There’s nothing wrong with sex work, despite how it’s treated by the masses. It’s a line of work that encompasses everything from the obvious, like stripping and escorting, to the less prominent, like camming on sites like Chaturbate. While sex work is often treated demonized, in reality it’s quite a frequented and normalized method of income, especially in Portland. It’s likely you know many sex workers, whether it’s apparent to you or not. They’re your friends, family, co-workers, classmates—even yoga instructors. That’s how I met the Mistress.
A PSU alum and mother of one in her mid-30s, the Mistress—who would like to only be referred to as such for this article—exudes a strength and confidence I’d never really witnessed before. It’s more than sexual. You find yourself subconsciously drawn to her, enamored and a bit intimidated by her presence. Those traits, while natural fixtures of her personality, are key to one of her main hustles. Yoga may be her day job, but the Mistress is a dominatrix and a damn good one at that.
“I’m a dominatrix—a femdom, domina, mistress. The list goes on and on, but it means different things to different people,” she said the Mistress. “I’m a powerful woman physically and sexually, and men are drawn to that.”
Domming—the act of mentally, physically or emotionally dominating over someone (a submissive or “sub”) for sexual pleasure—includes much of what it’s popularly thought to. As part of the Bondage Discipline Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) kink, whips, floggers, leather, latex, collars and leashes are definitely put to good use, but it’s also so much more than that. According to the Mistress, oftentimes, it’s not even necessarily sexual.
“Every client wants a different thing, but most sex work is much less about orgasm and much more about physical contact and talking with another human,” the Mistress said. “I think we’re all looking for people just to understand us and be close to us. It doesn’t take much. I’ve had clients cry and I’ve had clients mostly want to cuddle and talk. Those ones are usually really into big boobs. There’s a lot of maternal aspects to it.”
Though her clients, whom she charges a minimum of $150 an hour for her services, are there to seek a certain form of pleasure, sexual pleasure is specifically reserved for the Mistress, which she says is one of the main rules of the dom-sub relationship. “They are there to make me happy and please me,” she says. “If they’re good, I allow them to cum as well.”
But the Mistress’s rules for cumming aren’t just for her clients—they’re for her romantic partners as well. She’s non-monogamous, enjoying anywhere from 5–12 lovers a month. She’s got a vetting process for them though—they’ve got to go through six months of sexual training with her so they can learn the proper ways to please her. “I never fuck someone unless I’ve already cum once or twice,” she says.
The Mistress didn’t get into sex work specifically to put herself through college or because she didn’t have any other choice—commonly thought of reasons for sex work that are incredibly stereotyped and not usually accurate—but actually, it’s quite the contrary.
“I’ve always done the work, from emotional labor to actual sex, my whole adult life,” the Mistress said. “I’ve just done it for free until last year. Years ago, a friend told me ‘You’re wasting your life not being a rich dom’ and it turns out he was right. Being in long term relationships was in the way of me starting sooner. Men are so fucking jealous.”
The Mistress has been married twice, which is part of where the “sex work for free” comes into play. With each marriage ending for different reasons, the Mistress was finally free to do what felt most natural to her, and what she’s good at. “Marriage is ultimately a contract, so it should be signed with that in mind—it’s not romantic,” the Mistress said. “Owning a man is romantic as fuck. It’s like I’m only now becoming my true self, a full expression. As soon as I first had all of a man’s power in my hands it became clear to me that THIS is the natural order.”
Her natural order—yes, but to the rest of the world, sex work of all kinds is taboo, frowned upon and facing incredible judgment. “When I’m feeling maxed out, stressed or emotional, I really like pain and I want that pain to be sexual,” the Mistress said. “It distracts me and brings relief, so I see why others want it, too. But here’s the catch—I’m good at this and it’s good for the clients, but I can’t advertise. I can’t tell people openly. I could be arrested.”
Movements like the #ThotAudit, where men encouraged other men to snitch on cam girls and sex workers for IRS payout, and SESTA, where banks, payment platforms, social media and other platforms used for business purposes by sex workers shut their profiles down, continuing a longstanding mindset that sex work isn’t actual work and doesn’t deserve recognition. Not only that, but it also furthers the behind-closed-doors secrecy that many communities still hold against sex in general.
“Why don’t more people talk about the vital role that sex work plays? I think religion is the short answer,” the Mistress said. “There’s so much shame in our culture, even about our own nudity. Fuck that. Sex is vital. Our bodies are beautiful, and we need other people. To me, it’s physical therapy.”
And that’s true. Therapy takes on many different forms for different people, so having one version of it contested by the government isn’t fair, just or viable. Many people with many different backgrounds find their way into sex work as they would any other job, but eradicating the stigma is something that will take a long time to do, if it’ll ever happen at all.
“I don’t think the taboo will ever go away, but we should all be working on reducing it, like by making fewer jokes about sex work and more honest about paying for it,” the Mistress said. “I have two college degrees and decades of work experience and this is part of what I do for a living. It pays way better hourly than most jobs.”