Photography Casey Rearick

The surroundings on the walk through the well-kempt, fenced-in backyard into a nicely decorated house on Cleveland’s West Side seem innocuous enough. That is, until two shirtless men referred to as “Wolfboy” and “Stickman” appear in the kitchen, as they perform household chores at the behest of two women.

These women are Mistress Tessla, age 39, and Mistress Ava, age 61, who offer BDSM services for $200 an hour on average as professional Dominatrixes, also known as Dommes. Located in the basement of the house is Dungeon216, one of an estimated five professional dungeons operating in the area. 

Once downstairs, it’s hard not to notice the whips hung on the wall and the wooden pillory with chain restraints. Further investigation reveals a cage in the corner and an adjustable metal spreader bar used to bind and keep wrists or ankles apart. These are just a few of the various implements used on clients, who are referred to as submissives, or subs.

BDSM stands for Bondage and Discipline (B&D), Dominance and Submission (D&S), Sadism and Masochism (S&M). While the term BDSM might evoke thoughts of whips, chains, and pain – which can definitely be involved – it also encompasses a variety of other kinks and fetishes. 

Among those are puppy or pet play, where subs pretend they’re dogs or other animals and want to be treated as such. Others are adult-babies who dress, have their soiled diapers changed, and are bathed like an infant would. Subs like Wolfboy and Stickman serve by doing household chores and other errands for their Dommes. The range of kinks is much wider than what 50 Shades of Grey might lead one to believe. 

There are some misconceptions about what Mistress Tessla and Mistress Ava do as professional Dommes. They’re quick to point out that while they might be in the sex industry, they don’t have sex with clients. Nor are they man-haters, as is commonly thought given the pain they often inflict on their mostly male clientele. 

“I don’t think you should have hate in your heart when you do what we do,” states Mistress Tessla, whose real name is Brandy Lynn Wiles. 

To find potential clients for appointments, professional Dommes rely heavily on their online presence. They used to place ads on the “personals” sections of websites like Backpage until those were banned due to concerns about prostitution and human trafficking. Even attempts to get more creative with ads were met with stern resistance by moderators. 

“I put an ad on Craigslist after Backpage was shut down…I put it under tutorials or something to teach married couples how to play safe,” explains Mistress Ava, who preferred not to use her real name. “They yanked me so fast and said, ‘don’t ever come back.’”

Safety and consent for both the subs and Dommes are of paramount importance in any kind of BDSM activity. Mistress Ava’s website requires subs to fill out an application. This process allows her to complete a background check to uncover any violent offenses. If someone refuses to give personal information, an extra fee is charged to have security present during the session until trust is established. 

“We know enough big biker dudes who will just stand by the door (during a session),” Wiles says. 

The application asks questions about the sub’s medical conditions to ensure safe play. It also includes a section for subs to convey their hard limits – what they absolutely won’t do or lines they won’t cross – as well as identify their personal fetishes, desires, and needs for the session. Hard limits for the Dommes are also listed on the website, making it clear what is and isn’t offered. 

When it comes to those who seek out the Dommes’ services, the type of person that walks through their door varies. There isn’t any set standard, look, or demographic.

“I’ve had business suits to construction workers to bikers, judges, chefs, accountants, dental hygienists, taxidermists,” Wiles states. “I’ve never had a sub that comes in looking like someone looking for a Domme.” 

Outside of professional Dommes is a larger local community for those who view BDSM as a lifestyle. Organizations such as The Academy of Fetish Arts and Ohio S.M.A.R.T. (Sadomasochist Alliance in Real Time) are BDSM social clubs that offer paid memberships. Area kinksters and fetishists can sign up to use private dungeon facilities, take classes, attend parties, explore, and mingle without judgement among like-minded individuals. Ohio S.M.A.R.T. also holds events called “munches” and “sloshes” where members meet up at local bars or restaurants to socialize in a public setting. 

Fetish Playland is a series of local events held at various locations throughout the year. One such affair is the Organ Grinder’s Ball, an annual fetish fashion and stage show last held this past April at House of Blues.

Wiles and Mistress Ava recognize and appreciate the community that exists and consider themselves as part of it. Despite what seem like common interests, some in the BDSM lifestyle community look down on professional Dommes because they get paid for what they do. 

“They don’t think we’re real because we get money for it,” Mistress Ava explains. 

One local sub, a 63-year-old-man who didn’t want to be named, prefers to pay for private sessions every three to four months to fulfill his needs as opposed to being active in the local lifestyle community. He enjoys being dominated by strong women through pain, humiliation, and torture, receiving 200 lashes with a whip in his last session. 

“Some people see the BDSM lifestyle as a full-time thing, but that’s not me,” he iterates. “I don’t go to parties or anything. Just go on occasion to see a Domme.”

Another man, a 52-year-old married crossdresser who goes by the name Lynne, also eschews the community or lifestyle aspect and prefers to keep things discreet by hiring a professional Domme. Dungeon216 enables him to roleplay while keeping the other aspects of his personal life separate. 

“It’s a safe place to be a woman, be treated like one, and told what to do,” Lynne explains.

As for the personal lives of the Mistress Ava and Wiles, they’re both honest with their friends and family about what they do – but that’s not to say it doesn’t bring up more questions. 

“I recently just told my sister,” Mistress Ava says. “We were sitting at a bar and she’s the only one who doesn’t know. Her husband knows – he does work around the house. She asked are you a lesbian? Do you want to be a man?…We have a lot of LBGTQ friends and I can see how she would assume.” 

Wiles is also honest about what she does for a living with her 19-year-old daughter. 

“She’s seen the dungeon,” Wiles says. “She sees the stuff in my wardrobe. I wonder what she thinks when I go out, pack my bag. She knew I had modeled and had modeled for bands and done the fetish balls and things like that. She said ‘I figured, you’re tired by 10 o’clock so I know you’re not a stripper.’” 

In addition to being a Domme, Mistress Ava also works a full-time job as a property manager and does catering on the side. She enjoys the workload and always being on the move. On the other hand, Wiles works full-time as a Dominatrix and admits she sometimes finds it difficult to wind down after a long day. Her go to for relaxation is watching cartoons in PJs with her kids while eating a big bowl of ice cream. As for what flavor of ice cream she prefers, ironically it’s just plain old vanilla.


 

Dungeons and Dommes Terminology

BDSM is a broad term that covers many different aspects of the practice. Below are just a few of the basic terms and definitions to help understand it better and what it entails.  

Dominant
Noun
/ˈdɒmɪnənt/

The person who has the power, authority, or control over a submissive partner. Female Dominants are sometimes called Dominatrixes, Dommes, or Mistresses while Male Dominants are often called Doms or Masters. 

 

Submissive
Noun
/səbˈmisiv/

The person who gives up some degree of power, authority, or control to a Dominant partner.

 

Service Submissive
/’sərvəs səbˈmisiv/

Submissives who gain satisfaction and pleasure from serving by doing household chores, gardening, errands, or being furniture for their Dominants. Service subs are sometimes offered sessions or playtime in return for their help.

 

Slave
Noun
/slāv/

A submissive who willingly gives up a larger degree of their power and control and is considered “owned” by their Master or Dominant. These subs are told what they are allowed to do and when, such as what and when they can eat, as the Dominants have a larger, consensual scope of control over the submissive’s activities and life. 

 

Switch
Noun
/swiCH/

A Dominant or submissive that will switch roles. Roles are agreed upon before a session begins as to not cause confusion especially when switching is involved.

 

Sadist/Masochist
Noun
/ˈsādist/

A sadist gets pleasure, sexual or not, from inflicting physical or mental pain and suffering on others whereas a masochist gets pleasure from receiving that pain. There are too many types of S&M to list them all but some examples include: CBT/NT (cock and ball torture/nipple torture), electrical play (using electrical current to inflict pain), trampling (walking all over someone), forced inebriation, impact play (spanking, flogging, hitting, and beating), forced-bi (forcing someone who is straight into bisexual activities), and verbal abuse/humiliation. 

 

Bondage
Noun
/ˈbändij/

The restraining, tying up, or binding of someone using items like rope, metal restraints, or cuffs. Bondage is not necessarily the same as sadomasochism. 

 

Rope Play
Noun
/rōp plā/

Any practice of bondage using rope, which is sometimes done for artistic or aesthetic value. For example, wearing tight rope dresses or intricate tying techniques using a Japanese rope bondage art form known as shibari. 

Vanilla
Noun
/vəˈnilə/

People who aren’t involved with BDSM, kink, or fetishism and have conventional sex and relationships.

Session
Noun
/ˈseSHən/

An encounter where partners partake in their fetishes together. This is also called a scene, a playdate, or playtime. 

Play Partners
Noun
/plā ˈpärtnər/

The people who partake in BDSM play together. The actual act of partaking in BDSM play is typically called kink play or fetish play.

Safe, Sane, and Consensual
Adjective
/sāf/ /sān/ /kənˈsen(t)SH(əw)əl/ 

A key phrase in BDSM where safe refers to minimizing the danger of doing any unwanted harm. Sane means not inflicting psychological damage on play partners. Consensual dictates that all parties involved give full, informed consent as part of any power exchange.  

Hard Limits/Soft Limits
Noun
/härd ˈlimits/ /sôft ˈlimits/

Hard Limits are acts that the individual in question absolutely, totally will not perform under any circumstances. Crossing a hard limit is typically immediate grounds for a session ending. A soft limit is something that a person is unsure about or causes them discomfort but which they might still give informed consent given the right circumstances.

Sub-Space
Noun
/səb-spās/

A natural, chemical high experienced by a submissive during a session similar to a runner’s high. An almost euphoric feeling of letting go and being in the moment. 

Aftercare
Noun
/ˈaftərˌker/

The process of BDSM play partners taking care of each other after a scene or session. Sessions can be very intense and/or emotionally draining. Aftercare means providing comfort through talking softly, caressing, cuddling, praising, and such actions or even discussing the events of the session together. It’s intended to make everyone feel safe after especially intense, physically, or emotionally-draining sessions. Aftercare is an essential part of a healthy BDSM relationship in providing emotional support when it’s most needed after “coming down” from a scene.

Edge Play
Noun
/ej plā/

Activities that edge the boundaries of safe, sane, and consensual. Examples include gunplay (pointing a gun, loaded or not, at someone), fireplay (the use of any fire in the session), bloodsport (drinking someone else’s blood or making deeper cuts), and asphyxiation/breathplay (cutting off someone’s air supply or restricting their breathing). Edge play should only be carried out with proper training and experience aka “do not try this at home.” 

Gender Play
Noun
/ˈjendər plā/

The practice of roleplaying switching genders as part of a session. In some instances, it may be forced as part of an S&M practice called sissification. In other cases, the submissives may enjoy or want to crossdress. For example, a man crossdressing and roleplaying as a woman for pleasure and/or to allow his submissive side to come out in order to be dominated.