A Peek Inside a BDSM Dungeon
Photo by Susan Slade
It's 4:00 p.m. on an overcast Tuesday afternoon, and I'm inside one of L.A.'s premiere BDSM dungeons searching for a volunteer to pose for pictures in a medical exam fetish room. Four women wearing nothing but lingerie glance around at each other, trying to decide if this particular kink appeals to one of them more than the others.
Finally, a tall, skinny blonde with pale white skin and no perceivable body fat who goes by the name Lil' Miss Natalie steps forward.
"I'll do it," she says with a shy grin. "I have a fetish for everything."
I lead her into the room in question, where she lies back slowly across an exam table and bends her knees willingly, her mouth already slightly agape. By this time, Ms. Madyson, a professional dominatrix, has joined us. Ms. Madyson's hefty breasts spill out of her purple bra as she leans over and begins to tie Lil' Miss Natalie's legs up. The tighter she ties, the more Lil' Miss Natalie seems to enter into a state of ecstasy.
Both girls are here at Sanctuary LAX to work. Ms. Madyson is a regular employee, and Lil' Miss Natalie is visiting from Atlanta to earn some extra cash. But neither is shy about admitting that they'd be doing BDSM whether they were getting paid or not.
"I do practice this in my private life," says Ms. Madyson, fondly recalling how she once made a grown man "cry like a little girl. Yay!"
Located on an industrial stretch of La Cienega Boulevard about three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, Sanctuary is one of two commercial dungeons in L.A., says Mistress Cyan, who owns and operates the 7,000 square foot establishment. She estimates that there are another half dozen private dungeons in the city, and as many as 100 discreetly located in people's homes.
But Sanctuary remains among the most popular.
"The reason people come here and not other places is that we're out there," says Mistress Cyan. "Our address is on the web site, a surprising amount of things are out in the open."
Tall and thin as a reed, with auburn hair hanging down her back and cherry red talons decorating her fingertips, Mistress Cyan is a 58-year-old transgender dominatrix. She's worked in BDSM for over 17 years, and her calm demeanor reveals a veteran of this fringe lifestyle who has long since made peace with herself and the opinions of others.
She took over Sanctuary in August of 2010 after the previous owner died and the building was badly damaged in a fire. And when she rebuilt it from the ground up, no fetish-y stone was left unturned.
One enters the building through an unassuming lobby with a desk, a receptionist and several chairs. The door leading from there into the dungeon opens to a large and lofty event space, with a main stage featuring a stripper pole and trapeze. Black and white photos of naked women entangled in ropes drip from the darkly painted walls.
Off this central area, two windy hallways escort visitors to nine different fetish rooms. The rooms can be rented, along with a session with a dominatrix or submissive, for $200 an hour.
In addition to the medical exam room, there's a tickling room, with an opulent bed and a few feather dusters; a living room, conservatively outfitted with an armchair, side table and lamp; a shower room; several rooms devoted solely to traditional BDSM furniture like St. Andrews crosses, spanking benches and whipping posts; and a cross-dressing room, which looks like Marilyn Monroe's closet vomited all over the floor.
It's quiet on this particular Tuesday, but every few minutes, girls dressed in skimpy costumes click by on stripper heels. One carries a bag of McDonalds; another totes a laptop that she'll later use to check her Facebook page in between clients. The place has the feeling not of a torture chamber but of a cozy, all-day slumber party, only instead of pillow fights, there are whips and chains.
In order to be hired at Sanctuary, girls - and they are mostly girls - have to train there as well. They learn how to wield a paddle, and how to make interactions with clients more about psychology than physical pleasure. "It starts with the mental, and leads to the physical," says Lil' Miss Natalie.
Dominatrices and submissives at Sanctuary don't ever have sex with their clients -- "that's a no-no," says Mistress Cyan -- but bondage and submission do release tension. Mistress Cyan describes the desire to use BDSM to relieve stress thusly: "Some people want to go out and play a game of basketball. Others come here."
After their session, clients are encouraged to stay for a few minutes and come down from their high, and have a little fireside chat with their dominatrix or submissive about what went well and what didn't.
It's this openness and acceptance that eases people's minds at Sanctuary, and makes them inclined to come back.
"People don't know if they'll be judged when they come in, so we have to get them to open up," says Mistress Cyan. "But we have nothing to hide."
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Photo by Susan Slade Photo by Susan Slade