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) is a sexual fetish or fantasy in which the woman “physical or psychologically dominates her partner in a sadomasochistic encounter (Mariam Webster)”. A sexual practice often seen in the media through movies, television, and even books, a dominatrix forces one of the sexual partners into submission as the woman assumes power.
The dominatrix is a form of sexual practice that involves BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism); with BDSM, one partner is usually restrained by handcuffs, stockings, ties, or rope. Domination takes bondage one step further with the involvement of pain, torture, humiliation or embarrassment (Sadism and Masochism 101).
The term dominatrix is coined from Latin, which is the feminine version of dominator (Mariam Webster)
Theresa Berkley's most famous invention, the Berkley Horse
Though the term dominatrix was first referred to as the female in charge of a nunnery, it is now more commonly used to describe a woman using domination in sexual acts. The dominatrix gained popularity during the eighteenth century. Accounts of first use of domination were first recorded in England with erotic flagellation being very popular before it slowly spread to various parts of the world (Proventia 2008).
One of the first known dominatrices was Theresa Berkley, who in the nineteenth century ran a brothel for the wealthy and upper-class. Referred to as the “governess”, Berkley was known for pioneering techniques and mechanisms used in domination today. Humiliation, bondage and pain were often used in her routines. Her most important contribution however was the invention of the Berkley Horse, a flogging machine used extensively in her brothels. Berkley is credited for making the “dominatrix” a popular female empowering persona (Theresa Berkley).
A significant portion of a dominatrix requires the woman to strip the man’s power. She provides the illusion that he has completely surrendered himself to the woman. Popular techniques for this can be both and psychological.
Physically, the woman can hoard power through the use of bondage via handcuffs, duct tape, or rope. Paddles are often used to inflict pain on the submissive to stimulate sexual arousal. Some techniques even include the use of whips and floggers. These are more likely to cause pain on an individual but continue with the illusion of complete submission to the dominatrix (Sadism and Masochism 101).
Psychologically, a dominatrix can use word play to enhance her role as the dominant figure. A dominatrix typically empowers confidence and sex appeal through the use of harsh commands and insults. She has the ability to make her subject feel vulnerable and submissive as she continues to dominate the experience.
Dominatrix Development due to Popular Culture
The practice of dominatrix has consistently been present in movies, television, and books. Often, it is used as comical relief as most storyline are able to exaggerate and in turn humiliate and mock characters. Famous actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Kris
Kristen Bell playing the role of a dominatrix in Reefer
ten Bell, and Jennifer Garner have all donned the black leather and whips in movies and shows playing a role in which the man acts as the submissive partner in sexual acts.
Artists like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Rihanna have all utilized the presence of a dominatrix in their songs, performances, and music videos. These artists have used common dominatrix equipment such as bondage, whips, and leather to increase stage appearance. The female empowerment has worked well for the image of these artists as they have successfully utilized the dominatrix standards to increase sex appeal and capture their audience’s attention.
The influences of dominatrices in popular culture have been vast and extreme. For some audiences, the image of a strong and powerful female lead stimulates ideas of feminism and female empowerment. Others see the increase in acts such as domination, sadism, and masochism as the general public’s increasing acceptance of such sexual practices (Perverting Sexual Pleasure: Representing Sadomasochism 2009).
The Act of a Dominatrix in the News and Media
As the practice of domination becomes more mainstream, more and more of the public have become aware of the dominatrix women in the news and media. However, though it is still considered a taboo subject – with people shying away from the idea of domination, and considering the practice to be “sick” and “unhealthy” - most articles and news stories that relate to dominatrices have been ones of crime and injury.
In 2008, Max Mosley, a former president of Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile stood trial as an anonymous dominatrix filmed him participating in a “Nazi” themed orgy. The internet was flooded with video and imaged of prostitutes and dominatrices role playing as Nazi figures. Such a high profile case became a major interest to the public as audiences everywhere were exposed to the underground world of dominatrices and sadomasochism. The embarrassment and scandal that slandered the front page of newspapers everywhere further instilled the negative connotations of domintrices as Mosley “… told the court that the publicity had been "totally devastating" for his wife of 48 years, and he could think of "nothing more undignified or humiliating" for his two sons to experience” (
BBC News UK
2008). With the public announcement and video footage, the continuing assumptions of dominatrices as an unhealthy and destructive sexual practice spurred on.
Other less public cases have also swarmed news via television and print. With each headline a more negative opinion of dominatrices grow as the practice becomes associated with violence and theft. However, there have been some sources of media that utilize the dominatrix figure as a form of attraction to the public. The increasing need for sex appeal to focus attention on products has taken advantage of dominatrices to entrance the public with sex and humor. As seen on a Mini Car web campaign in which a dominatrix performs typical sadomasochistic acts on the new car. The campaign takes it one step further by allowing user to ‘whip around the site’ and ‘click as hard as you like’ (Perverting Visual Pleasure: Representing Sadomasochism 2009). In these cases of media influence, the idea of dominatrices still continue to be dangerous but have an added feeling of sexual pleasure and exoticism.
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Dominatrix. (n.d). In
Mariam Webster Dictionary online
. Retrieved from
BBC News UK. (2008). Mosley wins court case over orgy . BBC News UK. Retrieved from
Wilkinson Eleanor. (2009). Perverting Visual Pleasure: Representing Sadomasochism.
. Retrieved from
Sadism and Masochism 101.
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