While a dominatrix is a career choice that dates back to at least the 19th century, the other side of the BDSM coin, the submissive, is now a role that is increasingly being filled by professionals. Sanctuary, a dungeon in Los Angeles, currently has 14 pro subs on staff. One of them is 31-year-old Sunny Demure, who has been tied up, flogged, spanked and undergone “breast torture” in what were just days at the office. A client once paid the full rate to tickle her for 45 minutes, an experience she describes as “way more exhausting for me than being beaten with a paddle.”
How did you get into this line of work?
Well, it was a slippery-slope-type thing. I was already into certain aspects of BDSM in my personal life. I had been trying to reach out to the community and become more involved for my own personal reasons, and as that came along, I started performing burlesque at various kink events. Eventually, friends of friends would ask me if I wanted to perform in BDSM scenes on stage. I started doing stage scenes before I started doing professional submissive work.
Did you have another profession before this?
I’ve had a few. I’ve worked a lot of customer service, a lot of retail. I worked in mutual funds for a while. I have a degree in philosophy. My emphasis was in science.
What do clients want from a professional submissive?
Some don’t really know what they expect, especially people who are first-time clients. They just have this inclination it’s something they want to do. I have to talk it through with them. It varies from client to client. Some people like role playing. Other people are just sadistic. Some people are just into bondage.
What scenarios do you role play?
I’ve done principal/student, secretary/boss, pet play — that’s a pretty common one — and then there’s the more obvious sex slave. Even though I can’t have sex with them, we’ll talk about it a lot.
All the submissives at Sanctuary have a list of stated limitations. What are yours?
My limits are of course the house limits, which include no fluid exchange of any kind and no penetration. Personally, my limits are more psychological. I don’t like hot wax just because. I won’t let anyone call me “worthless” or “stupid.” However, things like “slut” or “whore” are fine, for whatever reason.
Do you often come home with marks and bruises?
No, most people are pretty light. However, if I have a heavy session, I will come home with bruises. I have had it where I couldn’t work for a week because my back end was basically purple. That was something he asked for. He specifically asked for a heavy session and there is an extra “heavy session fee” on top of the normal fee. The reason we do that is because if we are going to be marked we can’t work for a few days.
How much is a session?
Typically, people pay $100 for a half hour and $200 for an hour. If it’s a heavy session, it’s $50 on top of every half hour. Depending on what they ask for, it could be more.
So, what’s beyond a heavy session? If for an extra $50 you can purple someone’s backside and put them out of commission for a week, what’s the super deluxe package?
Probably caning is the worst thing, because caning leaves a much deeper bruise and it’s much more painful, so you are really testing your limits with that. There are clients who come in and want extra girls. They are paying an extra fee for every girl who comes in the room to watch.
What is a dungeon like as a work environment? Do you have office Christmas parties?
We have a gift exchange! I’m bringing my gift in tomorrow. I got her cat-themed footy pajamas, which fit her personality. Throughout the day most of us are sitting in the employee lounge with our laptops out waiting for clients to come in. Someone might have the TV on or might not. On the rare occasion, we’ll play a game or something. It’s a different kind of work atmosphere. You still get a little bit of the politics any HR department deals with.
Do you argue about stuff like who left their dishes in the sink?
It’s exactly that. We all use the space, so we’re expected to clean it. We’re given chores. It rotates but someone assigns everyone a chore each day.
Are any of the chores specific to this line of work?
There’s doing the laundry, which is probably the grossest chore. There are towels guys have used to jack off into. There’s wiping down all the dungeon furniture and sanitizing everything, making sure each room is stocked with things like alcohol spray, gloves, and towels. There is a big emphasis on taking responsibility for your own things. We want to be clean throughout the day because we never know when a client will come in.
How does this career impact your dating life?
Well, I’m in an open poly relationship — or relationships — so for me it honestly impacts it in terms of time. If I am there all day with clients, it takes up a good chunk of my time. But for me, because we already have that kind of openness, it’s not like someone is going to get jealous because someone else was spanking me.
Do you have to be into BDSM personally to do this?
It certainly helps. It’s the type of job where the work comes and goes. It’s not always there, so you have to really like doing it. It comes with its own set of drama; it comes with its own stresses, so if you don’t like doing it, you’re not going to last.
I’m not sure of a polite way to ask this, but do you get turned on during sessions?
I can if the person is really into it and he and I have a good working chemistry. I can get turned on. I still have to lay down the line as far as everything we can do and can’t do, but that doesn’t mean I am not enjoying it.
How much of your jobs is just waiting around?
About 95 percent. In truth, I am a bigger girl. I would probably would get more sessions as a dom. But for submissives, a lot of the guys are looking for a thin, petite girl. It’s kind of nice when someone comes in and finds me attractive or finds some kind of chemistry with me and, for whatever reason, chooses me. But it can be difficult when you have to ask yourself, “Why did they choose the other girl over me?”
That sounds kind of awful. How do you deal with that kind of continual rejection?
It is, but at the same time I have to remind myself that they don’t know me and they probably don’t know what they want, so they are going off what they think they want or what they think they should want. [Also], everyone [at the dungeon] is very body positive, so being surrounded by that many people who are so sex-positive and body-positive and intelligent, can really help give you the kind of support you need in those situations.
How does your family feel about what you do?
Other than my primary partners, my family doesn’t know what I do. My brother knows where I work. He’s okay with it but he doesn’t want to know the details.
Is there another storyline your parents believe?
They know I do modeling, so I tell them that and I tell them I do event planning, because I do help with some of the events at Sanctuary. In addition to BDSM scenes, I do belly dance and burlesque at events.
What do you think their reaction would be if they saw this interview?
I think there would be a talk about it. It’s more that it’s something that doesn’t really need to come up so it hasn’t.
One of the more interesting events at Sanctuary is the “Christmas slave auction,” where its submissive employees and people in the scene can be “sold” to benefit a food pantry. Have you ever been auctioned off?
I was at the Thanksgiving one.
What is that process like? Walk me through it.
You start out by filling out a form that lists all of your limitations, your interests, maybe your specialties. You write down how long you want to be auctioned off for. If you don’t want to do the entire night but just an hour, you can. Then you mingle, move around and talk to everyone there that’s buying. It’s people who have brought in canned goods and food for the food drive. They get a little slip that is good for so many “dollars” for what they bring in. I don’t know how they actually work it out. I dress as I would as a submissive, which is in lingerie. At some point, everyone who is being auctioned off goes to the back room. They make it known that the buyers know what your limits are and that it is OK to negotiate after you have been auctioned, that this is all for fun. Then you get to go up on stage and they auction you off!
Is there an auctioneer?
There is an auctioneer. It’s not an auctioneer who you would hear talking fast. It is an emcee who tries to talk you up and make sure that interest is built.
And you’re giving away the services you usually perform as a pro sub to collect food for charity? Exactly. What advice do you have for someone who wants to do what you do for a living?
Get to know people. Learn a lot. Definitely understand your limits before getting into it, and working in a household or a dungeon first is a better idea than going and meeting clients on your own because that can get really dangerous.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Storytime with section.