Most of us are familiar with 50 Shades of Grey, where the powerful billionaire Christian Grey indoctrinates the young, subservient Anastasia Steele.
But while the book was credited with bringing BDSM to the mainstream consciousness, most of us also had a big problem with it, on the grounds that it wasn't particularly empowering for women.
In fact, it was downright uncomfortable to read about a wealthy, older man dominating a naive, younger woman in such a visceral, sexual way.
So what would make a woman willingly enter the BDSM world? Former secretary Adrianna Taylor, who quit her job to become 'Mistress Hallie Brookes' - a professional dominatrix - can shed some light.
The 26-year-old has just released a book about how it actually empowers women, called The Story of Control. Here she chats to HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
Why did you want to become a dominatrix in the first place?
Before getting into the BDSM scene I used to be a glamour model. It was a very male-orientated world, where women were treated as a commodity.
Lots of young girls are desperate to get a big break, and there are plenty of photographers ready to milk their egos to persuade them to go further and increase their levels. It is easy for girls who are desperate to make it to give in and go along with the photographers’ demands.
After a short time, being a headstrong young woman, I became uninterested with this world, and wanted to do something that empowered me. I wanted to be in control, not standing in a cold room in provocative poses while someone leched and leered over me.
I didn't set out to be a dominatrix, but it progressed from my doing more fetish-orientated shoots with other models, and then transitioning to meeting men in hotel rooms for dominatrix sessions. When you are doing outcalls, safety is always a big concern, as you do not know who you will meet. So I started working from home. I bought some equipment, and clients started to see me at home.
What do you need to do to become a dominatrix?
To become a dominatrix, you need no formal training. However, not every woman who holds a whip could be called ‘Mistress Whiplash’. Being a professional dominatrix means you have a good knowledge of the BDSM scene, and you are able to command attention without having to scream at a person.
It’s also useful to have a good range of implements, and knowing when a client has had enough. A dominatrix’s knowledge comes from seeing clients and learning from that experience.
Your book is called ‘The Story of Control' - what control issues do you have?
Well, perhaps I see myself as control freak and do not like feeling out of control. Within my relationship, my desire for control can cause power struggles, and in stressful times I can become controlling over how much (or little) food I eat. I feel the title of my book is extremely well suited as to how I run my life, as I am always trying to keep things in order to maintain control.
What are some of the most common misconceptions around being a dominatrix?
There are lots of misconceptions, the first being the image of the leather-clad mistress with raven black hair, holding a whip in a dungeon, with slaves in cages. The second is that a dominatrix is just a kinky sex-worker or escort. This is simply not true.
Mistresses come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Some prefer to be referred as ‘disciplinarians’. Sex is never part of the agenda. It is about asserting control over someone who enjoys the relinquishing of power in whatever way they enjoy. But as a term of respect, a Dominatrix does require clients to use the word mistress or miss as a term of obedience.
Are men more likely to hire a dominatrix than a woman and why do you think that is?
In general, men are more open to varied sexual experiences. I have infrequently seen couples, but I often got the feeling it was the man who was the initiating force behind it. I believe some men like to experience taboo things, and often don't feel they are able to communicate that to their wife or girlfriend, or they know that it would not be approved of in the bedroom.
Also, a lot of the men I see do it as a stress relief, whereas a woman may get her hair done to relax. Some men in jobs of power want to relinquish that power, and just be a naughty boy for an hour. Although I have talked to masters (male doms) who see women, but these are few and far between.
It is certainly not common for women to seek services on their own without some persuasion from their male partner.
What are some of the acts that a dominatrix undertakes?
As a mistress, you can be asked to undertake many things, but the most popular would be spanking, with an element of role-play, like being a schoolmistress. It is humiliating, but reminds a lot of men about being a naughty boy at school.
Other services that I offer include shoe and foot worship, which is to assert obedience and humiliation; face-sitting, which involves sitting clothed on the face of someone; and trampling, which involves standing on the fleshy parts of a man’s body to crush them. I tend not to do some of the much more extreme fetishes out there, out of personal choice.
Have you ever been surprised by the job or said no to something that crossed a boundary?
Yes, my job has surprised me sometimes, but usually I get what I consider to be run of the mill requests. But, at times, I have said no to people on principle when someone has asked me for a sexual service, as this crosses my boundaries. Another thing I would always decline would be if someone wanted me to punish them for a crime, fictitious or not, as I do not feel that it is my place to help them to come to terms with a guilty conscience.
What do you say yes and no to?
I will often say ‘no’ to people if they come across as indecisive, which suggests they would be time wasters. And I will say ‘no’ if someone has written to me for a possible session with a one-sentence email which is lazy, as they are likely to be a time waster.
I will say ‘no’ if someone comes across as sleazy on the phone, and I could infer that they want more than I offer (in other words, sex) and but they just can't just say it. And I decline if I am asked to be nude in the session, as that is certainly not my role. And there are certain services I always say no to, especially anything that could be physically harmful or unhygienic.
Also, I have a cut-off point when I finish work, and I don't work over 9pm.
Can you talk us through the contrast between working as a dominatrix and doing perfectly ordinary things?
At first it was hard adjusting to having the two separate lives, as I was only young when I started. I worried I would bump into a client in the local supermarket. Also, in sessions, what I say goes without question, but in real life I would look like a spoiled brat if I behaved like that.
When you are younger, things stay more prominent in your mind. But as I have grown older, I have been able to become detached; work-related matters become smaller and life takes over, and daily reality is more important. I have a separate style between work and home, and have boundaries on when I work and don't. When I go out, I don't consider I look outlandish or out of place. It becomes like any job – you need to have a balance between work and home life, and, from experience, I think I have now managed to get the right balance.
What has your work taught you about a) sex and b) people?
I have certainly learned a lot about people in my work, as I see all sorts of professionals and I have certainly learned do not judge a book by its cover. It is normally men who would be considered prim and suited, the types that you would not look twice at, who enjoy some very kinky antics.
Sex-wise, I feel that this experience has led me into being more vanilla in my personal life, relishing the pleasure of normal sex.
Although I never have sex in my sessions, my clients will often get aroused, something which always surprises me, as being reprimanded or humiliated certainly wouldn't turn me on.
Are you in a relationship and if so is your partner okay with what you do?
I have a partner, who I have been with for three years. He is fine with what I do, as I am disciplining people and not attending to their sexual whims.
I am aware that some men could be jealous of their partner entertaining clients, who are often naked, but I have my boundaries with clients, and make sure that I always make time for my partner. I arrange sessions to fit around our life, and never drop everything to see a client.
50 Shades - did it get things right or wrong?
There is no question that 50 Shades has been successful. However, it is fiction set in a luxury billionaire’s paradise, which is certainly not realistic.
The lead character in 50 Shades, Christian Grey, is assertive, and Anastasia is very subservient. However, the book successfully opened people's eyes to the pleasures of BDSM. It is not always accurate in its depiction of BDSM, but in a relationship when you are experimenting with different things, it is probably right. But, in my point of view, I strongly feel that it is not empowering for women at all.