Hit Hard by COVID, L.A.’s BDSM Community is Bouncing Back

Since not everyone can do it at home, L.A.’s bondage and power-exchange aficionados faced some challenging intimacy issues during lockdown

We were in a pandemic for more than two years. We’ve missed the big stuff: weddings, funerals, baby showers, and graduations. And we’ve missed the little things, too: shaking hands, sitting next to our coworkers at the office, and seeing strangers’ smiles at the grocery store. But consider the BDSM community in Los Angeles, which missed out on in-person kink events, one-on-one power-exchange sessions, plus, you know, flogging and spanking IRL.

LAMag sat down with four L.A.-based BDSMers (that’s Bondage Discipline Sadomasochism, for the uninitiated) to discuss their experiences during the lockdown and how the industry has recovered since 2020.

Imperatrix Nox has been the chief financial officer for a BDSM/kink not-for-profit called Threshold Society for two years. Threshold aims to educate people interested in BDSM on how to safely “play” with their partners in an inclusive space. However, sex is never the objective.

“A lot of what we do takes physical skill and you don’t learn that by watching youtube videos… You really need to come, go to classes, see people doing things in front of you so they can see you and correct your technique,” Nox told us.

The shoe-shining station at Threshold (via Threshold L.A.)

Nox got started at Threshold, first as a volunteer “for the good of the empire.” She then joined the board as the treasurer, and then the CFO. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Nox and the other board members worried how they’d stay afloat.

“Initially, it was awful. We lost all of our operating revenue because most of our revenue came from parties, so when you’re no longer having a physical event, how do you stay relevant?” Nox said.

Unlike most people in the BDSM community, Mistress Justine Cross never had trouble with the relevancy issue. Cross is a professional dominatrix with her own space called Dungeon East in the Arts District. When the pandemic hit, she quickly pivoted to online sex work.

Head Mistress Justine Cross poses in her studio (via Jordan Wolan)

I knew even though they kept saying, ‘Oh, we’ll open up in two weeks or three weeks…’ that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to run my business like we’re going to open in a month. I’m running it like we are in lockdown until there is a vaccine,'” Cross said.

When she went fully virtual, she quickly gained the online following she needed to stay afloat.

“Online sex work is kind of stupid easy. There’s always men who want to give you money to do things,” Cross told LAMag.

However, she also noted she had her partner’s and friends’ support to help her keep her business running and create a productive at-home work environment.

“I worked my ass off to survive and thrive during the pandemic,” she recalls, “but I also had a lot of help and privilege to make it all happen.”

For professional dominatrix and mother of three, Aine Patrick, on the other hand, working remotely was nearly impossible.

“I tried [working from home]. But having three kids at home is not conducive to working online in a place where you need that kind of privacy,” Patrick said. 

After struggling to engage her clients virtually, Patrick decided to take time off to focus on her children’s homeschooling and her own college classes. But in April of 2021, she found out one of the dungeons she used to work at, The Ivy Manor Studios, was shutting down after serving the community for decades. Devastated, Patrick decided to take over the lease from the previous proprietress, Isabella Saint Claire.

“It was so sad. It was really like a gut punch to see so many dungeons closing,” Patrick said. 

The community rallied around her when she decided to open her own BDSM dungeon in the space. Fellow L.A. studios donated furniture and toys. Members of the community came out in droves to help her prepare the space. One of her friends even taught her how to weld, so she could make her own furniture. And, in November 2021, Patrick launched Resonance Studios.

“Literally people were just taking shifts and helping and people were painting and other people were staining crosses for like a good solid two months at least,” Patrick said

Since opening, business has been good for Patrick, and she’s in disbelief that her vision came together.

“It’s too good to be true,” she told us. “Is this really happening already? I’m almost not trusting this is a reality. It’s pretty amazing.” 

But the best part about opening her own business has been seeing her clients up close and personal again: “I missed that interaction and that energy so much. Before the pandemic, I didn’t really know how much I needed this because it’s a job, but I truly enjoy my job.”

This feeling of relief is common for those returning to the BDSM industry after years of hiatus. Pro-dom Mister Shaw also felt overwhelming comfort when he was able to get back to the work he loves.

“It was great. It was great being back in the space. It was just really nice,” Shaw said. “I didn’t realize how much the work meant to me. it’s really important to me. It’s probably the best thing I’ve done in my whole life.”

Mister Shaw poses with rope (courtesy of Mark Dektor)

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