Would you rather ask for a raise at work or admit that you like getting spanked?
Kali Williams says you need the same skills to ask for either. “When you become more comfortable talking about taboo topics, then that comfort can be applied to other taboo topics,” the former professional dominatrix says.
As a dominatrix, she learned not only how to consensually punish submissive men but also how to communicate her own desire and boundaries. Now she’s paying that experience forward by showing how it can apply to the workplace.
Kali Williams became a speaker and coach for women (and some men) in the workplace after her SXSW talk “Life Lessons As A Dominatrix” became an online hit. She found that the skills she acquired as a dominatrix and sex educator are incredibly transferable. She believes the skills she drew on to bring kinky fantasies to life can help people navigate power struggles in the office. Need to assert yourself at work? The key to dominating your work day may stem from domination.
“Confidence is confidence”
Williams teaches “conscious sexuality,” which is just your sexuality after you’ve investigated yourself and your desires openly and honestly. It has “a much deeper purpose than orgasm.”
“Orgasm is the icing on the cake,” Williams says. “It’s the silver living, the special bonus. But the things we can learn about ourselves and the world, that come from our inner sexual lives and our sexual psycho dramas, are so applicable.”
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage says the reason gay men are generally more comfortable talking about their kinks is simple: they’ve come out to their parents already. After telling your mom you like sucking dick, asking a stranger for a golden shower is easy.
Having these uncomfortable conversations in the bedroom helps us have uncomfortable conversations outside the bedroom, regardless of our gender or sexual orientation. Williams’ clients say the techniques she taught them to gain sexual confidence helped in difficult work meetings and tough family confrontations.
Which makes sense. Dulcinea Pitagora is a sex therapist who specializes in, among other things, kink. She says that some of her kinky clients struggle with “low self-esteem and self-loathing” because they’ve “internalized” societal kink- and sex-negativity. “After processing where their feelings come from, they often reach a sense of self-acceptance that replaces self-loathing and increases confidence, not only sexually and with partners but also interpersonally elsewhere in their life.”
“When we build confidence in expressing ourselves in any area of our life it filters through into other areas,” says Margie Warrell, business coach and bestselling author of Find Your Courage. Being honest about highly personal topics, like sexuality, can be incredibly uncomfortable and makes us feel vulnerable, says Warrell. “Yet the more often we embrace vulnerability in our lives, the more familiar it becomes and the easier (though not easy) it becomes to lower our guard and express ourselves in other aspects of our lives.”
In other words, “Confidence is confidence,” says Williams. “When you learn how to be confident in situations where we’re not given a lot of tools, you learn how to be confident in other areas of your life. Once you ask your partner to call you naughty names in the bedroom, asking for a raise becomes easier.”
The Bitch Stigma
Even though she has always been self-assured, working as a dominatrix helped Williams explore her confidence. In that role, she put herself on a pedestal for men to worship her. Doing so helped her push past the limits society places on women.
“For crying out loud, I called myself princess and put myself in a tiara,” she says. “You know what I mean? It was an opportunity for me to be the center of the world in the way that women are told we are not allowed to be.”
That’s where her phrase “bitch stigma” comes in. If a woman is assertive and asks for what she wants without apologizing, she’s just a bitch. Williams covers this familiar sexist trope in her book of the same name and in a series of meetups called “Ditch the Bitch Stigma.”
“Women who are accustomed to putting their own needs [in bed] first will naturally be more assertive in a business environment that is frequently dominated by men who do this more naturally,” says Alexandra Levit, business consultant, researcher and bestselling author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. Her research includes gender differences and the workplace skills gap. “In sex, if you understand what you want and have the confidence to ask for it, you are more likely to enjoy the experience. The same goes for getting ahead at work.”
Empowering Men As Well
As a dominatrix, Williams spent much of her time beating men around. But it wasn’t out of anger. Indeed, she was great at punishing her submissive men because she felt compassion for them.
“A lot of people really misunderstand my domination work to be really angry toward men,” she says.
Far from being the “man-hater” people may assume she’d be, she felt a strong connection with and empathy for her male clients. “I spent a tremendous amount of time with men, in incredibly vulnerable ways for them. I have a deep compassion for the struggle that men go through and what society says they can and can’t do.”
That’s why her clients as a dominatrix were all men or male-identified. If a woman wants to get spanked, she won’t have any trouble finding a willing partner. But men don’t always have the same outlet for the same desires.
“Men are taught that they are not allowed to be vulnerable or captive or adoring in a way that doesn’t take away from their masculinity,” she says.
In their domination sessions, Williams did more than hit her male clients or call them degrading names. “I created a space in which they could explore aspects of themselves that are not deemed appropriate for masculine-identified folks out there in the world.”
“My domination technique had a strong thread of forced feminism.”
An oft-repeated feminist refrain is that men need to fight the patriarchy as much, if not more so, than women need to. Williams used her role as a dominatrix to educate her male clients on feminist issues.
“My domination technique had a strong thread of forced feminism.” She mentions Mistress Velvet, who was the subject of a recent HuffPost article because she makes her clients read black feminist literature. Williams does the same thing minus the actual reading, which she says is “total genius” on the part of Mistress Velvet.
For example, I mentioned pegging and this absurd notion that a man wanting someone in his butt means he’s gay and/or less of a man. Williams, though she never partook in that particular activity as a dominatrix, agrees it’s ridiculous. “Yeah, men are told to be aggressive until women relent but they aren’t told they’re allowed to get fucked in the ass? That’s obviously a pretty severe fuckup in the sexual messaging that we’re giving to masculine-identified folks. And to femme-identified folks.”
That’s why Williams says in her mainstream speaking work, she likes presenting to mix-gendered groups when she can. Men are socially forbidden from being submissive or empathetic and women are not allowed to be assertive or confident. Solving one requires solving the other.
“I believe we all need to hear different versions of the same message.”