‘Working as a domme isn’t really about how to crack a whip. It‘s how to use the power you already have and put it into your everyday sexual life.’
When Amy Boyajian was working as a New York City nightclub producer in 2013, a client gave her an unusual assignment: to recruit dominatrixes to entertain party guests. Her friend happened to be a former front-desk worker for one of New York’s oldest dungeons, so she stopped by and offered the dominatrixes the gig for $150. But it wasn’t worth it to them. They were each making close to $1,000 between 3 p.m. and 2 a.m. every day. The manager did, however, tell her to get in touch if she wanted to work there.
To appease her client, she got creative and had friends dress up and play the role. But the manager’s offer stuck with her. She was juggling three jobs while trying to be an artist, and the prospect of making more money per night than she did in a week sounded irresistible. So, she called the dungeon back.
When she interviewed for the job at the dungeon, unsuspectingly nestled beneath a veterinarian clinic in midtown, the first question the “house mom” asked was how big her feet were. She happened to stand six feet and one inch tall in size 11 shoes. Combined with her tattoos and long, jet-black hair, she fit the profile and was hired on the spot.
Since none of the dungeon’s regulars knew who she was, she just sat there for two days, munching on trail mix to pass the time. Finally, late on the second night, someone booked a two-hour session. Her job: to smoke cigarettes, blow smoke into his face while he was strapped to a bed, and tell him how worthless he was. The smoke made her lightheaded, and the trail mix wasn’t sitting so well. Within 20 minutes, she was vomiting. She thought this would be the end of a very short-lived career — until he asked her to do it again.
Her next client requested she pretend to pull his teeth out. As someone terrified of dentists, this was her worst nightmare. “I’m acting,” she reminded herself. This reminder would get her through six months of deeply uncomfortable situations.
Managers would line workers up and price them by race. House moms pressured Boyajian and her coworkers to lose weight and maintain perfect hair and nails, requiring multiple trips to the salon every week. Women were blackmailed into sleeping with police. One wasn’t even allowed to change her tampon between back-to-back sessions. But the last straw came when a black man asked Boyajian to play his slave owner and yell the N word at him. “I’m not gonna perpetuate this problem,” she remembers thinking. The dungeon owner threatened to fire her if she didn’t do it. So she quit.
In Boyajian’s personal essay on GirlBoss, she says:
“I witnessed recurring themes of racism, sexism, and discrimination that no one was talking about. I also came across a lot of people who had no idea how to get the sexual satisfaction they wanted and many who felt they didn’t even deserve it.”
For the following two years, Boyajian became her own boss, carefully selecting clients and almost exclusively relying on repeat customers. They had emotional conversations about their motives for seeing a dominatrix. Many were using BDSM to work through trauma.
From this work stemmed another, unexpected career: People began turning to her for sex education. Women who knew she was a sex worker came to her with questions, and some clients brought their partners so she could teach them BDSM. She started holding gatherings at her apartment to teach people about pleasure, desire, and consent along with bondage and sex toys.
“It wasn’t really about how to crack a whip,” she remembers. “It was more how to use the power that you already have and put it into your everyday sexual life.”
These sessions brought to light what had appealed to Boyajian about sex work: the opportunity to help people understand their sexuality and themselves. But she wanted a new way to do this, because the sex work itself was burning her out. “You spend all day with people dumping their emotional weight on you,” she says. “They’re giving you heavy stuff that you have to internalize and deal with. It’s like being in seven relationships in one day.”
That’s when she began building her site Wild Flower, which functions as a sex toy shop, blog, and sex encyclopedia in one. It presents products and information differently from most sources on the web. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that none of the products are associated with any gender, race, or body type.
There’s a page geared toward each body part — butt, vagina, penis, nipples — regardless of its owner’s identity. But none of the toys themselves resemble body parts, which lets Wild Flower avoid perpetuating beauty standards or racial fetishization. Then there’s the education page, which includes a sexual health dictionary with terms from “agender” to “phthalates” and guides to lube, cock rings, and crystals.
Boyajian, who now resides in San Diego with her husband, puppy, and two grumpy cats, spends her days managing Wild Flower’s store, making erotic art to circumvent Instagram’s nudity rules, and pouring over medical journals for accurate information to add to her site. She fact-checks everything she reads online, and along with misreported data, she’s found a ton of oppressive conventions in the way we talk about sex. While compiling her anal sex guide, for example, she read countless articles introducing the topic by describing how men are always trying to “slip it in.”
“Can we not premise an article on ‘well, we’ve all been raped by a guy?’ I was like, ‘Why is that being normalized?’” she thought. “How can I write something that’s based on your pleasure and ‘if someone’s ever done that to you, you’ve been sexually harassed’?”
Her efforts to depict an alternative view of sex — one that puts people of all genders in charge of their sex lives — have paid off. “People would divulge past sexual trauma and thank me for having sex be so open and bright and not be this dirty, perverse thing,” she says. “People send me questions. A lot of them are like ‘How can I be better at sex?’ And then I’ll ask them questions like, ‘Who told you you were bad? Who told you you weren’t good enough?’ It always ends up being harmful societal norms that get it in their head that they’re not good.”
Ultimately, Boyajian believes this work will help combat the problems she witnessed as a sex worker: There will be less subjugation of women if people are thinking beyond the gender binary. There will be less racial fetishization if racism isn’t built into the very products we use. There will be more opportunities to advance sex workers’ rights if their work isn’t shrouded in so much secrecy. There will be less sexual abuse if people understand what the alternative looks like.
“I’m trying to empower people through education that talks about pleasure and consent,” she says. “You shouldn’t have to be a dominatrix to say ‘no.’”