A sex worker from the fairly unknown end of the industry talks about her position of privilege and people’s misconceptions of masochism
When we think of BDSM sex workers we often think of the omnipotent dominatrix, workers who offer dominant services, from inflicting pain to safe-space issued humiliation. London-based worker Louisa Knight provides services on the other end of the kink spectrum. A professional-submissive, she’s one of a growing number of women offering submissive services in the UK — rather than being the one to wield the whip, she’s on the receiving end of its stinging arc.
Despite informing me that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ session (“define typical?”) her clients’ interests include impact play (such as spanking); bondage; and sensory deprivation. And each session is bookended with “a lot” of pre-communication – discussing what the client is looking for, their limits, her limits, and what services she offers – and a debrief with food and drink and talk. “I don’t just do kink in an hour,” she says. “If they’re looking for something snappier, I’m not the person they need.”
Knight entered the industry when she was 23. “Always kinky and relaxed about sex with different people,” her natural intrigue, mixed with a lack of baggage, led her to an escort agency, where she had access to a safe space and equipment – there are a lot of overheads in kink – as well as other workers who volunteered advice and “best practice”. A year later she left the agency and went solo, quitting her 9-5 marketing job.
When I meet Knight in a coffee shop on the Regent’s Canal she’s a blaze of sass and giggles. When she laughs, which is frequent, everyone looks over; when she bites her tongue, it’s impossible not to. There are hints of Louisa Knight the worker, glimpses of the playful submissive behind the eyes, but she remains hidden, waiting to be awakened by a session. We speak about the cultural framing of a pro-submissive, the privilege of being a white worker, and the concept of “topping from the bottom”.
Hi Louisa. Why did you go straight into the industry as a pro-submissive?
Louisa Knight: It was the direction that my sexuality ran in, it’s lined up with my own kinks, and it was more appealing to me. It seemed more diverse on a day-to-day basis, compared to what you might call a GFE (Girlfriend Experience) encounter.
In your own words how does a pro-sub differ from being a pro domme?
Louisa Knight: Broadly speaking, pro-subbing is characterised by receiving. To use a dancing metaphor, the dominant would lead and the submissive would follow. But it differs in the way it’s framed culturally, and it differs in the amount of people offering it, and the sexual nature of what’s being offered [a lot of dominatrix don’t offer penetrative sex, though most pro-subs do].
What do you mean when you say it differs in the way it’s framed culturally?
Louisa Knight: There’s a more widely recognised and understood conception of a dominatrix. I can think of so many films, TV shows, music videos and graphic novels where there’s a nod to the aesthetics of a dominatrix: PVC and knee high boots. It’s very much in the visual culture, and fits into a broader cultural landscape. As a result the dominatrix and the services she offers are more acceptable to people because they associate female domination with power. They feel comfortable with it because they can go, “Look, she’s strong. She’s in charge. She’s emancipated.” She’s making a choice.
“The dominatrix and the services she offers are more acceptable to people because they associate female domination with power” – Louisa Knight
The pro-submissive on the other hand – because of people’s misunderstanding of kink and longstanding misconceptions of submission and masochism being indicative of something pathological in your characters – is easily aligned with the role of the victim. This is then associated with drug abuse and economic desperation and the notion that they’re being forced and this force is then portrayed as the opposite of choice. They’re the two narratives of sex work, binaries that bang up against each, but people would rather identify with the powerful one than the victimhood one.
But you’re not a victim. You’re actually the one with all the power, right?
Louisa Knight: A pro-submissive session is similar to what’s happening when you go to see immersive theatre or performance art. You go into this space that has been created, it’s very atmospheric and you’re able to lose yourself in the experience because you know it is a held space. The moment you thought it wasn’t safe to lose yourself there, you would feel less inclined to do so. Facilitating that is the skill of any kind of pro-kink.
And to undermine that skill, that agency of the worker, and to give them object status, suggests they don’t have a say over the kind of work they’re doing or the meeting place [which Knight does]. Conversely, especially for those who are learning to be dominant, I will actually top from the bottom, which is a very subtle form of guidance. If someone is missing me with an impact implement, for instance, I’ll move my body into a certain position so they won’t fuck it up and they get their eye in a bit.
“I’m going to be conversationally assertive to make them conscious of that fact that I am their equal”
I’m guessing most of your clients know this though, that you’re creating a facade?
Louisa Knight: You’d be surprised how many people contact me initially and switch into this dominant mode in their correspondence. I can’t bear that because, as you’ve said, it suggests they can’t tell the difference, and I won’t meet with those people. In all pre-communication and up until we’re in the scene [when she is playing the part of the submissive] I’m not going to be submissive, I’m going to be conversationally assertive to make them conscious of that fact that I am their equal and that the framing of the fantasy is one thing but that it’s important that we can differentiate between real life and a fantasy space.
I don’t want to get too binary about it because that character [of the submissive] is alive and that is me and I would hope that my clients have the capacity to understand that multiplicity.
Other interviews with pro-subs have leaned heavy on the safety element (because of the use of restraints or impact play, for example). Do you find that patronizing?
Louisa Knight: A lot of this speaks to a lack of understanding about sexual violence and the working conditions of sex workers. I am a super privileged sex worker. I’m white, I’m middle class, I’m cis, I’m British, and I work indoors and I screen my clients. As a result I do not face the levels of violence that workers that are forced to work alone do, people who are subjected to police brutality, migrant workers, trans workers, all of those people face far greater vulnerability because of their marginality than I do. And those structures are much more violent than a flogger. And they are a much less convenient for people to think about, so it is easy to get fixated on safety in a misplaced sense when, in reality, there are a lot of other people who are far less safe than me because of those structures.
“I do not face the levels of violence that workers that are forced to work alone do, people who are subjected to police brutality, migrant workers, trans workers, all of those people face far greater vulnerability” – Louisa Knight
I appreciate being a pro-sub is nothing new (this article in the Village Voice dates back to 2006) but it does seem to be getting more airtime in terms of people offering the service. Why do you it’s becoming more popular?
Louisa Knight: People are more open to a wide variety of sexual experiences now and as a result there are more people willing to try new things. People just contact me with an interest to try it for the sake of it. And from a market forces perspective, once one or two people start offering a service it becomes more visible to other workers and they offer it too and once it’s evident there’s a market for something, people start to sell it.