This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The Ritual Chamber is one of Canada’s foremost spaces for BDSM play and workshops. It’s located on a nondescript street in Toronto. From the outside, the Chamber looks like any other well-kept house: exposed brick, manicured shrubs, and a sleek exterior. You’d never find it if you didn’t know it was there, which is by design. Most clientele requires complete discretion for their visits.
Inside the main room, the walls are lined with whips and floggers. There are leather cuffs hanging from the ceiling and a large St. Andrew’s Cross in the corner. Other rooms have themes: a doctor’s office complete with stirrups and IV drips; a schoolroom with an undersized desk and oversized blackboard; there is a room with mirrors everywhere, adorned with smoking chairs and a Victorian couch. Earlier this week, I sat on the couch across from domnes Lady Pim, Red Diamond, and the Chamber’s owner/headmistress Shahrazad. While I’ve dabbled in kink, it’s not really my scene. If I had to define my major fetish, I’d say it’s people being kind to me. Still, conversations about the subject are endlessly fascinating. That day, I was there to learn about effective submission.
“A person shouldn’t start out by labeling themselves submissive. I would recommend they start by having experiences,” said Shahrazad. The headmistress’ tone was patient and kind, playing in stark contrast to her costume of stockings and military garb. She gave of a vibe that was benevolent but authoritative. Like an elementary school principal, if an elementary school principal also knew the proper technique for safe testicle torturing. As she spoke, Lady Pim and Red Diamond nodded along in solidarity. “Slowly exposing yourself to the type of play you are curious about lets you decide what kind of submissive, bottom, or switch you are. Or if you are any of those things at all. The best way is always easing in, asking questions to people you trust, and figuring out what’s right for you.”
Though depictions of dommes within the media are mostly limited to leather-clad women spanking the fuck out of ball-gagged businessmen, actual BDSM relationships—both professional and personal—are more nuanced. Throughout our conversation Pim, Red Diamond, and Shahrazad broke down some of the intricacies involved in the work, speaking with humor, compassion, and brutal honesty about submissives. Over the course of our hour-long conversation they shared knowledge and best practices for relinquishing power and the extreme acts of communication necessary to get the most out of your experiences.
Explore how you’d like to be dominated
Before trying anything, it’s best to get a clear understanding of what turns you on about the prospect of domination, and the scenes you’d like to explore. That can happen through reading up on the culture, taking a workshop, or listening to a podcast. Homework rarely seems sexy but knowledge and information allow you to ease into BDSM without getting over your head.
“We are facilitators of psychoerotic fantasies,” said Shahrazad. “Most people’s understanding of sex is very limited. Our erotic fantasies sometimes are sexual, sometimes psychological, and sometimes physical. It can be a sensual or visceral experience. It can be a spiritual experience, in terms of worship, or even transcendence of the self. People come in here for all kinds of reasons. The commonality is an erotic situation involving power.”
During our conversation, the dommes described dozens of scenarios. Some people want to be mummified. Others want spanking and corporal punishment. For some domination is reverence, doing the bidding of someone who they’ve put into a position of absolute power: there is psychological age play, alien fetishes with silicon eggs, wax, and ropes. If you’ve got a fantasy it can always be discussed and explored with the right domme.
Be vocal and specific while negotiating your desires
By definition, submissives are allowing another person to take the reigns, but that doesn't mean it should be a one-sided experience. The best scenes are uniquely pleasurable for both parties involved, whether that's happening in lifestyle play or in a professional context. Before things get started there should be a negotiation of what fantasies each party wants to explore, what is on/off the table during play, any phobias/allergies, experience levels, and what the tone of the session should be. Being as specific as possible, or talking through your turn-ons if you’re not sure, allows everyone to get the most of it.
“When you come into a scene or session with somebody, it’s a very big spectrum of things that can actually happen,” said Red Diamond. “As pros, we have a million toys. We have so many things that we could do to you. But it makes it really hard when you’re not letting us know what you actually desire.”
Know your limitations, what you’re willing to push, and understand you can always say no.
BDSM involves radical conversations about consent. In the negotiation before any scene what is and isn’t acceptable should be discussed. Still, agreeing to something as a hypothetical can be very different than agreeing to something when it is actually happening to you. Just because you’re being submissive it does not under any circumstances mean you have to go through with something you don’t want.
“We deal in things that most of the time people associate with danger or fear. It’s possible that dealing with those things can be good and openhearted. It can be caring, even if on a surface level it doesn’t seem that way,” said Lady Pim. “As violent as our play can seem it’s not coming from a place of anger or abuse... it can look like a violation of consent or even violence, but it’s actually people holding unconditional space for each other to be themselves.”
A good professional domme will always have the interests of their subs in mind. They’ll have the proper training to deal with unexpected emotions and triggers, but even in that context, it’s important to advocate for yourself, your turn-ons, and your safety.
Continually check in and communicate
Are you getting what you want out of your BDSM experience? Is something too painful? Not painful enough? Is something happening that you weren’t expecting? How do you feel about that? All of these are worthwhile things to be checking in with during your session. Communicating these ideas and questions doesn’t have to come outside the context of the scene. If your domme is a naughty doctor, you can still ask them to hit harder as the sickly patient. Asking about consent never kills the mood, but for best results, it’s best to keep it in context of the world you’ve created.
“There was a person I had tied up. In negotiation, they had expressed interest in—maybe—exploring the violent wand. The violent wand is a fairly safe form of electrical play. During the scene, I told them that it would really turn me on to watch them squirming as a result of me shocking parts of their body."
Lady Pim, Red Diamond, and Shahrazad offer a lot of ultimatums: yes and no questions that give the submissive a chance to veto something in the moment without losing the flow of the scene. As a sub, you can also offer up your own forms of verbal communication, or discuss other signals to use in case you’ve got something in your mouth.
Please don’t mistake your domme for your therapist
Being a sub can be fun, playful, and extremely beneficial to some people’s wellness. Being a sub can also be an intense emotional experience. When engaging in BDSM it’s important to be cognizant of your mental health, and in no way should submission work as a replacement for an actual mental health professional.
“It’s a very careful type of work that we do,” said Lady Pim. “Seeing a dominatrix can be a great exploration of past traumas. It can definitely help to figure out your shit. But it’s not a replacement in any way for actual therapy.”
“There isn’t a core relation between mental health and BDSM other than the fact that when you’re working on your mental health you have to make space for that within your play,” added Shahrazad. “In the same way, if you had a broken arm you wouldn’t want to be in bondage that would further injure the arm.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.