Taking charge: student, dominatrix, survivor

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Taking charge: student, dominatrix, survivor

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

By Lexi Kennell and Noah Coco / Staff Writers

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Editor’s note: After facing harassment due to her role in the BDSM community, Larissa’s last name has been removed from this story. 

Instead of letting a sexual assault control her life, Larissa decided to take control in the bedroom.

When Larissa, a junior bioengineering major, was sexually assaulted in June 2015, she was already a part of the BDSM — Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism — scene. At the time, she took the submissive role in her relationship.

“I had always been interested in BDSM as a whole, but I definitely thought I was more submissive than anything else,” she said. “But then [I] had some personal issues — I was sexually assaulted by somebody outside of the [BDSM] scene. It kind of drew the anger to empower myself to take on the other side of the relationship, and I found that I liked it a lot better.”

Determined to rebuild the trust she’d lost in other people, Larissa became a dominatrix.

A dominatrix is a person, typically a woman, who sexually controls their partners or clients — unlike a dominant sexual partner, dominatrixes typically profit from the experience.

Not only is Larissa now in charge of her sexual experiences, but safewords and mutual trust draw thick lines between consent and force, all of which she finds especially important as a sexual assault survivor.

There isn’t a lot of research on BDSM in the United States — one of the most widely cited surveys is a 2005 Durex study that found 36 percent of adults use toys including masks and bondage tools in the bedroom. The popularity of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series doesn’t necessarily mean more people are engaging in the kink, but it might mean they’re more open to talking about it, as the resulting media representation would suggest.
Generally, kink communities still remain underground, or in specific corners of the internet, utilizing sites such as FetLife to find like-minded sexual partners.

Through FetLife — a social networking site for the BDSM, kink and fetish community — Larissa finds clients who pay her to control them in BDSM sessions. She usually meets clients in a public place, such as a coffee shop, and then goes to their homes — a situation that worked particularly well when she was living in on-campus dormitories.

“You can’t really host in [a dorm],” she said. “Although, my sub would come over occasionally, and I’d be like, ‘All right, you need to be quiet. You cannot make a noise,’ because I also lived right across the hall from my RA, so she could hear it.”

Larissa’s arsenal of toys and tools ranges from a ball gag and duct tape to a riding crop and strap-on — none of which phase her anymore.

She’s paid anywhere from $200 to $1,500 per session, which typically last about two hours and do not include intercourse, because that would be considered prostitution. Regardless, Larissa views vaginal intercourse as inherently submissive, a role she stepped away from after her assault.

In addition to more typical BDSM requests that go on behind closed doors, Larissa mentioned casually, almost in passing, that she’s been asked to cut a client’s penis, has been called “mommy” and has even had a client defecate during a session.

“I was like, ‘Are you gonna clean that up?’” she said. “His dog was around, too. The dog was there the whole time. It was so uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Your dog doesn’t need to see this.’”

Maddie Preece, a junior bioengineering major and a friend of Larissa’s, said she noticed right away the way her friend’s self-confidence has grown from the experience. The way Larissa talks now about her experiences  — matter-of-factly and down to the last detail — Preece pointed to as a result of the self-assurance that domination has given her.

“One day, we decided to go get coffee, but we barely knew each other, and we sat down and she was like, ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe the night I had,’ and just went right into it,” Preece said. “I think she draws a lot of confidence from it, a lot of empowerment from it — as a woman and sexually — and that carries out into her normal life.”

Since her assault, Larissa has also found ways to help other survivors as a member of Students Engaging in Conversations about Consent and Sexuality and as a hotline operator for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. She’s also an advocate, assisting survivors through the painstaking process of going through a rape examination in the emergency room.

“I think it is great that she doesn’t let sexual assault get in her way of empowerment, what makes her happy and what she wants to do with her life, and she has really spun it into her story to be an advocate for others,” Preece said.

Larissa’s role as a dominatrix and her position as an advocate aren’t necessarily at odds. Karly Kraemer, a 22-year-old employee at AdultMart in Monroeville, said BDSM is built on mutual respect and trust — just as any sexual relationship should be.

“BDSM is an ongoing conversation when it’s done with a romantic partner. It’s important to respect boundaries and safe words. Some couples even [include] aftercare, like cuddling and making sure their partner is OK,” Kraemer said. “It’s important to find a balance between ‘scenes’ and real life.”

Outside of the bedroom, Larissa has had polyamorous — intimate relationships with more than one partner — BDSM relationships in which she and her partner/submissive are both free to date other people. She’s found ways that her business intersects with her pleasure, and ways that it doesn’t.

“I did have clients at that time, and I would actively be a dom, but I wouldn’t be one for my personal pleasure, if that makes sense,” she said.

One of Larissa’s favorite safewords from a client is “kumquat,” though her personal choice is the more typical “pineapple” — “People really like fruit,” she said.

Larissa’s clients know she’ll stop if they use the designated safeword. Asking someone to be open with her about their desires, sexually or otherwise, is a practice in mutual understanding — a concept the college student doesn’t take for granted.

“They’re trusting me,”  she said. “That was a very big thing for me, because my trust was violated, and developing a trusting relationship with somebody else would have to be so strong in order for anything BDSM-related to work.”

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