Bonding—a Netflix original show about the adventures of a dominatrix paying her way through grad school and her small, ginger, comedian GBF—recently aired its second season and I, having just finished New Girl for the third time, decided to watch. In one episode, the two main characters take over for their domme mentor, Mistress Myra, running a session with her personal client, MJP. They use his credit card to buy themselves expensive lingerie as his mistress gives him commands over the phone; they talk suggestively in his ear about how much of his hard-earned money they’re going to spend; they flounce around reading off absurdly high price tags. It soon becomes clear that this client isn’t interested in physical bondage, but financial domination, or findom—a fetish wherein a submissive partner takes pleasure in giving his dominant monetary power.
Financial domination isn’t a new phenomenon, but its status as the girl-next-door’s side gig is. Because findom doesn’t require physical touch or even proximity, it flourishes online. Hundreds of tweets per hour and over a million posts on Instagram using the #findom hashtag show that social media essentially operates as an advertising platform. Some financial dommes utilize Twitter functions to earn money, playing “retweet games” in which their submissive partner pledges to send a certain amount of money per interaction a tweet receives. As a result, findom has emerged from obscurity and followed in the footsteps of sugar babying and OnlyFans as “trendy” sex work. And, just like these two avenues, its adoption by inexperienced individuals looking to make a quick buck has been subject to lambasting by social media critics.
Some dommes even insist that financial domination exists in a separate sphere from female domination (commonly known as femdom), and others have made efforts to guard financial domination from the threat of “fake findommes.” The Findom Discord requires proof of prior work in order to join as a financial dom and proof of previously sent tributes to access as a financial sub. While this may be a roadblock to findom newcomers, it also ensures that anybody using the platform has a measure of experience and dedication to the craft. Rendering sex work exclusionary by precluding newcomers is harmful, but so is practicing BDSM without knowing how it works. Inclusivity is important in BDSM—offering an open and welcoming environment for exploring kink regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or ability—but so is upholding a standard of mutual consent and satisfaction.
Sophia Supreme, a professional femdomme and financial dominatrix who has been practicing for five years, says that there are both positives and negatives to the rising role of social media in the realm of findom: “I think it made it easier for subs to find us…but it also gave ‘fake’ dommes easier access to subs who are just starting in this world, which can result in a really nasty situation where subs get scammed and lose trust in real dommes.”
For those who see their bodies commodified and commercialized without their consent on a daily basis, especially women and queer folks, it can be tempting to cash in on that commodification without doing research first. I would be lying if I told you that I haven’t considered yelling at men on the internet for money—but that’s not what financial domination is. Getting paid just to be an asshole to somebody seems too good to be true because it is. According to Sophia, who works 10-12 hours a day for 6-7 days a week and sets daily financial targets, financial domination is hard work; as her website says, “It might be your fantasy, but it’s MY lifestyle.” She adds that financial domination as a fetish, much like the bulk of BDSM, is emotionally fraught. Describing many of the submissive partners she meets as having “anxious attachment” and/or “sensitivity to rejection,” she emphasizes that it’s important to be aware of the psychological factors involved in financial domination. “If we cannot help our subs to overcome these anxieties, a sub can be put in a really difficult mental situation, like not feeling good enough, not being loved, etc., which could trigger trauma… Not knowing how to talk to a sub and not knowing the psychological impact it could have on a particular sub can be extremely dangerous.” Her sentiments are echoed by numerous findommes using Twitter as a platform to share their frustrations. One user, @jackedbarbie, simply tweeted “FINDOM IS NOT QUICK CASH” repeated five times. One response, following the same format, shouts “TAKE CARE OF YOUR SUBS.”
The consensus among pro dommes seems to be that the version of financial domination we see on Twitter is often a bastardization of what experienced financial dommes do. In an article for The Independent last November, an anonymous submissive described this dichotomy, explaining that “there is a stark difference between a financial dominatrix and a mean girl demanding money… The former is in fact much much rarer, despite many declaring that they are one.”
The difference between what Sophia does and what Bonding portrays and what pro-dommes object to on Twitter comes down to caution. What really stands out about Bonding’s representation of findom has nothing to do with Tiff or her redheaded sidekick. It happens in scenes where Mistress Myra and MJP are alone—intimate scenes, but ones where no active domination is happening. They have frequent heart-to-heart conversations and show that they care for each other, maintaining a rapport that is both professional and compassionate. Mistress Myra’s goal is not to drain MJP dry or bankrupt him, but to provide a service in exchange for payment. Theatrical as it is, Bonding’s portrayal emphasizes the long-standing relationship between domme and sub, built on mutual trust.
In our interview, Sophia clarified that she has nothing against new dommes. “I started as a new domme once. The only thing I find extremely frustrating are the girls who act like they have been in the scene for ten years with one month of experience… I believe that, if you want to succeed in this world, either in findom or in femdom, you must educate yourself on the psychological and physical impact you might have on a submissive.” For her, responsible financial domination means checking in on her subs, not pushing them on bad days, and working to make kink positive for both parties involved.
It’s difficult to approach the question of where protecting those that may be vulnerable ends and gatekeeping begins. As an outsider to the femdom and findom communities, it’s not a query I can answer, only a pattern of Twitter discourse that I can observe. Everybody has the right to use, control, orchestrate, manipulate, adapt, and shape their own bodies and lives. But when kink is used as a tool to take advantage of others, that’s not empowering anyone.
By Eliza Rudalevige
Illustration by Emma Baynes