Torstar News Service Mizz Barbie Bitch poses for the camera at the Oasis Aqua Lounge Sex Club in Toronto.

The metal kitchen chairs with soaring backs did seem an odd decorating choice, particularly with bright pink boas draped over top.

But it was the medical equipment in the kitchen that really tipped one off that this was no ordinary condo. There, beneath a large pane of glass, was a stretcher doubling as a dining table.

“It’s actually a post-mortem table, for autopsies,” a woman later explained in a Yonge Street coffee shop. “And those chairs, as soon as you walk in, they’re there to tell you you’re just a little man in a big place.”

Mizz Barbie, we’ll call her (she has asked that her real name not be used for security reasons), has worked as a dominatrix for 20 years, tying up, whipping, humiliating and fulfilling strange desires.

Now 42, she got her start in the industry in her early 20s through a boyfriend who worked as a stripper and did BDSM (bondage, discipline, submission and sadomasochism).

She was a young single mother working in audio engineering, but was curious about her boyfriend’s line of work and its subculture. Her career began when she tagged along on a house call he was making.

Mizz Barbie admits she didn’t know what she was doing, but says she went with the flow and learned along the way. She and her boyfriend worked together at first before she set out on her own.

“Hell has no fury like Mizz Barbie’s. Looking for new submissive slaves to play with, egos to annihilate and wills to crush,” reads her ad on an adult website.

Clients are often tied up, sometimes for long periods of time. Bondage has become an art unto itself; the types of knots, the materials used and where a tie is on the client’s body can vary the experience.

Mizz Barbie gets as many as 30 calls a week and charges $225 an hour, the average session lasting one to two hours. She claims her clients are typically 45- to 65-year-old white men, “usually in a position of power,” including lawyers and judges.

“My theory is that these men come in just to have the burden of that responsibility taken away,” said Danielle Lindemann, author of the 2012 book Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon.

Contrary to the common assumption, pro-dommes, as they’re known, usually don’t have sex with their clients or even remove their clothes. But sexual titillation and satisfaction is a big part of what is being sought. And while dominatrix work is not typically prostitution, it still straddles the line between legal and illegal.

However, while the legality may remain questionable, there is no doubt BDSM has gone increasingly mainstream, thanks in large part to the erotic fiction trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey.

The blockbuster has become synonymous with sexual deviance, and though many pro-dommes say its depiction of BDSM is inaccurate, the books have far more people talking about whips in the bedroom.

Mizz Barbie agreed there is a new curiosity about her line of work. Just recently, she got talking with a group of middle-aged women at the bar, and mentioned she was a dominatrix.

“They were riveted, and it was questions, questions, questions. They said, ‘We’re not letting you go anywhere.’”

BDSM in the courts: Straddling  a legal line

Brenda Cossman, a University of Toronto professor of sexuality and the law, said such activities might still be considered sex work, even if there is no intercourse.

In 1998, dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford was found guilty of running a common bawdy house and fined $3,000. As a result of a court challenge that involved Bedford, the common bawdy house law was ruled unconstitutional last year. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal.

There are also legal issues for BDSM between partners, since much of the activity can cause bodily harm and constitute assault.

Courts are still trying to decide if consent can be a valid defence for assault, Cossman said. Some courts have ruled on injuries resulting from a bar room brawl or a hockey game and decided consent can be a defence for assault if there is “some high purpose being served,” she said.

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