How I Became One of the Few Men Actively Working at a Dungeon of Women Run by a Woman and Why it’s a Rare Thing.
This article was originally posted in Mel Magazine (link below). However the original title was not accurate. I am also adding pictures of my mentors which were omitted. So with my mentor’s advice and permission of the writer, I have reposted it here.
by Isabelle Cohn
Mr. Shaw is a professional Dom who is the only man on staff at The Domme Collective, an all-female/femme BDSM dungeon in L.A.. This position makes him a rare breed — very few straight guys work in professional BDSM. Here, he explains why there are so few of his kind, how he nabbed this unusual job and what it’s like to be the token gent in an industry dominated (literally and figuratively) by strong, powerful women.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be Tom Hanks. I really did. He was nice, but not a pushover. Playful, but never immature. He liked dogs. He jumped around on a giant piano. He treated his fictional mermaid girlfriend Daryl Hannah like a real lady. He was the good guy, and I respected him for that.
Given such pure-hearted aspirations, I had no idea I was destined to spend the second act of my adult life tying people up, spanking them with paddles, and erotically crushing their balls in my job as a professional Dom. Nor did I realize that I’d be doing so as the only man working at The Domme Collective, a dungeon staffed exclusively by women and femme people. Needless to say, I stand out.
That said, before I tell you how I got there, I should probably explain why this is such a rare thing.
There are many reasons hardly any cis, straight guys work professionally in dungeons, but the primary one that guys who are interested in the practice — particularly as professional Doms — tend to reflect the same pitfalls of toxic masculinity the rest of the male population does. Basically, they can have just as much difficulty understanding emotions and body language, communicating effectively and knowing when to stop when things go “too far.”
Not all men are like this obviously — and there are plenty of safe, respectful male pro-Doms out there — but not knowing when to stop or how to communicate are particularly problematic pitfalls to have in BDSM, a practice in which it’s already too easy to tip the balance of power and pain from pleasure to trauma. A good way to address these pitfalls is empathetic self-reflection and education, ideally through workshops, lots of practice, and if you plant to go pro, an apprenticeship with a professional BDSM worker who can show you the ropes (perhaps literally).
As for me, my very non-kinky sex life began as a 300-pound conservative Christian who’d recently entered into a mutually virginal marriage with my then-wife, Monica. Between trying to shut down abortion clinics, worshipping Rush Limbaugh and praying to the good lord Jesus to give me the strength to abstain from sex, Monica and I diligently supported our local North Carolina church and dreamt of white picket fences.
All that changed, though, once Monica and I consummated the marriage, three years after we were wed. I was 30. Then, after nearly a decade together, a major weight loss on my part, a big move to L.A. to pursue acting, and some huge marital awakenings, her and I discovered we weren’t as innocent as we’d previously thought. In 2008, we took the plunge into the world of ethical non-monogamy, and began to explore swinging (though we still made sure to pray together first before we went to parties.)
Still, though we were active in the “lifestyle,” I never saw myself as “kinky.” Growing up in the ultra-repressive southern U.S. and Middle East (I’m half Lebanese, half redneck), I exhibited exactly none of the telltale signs of the primal, sensual Dom I’d become. I was, for all intents and purposes, a very good boy.
Then I discovered Kink.com. A few years into my marriage, I was surfing the internet for porn and came across a video of a woman who was tied up in some sort of bondage torture scene. At first, I was totally repulsed. How could anyone get off to something so violent, let alone participate in it on camera?
At the same time, l couldn’t look away. I watched the whole thing, and it totally rattled me. However, the most surprising part was the ending. Instead of just cutting off like most porn does, an interview with the woman in the video began. Having just been ravaged, she was glowing. Through giddy laughter and a smile she couldn’t seem to wipe of her face, she talked about how much fun she’d had being completely mauled. She’d always wanted to do that, she said. As if to prove she was telling the truth, they even threw in some footage of her negotiating the scene with the Dom who’d done all that crazy stuff to her. I felt like I’d looked behind the curtain and seen the proverbial wizard.
Suddenly, it hit me — she hadn’t simply consented to being tied up and what looked to be abused in this seemingly horrific way, she’d orchestrated the scene herself.
I wasn’t so sure BDSM was a bad thing after that.
In 2014, Monica and I split up and I began to develop my own kinky habits. I started going to BDSM workshops and meeting a ton people in the L.A. scene, picking up every little morsel of information I could. One night, a pro-domme I’d been dating invited me to come see her get topped by another domme named Hudsy Hawn.
The place was she took me was small, but it looked like it was right out of True Blood or Blade. Hudsy did the scene with my friend, and it was beautiful. Afterwards, another Dom named Master Feenix brought out this young girl and started to tie her up with ropes. Almost instantly, I saw her drop into this drug-like state, which I later found out was an altered state called sub-space. He suspended her from the ceiling, and gave her a push to spin her around. As she twirled, I focused my gaze on her face. Her expression was relaxed and happy, just totally blissed out. Immersed in that instant, I felt like I was floating with her, like we were connected by some invisible cord of mutual joy and destiny.
Something about seeing her like that touched me on a core level. My heart started pounding, my A.D.D. disappeared, and I realized I was in the middle of having one of “those” moments where everything in your life changes and you get to witness the split-second in which it happens. I had to make this BDSM thing part of me.
After another year of workshops and practice, and feedback from lovers and subs like “I’d pay you for what you just did to me,” I began to consider going pro. Hudsy was the first person I asked for advice about it — I knew she’d give me a straight answer about whether or not I should do it. Knowing I’d been practicing for years and the professional BDSM scene was starved for good-looking male Doms who knew what they were doing, she offered to mentor me as I made the transition from amateur kinkster to professional Dom.
Hudsy taught me all about negotiation, consent and the altered states of BDSM. When she felt I was ready, she put me in touch with Isabella Sinclaire, who took the unorthodox step of putting me on staff at The Domme Collective. She became my second mentor, educating me about things like medical and electro-play, BDSM ethics and even first aid and CPR. During this time, I also met Simone Justice, a pro-domme who very skillfully branded me as Mr. Shaw, the upscale suit-and-tie Dom who preached radical acceptance and could connect with anyone.
When the dust settled, these three amazing women had given me the skills and confidence I needed to go pro. Every time I go to work, it’s a funny scene — a room full of brilliant women cracking whips and me, the token guy amongst them.
I know what you’re thinking. Only guy in a BDSM dungeon staffed exclusively by women — gotta be hot, right?
Well, sorta. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make my job a bit more sexy and fun. But it’s not really like that either.
It’s my job to be someone people can trust, so I’m very careful when it comes to getting intimate with my fellow dommes. I’ve done scenes with them of course, but that’s more of an occupational perk than a sexual or romantic thing. It’s kind of like being a chef and cooking dinner for your chef friends — it’s nice to enjoy a meal with people who share your interests, but it’s far from a “date.”
What about my clients? There seems to be a morbid concern with how sex workers navigate intimacy with the people they serve, and I’m often asked what the line between work and play is.
In most dungeons, that line is sex. It’s never allowed. If I wanted it to be, I would have never gone professional — the risk is too high and people don’t work in this industry or use our services for that. That said, I’m human. Every now and then, a moment of intensity or a psychological connection will turn me on. It’s as fleeting as it is involuntary, though. For me, professional BDSM is not, and will never be, about my needs. It’s about serving the client and making sure theirs are met. And yet, even if sex were allowed, I still wouldn’t be having it — like all sex workers, most of my clients are men (men are great and I play with all genders and orientations at work, but my preference in my personal life is women and femmes).
I wish more women felt empowered hiring sex workers, but there’s an unfortunate stigma that says women who do so are “desperate.” It’s anything but desperate to me — hiring a sex worker to explore your fantasies with can be incredibly healthy and transformative, no matter what gender you are.
Even so, I often have to fight the assumption that the services I provide are thinly veiled excuses to be abusive or misogynistic. Recently, a guy came up to me at the gym and told me, “You’re a guy who likes hurting people.” I was floored by that. I tried not to take it personally because it was pretty clear he wasn’t aware of the many differencesbetween abuse and BDSM, but it’s also my job to be aware of how I, a straight male who (consensually) hits and dominates women (and everyone else), comes off.
That’s another reason I’m such a minority in my field — doing that kind of self-reflection is neither easy nor convenient. As a Dom, it’s tempting to internalize people’s beliefs about you. If people assume you’re dangerous and abusive based on your proclivities — and doubly so because of your gender — you might have to face yourself and see if that’s really true.
The only way to deal with these assumptions, I think, is to prove them wrong. In order to do that, I have to work extra hard to be someone my clients can really let go around; someone they know will treat them with absolute care and respect. As the one straight guy at my dungeon, I’d say I feel a fair amount of responsibility to go above and beyond in this regard.
For me, that means creating an environment where someone can explore their sexuality without shame, in a safe place and with radical acceptance. Part of this involves establishing the foundation for consent in such a way that my clients — no matter who they are — feel empowered to say “no” for any reason, at any time. This is something I practice with them before the play even starts, both so they know how to advocate for themselves and I know how to interpret their boundaries. As their Dom, I actually demand they take care of themselves by asserting what their limits are, even if they arise in a way we didn’t negotiate. I think people should have the right to go from cum-slut to church girl whenever they see fit, don’t you? You always get to change your mind.
A big part of going above and beyond to be a safe male figure for my clients is expressing my own vulnerabilities. This is something most male Doms will never do. A big part of domination is the illusion of control, and for male Doms in particular, control means not showing “weakness.” To me, vulnerability is strength. So instead of trying to come across like I know everything and have it all handled, I try to meet my clients on their level by telling them something like, “Hey, it’s okay, I’m nervous, too. We’ll figure this out together.”
If I’m working with a female client, I usually offer 15- to 20-minute phone consultations after she books a session so we can get to know each other and go over any areas of concern before we start negotiating, and, in the beginning of the scene itself, I always try to begin with connecting touches over the heart or belly before going for the nipple clamps, cuffs and cattle prod — seriously though, if you want a cattle prod, you have to bring your own and it needs to be adjustable.
In the end, I’m not sure how Tom Hanks I turned out (I guess I’m more Da Vinci Code than Splash), but one thing’s for certain — being a gender minority in a woman-dominated space has been completely humbling. I understand so much more what it might like to be a woman who walks into a workplace full of men and has to prove herself to be taken seriously. In that way, it’s been an honor to taste even the tiniest sliver of what they go through.
Isabelle Kohn is an L.A.-based sex and relationships journalist, educator and consultant who has written for Playboy, Broadly, InStyle and Harper's Bazaar. Sometimes she'll write about other stuff like science and health and Bill Clinton if you triple-dog-dare her, though.