“Slap yourself in the balls, loser,” Akara Fang commands to a voice on speakerphone. She’s in her early twenties, with a slender nose and cyan-hued hair that hangs around her face in glossy sheets. With her pale complexion and high, sloping forehead, she looks a bit like the subject of a pre-Raphaelite portrait, as if Rossetti had taken a fangirl at a Paramore concert as his muse.
The man on the other line emits a dry, high-pitched exhalation, somewhere between a sob and a squeal. Akara throws her head back and laughs, revealing pearly pink gums.
“Harder,” she demands. “Do it again or I’m gonna ...
He cries harder, his breathing more ragged. “No,” he pleads. “No.”
“Are you crying?” Akara asks. She titters, covering her mouth with one hand like a cartoon schoolgirl.
Although the clip, “Blackmailing Kevin and Making Him Cry,” is available on the fetish website Kinkbomb for $11.99, those unwilling to purchase the full version can read a detailed précis on Akara Fang Reviews (NSFW), a blog devoted to Fang's fetish clips. According to the author of the summary (a gentleman who goes by the handle “Scifi Loser”), Kevin, the owner of the panicked voice on speakerphone, had filled out a consensual “blackmail” form, which allowed Fang, a professional dominatrix, to reveal his personal information online. When he asked Fang to void the form a week later, she posted a clip of their conversation on her website, which showed her demanding that Kevin complete a series of humiliating assignments and divorce his wife in recompense. “For those of us who delight in watching a domme cruelly ruin a sub’s life — deconstructing his existence in slow motion — this clip is as good as it gets,” Scifi Loser gushingly concludes his review.
To the casual observer, “Blackmailing Kevin and Making Him Cry,” as well as Scifi Loser’s response, prompts a lot of questions. For starters: Who is Kevin, and why would he allow himself to be exposed in such a spectacular fashion by a total stranger? Who is Fang, and why would she encourage Kevin to do so? And, perhaps most interesting of all, who is Scifi Loser, and why would he deem the streaming collapse of another person’s well being a “delight” that’s “as good as it gets”?
As it turns out, Scifi Loser is not the only fan of “Blackmailing Kevin and Making Him Cry”; the clip was hugely popular on the fetish website Kinkbomb, reaching #1 on its top sellers list last fall. What’s more, says Fang, the unfortunate star of the video was forced to sell a pizza franchise to buy out of his contract with her.
“What’s funny is that he came to me again months later, lol,” she told me via Yahoo! Instant Messenger. “I still do sessions with him now.”
Akara Fang and Kevin are practitioners of a fetish known as financial domination, or findom. Financial domination is a sub-fetish related to BDSM, in which a submissive (otherwise known as a sub, usually a man) is sexually aroused by the thought of “tributing” a dominant (otherwise known as a domme, usually a woman) by sending her money and gifts, expecting no sexual favors in return (consensual blackmail, in which the sub is aroused by the idea of the domme exposing his sexual proclivities to his friends and family, sometimes accompanies the fetish). Often, subs are expected to subsidize a domme's entire lifestyle, paying her bills and rent and buying her groceries. Findom websites offer a glimpse at the colorful terminology for subs, such as “money slaves,” “cash cows,” “pay pigs,” and “human ATMs,” while dommes are referred to as “mistress,” “queen,” “princess,” or “goddess.”
Fang, who refers to herself on her website as a “humiliatrix without peer or precedent,” has been dabbling in financial domination since November 2011 (few dommes practice financial domination in isolation, and often cater to a slew of other fetishes). Like many successful online dommes, she has a thriving social media presence, and is constantly tweeting about her love for video games, comic books, and the Second Amendment (her blog features a banner of her in a zebra-print bikini with a double-barrel shotgun, accompanied by the caption “From my cold dead hands”).
“Blackmailing Kevin and Making Him Cry” is one of Fang’s best-known clips. Although she is quick to note that Kevin is her only blackmail sub, and that she did not actually follow through with many of the threats made in the video — “technically I didn’t actually make him divorce his wife, I threatened and teased him that I would make him do that” — she and the other findommes I spoke with for this piece humiliate, threaten, extort, demean and emasculate submissives, all for the sub’s enjoyment.
Of course, pain and degradation are inherent to BDSM, and in many respects financial domination is no different from many other BDSM fetishes; it often overlaps with other kinks, including foot fetishes, erotic hypnosis and enforced chastity. Yet through practices like wallet draining, wallet rape, ATM draining or TeamViewer sessions, in which dommes log into subs’ bank accounts via remote computer access software, findommes take humiliation to an entirely different level. “One of the primary tenets of BDSM is that people want to be hurt,” financial domme Anastasia (not her real name) tells me. “This is a very particular way in which people want to be hurt.”
Although findom practices vary widely from domme to domme, most of the dommes I spoke with interact with submissives via BDSM social networking services like Dommedose and Kinkbomb, where they arrange individual cam sessions for an initial tribute (there are also thousands of findom videos on YouTube, many of which feature dommes counting their money or showing off gifts they’ve received from subs). From there, subs are expected to send ever-larger tributes to attract dommes’ attentions, from $25 Amazon gift cards to thousands of dollars in one session. Submissives are also encouraged to buy gifts from dommes’ Amazon wishlists. The items on these lists vary widely in price and glamor: Fang’s, for instance, includes a lilac and lace bustier, a bottle of black nail polish, and a silicone potato masher.
To those in the vanilla world, the relationship between a financial domme and a sub doesn’t seem that far removed from that of a sugar baby and a sugar daddy, or a mistress whose lavish lifestyle is subsidized by a wealthy, older male. Dr. Sue Storm, the host of Canadian BDSM podcast In Bed With Dr. Sue, says the distinction between the two arises from the lack of physical intimacy between the domme and the sub. “Sugar babies are kept in beautiful condos and are showered with gifts and they reciprocate with sex, whereas the financial domme does not,” says Storm. “With a sugar baby, she’s just there, ready, whenever you want her. With the financial domme, it’s the other way around.”
Unlike sugar daddies, financial submissives are not necessarily in a higher socioeconomic bracket than their dommes. Many dommes say their slaves range from well-off older males to college kids working minimum-wage jobs. “Wealthier men are more likely to be into financial domination, but there are a lot of poor fin subs also,” Fang says. Domme Kyaa, a financial domme who is currently the highest earner on Kinkbomb, agrees: “It’s financial domination whether you’re taking 5 dollars from someone who works at McDonald’s or taking 500 dollars from some CEO. It’s all about the sacrifice and having to spend more than is comfortable.”
Most financial dommes do not do “real-time” domination — meaning they rarely, if ever, meet their subs face to face. As is the case with any online subculture, this shroud of anonymity creates the conditions for a veritable kink playground, where dommes are free to adopt any persona they like. With her cyan-colored hair and professed interest in gaming and comic books, Fang draws in more introverted, nerdier subs.
By contrast, the doe-eyed, honey-voiced Anastasia plays more of a femme fatale role, gently convincing subs to open their wallets. "I don't need your money, I want your money," she purrs in the introduction video on her YouTube channel, her gaze caressing the camera's lens. "Because I simply deserve the best." By her own admission, Anastasia has created this high-maintenance persona to attract wealthier, more intelligent subs, despite the fact that it bears no resemblance to her actual personality. “I live a very quiet life. Lots of reading and gardening,” she says. “Anastasia, on the other hand, buys top shelf liquor every night and is constantly manipulating men.” For her, the findom community is entirely predicated on illusion, a smutty facsimile of the materialistic values that hold sway over mainstream society. “Nothing is being bought save an image, an idea,” she says. “With other domme work, no matter what anyone says, I'm selling services. With straight findom, it's like the ultimate branding.”
For subs and dommes alike, it’s this blurring of reality and fantasy, the lack of distinction between hazy fantasies of submission and the harsh truths of an ever-whittling bank account, that makes financial domination so appealing — and so disturbing to outsiders. Unlike most workers in the industry, financial dommes are selling a service less tangible than straight-up sex, which has led many to label them as lazy con artists. "We are usually portrayed as scamming prostitutes,” Miss Pinky Galore, a financial domme who also works as the administrator of findom website Greedy Snobs, tells me. “Which, ironically enough, is a good thing to those men who ‘get off’ on being scammed.”
Even in the world of online BDSM, where pretty much anything goes as long as it’s safe and consensual — enforced chastity, cock-and-ball torture, even fart fetishes — there’s an element of financial domination that strikes many as unsavory or taboo. “No one talks about it, and no one really wants to talk about it,” says Storm. “[Because] whenever you’re talking about anything in the BDSM world, it always comes back to an exchange of power and control. Well, what’s the biggest thing that you can take control over? One is [another person’s] medical care. The other is their finances. Whenever you talk money, people freak out.”
Pinky Galore concurs: “Money can hurt a lot harder than a whip sometimes. It’s a very sexy and powerful weapon.”
Jesse (not his real name), a thirty-two-year-old law school graduate and former finsub, knows this better than most submissives do. He has been involved with the findom community for more than ten years, having stumbled on the fetish as a college student cruising the BDSM Yahoo chatroom Dungeon 9. “In those days, you paid [findommes] to dominate you, but you got the sense that they did it for fun anyway,” Jesse says. “They were experienced, and when you went on cam with them you knew what was coming. It was a very clear dynamic, and that’s part of the reason I was drawn to it.”
For Jesse, the urge to be financially dominated was only partially sexual: “A lot of these women are great for companionship. They’re intelligent, good listeners. They’re selling not just the sexual element, but also themselves.” Yet he also enjoyed the tangible evidence of losing control that financial domination provided him with. “During sessions, dommes associate the exchange of funds with orgasm, so it becomes a sexual trigger in itself,” he explains. “You may start off with very low tributes, like fifty dollars or a hundred dollars, and then slowly, to feel like you’re being more dominated and get more of that high, you give them more money.”
During his time in the findom community, Jesse was what was referred to as a “community slut,” meaning he was not owned by one domme and instead served many of them. Fortunately, his involvement in financial domination did not put a significant dent in his lifestyle or cause him to go into debt. “It helped that I had a bit of a monastic existence to begin with,” he says. “I wasn’t going out to shows or nice places for dinner or anything like that. I was just spending my money on these women.”
Jesse left the findom community last fall. He developed a medical condition as the result of forced intoxication, a fetish in which the submissive enjoys the loss of self-control brought on by alcohol consumption. “When I first started binge drinking, I thought it was 10 times as fun,” he says. “I was able to lose myself in the subspace, that period where the sub is completely lost in the submissive role and loses a sense of their identity.” Drinking heavily during cam sessions enhanced the findom experience, but also made him more likely to spend as much as $1500 in one session. “I would wake up the next day and literally not know how much I spent,” he says. “It was very scary.”
During this time, Jesse had developed an intolerance to a chastity device a domme had instructed him to wear for two weeks, which nearly led to penile edema. After he quit drinking in September, he went on cam with a domme he had previously tributed, and became frustrated when she repeatedly urged him to drink during their session. “There was no sense of, ‘Well, how’s the fin sub really feeling?’ or ‘What’s he going through right now?’” he says. “A lot of it is about pushing boundaries and trying to raise the ante, but [her behavior] made me very uncomfortable.”
Since Jesse left the findom scene, he has only suffered one relapse: he gave money to a woman he refers to as his best friend, a longtime financial domme. His health has improved since he quit drinking, and he started dating a woman (they broke up when he told her about his fetish). Although he says he feels a lot of “guilt and shame” over his actions, he is quick to note that he has no desire to assign responsibility for his actions on any of the dommes he gave money to: “I don’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, these horrible evil women made me do this,’ because they’re not bad women,” he says. “Obviously part of me wanted to do this for myself.”
The one aspect of his findom lifestyle he feels the most guilt over, however, is not how the findommes’ behavior negatively affected his life; it’s how his behavior might’ve negatively affected theirs. “It’s hard to make heads or tails of who’s exploiting who in this situation, the dommes or the subs,” he says. “I think if anything, I would be the sleazeball in this dynamic, because even though I was paying them money I don’t know if I did a service to them. I just keep asking myself, did I help these women in any way by keeping them in business? I think I did them a huge disservice.”
When I started researching this piece, I immediately found out that what Storm said was true: no one, not even financial dommes, really wants to talk about financial domination. I reached out to dozens of dommes and submissives I had found on YouTube, Twitter, Kinkbomb and fin-dommes.com. Although I received many responses, most of them bordered on suspicious or even aggressive. “How do we know you’re not some loser looking for free jerk-off material?” one wrote. I had failed to realize that these women charged hundreds of dollars for twenty minutes of their time, a privilege that I was expecting them to give me for free. Of course they would assume that anyone who approached them directly, without cash in hand, was a loser trying to game the system.
I had also failed to realize exactly how much stigma was attached to the findom community, due in part to the influx of so-called “insta-dommes” who wish to cash in on the fetish "without understanding the psychology,” Storm says. “They just want to take the money and run.” The flood of insta-dommes within the community has perturbed some of the more experienced dommes, who complain that newbies are more interested in the material aspects of the lifestyle rather than domination for domination's sake. “You have women that see all these advertisements by [dommes] claiming to make thousands of dollars a week," Fang says. "They think the world is overflowing with men ready to hand them their money if they put up an advertisement and have a pretty face."
After I had proved, through a variety of social media platforms, that I was who I claimed to be (i.e., a female journalism student from NYU, who did not even have a passing interest in masturbating on camera), I encountered a series of other obstacles. One woman refused to speak with me unless I purchased a copy of her self-published memoir. The manager of one domme I reached out to denied access to his client on the grounds that I had already talked to someone else in the community, whom he considered a fraud. However, he did give me the name of a woman whom he deemed a “real deal” domme: Goddess Kyaa.
A twenty-five year-old based in Oregon, Kyaa is a leggy strawberry blonde whose gap-toothed smile brings to mind a nerdier, more sylph-like Britt Eklund. She discovered financial domination five years ago, after she had moved back to the States from New Zealand. She had just dropped out of university, and she was “looking around for a way to make money off of looking hot and not taking my clothes off.” Without a bank account or a support network of any kind, Kyaa responded to a Craigslist ad offering to pay her $50 to make a video with three other women, where they taunted the viewer and spit in a cup on camera.
The women told her they were involved in something called financial domination. Kyaa was stunned when they explained what the fetish entailed. “I understood a guy wanting to get off on being humiliated, or any of the other many, many fetishes I’ve gotten into,” Kyaa said when we talked on Skype a few weeks ago. “But financial domination tends to be the one that still is like – I dunno. I guess I’ve come to understand the idea of the power exchange, the idea that giving up money is power.”
Kyaa signed up for Clipsforsale, a pornographic file-sharing network, and Niteflirt, where she posted videos of herself “looking like a well-off woman: pantyhose, nice dresses.” In the clips, she spent clients’ money on-camera, and crumpled hundred-dollar bills under stiletto heels while laughing in their faces. Within a month, she had enough money to pay her rent and establish a life for herself in Portland, where she currently lives with her girlfriend and their Savannah cat.
Kyaa rebuffs the notion that she mistreats her subs, or that any of them are addicted to financial domination. “What are you addicted to? Jerking off?” she says. “You can jerk off for free.” She also rejects Jesse’s assertion that dommes are exploited, claiming she is a “consenting sadistic adult doing things with consenting sadistic adults.” “I’m not getting on someone’s case, I’m not nagging or hunting anyone down while they’re just innocently trying to sit there,” she says. “They go online. They find pictures of me. It turns them on. They pay me.”
She does admit, however, that occasionally she has to set limits for herself and for her customers. Unlike Akara Fang, she refuses to practice blackmail, saying, “it’s all well and good in a James Bond movie, but it’s against the law" (according to Fang, the practice is technically illegal, even when it is consensual). Kyaa also acknowledges “there’s a fine line to play when you’re messing around with guys who want to spend heaps of money on you…but at the same time you accept that they’re adults, and what they do on their end is their responsibility.”
Although Kyaa says she is “constantly surprised by how many guys want to send me money for doing nothing,” saying she does “nothing” is an understatement. She works six days a week maintaining her website and shooting custom-made clips for her subs, who she stays in constant communication with. Since she started working as a financial domme five years ago, she has only taken one break. After her little brother passed away last April, she took a few months off to grieve, informing one of her subs that she would be unable to make any clips for him during this time. “I thought human being to human being, he could understand where I’m coming from,” Kyaa says. “[But] he flipped out.” He proceeded to defame her on Twitter, calling her a bitch and a whore; a few months later, he approached her with a substantial tribute, begging for her to take him back as a sub.
I ask Kyaa if encountering someone like that has ever made her want to leave her profession for a more traditional, albeit less high-paying, job. She snorts derisively. “I grew up without power or water,” she says. “We had to boil water to take a bath… When you make $5 a minute for laughing at some guy as he jerks off, do you really want to go back to making $10 an hour slinging coffee?”