So much of our sex life happens online. We stream porn, swipe on Tinder, send pics of our bits on Snapchat, and Skype our fantasies to lovers across oceans. Our psyches are becoming so enmeshed with our computers that's becoming difficult to tell where we end and the cyber world begins. A trailblazing woman has stepped into this new frontier to open up a modern form of domination and submission: data domination.
Mistress Harley is a tech domme. Instead of dominating bodies, she dominates online life. This includes bank accounts, emails, social media and porn. The potential impact of a session with her can last longer than any bruise. Harley can make between $500 and $5,000 bucks a day, and her single best day earned her over $10,000 in money and gifts. She and her husband (who gleefully admits to "loving" Harley's job) live on the funds she pulls in from a dozen or so regular clients. "There's always new clients who want to play, too," she purrs. She charges $65-$100 for a basic 30 minute session.
Harley offers me a freebie demonstration at her cozy apartment Bay Area apartment. Harley towers over me in her six inch heels when she answers the door; she covered in tattoos and despite her imposing stature, she's chatty and approachable. Harley has a shelf full of sky-high heels. She's got reds, pinks, blacks and metallics, but one of her favorite pairs is covered with pictures of money. A few of these are gifts from clients, like a glossy pair of Louboutins. They were sent to a P.O. box so she can keep her home address private. In the living room she shows me a pile of packages, "I have some more presents from losers here," she smirks.
Today, her clients have sent her new dresses, tights and a gift card. She adds the gift card to a growing pile on a side table. Clients have also sent her jewelry and enough lingerie to fill a few drawers.
When I sit down on her couch, she says "Just so you know, your feet are streaming on my webcam." I look down at my dirty sandals, "My feet aren't really that sexy right now." She laughs, "just having them there is probably exciting enough for these dudes." Harley says the webcam is used as a marketing tool to encourage people to visit her site. There's usually not much going on, but they just might see something if they are very lucky.
"I'm nervous," I tell her. "Aw! You should be! That's part of the charm of the thing," she coos.
Harley changes my desktop to a hot picture of her, turns my cursor into the middle finger, demotes my account to a child's account and blocks me from pornography and gambling. All the typical "naughty stuff" is now off limits. Some of these changes are immediately visible to me, other changes I only discover as the session progresses.
Harley uses the screen sharing program, TeamViewer. Its original purpose was to facilitate online collaboration and to help IT workers troubleshoot computers remotely. For Harley, TeamViewer allows her to dominate clients everywhere from San Francisco to the Middle East. Her sessions are rarely in person and clients must pay ten dollars a minute just to see her on Skype. Communication is mainly via instant messenger. Clients find her through various channels: advertisements, chat rooms, twitter, her books, word of mouth, referrals and a prime SEO.
In the session, Mistress Harley lets me watch as she digs through my personal files. She combs my search history and pokes around my email. I had forgotten that my computer automatically plugs in my password (I'm not very tech savvy). She quickly finds precious personal information; my address, driver's license, and social security number. Next she hacks my Facebook and starts sending messages to guys I once knew. I watch helplessly as she starts a conversation with "hey sexy, how you doin?"
She's only a few clicks away from posting on my wall, where her ideas are visible to friends, coworkers and my mom. I'm not into shame, but there is a thrill coursing through my body. "People are willing to spend money to chase that excitement and fear. People love being terrified, especially if it's a beautiful woman taking over your life," says Harley. "I've definitely exposed people. I've posted dirty pictures of them on their Facebook or I've posted 'I have a hot internet mistress' along with a picture of myself."
There are no safewords with Mistress Harley, instead she offers buyouts.
She's also faked mental breakdowns on client's profiles. She just starts with a simple post of "I'm not feeling well," and as people respond in real time she begins to escalate up to something resembling schizophrenia.
She can take it further, too. Next she opened my Photobooth application to take pictures of me. "Theoretically, I could make you take your clothes off at this point," she says. Theoretically, she could also send those photos to my mother from my email.
These online antics have real world consequences. This kind of access can do more than just shame you in front of your entire social network. While she respects my boundaries and doesn't touch my work emails or bank account, it doesn't mean that she hasn't done so with others in the past. "I've been in the Chrysler network, university networks, in a university chair's email, government network… Hey government! Make sure your employees aren't playing with an online mistress."
Once a session is over, she doesn't go back into the computer unless invited. She's a professional who respects boundaries and does not want to break the law. What she does is legal as long as it's consensual.
Mistress Harley got her start in high tech back in 2000; first as a quality assurance tester for a Silicon Valley software company, then eventually as a product manager in the gaming industry. "I just really hated working at an office. I would go on vacation and tell my friends 'I don't know if I can go back." Then she heard that a few friends were making extra money webcamming. "I thought that was interesting and I didn't have an ethical problem with it and so I started webcamming," Harley recalls. It was sporadic in the beginning, earning her a few hundred dollars here and there.
"One day my husband saw me webcamming looking very, very bored. He said 'you know you can do something different. There's another fetish called financial domination,'" Harley recalls. "And I looked into that. At first I thought it was ridiculous: people will pay me money because I'm pretty and I tell them too? That doesn't make sense. And then I started doing it."
Harley became a findom, punishing and rewarding clients using their wallets and bank accounts. Money replaced bodies as the turn on. "That was really successful, but I noticed there was a niche in that market of people looking for real life control through their computers," she says.
Eventually, Harley combined the skills she gained through programming and domming to control clients digital lives. Turns out, the Internet is an ncredible mechanism for control. Now, she's written several Kindle books about her work including: Consensual Blackmail Manual, PornSexual and Techdomme. She's released videos and has created an app for Android phones. Harley is in the process of trademarking the term "tech domme". She hopes to start an apprentice program to teach aspiring tech dommes. She says she's made more this past year than she ever did in tech.
I met one of Harley's regular clients, whom we'll call "Jerry" because his wife doesn't know about his relationship with Harley. Jerry is from San Jose. He's a fit man in his thirties who has a pleasant demeanor and a government job. But he tells me under this normal facade is a passion for kink and submission. "I just got a Prince Albert piercing, otherwise I would be wearing a chastity belt," he says. His wife doesn't know that he goes weeks on end with his penis locked in a cage. They haven't had sex in a couple years.
Jerry found Mistress Harley on Twitter and has since given her full access to his computer, bank account and cell phone. Her phone app pings his location every ten minutes, allows Harley to see and respond to text messages and gives her control over his screen. "As far as financial domination goes, I had a checking account that I rarely used and I had a portion of my paycheck put directly to that account. And I actually gave that account to Mistress Harley." She got the account number, the login and his debit card. "There is a lot of trust. I trust her, she has my personal information."
Harley has access to intimate details about Jerry, his spending habits, and his personal conversations. She even knows a lot about his friends from when they unknowingly divulge gossip in emails or texts. If information is power, then Mistress Harley has all the power. With a huge smile on his face Jerry tells me, "Having no control and knowing that she has all my information. It's a turn on."
"It has nothing to do with his body and nothing to do with my body," says Harley. "It really has to do with me having that intimate knowledge of everything. He has no secrets from me. And that's really powerful. People pay their therapists a lot of money so they can go and sit and talk for an hour and have no secrets. But even in therapy you cannot take your dick out, that is not allowed!"
It's true that most therapists don't get this level of unfiltered access. Harley can often see exactly what videos someone watches, how much they watch and when they watched it. This level of intimacy gives her power, and she wants to use it for good.
"One of the titles I've started throwing out there is lifestyle consultant. Because I think what a lot of people use this interaction to do is to control unwanted behaviors or to put structures in their lives where there is no structure."
Some clients come to her with various online addictions, like porn or Facebook and she gives them a sexualized digital detox, laying out a system of deprivation and rewards. "Some of what I do is put controls in for people who feel compulsive. They want to stop but they can't do it alone," Harley explains, "If you want to improve your body, you see a trainer. If you want to improve your online habits, you can see an online dominatrix. And you're definitely more motivated if your trainer is hot… I actually do send a lot of my slaves to the gym, or to therapy. I send their wives to therapy. I try to improve the quality of their lives through my control and it helps that my control is sexual, thrilling and exciting."
It's debatable whether fetishizing an addiction is the best way to address the problem. That being said, some of her clients haven't looked at porn in months. Jerry is one such client and he considers this a big success.
Some of Harley's millennial clients also like her porn firewalls, but she believes it's for a different reason. "If some of your earliest sexual experiences as a millennial were your mom installing web filtering software so you can't look at porn, then your sexual ritual became 'how do I get around this webfilter to look at porn'… Well, okay, that's part of your sexuality now," says Harley. "These guys are looking to recreate those early sexual experiences." It could be viewed as a modern form of mommy-son play.
Harley says she also helps men who want to be feminized, she calls them sissy boys. To her knowledge, none of these men have come out yet. "There are so many men who are sexually confused. Maybe they have feelings of being gay, but feel it is wrong or shameful because of their upbringing. They're attracted to a woman like me, who is a strong, powerful, beautiful, confident woman. But they don't want to sleep with a woman like me. They want to be a woman like me. They just don't know how to do that."
Using the sissy boy's phones and computers, she "blackmails" them into exploring their sexuality. This might mean making them try on women's underwear, first at home then in public. She'll assign episodes of America's Next Top Model, for men to learn the basics of how to walk, talk and match clothes. For others, she posts revealing videos about their sexuality. Clients pay a premium to be featured on her website. "High tech control can take so many different paths with sexual fetishism. It acts as an enforcement mechanism for whatever your sexual fetish is," she says.
Danielle Lindemann is a sociologist at Lehigh University who studies BDSM and its surrounding kink community. Lindemann had never heard of a tech dominatrix before, when we spoke, but she was not surprised that Mistress Harley exists. Lindemann says that technology actually shapes our sexual lives. Telephones and the genesis of the phone sex industry is a good example of this.
"When new technology springs up, sexuality adapts to it," she says. "Human sexuality is never static. A new form of technology emerges and we find a way to connect it to sex."
We have yet to see how newer technologies will change our sexuality. How will we integrate the virtual realities of Oculus Rift? Will we soon send a sweet caress or hug through apps like Taskrabbit? Will people create dream boards of sexual fantasies on Pinterest? It's anyone's guess in this brave new world.