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You Can't Do Bondage Over Zoom. Here's How a Pro Dominatrix Works From Home

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"Daddy" An Li is a professional dominatrix based in Los Angeles. Like many sex workers, she has been transitioning to work behind the webcam. (Courtesy of An Li)

Sex workers come in all forms. An Li is the kind where you’ll really hurt the next day. “I’m very grounded in physical sensations,” she said. “I like touching someone. I like hearing someone make noises. I like tying people up. I have one guy I've seen for many years who I literally just whip.”

An Li is a professional dominatrix in Los Angeles. She has been doing this work professionally, full-time, for six years. In-person appointments make up two-thirds of her income. She said that’s typical in her line of sex work.

“That's the classic style of domination,” she said. “It requires going to a dungeon or some kind of play space and dominating something in person.”

But in the age of the coronavirus, all that income is gone.

When An Li had to cancel her in-person appointments, she wasn’t sure how to translate her particular form of artistry online.

“Bondage is something that could just literally never happen online,” she said. “It takes too much skill.”

The internet is flooded with a lot of sex workers in the same situation. In fact, that’s where I found Li: on Twitter. She linked to a blog post about having to adjust to a new reality, where she wrote: “Now don’t get me wrong — I haven’t played all week and have been absolutely itching to tear into flesh. But for the sake of our current climate, I will be abstaining until further notice.”

But that means working on the same platforms as sex workers who specialize in digital content.

“Now that everyone's on it — I'm saying like everyone is on it — the competition is a lot higher,” she said. “A lot of my regulars haven't been calling. Some of them just don't want to have an internet trace at all.”

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Also, An Li said many of her clients are older men. “They're a little bit more reticent to learning online skills,” she said. “Which is fine. At some point, they're going to have to learn depending on how long this quarantine situation goes on for."

For clients who dare to venture online, Li can dominate over Skype.

“A lot of people are making coronavirus themed videos or like quarantine type videos,” she said. “I've started doing that type of content as well. Just because it's timely.”

An Li adjusted her schtick to be more of a psychological experience. She sent me a clip from one of her homemade videos, called “I’m Your Only Friend,” in which she taunts a client for being socially isolated.

“I love laughing at people,” she said. “I can have an incredibly cruel humor. It's not my specialty, though.”

A screenshot from one of An Li's online sessions. (Courtesy of An Li)

An Li also does phone sex, and produces fetish-themed videos to post online.

But it’s hard to get people to pay for that content. Pornhub even made it’s Premium service free during the coronavirus epidemic.

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“It is kind of crappy to up and change my entire business over the course of a couple weeks, like something that I've been building for years,” she said. “And on the other hand, this is just kind of the brutal kick in the ass to make everyone be like, well, listen, now, you know, you have to deal with the internet. This is how you have to make your money now.”

Countless factors are affecting people’s desire to pay for sexy online content right now — unemployment, anxiety, feeling trapped in your house all day. But since the country is physically distancing indefinitely, An Li said, “At a certain point everyone's going to get online if they want it enough.”

And she’ll be ready.

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