CHAINS AND WHIPS EXCITE ME

12.20.14 10:45 AM ET

Dungeons and Genital Clamps: Inside a Legendary BDSM Chateau

After a turkey-meatloaf dinner, they went down to the dungeon and she undressed, tied her hair up, put on a cat mask and leather collar, and assumed slave position on her knees.

Even before the whip hit, the slave’s fingers curled into a fist. A spandex mask stretched over his face, covering his eyes and nose. His chin rested on the thick plastic collar buckled around his neck. A metal ring accented its front, at the Adam’s apple. Chained to a large X-shaped table, propped up in a standing position with his arms above his head and legs spread, his mouth hung agape waiting for the air to split and the whip to sing.

Jessica Lehrman

The leather tongue lashed out like a streak of hot black lightning. The first lick landed on his testicles. His arms pulled against the chains. His back arched with pleasure.

“Thank you, Mistress.”

And it was as if his body, too, filled with the lightning from the whip—that surge of energy transferred from dominant to submissive that can only be felt, for him, here, in the basement of the small ranch house at the end of a narrow dirt road deep in a groove of the Taconic Mountains east of Albany, New York.

The whip sang again.

“Thank you, Mistress.”

“I just hit it in the same place it was healing from last time,” Mistress Couple said, stepping forward and gently caressing the slave’s genitals. Twenty-eight years old and slim, with short brown hair accentuated by a thick coif on top, her broad smile precedes the rest of her appearance, even when she’s wearing thigh-high leather boots and a tightly-wound black corset. She tugged on the black rope that wrapped around his thighs and torso, her leather gloves creaking with each adjustment. “I like decorating my slaves,” she said, referencing the rope, her thin, crimson-coated lips peeling off her front teeth.

“Right, Destiny?”

“Yes, Mistress,” he replied, obediently.

Upstairs, in the living room, splintered logs of hemlock cackled and spat from inside the wood stove. The main floor of the house boasted the usual makings of a home: a dining room table with four chairs and corresponding placemats, a piano that acted both as an instrument and a bookshelf, a vintage three-seater sofa, dozens of different strands of tea in a cabinet above the stove, a guest room with a private bathroom, and a collection of empty wine bottles, mostly French, opened and shared in the house over the years by Master R, the founder of La Domaine Esemar, the only Bondage, Discipline, Sadomasochism (BDSM) chateau left in the world (and, also, a completely legitimate and legal business, where clients come for erotic, non-intercourse-related services) that specializes not only in dominant/submissive roleplaying and fetishism for paying clients, but also engages in long-term, lifestyle applications of BDSM with specific individuals. His home as well as his place of work, R, who has been running La Domaine since 1993 (and, at 65, has been practicing BDSM as a lifestyle since the 1960s) has publically announced that he will be retiring as owner of the chateau.

“I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always had the crazy idea of having my own S&M chateau and end up retiring up here,” explained R, who, starting this year, has officially passed the whip down to Mistress Couple, who acts as Head Mistress and is currently training mistresses to work under her. She had been living at La Domaine full-time since last summer and, downstairs in the dungeon, was now flogging Slave Destiny—one of ten house slaves at La Domaine—as he bent over a horse’s saddle, his fingers clenched through every stroke of her treatment.

***

During the 1980s and into the early ‘90s, before he started La Domaine, R dedicated his professional life to the study and lecturing of American folk culture and how it pertained to the arts. He spoke at the National Gallery and Yale, among others, but when he met a woman named Madame Sang in 1001, the idea of opening a BDSM chateau with her overshadowed his educational ambitions. “There’s a lot of art educators out there, but there are no BDSM chateaus left. Let’s do that instead,” he said of their mutual decision.

The last legitimate chateau in the world, Le Chateau in Portugal, closed in the ‘80s, and there hadn’t been a high-end, operational chateau in United States since the 1970s. At that time, players in the scene either practiced their fetishism privately or attended a dungeon where the interaction was strictly client-based, with no true lifestyle or educational implications (and not situated in a real home, as “chateau” implies). “[It was basically] a room with no view,” as R metaphorically put it.

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In November 1993, at a different location but in the same geographic area as the current house, La Domaine Esemar officially opened its doors. The company has been operating out of its current location for eight years, with its dungeon expanding and being added to continuously since being opened. There’s roughly $250,000 worth of equipment currently in the dungeon, which extends the entire length of the basement’s foundation and boasts toys and devices for every fetish imaginable: a masturbation vanity; pony, horse and puppy garments; saran wrap; the Dildo Wall of Fame; gas masks; dozens of feet of rope; kitchen implements; a portable toilet; a transformation station for crossdressing; a suspension table with a hydraulic motor and chains hanging from the ceiling; a sex sling; a wax table; more suspension chains with a full length mirror; Vlad the Impaler, the official name for a chair with a motorized butt plug coming out of its seat; knives and daggers of various lengths and shapes; a dreamcatcher of clothespins; a breast crusher with spikes that can be wrenched down and locked into place; a half-dozen leather masks; suction devices; electrical toys; leather and plastic paddles; chains of varying length and weight; purple and green raw-hide floggers; leather barb wire; whips with blood knots at the end; a real eagle claw; shackles and genital clamps; a set of twin beds with a dildo machine; a plastic sheep mask; a fly swatter; a set of wooden stocks; different lengths and gauges of anal beads; handcuffs; butt plugs; clit ticklers; a blood-red cross at the foot of the stairs for crucifixion fetishists (and, with a slave shackled to it, a welcoming decoration for parties and events); a Minnie Mouse dress; eight wigs in four different colors; more whips, canes and rope; a steel ball and chain; a motorized automobile waxing buffer; a wooden box with two holes, one hole for the penis and a larger for the testicles, for the ball-crushing fetishist; a head-box with a curtain for sensory deprivation; a medical room with various surgical instruments and fake blood splattered on the floor; a rotating table shaped like an X; and, according to R on a previous trip to La Domaine, as he reached up to a shelf, the cruelest thing in the dungeon. A feather. “This place brings your monsters to the surface,” he said, opening a small cage underneath the stairs, where slaves are allowed to sleep. “You either deal with them or run from them.”

In 21 years of operation, La Domaine has served over 6,000 clients from over 25 different countries and nearly 500 couples. Currently, upwards of 30 clients are seen per month. “No one else anywhere has had this much experience dealing with couples,” explained R. A couple will usually stay for an entire weekend, like a kinky bed and breakfast, which includes sessions and sexual exploration, meals, and detailed discussion about different techniques and the philosophy behind BDSM as a lifestyle choice. A single client, too, can rent the dungeon for a session with their personal master or mistress, or pay a master or mistress affiliated with La Domaine for a personalized session. Although a home setting, La Domaine operates under the same regulations as other professional BDSM establishments. When money is exchanged between a client and an outlet for fetish services, no sex is allowed, as would cross the line into prostitution (couples who rent the dungeon, however, can have sex with each other, as they are not paying a mistress for services). Over the years, too, Master R has built a large friendship base in the fetish community and has occasional parties where everyone spends the night and mingles in the dungeon.

***

Mistress Couple remembers these parties well. She had first started coming to La Domaine in 2010, while living in Saratoga Springs, after a friend had recommended the venue to her. “I was really sexually inexperienced, really sexually shut down,” she explained. “I didn’t even know if I had had an orgasm yet. I was very confused about my sexuality.” For her first BDSM experience (after failing to gain fulfillment from her then-boyfriend) she had 25-30 people take turns spanking her at a party. Shortly thereafter, she became a personal slave to Master R and Mistress Collette, who was the Head Mistress at the time, and they gave her her official scene name: Couple#69. A professional ballroom dancer and instructor, her name reflects a parallel that runs in both BDSM and dance: symbiosis. Involved with La Domaine on a much more personal level as a slave, she, like the other house and personal slaves, traveled to the chateau a few times per month to serve at the house and learn about her BDSM proclivities (no financial exchange is present for this role, so all consenting adult activities are allowed).

Mistress Couple acted as a slave to R and Collette during that summer, visiting frequently, but moved to New York City (Williamsburg, in fact) in September of that year to pursue her career as a dance instructor. She continued to show her loyalty as a personal slave to R and Collette by following La Domaine’s long-distance protocols, such as asking permission to play with another kinkster, as well as traveling back and spending a weekend at La Domaine once every month.

But when Mistress Collette left her post as Head Mistress and business partner of La Domaine in 2012, Couple’s outlook changed. Her loyalty was torn. Now that Collette had left La Domaine, who was she a slave to, Collette or R? She decided to distance herself from both of them equally and start exploring different facets of BDSM on her own, including dominance, in the New York City scene. She eventually accepted a job as a professional dominatrix at a Manhattan-based dungeon, where she engaged in more basic, lackluster interactions with clients, unlike what she was used to at La Domaine. “The most BDSM activity I got to do was spank someone. It was very rudimentary,” she admitted. Her dance career was taking off, though, and she was now managing a very well-known dance studio in Manhattan. She continued to balance her BDSM life with her professional life and stayed out of contact with Master R and La Domaine for well over a year.

After a stint with a replacement Head Mistress went sour, R seriously considered shutting down La Domaine for good. He didn’t want to train another Head Mistress and certainly didn’t want to continue running the venue by himself. But when Couple got wind of his intentions, she called R and said that she was seriously considering leaving her job at the dance studio (and New York City altogether) to come back to La Domaine. “I couldn’t let that happen,” she said of R’s intentions to close the chateau. “La Domaine meant too much to me. There’s a legacy here, you know?”

With her lease coming to an end, in mid-2013, Couple decided to not only quit dance to pursue BDSM full-time, but to come out publicly (on Facebook) to her friends and family about her double-life and her new lifestyle plans. To her surprise, she was met with nothing but support. “I realized from that one Facebook post,” she said, “that everyone has their own sexuality and their own kinky side. And maybe no one talks about it but everyone has their own quirks.” After a successful summer working alongside R, he officially offered her the reigns of La Domaine. “Some slaves, when they enter into dominance, become very arrogant and particularly destructive,” said R. “I saw that that didn’t exist in Couple. She was on the mark and really saw what was going on, and what this place is really all about. Her inherent modesty is pretty incredible.”

As is custom to La Domaine but sometimes not widely accepted in the commercialized BDSM community, many people who embrace this subculture as a lifestyle start off as a submissive before entering into dominance. And much like Mistress Couple’s own personal history, clients who have developed long-term relationships with La Domaine are able to be accepted as a house or personal slave. Since becoming Head Mistress, she has adopted the current roster of house slaves as her own, some of whom have been loyal to La Domaine for years.

***

Slave Destiny is one of these house slaves who, after being a client for four years, was accepted by Mistress Couple as a house slave last year. A 64-year-old animal trainer, he makes the six-hour round-trip every two weeks to submit to her and explore his sexuality. “When I first met her I felt this tremendous surge of power,” he explained. “I hadn’t felt anything like it. I thought, there is something here—something really dramatic going on.”

Originally integrated (and taught submissive and slave protocols as a paying client) by Master R and Mistress Collette, Destiny explained that he just recently, since coming to La Domaine, was able to freely explore his fetishism, something that he had been suppressing since he was a child. He said, too, that after being accepted as a slave to Mistress Couple, he has made massive strides psychologically. “What Miss Couple has taught me is how deep and meaningful a BDSM relationship can be,” he said. “What this has done for me as a human, the way I have grown as a human being, the depth of feeling that I have discovered was never there before. I had always suppressed it. I always forced myself to be a very strong character and I have discovered a new portion of my life.”

This deep-seeded dedication to submission, and potential subsequent evolution into dominance, is one of the ways that La Domaine sets itself apart from the commercialized BDSM scene in New York City. People are encouraged to experience both sides, traditionally starting as a submissive and moving into a dominant role, to more fully understand the symbiotic nature of the lifestyle, whereas in other parts of the subculture people will adhere to one or the other for superficial reasons rather than trying, over time, to explore the inner-workings of their sexuality and come to a honest consensus about their true nature as a submissive or a dominant.

At La Domaine, submissive is not synonymous with weak. To them, the true mastery of submission (and, in turn, a specific part of one’s sexuality) is to be empowered within the role and be seen by your master as an equal. “I am the Head Mistress at La Domaine,” explained Couple. “I deserve the best slaves and you should be really well-trained, and they are, and they are wonderful people to be around. They are all really responsible. And that’s really important to me.”

***

Another lifestyle facet of La Domaine is their Mistress in Training program. Many young women in the BDSM subculture find their way into a dominant role, whether coming from a submissive standpoint or not. The widespread viewpoint of dominant and submissive fetishism is that females traditionally embody the dominant role. Most if not all professional dungeons offer sessions exclusively with female dominants.

At La Domaine, the Head Mistress is able to take on a small group of select women to train in the physical and psychological techniques necessary to become a successful and fulfilling professional dominatrix. The program costs $200 per month, or some other type of tribute to La Domaine (one woman who couldn’t afford the monetary tribute instead baked bread for the house). To them, this is the most personal of relationships, so the small tribute is just to cover basic expenses for them to be trained. “These are people who really belong here. They are not meant to be the ones we are making our money off of,” explained Master R. “This is so intensely personal that charging them would be wrong.” The program generally takes between a 12 and 18 months to complete (they also offer a three-day training intensive program for $900 to learn the basics of domination). Once students are done the program, they have the opportunity to be employed by the chateau, engage with the house slaves, and build their own client base.

Madame Stella, a 21-year-old biology and Russian major at a private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, is currently enrolled in the program. Originally from Houston, Texas, with a thick blanket of soft brown curls and long eyelashes over brown sugar eyes, Stella has been a kinkster since she was 18, engaging with her own clients as a dominatrix. “I was just doing what I was comfortable with, which was limited, because I didn’t have enough experience,” she said of her personal exploration before coming to La Domaine. Originally being approached back in January by Master R on FetLife, a popular kinkster social networking website, Stella visited La Domaine for the first time and transitioned into the training program a month later. “I thought I could progress in a much quicker pace and in much more meaningful ways if I was here,” she explained. “They are personally invested in my growth not only as a dominatrix but as a kinkster and a person.”

Although she visited on weekends from campus, after the school year let out in May, Stella stayed at La Domaine full-time for the summer to fully immerse herself in the training program, as well as helping out in all aspects of the business, from client scheduling to cooking food and taking care of the dungeon. Stella’s personal journey in the training program also involves understanding the position of a submissive, and she often assumes the role of a slave to become more well-versed on the symbiotic relationship she will need to cultivate with future clients and personal slaves alike. “It gives you an extra layer of information, of emotional and sensory input to draw from if you have been on that side,” explained Mistress Couple. “I find that, a lot of the times, it is easier for me to identify with my submissives because I can sense an energy in them that I felt in myself before. I am able to sense something that I recognize whereas someone who has only been a dominant might be missing those signals.”

“The psychology of BDSM is lacking in other formal training regiments and interactions,” added Stella. “Protocols have specific meanings behind them, rather than do what I say because I say so,” she added. “The depth and meaning behind it is what’s missing from the BDSM community at large.”

And, so, after a turkey-meatloaf dinner, when Couple asked Stella to follow her down to the dungeon, take off her clothes, tie her hair up, put on a cat mask and leather collar, and assume the role of Slave Puss ‘n’ Boots; the gentle, soft spoken trainee obliged, neatly folding her black blouse and flamingo-pink bra on the vanity adjacent the slave cage under the stairs, which, ironically, had a well-worn pillow coated in leopard print tucked into the far corner, against the vertical metal bars.

After tightening her collar, Stella assumed slave posture: on her knees, legs slightly spread, palm resting face-up on her thighs. Her shoulders hung relaxed, her back straight.

“Follow me,” said Mistress Couple.

“Yes, Mistress.”

Couple walked towards the opposite end of the dungeon, where she previously played with Destiny. Stella followed, crawling on her hands and knees. She reassumed slave posture while Couple grabbed two magnetized clamps and a collection of circular magnets from a nearby shelf. She came back, bent down, and secured the clamps to Stella’s nipples. She sat in silence as the clamps bit into her skin.

“I’m going to do kitty training,” announced Couple, scattering the magnets on the floor. She finished and hooked a chain leash to Stella’s collar. “The better she does,” she said, rubbing the skin around the clamps, “the heavier it gets.” Couple guided Stella as she crawled and dipped her chest to pick up each magnet. With each addition, her nipples sank under the weight. After the last magnet was retrieved, she assumed slave posture and waited for Couple to unclasp the clamps. Couple removed the weights and continued the session further. She wanted to use a short whip on her.

Targeting her upper back, Couple sat cross-legged on a table while she whipped her slave. With every stroke, her leather boot creaked under the weight of her leg. She smiled, too, her incisors creeping out from behind her lips. Crack. Crack. Crack. Stella’s back began to rise and blister, puffy and red.

“Please Mistress. Show mercy.”

Couple walked over, bent down, and embraced Stella. They sat there, holding one another. With her hand on the side of her face, Couple leaned down and kissed the wounds on Stella’s back.

Stella smiled. “Thank you, Mistress.”