Professional dominatrix Ari / Photo courtesy of Ari

Unconventional Healing with a Dominatrix

BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) is an umbrella term for a variety of taboo kink interests that most people have heard of but many of us know little about. Many people are interested in BDSM and a substantial number of people have even given it a shot in some capacity — a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 68.8 percent of the participants reported at least one BDSM fantasy and 47 percent acted on their fantasy at least once — but an overwhelming majority of the population carries a stigma against BDSM practitioners. According to another study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 86 percent of respondents maintained stigmatizing beliefs about BDSM interests and practices. Professional dominatrix Ari sat down with Georgia Voice to discuss this stigma, mental health in BDSM, and how they live their best life.

Although BDSM practices have been around for thousands of years, professional research on it is only recently becoming widespread. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the common handbook for psychiatric diagnosis and treatment in America, still lists sexual sadism, sexual masochism, and fetishistic disorder, despite their inclusion being heavily contested by sex researchers. Only in 2013 was the caveat added that “to meet diagnostic criteria an individual must have experienced clinically significant distress or impairment due to their sexual desires or must have acted on these sexual urges with a nonconsenting person.”

Listing BDSM interests as disorders damaged perceptions about the community before research on the topic was becoming common practice, and the 2013 amendment in the DSM-5 could not possibly repair that damage. The significant distress is nowhere near a common occurrence. In over five years spent as a professional domme, there was only one instance Ari could recall of a client experiencing distress. On the other hand, acting with a nonconsenting person is both illegal and totally against one of the main pillars of BDSM practices: consent.

Ari brought up consent many times throughout our conversation and emphasized the importance of having a deep understanding with clients before ever engaging in a session. They always sit down for a consultation with potential submissives (subs) to come to an understanding about their background, needs, and goals.

“I’m setting boundaries and having conversations … many conversations prior to any play that’s partaken,” Ari said. “I like to get a feeling of our connection … It needs to be real because these are relationships that I want to cultivate for a long time. I expect longevity out of my subs.”

Despite stereotypes of deviancy associated with those who seek the work of a dominatrix, Ari says a lot of their clients “seem very put together.”

“Most of them are like in the corporate world or they’re like coaches for big sports teams,” they said. “They’re all just normal people with 9–5 jobs, wife and kids, take trips to the mountains.”

Mental health influences can play a role in why some clients seek Ari’s expertise, but it’s not as common as one might think.

“One of the first questions I’m always asking is, ‘Why did you get into this?’ The answers always vary, and if it is trauma-related, which really isn’t as often as people think, then we talk about it,” they said.

In an article for TheBody, Gigi Engle discusses the positive mental health outcomes BDSM can have, saying that BDSM can be “deeply healing” for participants both sub or dom and with or without trauma. Most studies find BDSM practitioners to have similar rates of psychiatric health and childhood trauma to the general population, and Engle attributes the stigma around BDSM to “sex-negative nonsense spoon-fed to us by our puritanical culture.”

For those who have experienced trauma, Engle notes that BDSM uses the importance of consent to remove the fear of violation. Ari echoed this sentiment.

“If they do have trauma, I think it helps them come back down to earth and maybe not blame themselves and reclaim what happened,” they said. “For the ones that don’t, I think it just helps them be free.”

As erotic educator Taylor Sparks said, “[BDSM] is a way for [participants] to take control of the outcome of what is happening to them. It is a way to release fear and anxiety by giving up the control to their domme and know that they are in a safe and controlled environment.”

Ari similarly touted the therapeutic aspects of BDSM.

“It really does just do something,” they said. “It kind of like [transforms your psyche into] a whiteboard, and you can just erase the shit off. It’s like a factory reset.”

Keep up with Ari on Instagram @n0tunovia.