In a pastel-colored French patisserie in Beverly Hills, Mistress Harley sips on a Bellini topped with raspberries and scrolls through surveillance monitors on her Android. “Oh, look, there’s Ben!” she says, tapping on the screen with her long magenta nails. “He’s naked.”
Speaking into the microphone on the app Nest, which is usually used for things like home security and pet monitoring, Mistress Harley instructs the man to kneel on the floor and bow down to her. He obeys. “You can see that I’ve made him sell all his stuff and even his bed, so he sleeps on the floor,” Mistress Harley explains. “He lives in Sacramento. I’ve actually been considering buying a house in Sacramento and making him rent it from me.”
Mistress Harley — who, like many in this article, refuses to reveal her legal name citing privacy and safety concerns — isn’t forcing Ben to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He is paying her a weekly salary to monitor him throughout the day. Sometimes she likes to cackle at him in the middle of the night via speakers installed in his bedroom. Other times, she’ll demand that he eat only meals that resemble dog food and send her photos as proof.
Though Ben is one of Mistress Harley’s most extreme clients, he is one of dozens of men who pay her to meddle in his life. Mistress Harley, who markets herself online as “the tech domme,” makes her living as a specialized kind of financial dominatrix. The niche profession has increasingly attracted smart, tech-savvy women looking to cash in on men’s desires to be dominated — not physically, but where it really hurts: in their wallets.
The arrangements vary. Some financial dominatrixes develop payment plans where clients fork over an agreed-upon salary to them every month. Others have men buy them gifts and pay their bills. Some, like Mistress Harley, add extra elements: Clients often grant her access to emails or social media accounts to gain information she can use in her domination — or so she can threaten to use their accounts in embarrassing ways if they refuse to pay. And there’s typically no physical contact at all.
Gifts have long been part of the dominatrix-client relationship, but the Internet has made financial domination more accessible.
“I think it’s the ultimate loss of control,” says financial dominatrix Bratty Nikki. “A lot of men are judged on how successful they are, and that is a good portion of what makes up their sense of self. When they say, ‘Hey, I’ve earned all this, and this is what I’ve worked for, this is a huge chunk of what makes me me, and I’m willing to give that up for you.’ I think they really enjoy that loss of power.”
Bratty Nikki’s specialty is filming videos of herself verbally degrading her viewers. Most of her clips range from $9.99 (for a clip called “male trash,” for example) to $100 (“for the really stupid losers only!” reads one such title) to watch. Because they cater to a fetish for “bratty princesses,” or unattainable women, Bratty Nikki’s 1,200-plus clips, all prerecorded and available for anyone to watch, are typically under 10 minutes long and rarely show nudity. Not just a source of passive income, they also serve as a marketing tool, attracting customers who voluntarily send her more money, cover travel expenses, and buy her clothes and gift cards on her Amazon shopping list, all of which she says constitute financial domination.
“Before I got into this, I thought [of the] typical dominatrix in a dungeon, wearing all leather, with a whip,” says Bratty Nikki, who previously worked as a stripper in Scottsdale, Ariz., before moving to Los Angeles with her husband. “I just think it’s so cool, because I feel like I’ve found my calling.”
Stripping taught her how to maintain control and not let men take advantage of her. She exploited those skills when she discovered financial domination through friends in 2011 and realized she could spend a lot less time making a lot more money. Her business took off, but she became fed up working with clip sites that took a cut of her revenue and offered minimal customer support.
In 2014, Bratty Nikki and her husband, Jay Phillips, co-founded their own fetish website, iWantClips.com. The couple have since created several spinoff sites known collectively as iwantempire.com, hosting and profiting from videos made by around 10,000 financial dominatrixes and other adult content creators around the world. Phillips says the company is projecting $50 million in profit this year. Their best customer, he says, spent $1.6 million on the site last year alone, and one performer made $121,000 in a single day. He and Bratty Nikki say the platform has given young women the rare opportunity to financially support themselves on their own terms, without having to report to a boss or even leave the safety and privacy of their own computers.
Phillips says that while growing up, his sister and single mother both experienced sexual harassment while struggling to pay the bills at restaurant jobs. To him, financial domination is an escape from that struggle. “This money isn’t just going for Louboutins and diamonds. When you hear from some of these girls, they’re retiring their mother or they’re helping a parent.”
Breanna Sparks, a Las Vegas-based adult performer and financial dominatrix who uses the name Princess Breanna on iWantClips.com, says she broke into the business once she recognized that the men she dated were willing to buy her gifts.
“I quickly got over the whole notion of ‘That’s weird, that’s not acceptable,’ and I embraced it,” she says. “I think a lot of women experience this, and they’re kind of taught to be ashamed of it like it’s some form of prostitution.” The shame goes both ways: “There’s this big taboo around men paying for women’s things, which I think is kind of ridiculous. Especially the men who pay for my things — they love it.”
New York City-based Goddess Venus sees financial domination as a “feminist act.” “[Men] own all the wealth in the world. We should be gouging them,” she says. “A lot of women just see it as a job. I see it as wealth redistribution.”
Phillips struggled for years to comprehend the appeal of being financially dominated. Ironically, it wasn’t until he got wealthy off the website he and his wife founded that he finally understood the psychology of his customers. “I started having to work a lot longer, started making a bit more money, and the relationships around me started changing,” he says.
“You don’t know if your friends are taking advantage of you because you have money,” adds Bratty Nikki. “But a dom is like, I am taking advantage of you, and you’re going to like it.’ There’s that honesty that’s not there in your typical interactions with people.”
The arrangement is nothing new to Michael Schaeffer, one of Mistress Harley’s clients — or as she likes to refer to them, “slaves” — who says he has been seeking out financial dominatrixes since he turned 18, roughly two decades ago. Schaeffer lives in Rochester, N.Y., and spent the last decade managing a home for developmentally disabled adults. He says he signed a legally binding agreement that requires him to pay Mistress Harley $15,000 over 10 years, plus interest, with payments due on the fifth of every month. That’s about the extent of their interaction, he says, and if he wants to talk to her on the phone, there’s a charge for that. (“I’ll talk about anything for $5 a minute,” says Mistress Harley, a former librarian and technical project manager with a master’s degree in library science from San Jose State University. “ ‘Star Trek’ is my favorite.”)
To Schaeffer, the legal agreement is its own reward. “There’s something about that that I’m particularly drawn to, that kind of written, ‘This is what the expectations are, this is what you’re obligated to do,’ ” he says. “My goal is to make her happy, and I don’t want our financial agreement to be an exchange for being allowed to be a burden in another way.”
The agreement also allows him to perform a role he can’t always pursue in his personal life: a submissive. “In general, women are interested in guys who are more assertive, more aggressive,” Schaeffer says. “In a regular romantic relationship, there’s kind of an expectation that I can’t really live up to, nor do I want to live up to.”
Another one of Mistress Harley’s clients asks her to force him to live as a woman — she agrees to “out” him to his mother, girlfriend and bosses if he doesn’t fully comply. He usually thinks better of the arrangement and makes it go away by giving her around $5,000 to $10,000 — getting “the thrill of being forced to pay huge sums of money to escape the agreement that he requested,” she believes. And then later he comes back and asks to start the arrangement again.
And Mistress Harley, who discovered financial domination through the San Francisco BDSM scene in 2014, says her practice is perfectly legal because it’s consensual. “Most of these situations are all pre-negotiated, pre-discussed,” she says.
The profession is not without downsides. Mistress Harley says she’s had her PayPal account shut down because its terms of service ban “certain sexually oriented materials or services” — she denies any violation and says it amounts to discrimination. (A PayPal spokesperson says it can’t comment further without delving into her account information.)
Because financial domination is so stigmatized, says Goddess Venus, it’s not uncommon to lose family and friends over it. The job has also made her less trusting of the men she dates because she now wonders if they could be paying for pleasure elsewhere. “I just hope that I don’t get into a relationship with someone where they’re having to hide this huge part of themselves to me,” she says.
Then there are the clients who view their financial dominatrixes as their therapists. Mistress Harley and Goddess Venus both say they’ve had to stop seeing clients they sensed might be mentally unstable, urging them to seek professional help instead.
Conversely, says Goddess Venus, the profession has taught her to better value her time when it comes to nonwork relationships. “If a guy wants to come [complain] about his life to me, he’s going to pay me. That’s really changed my personal life, too,” she says. “Now I don’t stay in situations that I don’t want to be in anymore. Like, I charge for this. Why would I be miserable for free?”