I was 30 years old when I worked my first shift at Medusa’s, a long-running commercial BDSM dungeon in Southern California. I was terrified and had little idea what my new job would entail. I knew that male clients would pay to have sessions with me and that sex wasn’t allowed, but beyond that, I just imagined strong, dominant men binding my wrists above my head and flogging me with expert precision.
On my first day, dressed in a minuscule schoolgirl skirt and thigh-high stockings, I received a brief tour of the session rooms, with their spanking benches and St. Andrew’s Cross restraint frames that I couldn’t yet identify by name, and then it was time for my first session.
Seventy-something Tickle Thomas — yes, we nickname clients for their fetishes, and no, we don’t use their nicknames to their faces — came to see every new girl who appeared to be under the age of 25. (While I was 30, I could pass for much younger even without the schoolgirl skirt.) We interviewed, I told him I loved tickling ― though in reality, I was indifferent to it ― and we headed upstairs to the session room. He had me strip to my G-string and lie on the bondage bed while he got down to his boxers, and then he brushed his fingers over my legs, my ribs, my breasts so lightly I thought he was giving me a massage.
At the end of the session, Thomas lay down on the bed with his skin touching mine, and I understood he was really searching for physical intimacy, rather than hoping to satisfy any fetish — a trait that I would come to learn many clients at the dungeon shared. I had the sudden realization that I’d never been this close to an elderly man ― and one who was nearly naked ― in my life. I was a truly submissive girl, and I didn’t want to disappoint him by pulling away, but at the same time I wished I could somehow draw my skin into myself and wrap a layer of protection around my heart. I didn’t know that in the years to come at the dungeon, I would need that protection. I was only thinking about how many minutes were left in the session and whether I would even come back for my next shift.
Then the voice of the desk mistress intruded through the intercom into the dark room, telling us the session was over. We got dressed and Thomas handed me two hundred dollars. This was on top of my session fee of another hundred dollars, at a time when my main income came from a part-time tutoring job that paid twelve dollars an hour. Now that I thought about it, the session hadn’t been that bad. I could try again, see if I got some of the impact play and bondage I’d been yearning for.
I’d never asked a boyfriend to dominate me, partly out of nerves but more because I wanted a man to see what I kept hidden, to force me to submit to my strange desires despite myself.
A few weeks before my session with Tickle Thomas, I had no idea that the job of “professional submissive” even existed. I’d heard of dominatrixes, but the possibility of becoming one never crossed my mind. I was a shy girl who’d always harbored fantasies of being taken against my will, tied up and whipped.
I’d never asked a boyfriend to dominate me, partly out of nerves but more because I wanted a man to see what I kept hidden, to force me to submit to my strange desires despite myself. However, I’d just turned 30, ”Fifty Shades of Grey″ had been a bestseller for two years, and still, the dominant man I’d dreamed of hadn’t come to find me. I’d also lost my job as an after-school teacher, and though I’d earned a master’s degree in writing, my attempts to make a living as a novelist and screenwriter were going nowhere. So when I came across an interview with a professional submissive online, it seemed like fate. Since I live in one of the largest cities in the U.S., a quick Google search found there was a commercial dungeon I could reach by bus, and the business was always hiring new submissives. No experience necessary.
Before I could second-guess myself, I was walking through the gate of Medusa’s, a small, charming two-story house off a major boulevard — the last place you’d imagine scenes of torture and humiliation to play out. Inside, the deep purple and black decor, the leather furniture and the dim lighting felt more like what I’d expected. As the manager interviewed me in the lobby, where I was sure I’d be revealed as a naive imposter at any moment, I could see the wall of toys in the hallway beyond: thick leather floggers, sleek slim canes, ropes, cuffs and other implements meant to punish or control.
The manager went over the basics: All new employees had to start as submissives, meaning I would be at the receiving end of those paddles and riding crops that so intrigued me. I would work six-hour shifts with a group of other submissives, dominatrixes and switches, who performed both dominant and submissive sessions. I would get paid only if a client chose me. No sex or exchange of bodily fluids was allowed, and I had to keep my G-string on at all times.
To ensure I could handle a bit of pain, a girl on that evening’s shift spanked me, though it felt more like a few gentle pats, and that was it. I was hired.
Just one more thing: I chose my dungeon name, Delilah, unaware I was taking on not only a new name but a new identity.
Jason spanked me with his hand, a leather paddle, a riding crop … but it didn’t feel like pain; it felt like I’d been drowning for years without realizing it, and now someone was finally administering CPR.
I returned for my second shift at Medusa’s as apprehensive as I’d been for the first. Not only did I have next to zero personal experience with BDSM, but I’d never dabbled in any kind of sex work or even set foot in a strip club. I wasn’t sure I belonged there. On that day, however, I had the session that assured me this was a place I wanted to be.
Jason wasn’t a regular at the dungeon, but he was in his 30s and wasn’t completely unattractive — which was enough to qualify him as “dungeon hot.” Most importantly, he was very dominant. Once our session began, he told me in a calm but deliberate voice to get on the spanking bench. Still nerve-ridden, I fumbled a bit as I climbed atop the leather bench that placed me on all fours a few feet in the air. It was a position I would become intimately familiar with. Jason spanked me with his hand, a leather paddle, a riding crop, and each impact reverberated through me like a wave landing on the shore. It hurt much more than the swats I’d received in my interview, but it didn’t feel like pain; it felt like I’d been drowning for years without realizing it, and now someone was finally administering CPR. Jason never came back for another session with me again, but it didn’t matter — there were plenty of other dominant men.
As my weeks at the dungeon turned to months, I found my clients were split almost 50-50 between the two types I’d encountered on my first days: the men who truly wanted me to submit, like Jason, and the ones who craved physical contact, like Thomas. Sure, there were variations. Some clients wanted to fantasize about taboo scenarios they couldn’t act out in the dungeon. Others dripped hot candle wax on me and then rubbed ice cubes across my body, or put me on a leash and commanded me to crawl behind them.
I wasn’t focused on the money, or the more bizarre sessions, or even my new friends. Above all else, I began to fall in love with the pain my most dominant clients inflicted.
I never knew what a day at the dungeon might bring, though sometimes my job was nothing but waiting. I worked six-hour shifts and was usually only in sessions for one to three hours. That free time turned out to be a blessing, as it allowed me to become close to the other ladies at the dungeon. We were an eclectic group including many artists, curious college students, and older women taking a break from corporate jobs. For the first time, I had a solid group of friends I could trust and confide in. And while the money wasn’t as great as it had seemed at first ― not all the clients tipped like Tickle Thomas ― it was enough to comfortably support myself.
But wasn’t focused on the money, or the more bizarre sessions, or even my new friends. Above all else, I began to fall in love with the pain my most dominant clients inflicted. Though I could use a “safe word” alerting clients to back off if the pain grew too intense, I rarely did so. If anything, I asked for more. I savored the idea of being punished — something many of my clients would emphasize by having me role-play the naughty secretary or schoolgirl — and as time passed, I realized I was acting out scenes of deep-rooted guilt. When I was 3, my sister had died, and I had lived with the buried fear that I didn’t deserve to survive. Now, I’d found a way to atone for my alleged sins and maybe, eventually, be absolved.
On a physical level, pain also brought a flood of endorphins, a high that I mistook for happiness. For my first year or so at the dungeon, life seemed almost too good to be true. I was making money doing something I loved, I’d become close friends with many of my co-workers, and I’d found a dominant boyfriend as well. But over time, the pain stopped producing the desired effect.
When I was 3, my sister had died, and I had lived with the buried fear that I didn’t deserve to survive. Now, I’d found a way to atone for my alleged sins and maybe, eventually, be absolved.
First, it took more intense pain for my body to release endorphins, and then, most of the time, that euphoric rush never arrived at all. Eventually, I could see what I’d been unwilling to before: Some clients had crossed my own and the dungeon’s boundaries many times, yanking my panties down, hitting me with implements they didn’t know how to use correctly, grabbing me in places I didn’t want touched. No matter how many times I reminded them of the rules, they always tried again, and for too long I accepted this behavior. Even with clients who didn’t break the rules, I began to feel like an object ― one in danger of being used up.
In a way, I got what I originally wanted: I reached a point where I’d had enough punishment, and I no longer believed I deserved more. I no longer desired — needed — the pain. I no longer believed that I had to suffer for being alive.
But at the same time, I lost a part of myself. Submitting in session became more and more difficult, so after three years as a professional submissive, I began training as a switch, learning to dominate men. I didn’t devote myself to domination the way I had to submission, but maybe that was a good thing. I wrapped my heart back up, protecting myself, and I came to accept the invisible scars that lingered underneath. They’re a part of me now, a reminder of my time as a submissive that I’ll always carry with me, like the marks I used to wear on my skin.
Sometimes an experience — a love, a loss, a shock or a disaster — will damage us, but also open our eyes to new parts of ourselves, forcing us to transform. For me, working as a submissive was that experience. There are times I wish I’d never been that naive girl who first walked through the gate of Medusa’s, and there are times I wish I could become her once more. But I can’t undo the choices I made. I can only allow them to make me stronger as I put down the whips and unlock the chains for good.
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