It’s early September, and dominatrix Lady Pim has a submissive client restrained in the corner of her dungeon. For the past 20 minutes or so, she’s been poking and prodding with an assortment of different instruments—paddles, whips, an evil-looking wand—while degrading the sub with a barrage of filthy comments. He squirms with pleasure, limbs bound to four corners of a St. Andrew’s cross. Pim sensually adjusts her latex gloves, preparing for the next stage of the encounter. But before the session continues, the sub nervously speaks up.
“My mask is slipping under my nose,” he says. “Could you, maybe, adjust it…please?”
To see Lady Pim, the sub agreed to wear a mask. Pim wears masks too. Before the sub entered The Ritual Chamber he agreed to a temperature check and hand sanitizer. Pim’s gloves, while easily fitting with the rest of her skin-tight outfit, are also a safety precaution. This is the reality of sex work during plague times.
COVID-19 has impacted every business in ways we couldn’t have imagined last year. Due to its intimate nature, the adult industry has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. As things gradually start to open back up, sex-positive spaces—dungeons, erotic resorts, and swingers clubs—are attempting to provide safe services without killing the mood. Mastering that balance is the future of their industry.
Before lockdown, Lady Pim would see multiple clients a week. A typical session would involve various forms of torture and humiliation, with Pim and her patrons getting up close and extremely personal. A sense of trust and safety has been crucial for these sessions to work. The onset of the coronavirus took that away. In March, it became clear to the dominatrix that in-person visits needed to stop. Things would end up staying that way for months.
“The majority of my income was coming from in-person domination sessions,” Pim says. “It was a huge blow. I had an online following and thought I could make a bit of money throughout that time, but I was nervous about it.”
Pim was able to turn followers on her social media into customers. At first, that meant domination sessions via Skype. Later, that meant paying top dollar for custom videos where Pim would fulfill requests ranging from dirty-talk about male chastity cages to sweat-soaked workout sessions. She’s also sold nudes. For Pim, online work was a natural extension of her persona. Many in the industry weren’t as fortunate. Being an online dominatrix didn’t play to the same skills they’d cultivated in dungeons and at the clubs.
“The pivot worked out pretty well for me. That hasn’t been the case for other people in my industry,” she says. “Some folks who didn’t already have a following online or weren’t as natural in front of the camera—despite being great at their jobs—are having a hard time. And they’ve been trying to find ways to do in-person work without risking their health.”
For the dominatrix’s peers, that has meant securing negative COVID tests, contact history, and recent travel information before booking sessions. But others haven’t been in the financial position to turn down any in-person work, regardless of their safety concerns.
During the summer, Lady Pim began seeing clients again with her aforementioned safety regulations in place, but the recent second wave of COVID cases has forced her to take services exclusively online once again.
“I think everybody is just trying to figure it out as best they can,” she said.
Desire Resorts, an adult-oriented all-inclusive in Mexico catering to open-minded couples, have begun advertising to guests that they’re open for business and desperate to win back tourists. The selling points of a sex-positive resort are usually wild abandon, adventure, and a carefree atmosphere. Those feelings are harder to buy into when a literal plague is going on, especially considering that Mexico has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Still, the resort is assuring tourists that their safety is of the utmost importance. Part of that has been implementing sexy cops to encourage social distancing and sanitization.
“In playful law enforcement costumes, the ‘Germ Patrol’ encourages guests to repeatedly use antibacterial gel when they’re around the pool, at all bars, near the lobby, and in other areas,” Desire’s marketing director, Uriel Gutierrez, says.
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A video from Desire’s sister resort, Temptation, shows a clip of the Germ Patrol in action. They’re dressed in Spirit Halloween-esque police outfits and offering guests sanitizer. Maintaining social distancing and thorough sanitization seems like the exact opposite thing you’d want if you were a couple trying to fuck another couple; it’s hard to wrap your head around how the two things could possibly work in tandem. While the folks at Desire and understandably mum about what sex actually goes down at the resort, a recent uptick in bookings suggests people are willing to figure it out.
“We are happy to report that our occupancy rates are steadily increasing,” Gutierrez says. “We are currently at 60% occupancy and 2021 bookings project a 70% occupancy in the early months of the year.”
Taking mitigated risks for new sexual adventures—or ignoring the risks entirely and living life as though there was no pandemic at all—seems to be the new normal for many involved in the lifestyle. For Desire, the financial future of the resort depends on those people.
“We understand there are risks associated with our operation, but there are also hundreds of families whose livelihood depends on our hotels being open and fully functional.”
While sex resorts like Desire and Temptation work to remain open, Toronto’s Oasis Aqua Lounge has remained closed since March of this year. While the water-themed sex club (they’ve got a pool) has used the downtime to renovate their space, the lack of patrons has been a huge challenge, both financially and in terms of morale. Guests at Oasis value the establishment for the community as much as the building, with regulars explaining that their normal socializing also includes getting physical, with everything from lap dance classes to full-on orgies.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we decided to stay closed when other clubs were reopening,” says Dylan Tower, Oasis’ general manager. “We felt that reopening prematurely was too much of a risk to our staff and guests’ health.”
To compensate, Oasis has created a members club, hosting a series of virtual events. A popular themed event is naked yoga, where participants can get a full view of their classmates stretched out in different positions. There is also Dirty Talk, where people are encouraged to practice verbalizing their nastiest fantasies.
“Things that work face to face are often much more difficult through a webcam, so we’ve had to put a lot of work into making our events fun and sexy, but we’ve really found our groove,” Tower says. “Since May, over 800 members have joined our online platform, and it’s growing every day.”
Experimenting in the digital world has been exciting for the creators. It’s opened up a new clientele from across the world and offered collaborations with other sex clubs, including La Boudoir from the UK. But even if their digital spaces have been thriving, not knowing when exactly that will be permitted to fully open again has been a trip. There are things that just don’t feel the same through the computer.
“I really miss the look on people’s faces when they’re leaving at the end of the night and you can tell they’ve had an amazing time,” Tower says. “The exhausted, put-my-ass-to-sleep, ear-to-ear grin that can only come from one place.”
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