I was exchanging messages with someone who's worked as a professional dominatrix in both Manhattan and Sydney when it struck me that the two of us approached s/m with very different views. We weren't talking about s/m as such. We were actually talking about the latest issue of Artforum and about a film she'd seen at BAM not long ago. So I have no idea where the thought came from. But there it was. Now she'd told me tales of some of her clients and experiences before, so it's possible the thought was simply lying fallow. She likes s/m; it's not just something she's done as a job. I like it, too, but for different reasons.
I've always said that I like s/m for the ritual and for the aesthetics. I've always liked the class markers behind high-end s/m, and I like the idea of it as highly intellectualised, abstract sex. My dominatrix friend likes s/m for the physical release, for the chance to see how far she can go. She likes the physical activity of wielding a whip; her own release depends on what she can push a submissive's body to feel. There's a divide there: "cold" v. "hot" sex. I'm happier with "cold".
Now she's worked as a professional domme. The male clients who came to her expected to be punished, to be humiliated. They're paying to be humiliated. That's not a word I've ever worked into games or scenes. She's come to associate s/m play with scripted humiliation and punishment, and those routines leak over into her own, off-the-clock games with both the boys and girls in her life. Those aren't things I've ever been interested in making part of s/m.
It might be that I feel a certain sense of wariness when I'm part of an s/m scene. I'm male, and of a certain age. My partner will be a young companion, someone female and much younger. It's all too easy for s/m games to take on political overtones or to seem too reminiscent of actual violence. That might be part of it.
The major part, I think, is that I'm not interested in "punishing" a young companion. I'm certainly not interested in being addressed as "Master". I'd rather have a girl address me by my name or as "darling" during scenes. Silk and masks and blindfolds and candle wax and riding whips are all things I like, but it's the ritual of them I like more than the physical effect. I like it that a young companion is willing to push past her limits, or willing to place her trust in me. Those are gifts, and they shouldn't be about humiliation. I'd feel silly telling a girl she was being whipped for being "bad", and the thought of actually saying the things male dominants say in s/m novels and videos say really does make me dissolve into laughter. I'm more used to silence and kisses during games. What I like about what's being played out is the sense of being in something formal and yet dreamlike. Formal, yes. I wouldn't play out Spanking The French Maid or Spanking The Naughty Schoolgirl. Masks and silk scarves, yes. Candle wax and riding crops, yes. But not spanking. That's not a marker for the world I'd want the scene to create.
My dominatrix friend tells me that it's now hard for her not to go into domme-speak when she's with someone male, hard not to try to break them down. She can, she says, turn a hipster boy into "a simpering bitch" in a few minutes. I don't doubt that she can. And the stories she comes away with are often wonderfully funny. But it's just not my take on s/m. The proper thing to say to a lovely girl with drops of candle wax on her nipples, or who's just been whipped, is always and ever, "Thank you, darling." And it needs to be said softly and with complete sincerity. You've been given a gift by a lovely companion: be aware of that.
It's not likely that my dominatrix friend and I will ever be together for a scene. I'm not looking for a domme, and I'm not interested in being humiliated. I like her, now. She's smart and funny and quite lovely. But our views of how s/m should be played diverge. In the end, I expect sex (and s/m is a key kind of sex) to be stylish and based on an odd intersection of romance and cool abstraction. Domme-sex is too physical, and too much about breaking down self-image. I'm interested in formal poses and enhancing images, creating new images.