FemDom: Mastering Life

How BDSM is reshaping power relations for women in the office and the bedroom, and within themselves

Teanna Jagdatt // Contributor 

Sarah Rose // Features Editor 

In the words of 16 century Marquis de Sade: “It is always by way of pain, that one arrives at pleasure.” Difficult to imagine for a man who spent 32 years of his life in prison, and for whom the word sadism is derived.  

Boss Lady Sessla also lives in a literal and figurative bubble. She’s the owner of the Fanchix performance group and director of the 18+ nerd culture show Not Safe For Con. Although she’s hung her up whip for the time being in the professional dominatrix sphere due to her battle with a life-threatening mast cell condition, Sessla’s work in the transformative power of BDSM has allowed her to create healing spaces for herself and others in the community. 

Although it couldn’t be further from the truth, the typical reaction to the acronym “BDSM” sparks negative connotations. Demure, submissive women chained literally within the throes of passion by masochistic men. Maybe even distorted media representations like Fifty-Shades of Grey. Some see it as one dimensional, not considering that it’s another world that lives on a spectrum — it’s not just black and white.  

Unlike the aforementioned Fifty Shades — there’s an unfathomable, proverbial grey area that is unknown, mainly because its not seen as a normative way of portraying power dynamics. “I don’t teach anything related to BDSM or sex, just the application of power dynamics,” former professional dominatrix Kasia Urbaniak said.  

It’s been over a decade since Urbaniak traded her whip for a career as a female empowerment coach. She’s inspired by the effects of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein on the #MeToo movement, “women carry communications that either make them go speechless, or be afraid of coming across too bossy, or needy,” Urbaniak explained. For Urbaniak and her students, watching Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election was like a window into the act of “compression.” Women shutdown and are taught to comply, to minimize in the presence of male bullies. “They don’t know why they’re doing it,” she said.  

Apologizing for speaking up at work, and in relationships is a learned behaviour that research at the University of Waterloo shows is much more prevalent in women. “One of the first things I teach women is how to stop apologizing,” explained Mistress Tara Indiana, a professional dominatrix and BDSM instructor since 1993. Last May, she presented a lecture on the science of S&M at DomCon in Los Angeles. She explains that across cultural boundaries, many rites of passage involve pain, “S&M and a similar initiation rite. It’s a way of taking ownership of your body.” 

Boss Lady Sessla is one such BDSM enthusiast who incorporates dominance in her interpersonal life to take ownership of her body. As a mast cell patient, she is constantly under attack. Anything from food to inhaled smoke could shut down her airways without warning. Being someone on the spectrum of disability and chronic illness, one main practice she focuses on is consensual and functional devoteeism, which she describes as: “the worship or attraction to people who are disabled. In response to their adoration, I’ve felt admired and loved even on my darkest days,” Sessla wrote, “they inspire me.”  

BDSM, short for Bondage Discipline Sadism and Masochism, is on a broad scale. An important yet constantly overlooked aspect of BDSM is the practice of active consent. Once again, mainstream media plays a role in hiding this idea very well with movies, music and TV obscuring or just outright fabricating the definition. Because of this we’re cautioned to think that BDSM all just whips and chains, not taking in mind the overall effect this has on women within their everyday lives outside the bedroom. “One of my favourite Dedicated (personal) Submissives told me that I changed her life, simply by teaching her how to set boundaries for herself, and how to pause in order to check in with herself before saying ‘yes’,” said Sessla.  

The BDSM community isn’t just barking orders at someone to feel dominance, it’s seen as an openly non-judgmental band of people with all levels of gender, race, sexuality, ability and more. They are people who do it for work, lifestyle or incorporate it into their personal lives. As Boss Lady Sessla interprets her own personal experience with BDSM, she states: “the increased capacity to customize and personalize relationship dynamics opens up a lot of potential for authentic self-expression, otherwise not possible.”  

A typical routine performed by most dominatrix’ involve what they call ‘impact’ play. This regards to anything including bondage, discipline, or the acts of dominance/submission depending on what medium they choose to practice. The list of acts or scenes that they perform are endless, and typically accustomed to their needs and values. The acts created by Doms usually vary anywhere from mild humiliation to inflicting pain, all occurring in what Sessla describes as a subspace. As the Sub’s level of adrenaline and endorphins spike during a BDSM scene, they enter an altered state of consciousness similar to mindfulness meditation. “Subspace is a state of consciousness where a person can be extremely subject to suggestions. Therein lies the potential to affect mentality and emotions,” Sessla said. 

Research from the Northern Illinois University shows how BDSM can alter the blood flow pattern in the brain. Those in the role of Submissive experience “transient hypofrontality,” an almost dreamlike state similar to runner’s high.  

But the real impact of BDSM is the one it leaves on those associated with it: specifically, women. Sessla is one of many examples of how women have reformed their role through power relationships. Urbaniak and her partner founded a small, elite training program for women in 2012 called The Academy. “Come to a class of 200 women and witness the moment when I ask them to start voicing all the things they haven’t said,” she said.  

Some misrepresentations are more obvious than others such as the trend of male dominance that Fifty Shades brought to the foreground; it also portrays a much different topic than what it’s categorized as. The series is originally labeled as being in the Kink/BDSM genre, but the overall scope of these movies actually detail the concept of an abusive relationship, far from what real BDSM is. Even simply the notion that a Submissive is giving up their power to a Dom. “Many people presume that only the Dom would feel empowerment in a D/S relationship,” Sessla writes, “however the role of a Submissive can be a liberating experience.” 

Sessla explains that the most powerfully transformative moments in her own BDSM journey were with a man, where she herself was the Submissive. “He will give me positive affirmations while I am in Subspace and has helped me overcome a lot of the trauma from a past, abusive relationship,” Sessla shared. Although she believes the healing applications of BDSM can be accessed by everyone, true empowerment for women “causes a shift in our society which benefits and creates more opportunities for freedom for all of humanity.” 

Unlike Mr. Grey, real Pro Doms like Mr. Shaw strive to work with Subs of all genders, ability and bodies with a technique he calls “positive objectification.” Studies indicate that unwanted body evaluation negatively impacts mental health. In Shaw’s sessions, he seeks to transform how clients view their own self-worth and body image. “Often, when women are seen by men, they’re not really seen at all,” said Shaw. Of the many reasons Shaw sees Submission as empowering, he explains that “BDSM requires negotiation where the sub gets to decide when a scene starts and stops. I teach my Submissives how to take care of themselves and how to ask for what they want without apology.” 

Shaw believes dropping into subspace allows Submissives to not only get in touch with their bodies, but also begin to correct the mental pathways that condition women to apologize for their own presence. 

As with the intimate connection of pain and pleasure in rites of passage, the power of submission is paradoxical, and being dominated brings many closer to personal freedom. “BDSM can really be a journey of self-discovery and personal empowerment,” Shaw said. 

Freed from the chains of a social framework, within the lives of those like Boss Lady Sessla BDSM allows release. The redhead is poised against an equally red couch, dressed in a Batgirl costume and holding the breast of a fully latex clad individual on her lap: “it’s your Subspace, now what do you want to do with it?”  

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