ where you’re aroused by more commonplace things like the idea of getting married.

Meanwhile, a fetish is something that offers gratification outside of what is considered ‘normal’ sex.  ‘An example could be a sexual interest in things like fabrics such as PVC, lace or it could be say, having a fetish about being tickled,’ she says.

Staying safe with safewords

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‘There’s a full spectrum of people who do BDSM and domination services ‘

One of the things Miss Ria wants to explain to newer BDSM enthusiasts is the concept of ‘Subspace’. This is a response the body has to pain.

‘Sub-space can be dangerous,’ warns Ria.  It’s a floaty, euphoric space where you’re not fully lucid or able to feel pain properly. ‘ASMR and tickling can also put you in ‘sub-space’,’ says Ria. ‘As a Domme, I have to be careful or clear because they can just float away.  I always ask if they’re okay.’

It is at this point that Ria introduces me to what she refers to as the ‘key tenets’ of BDSM:

Safe, Sane & Consensual (SSC). SSC helps BDSM practitioners maintain a level of safety at all times while being  aware and well-informed about the possible risks. Both parties must agree to what is going on and have a competent (sane) understanding of where the line between fantasy and reality is. For example, your fantasy could be playing with candles, under SSC the person in charge of the wax would be responsible for minimising any risk of damaging your skin by making sure the wax isn’t too hot. In this way, SSC works to differentiate BDSM from abuse.

Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK). Under SSC, things like ‘rape play’ or cutting may be considered too dangerous to engage in.   RACK differs from SSC as it places a greater focus on being risk aware and in light of that awareness, consent to the activities in mind. RACK acknowledges that nothing is ever 100% inherently safe.

Some BDSM practitioners will practice one or the other, while some practice a combination of both RACK and SSC.

‘Make sure you learn them’, Miss Ria advises. ‘Before you even play with someone, make sure you know what you’re okay with and not okay with.’

Safewords can also play a key role in safely practicing BDSM. A safeword is a key word or phrase previously agreed upon by both participants in a BDSM setting to let each other know their mental and physical state without any confusion or ambiguity.

Common safewords would be ‘Red’ meaning ‘stop’ or ‘Amber’ meaning ‘I’m near my limit.’

This can help with maintaining immersion in the experience and eliminates any confusion during role-play. Common safewords would be ‘Red’ meaning ‘stop’ or ‘Amber’ meaning ‘I’m near my limit.’

Miss Ria tends to get a little more creative with her safewords:  ‘I’ve used midichlorians, which is from Star Wars’, ‘Another one I’ve used is Heathcliff, as in Wuthering Heights’.

Being in a dominant position however can be intoxicating.  ‘I tend to get ‘Domnesia’ which is like a natural high that can happen when you get into the flow of things. It’s officially called ‘dom-space’, but I call it Domnesia.’

It’s when things in the background can become a little fuzzy but unlike your standard high, most dominants report feeling ‘hyper-focused’ while in Dom space.

This is an important distinction, as Ria says that even if a bottom (a submissive) fails to call a safeword, the top (the dominant) is still responsible for their wellbeing.

How to become a dominatrix

Miss Ria began her journey to becoming a Dominatrix when she was working in a sex shop which made her more open and comfortable with learning about and discussing sex in general.

After reviewing her own experiences and preferences with her peers and sexual partners, Miss Ria came to realise that as a sexually dominant woman, she was a rare breed.

With little outlet or prospects for further sexual exploration in her hometown, Miss Ria made the decision to move to London ‘to absorb all the kinky nightlife I could,’ she recalls.

Ria describes her early days as a Dominatrix with a little embarrassment. ‘I was acting bossy in a petulant way,’ she admits.

Over time she came to understand that her particular style needed to have more substance than simply acting cruelly.

With practice Miss Ria has now reached the stage where she’s confident in her abilities as a Domme.  ‘I’m in control and not going to put up with any bullshit from them [her clients],’ she says.

Combining her knowledge of sensuality and BDSM, Miss Ria describes her more recent sessions as ‘more explorative, more sensual – with some cruelty in there as well of course – but more as a means of maintaining discipline.’

Inside the lair of a dominatrix

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‘All their desires can be fulfilled as long as they play by my rules’ – Miss Ria’s dungeon. Picture: missharpsichord.co.uk

While there are some ProDommes who are happy to make home visits, Miss Ria opts for a more traditional dungeon (see picture), which is the name traditionally given to the workspace of a dominatrix, though ‘playspace’ is sometimes used.

The equipment of a ProDomme is arguably one of the central features of the domination experience.  Miss Ria makes a point to call it equipment, not props, ‘Props makes it sound too theatrical,’ she says.

Typical toys in Miss Ria’s dungeon include:

  • Whips – a strip of leather or length of cord fastened to a handle.
  • Floggers – several strands of material bundled together on a handle.
  • Crops – a long flexible rod with small flap of leather at the end.
  • Paddle – a short flat tool with a handle, used for spanking.
  • Blindfolds – a length of material to cover the eyes, that can be used to enhance other sensations.
  • Pinwheels – a small wheel attached to a handle with evenly spaced sharp pins that rotates as it is rolled across the flesh, creating a sharp or tingling sensation (also known as a Wartenberg wheel).
  • Candles – for wax/temperature play such as dipping melted wax onto a person’s skin.
  •  Oils – for soothing or sensual play which can also be used in temperature play.
  • Spanking bench which comes with a suspension winch; a crank for raising people on.
  • Bondage bed – a table with straps, used to retrain subs.
  • St Andrew’s cross – an upright cross in an X-shape. Miss Ria will tie her Sub’s hands to the top and their feet to the bottom to spread them across the wall.
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Left to right: Flogger, Pinwheel and St Andrews Cross. Source: Instagram

Dealing with the stigma

When asked about the simplest way to sum up her occupation, Ria has no reservations: ‘Men pay me to be a fantasy super woman where I’m in charge.’

But in some cases, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. ‘The worst part about the job,’ she says ‘is the stigma we face as people who work in sexuality, as sex workers. I’ve been fired from jobs that I’ve loved, and I’ve lost friends over it.’

A simple question such as ‘what do you do?’ can lead to disaster for Miss Ria.  While the response can be positive, she also recalls some less-than-enthusiastic responses to her openness: ‘Their face drops, they physically distance themselves and they call you weird.’

Invasive questions are also something Ria is no stranger to.  ‘People often ask, ‘Isn’t it horrible? Isn’t it disgusting? Don’t you hate men?’,’ she says.  ‘When I hear ‘Oh do you fuck them?’ or ‘What’s the weirdest thing you do?’ It makes me feel like a circus freak.’

When I first met Miss Ria, she was the assistant manager at my place of work. We quickly bonded over a shared sense of humour, mastery of the eye-roll and sex nerd status.

One day while we were chatting, she mentioned casually to me and a fellow co-worker, ‘I do some work as a ProDomme’.

A month later, Ria was fired for ‘failing to carry out her duties’. It was however common knowledge that someone in the hierarchy had found out and was not pleased.

In spite of this, she remains proud of the wok she does. ‘When someone asks what I do, I make sure to say that I’m a ProDomme – I find more positive things come out of being honest.’

People’s preferences can surprise you

Miss Ria with one of her Subs.

There tends to be this stereotype that the quiet ones are total demons in bed and that high powered business men secretly long to be spanked or humiliated.

But according to Ria, this isn’t always the case. ‘You can never tell what someone’s going to be like in the bedroom,’ says Miss Ria.  ‘Sometimes I’ve met the most sexually dominant people who are quiet socially.’

She also points out that often people can be quite sexually versatile, such as fellow ProDommes she knows who have confessed to taking on a more submissive role in personal relationships. ‘Who they are with me might be different from how they are with someone else.’

What TV gets wrong

You might not be surprised to learn that Fifty Shades of Grey has garnered substantial criticism over the years due to itsquestionable depictions of BDSM, with many claiming the book ‘confuses hot sex with violence‘ and abuse, and in fact features inaccurate and potentially dangerous BDSM techniques.

When asked about this, Ria states that Christian Grey is a poor representation of a Dom (Male Domme or dominant).  ‘He doesn’t respond to Ana’s concerns and there are many consent violations.’

50-shades-healthista

50 shades of grey. Source: instagram @fiftyshades

In BDSM you need to let the other person know what is happening for there to be consent. ‘He tries to get her to sign a contract before she’s even experienced any form of play – how is she supposed to understand what she is signing up for?’

Miss Ria explains that in many of her sessions, there will be a discussion beforehand as to what will take place to ensure that both parties understand and are happy with everything.

On the subject of Netflix’s Bonding series, Miss Ria was not too pleased with the depiction of female domination. 

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Netflix’s Bonding. Source: instagram @bondingnetflix

‘The main girl looks a bit like me,’ she points out. ‘Same build, same hair…I wanted to get a haircut as soon as I saw it- To distance myself from the cliché!

Miss Ria doubts that any dominants, professional or otherwise, were actually consulted on the making of these productions due to the harmful level of inaccuracy

‘There are consent violations – which include a client ejaculating into Peter’s face and a tickling fetishist ending up with a mild case of PTSD after his wife discovers she enjoys beating him. The main tenet of the BDSM community is consent.’

‘It’s just another half-baked representation of sex work and BDSM. These shows take our stories, get it all wrong and we’re not treated like human beings,’ she says.

The job comes with some risks

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‘There’s this idea that kinky people are hedonistic, over the top, indulgent, nightmare people – they’re not.’

While a ProDomme may be able to exercise control over her subs, there are a still a few things Miss Ria needs to be wary of when it comes to her personal safety.

‘I know I put myself in a dangerous situation when it’s just me alone in a room with a stranger who contacted me through the internet,’ Miss Ria admits.

ProDommes will typically put their potential clients through a strict vetting process to determine their suitability , and their questions will usually cover topics such as any history of illness, past trauma or triggers that a client might have.  A trigger is something that can cause or set off an involuntary or natural response, like your mouth watering when you see an ice cream.

In order to play with Miss Ria, a lengthy application must first be accepted by her.  However, she does admit that even after vetting a client, she can still be a little apprehensive when first meeting them.  ‘There’s only so much that can be done to protect ourselves.’

We’re all selling orgasms

‘A misconception about Professional Dommes is either that we either do have sex with our clients or that we don’t have sex with them,’ says Miss Ria.

Confused? That’s understandable. This is where things can get a little fuzzy for some people.

In BDSM, there is something that’s known as ‘the masochist climax’ when the sensations brought on by what a Domme is doing (typically pain or pleasure) cause a Sub to reach orgasm.

Trying to extract any juicy stories out of Miss Ria is a big no-no. ‘I could never break client confidentially,’ she says and means it, though she does confess that she has often wished she could make notes for a memoir.

There’s a pause, ‘I actually dated a client,’ she confesses.

‘He was seeing me [as a client] for over a year, about once a month, most of that time I was dating someone else,’ says Ria.

Following Miss Ria’s break up with her partner at the time, she and her client had a sexual encounter during one of their sessions. ‘It was really sexy – he was beside himself with joy, he loved feeling useful and like he was pleasing me.’

Shortly afterwards Miss Ria then told him that she no longer wanted him as a client because she’d like to ask him on a date.

After a 6-month long relationship, the pair decided to split up. ‘We got on really well sexually, but our personalities and lifestyles were too different.’

Being your own boss, setting your own hours

‘Iv’e become a big part of some people’s lives- I’ve had people cry with relief!’

Working as a ProDomme comes with an element of freedom.  Miss Ria picks her hours, who she works with and exactly what she does on any given day. It takes being your own boss to a whole new level.

But this level of freedom would not be sustainable without a level of self-control.

‘If I start thinking ‘oh, I don’t want to get up’, I can tell myself “no’’ and it’s like I’ve Domme’d myself into being more productive!’ 

When we talk about everything life as a ProDomme has brought Ria, she seems genuinely happy with what she does.

To her, it’s like a form of art. ‘I get to creatively express myself though the medium of different sensations on the human body canvass,’ she muses.

Following her passion has also brought Miss Ria into some exciting and creative social circles. She’s met artists, designers, photographers and of course, some fellow sex workers who have helped her refine her identity as a ProDomme.

‘I have met some unbelievably interesting and supportive people and I’ve become a big part of some people’s lives,’ she says.  ‘My regulars and I have strong friendships’.  

‘The persona of Miss Ria has helped me live a more intentional and fulfilling life,’ she says.

‘…And I get to dress up.’ 

Miss His harpsichord dominatrix healthista

Miss Ria Harpsichord is a London-Based Dominatrix. She specialises in psychological and sadistic domination.

Follow Miss Ria on Twitter & Instagram:  @MissHarpsichord

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My boyfriend doesn’t satisfy me sexually – therapy

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