Mistress Electra Amore was just 21 years old when she attended her first job interview at a bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) dungeon.
As a teenager, her naturally dominant personality and love of fashion inspired by Madonna's Erotica era earned her the nickname "Madame Lash" from her friends.
It was a friend who suggested she'd make a good dominatrix and gave her the address of a Melbourne dungeon they had found in the phone book.
Although it took her multiple tries to get an interview, Electra persisted until she was finally told that yes, the dungeon did have space to take on a new trainee who wanted to learn how to become a professional dominatrix.
And that's how she found herself standing outside the unassuming terrace house in Melbourne's suburbs, waiting nervously as she heard the click-clack of high stiletto heels walking towards her down the corridor.
"A Mistress dressed in leather opened the door, looked me up and down, and said, 'Come inside'," Electra tells me.
"It was quite intimidating being there in front of this beautiful, tall, lean blonde woman surrounded by all her leather-clad women. But we had a chat, and she told me when I could start."
And so began Electra's apprentice as a Dominatrix.
While Fifty Shades of Grey may lead us to think that anyone with access to a blindfold and a pair of handcuffs can command worship from anyone they desire, Electra tells me that it's not always so simple. A Dominatrix could seriously injure or upset a submissive partner if they're not properly trained in how to use a piece of equipment or play out a scene with respect and consent. Practising BDSM requires a wealth of knowledge about health and safety; and for some, years of training before they can practise professionally.
"Back then, in the mid-90s, the training was traditional," Electra explains. "This means you had to be a submissive first, so I had to become a submissive and learn how to submit to the Masters who came in.
Not being naturally submissive, it was really challenging to kneel at someone's feet and pretend to be so. I was quite a feisty person, and that really tested me."
A bad experience during a session with one of the visiting Masters cut short Electra's work as a submissive after only three months.
"It laid the foundations for how I now respect other people's boundaries and consent. Back then, consent wasn't spoken about as much as it is now. We weren't really taught about consent like we are today," she said.
Now with more than two decades of experience as a Dominatrix and alternative sex educator, Mistress Electra has since trained her own apprentices.
"There's no formal style of training in our industry, because the sex industry in general doesn't have formality in it. There's not one particular way to be trained."
When she has owned or managed dungeons in the past, her training has been extensive: under Mistress Electra, apprentices weren't even permitted to wear fetish clothing like heels or corsets for their first few months of training. Smart black clothing was the only acceptable attire.
Alongside being taught skills by staff, "They would just learn how the house ran," Electra says. "That included learning who the staff were, doing laundry, helping clean up rooms, [learning] how each room had to be set up, and where the equipment went on all the racks. The jobs of the apprentices were to maintain and upkeep the rooms, so that Doms wouldn't go looking for a strap and have to run all over the house looking for it."
Sadly, during her time in the industry, Electra has seen many of the older-style, traditional dungeons and houses close down. Some professional Dominatrices have had to move interstate to continue providing their services within the law, and many clients turn to online advertising and social media to find skilled providers rather than visiting a trusted dungeon as they may have done in the past.
The style of training Electra undertook is also rarely accessible these days, and many of the people she trained and worked with have slowly left the industry. Newer fetish workers no longer have such easy access to the information that was once handed down from Dominatrix to apprentice in dungeons and houses — but it's not something Electra necessarily sees as negative.
"That particular generation, I've found quite inspiring," Electra says, of newer workers who often participate in skillshares, workshops, and forums to learn the skills that would have once been taught through traditional training. "They've really taken an independent approach by realising they need training and maybe can't do an apprenticeship, so they take matters in to their own hands and teach themselves. That's really inspiring to watch."
This is something that Miss Fleur, an Australian sex worker specialising in BDSM, is very familiar with. With sixteen years' experience in the industry, she is regularly approached by fellow sex workers and BDSM enthusiasts alike to share her knowledge and skill.
"Safety is the number one priority for most people who contact me," she told me. "They want to learn about a particular implement or activity, and how to use that skill or equipment in an exciting and pleasurable way. But people realise safety comes first."
"As for particular activities, I would say — at least for the people who contact me — that the more 'mainstream' elements of BDSM are the most popular. This includes things like light bondage, blindfolds and gags, and the ever classic-spanking scenarios."
And while the thought of incorporating these acts into regular bedroom repertoire might leave some feeling more shocked than aroused, both Mistress Electra and Miss Fleur maintain that respect, consent, and safety are key to making sure every party leaves feeling satisfied.
"BDSM isn't about whipping someone mercilessly until they bleed and having complete control over them 24/7 — at least, not for most," says Fleur. "For me, BDSM is a power exchange. It's energy flowing between people, a give and take that is unlike any other. It builds and subsides, ebbs and flows, and takes all parties on an incredible physical, emotional and spiritual journey.
"It's a way to transcend the everyday."
— Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker.