I love doing research for my work, and not just as an act of barely disguised procrastination, but because I never know quite what I’ll discover about my fellow crazy flawed humans. Mostly I have a sense of what I’m looking for, but sometimes I stumble on a world by chance, and these rare opportunities have never failed to inspire. One of these moments — a fortuitous introduction, a lucky break (she liked my face) — found me observing a dominatrix at work in her dungeon.
She worked from a large flat in the city and was highly regarded, receiving large gifts of cash from her ‘guests’. As expected she was dressed in black leather and wore thigh high boots; the main playroom was lined in padded leather pinned by buttons like a chesterfield sofa. Various implements hung from racks on one wall. We chatted about her work, the scenarios and punishments requested by her submissives and the price of real estate, the difficulty of finding builders with the discretion to install suspension racks and sound proofing.
I wanted to know why these men (it was mainly men who visited her, though she knew of a Dom who saw exclusively female submissives) came to her to be beaten and humiliated, as sexual release — in the ordinary ‘vanilla’ sense — wasn’t part of the deal with her service. ‘These guys are CEOs, lawyers, bankers. High achievers. It’s about control,’ she said, ‘they’re sick of making decisions, choices. They want someone else to take charge.’ Given permission to speak with a couple of her ‘guests’ they confirmed what she said, one adding that the incredible endorphin rush he had after being whipped was ‘better than sex, better than any drug.’ He boasted ‘I feel alive when I leave here, after feeling numb most of the time.’
Never before in the Western world have we had so much choice, from the food we eat, where we spend our vacation, to how and when we procreate, to the nuanced expression of our identity — so long as you have the financial means, of course. We’re assaulted by continual stimuli and demands on our attention in the modern world, with so much choice that we’re paralysed and unable to act — what Swartz called The Paradox of Choice. Where once we had much of our lives dictated to us by our family and societal expectation, now consumerism demands we assert our individualism and make myriad choices that promise to give ultimate happiness and self-expression, though we know of course, these choices are manipulated and cajoled by the market and it’s lieutenant, Culture and the media; ultimately we find ourselves exhausted and depressed.
The clients visiting the Dominatrix had found a way to untangle themselves, momentarily, from the demands of their world, by giving up control they found a space to just be. So when I was writing my last novel, Wounding, I knew just how Cora (the protagonist, a woman lost and numbed by the shock of motherhood) would try to find herself and attempt to recover. It’s not so simple of course, but how we choose to find solace amidst the noise and fuss of the modern world continues to fascinate me — I just didn’t expect to find a potential answer in a Dominatrix’s parlour.