Former dominatrix talks to The Independent about what she learned from her double life 

For two years, Jenny Nordbak led a double life. 

In the daytime, she was the manager at a construction site. At night, she became Mistress Scarlett: a dominatrix at an LA dungeon.

In her new memoir, The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Life of Men in an LA Dungeon, Nordbak explains how she initially described her new night-time job to her flatmate.

“It’s similar to a brothel, except no sex happens there and it specifically caters to fetishes,” she writes.

Now, she describes it, rather paradoxically, as a "Disneyland for adult fantasies” detailing the varied rooms: a classroom complete with desks, then cells, torture tables and “traditional” BDSM equipment like ropes and whips. The sessions typically cost around $200 (£160)for an hour.

“The dungeon is a space where fantasy is sacred and no one is judged for being curious about something out of the ordinary,” she told The Independent. “No actual sex took place in the dungeon where I worked. We acted out fantasies and catered to unusual requests.”

What the men wanted – on occasion women and couples came, but the clientele was predominantly men – varied. Common requests were spanking or punishment, bondage, foot-fetish related or humiliation. 

“Many men just wanted a powerful woman to control them,” she says.

Before she could become a dominatrix she had to train for it so started as a submissive – something she did not particularly enjoy. Although Nordbak makes it clear she was open to fetishes and enjoyed parts of it, some of the book makes for uncomfortable reading: for example, when a client broke the skin on her back from whipping her, and an elderly man using his “arthritic hands” to tickle her.

“I learned how to become a dominatrix by training with the implements, reading books, taking classes, and being mentored by the Mistresses who worked with me. My experiences as a submissive also gave me a first hand look into the psychological elements of domination.”

The worst parts of her job in the dungeon were these disrespectful clients who “tried to push the boundaries we had set before a session”, she says.

“It wasn't common, but when it did happen it was degrading and made me question why I was working there.”

She mainly enjoyed her two-year job, saying the best part was “getting to see the sides of people that they hide from the rest of the world”

“We all walk around with our walls up, only showing others safe glimpses of ourselves. It was exhilarating to see what happens when people are willing to be vulnerable.”

The chapters in the book are divided into men’s names (and some with nicknames: for example ‘Tickle Ed’) In the book, the most evident example of seeing another side of someone is when she had a client who she calls ‘Oliver’ and describes as a “mega-famous actor”. This client aside, the majority of her clients were not famous and if they were they were ‘D-listers’ she says.

When she initially joined, Nordbak only confided about her new job with her best friend, keeping it a secret from her boyfriend, family and employers.

“I found a strange rhythm between the two jobs that helped me to juggle it all,” she says. “At night I got to be wild and daring, exploring a secret dark underworld, but sometimes I went home feeling like I was straying too far outside of the boundaries. During the day, I got to reign it back in and challenge myself to learn and excel in a much more traditional environment. Sometimes I left that job feeling stifled and bored, but all I had to do was start my shift at the dungeon to have an outlet for it. It was an exhausting but exciting time in my life. The corporate world is male dominated and at the dungeon I was dominating men, so I learned to fall back on the lessons I was learning as a dominatrix to hold my own at my day job.”

Nordbak left her job after two years because she felt she was becoming “jaded” and like it was time to move on. Now, a writer and married with a child, Nordbak looks back on her experiences fondly saying she learned lots about herself through being Mistress Scarlett, a persona she says is now an ingrained part of her identity. 

“I found out that it was my own limiting beliefs that were holding me back in my real life. Confidence is a transformative force. Being Mistress Scarlett taught me how to tap into and embrace my power as a woman, and to not be afraid to use my voice. 

“The world needs more sex positivity, particularly from women. I saw sharing my story as an opportunity to humanise sex work and promote open-mindedness… More people are curious about BDSM than you would ever believe, but so many are deeply ashamed of urges that I think are perfectly normal. The core message of the book is to be kind to one another because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Life of Men in an LA Dungeon by Jenny Nordbak, published by St Martin's Press, is out April 4.

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