Kink Is Expensive: The Cost Of Setting Up As A Dom
We all have hobbies. My sister collects early twentieth century French philosophy books, and she is exactly as insufferable as that makes her sound. The local urgent care doctors greet my dad my name when he comes in from his biannual mountain bike accident. I like to spend my Friday nights beating the shit out of cute queers with their full and enthusiastic consent.
I’ve been part of the kink community for the last five years. If Fifty Shades involved a lot more committees, people who are way into wolves, coffee shop meet ups, all day negotiation sessions, explicit verbal consent, showing up early to set up for parties, and boiling silicone toys on the stove top for sanitation, it would be just like my experiences.
Despite the kinky community’s self-proclaimed transgressive beliefs, I am constantly amazed at the way people of color, disabled folks, older people and other non-normative folks are literally shunted to the margins of play parties, or spend entire events holding a cup of punch and looking around the room for someone to talk to. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised after five years that the alternative sexual ideal is the same as the mainstream ideal, but in leather.
Besides experience and skill, which is priceless, a big part of earning entree into kinky spaces is looking the part and having the right tools spilling out of your bag. Kinksters who will happily be suspended from flesh hooks get all squirmy and uncomfortable when you point out that that expectation is classist as all hell. You can have an amazing scene with two fists, consent, and a willing heart. But somehow the way kinky people often choose to translate “You can trust me to do exactly the terrible things you want me to do to you and no more” is “Look at my three hundred dollar elk skin flogger.”
The picture of a dominant woman you may have in your mind, with leather corset, boots, skirt and maybe a whip? That’s a minimum five hundred dollar outlay if you buy second hand, easily going into the five digit range if you are buying the good stuff. And if you want to be taken seriously, you’re going to get the good stuff.
Just because you own the damn thing does not mean that you know what to do with it, either, or that you should trust someone to do the thing with it. I’m fascinated by the how when I walk into a party with a set of matching florentine floggers on my hips, people assume I can do the complicated figure eight kink cheerleader trick that goes with them. In kink land, money can substitute for cachet and skill when the only thing it should stand for is money.
I’m a young, feminine queer woman who is the active giver in kinky settings, meaning the top/dom. I can suspend you from the ceiling, cut roses into your shoulders, or land a single tail whip on the six safe square inches of your chest. But most of the time at play parties, my cute butch bottom girlfriend gets heavily cruised and I’m left holding the punch. When I decided that I was going to take agency in my dating life, I realized that I was going to have to lay out some cold hard cash to advertise my skills to potential partners.
I bought my gear from high quality kink specific supply stores, like Mr. S Leather in San Francisco or Doghouse Leathers in San Francisco. You can definitely spend less, but you’re sacrificing quality. Yes, I could make my floggers out of bike tires and electric tape, but then I would be read as scrappy, cheap, and young rather than competent and trustworthy.
At the same time, I don’t want to pretend that I don’t enjoy being able to afford beautiful tools to play with. To some extent, by dropping the money on serious gear I become complicit in the stuff as competency narrative. All that said, here’s a rough accounting for what I spent on kink last year. (Note: this is not a complete accounting of everything kinky I’ve ever bought or workshop I’ve attended. Other stuff I talk about in this piece, like cutting, I researched and practiced before ever trying it out in the flesh.)
Membership to the Center for Sex Positive Culture: $60
This particular expenditure is not my favorite. It’s sixty for a yearly membership, and then you get ten dollars off the thirty dollar parties. I paid because the party I want to go to — and the one with no creepy dudes chatting me up with lines like “WHAT A PAIR OF TITS” — is members only.
On the other hand, my apartment definitely does not have load tested hard points or even room to do a full swing with a flogger. Also, the snacks suck at the parties. Gummy bears and pretzels are not enough!
I paid about $30 a month to go to play parties at CSPC before switching to the membership rate of $20. My girlfriend and I also flew to a women’s leather conference. We volunteered a ton of hours, so the actual conference fee was waived. But there’s still the flight, hotel, rental car, and food.
Leather corset: $120
My sweet girlfriend bought me a black and white overbust leather corset that makes me look like a lady Hussar at the leather conference. It definitely pinches something in my hips, so I try to not wear it that often. We live together and do financially things jointly, so I’m counting this as my expense as well.
Dates: Around $580
As a top, no bottom that I’m taking on a first date is going to pay for her coffee or drink. It’s definitely another coded way to use money to signal ‘I got this and you can trust me.’ I took potential tricks on dates a lot more before I unexpectedly lost my job a month ago. I wish I felt confident enough to let a bottom buy a drink for me, but I get enough shit for being young and dominant that I have a huge chip on my shoulder about stuff like that.
This number also includes a flight for a bottom my girlfriend and I met via the Internet, flew to our city for a long weekend, fucked, and sent home with a smile and bruises.
Lube And Safer Sex Gear: $100
Oh my god the lube. Silicone, water based, homemade with aloe vera, and special kinds for the bottoms with sensitivities. And even though my dick is made of silicone, I still use a condom every time I fuck someone for hygiene and safety. I also buy boxes of black latex gloves for getting partners off with my hands.
Rope and safety scissors: $29.90
I bought this rope and some safety scissors after years of using stuff from Home Depot. Worthwhile upgrade.
First aid kit: $17.95
I’m not doing anything to anyone if I can’t take care of any damage I might cause. Jay Wiseman in SM 101 recommends that all tops should carry a small fire extinguisher (because no one ever plans for an accidental fire!), but I’m not quite that paranoid yet.
Impact toys: $150
That’s for one incredibly beautiful rotator flogger from Doghouse Leathers in Seattle. It’s ENORMOUS.
Workshops and books: $150
It’s not cool to do things to people as practice. I got interested in rope suspension this year and so I went to a ton of workshops and bought a few books before I ever tested out that skill on a person.
TOTAL: That’s $2,407.85 that I spent on kinky stuff in the last calendar year: a little more than two months rent, or the cost of replacing every piece of clothing I own, down to the underwear. Was it worth it? One hundred percent.
I got together with my girlfriend of three years because of our mutually shared, yet oppositional, interest in sadism. Learning how to talk through things like “Where can I punch you?” makes conversations like “Do we want kids?” so much less scary. Using the skills we developed in the dungeon, we’ve been able negotiate things like a chill
non-monogamy and who’s responsible for dishes when.
I’ve met some of the coolest people and had some of the wildest nights of my life because of that $2,407.85.
The secret that I’m actually a whip throwing badass has given me the confidence to not let a boss at my old job bully me, or to scream like a velociraptor at street harassers instead of cowering. That confidence is worth way more than $2,407.85 to me.
This story is part of a series examining our financial vices.