Do as the dominatrix says: Why Amazon is 'king of the kinky wish list'

Shopping fetishes take on a whole new meaning when dominatrixes and their subs turn to Amazon, and gift-buying provides an expression of desire -- as well as punishment.

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James Martin/CNET

At first glance, the items on Mistress Sade's Amazon wish list don't seem much different from what your typical stylish shopaholic covets: $250 black, patent leather peep-toes from Cole Haan, $200 shiny red pumps by Pour La Victoire, and $900 brown pony hair platform pumps from Fendi.

But take a closer look, and the list gets more colorful. A $165 black vinyl corset. A pair of $98 full-length leather gloves. Bondage lingerie made of straps of leather and metal links that cost $90.

Believe it or not, that's one of the tamer lists found among dominatrixes on Amazon. Mistress Sade's second wish list is simply titled, "Toys!" and asks for nipple clamps, remote controlled dildos and items for "testicle bondage."

"Mistress Sade," as she calls herself, is a dominatrix who keeps multiple Amazon wish lists to manage her relationship with her clients, known as submissives. Those $900 shoes? She won't have to pay a dime for them. A submissive, whom she may never even meet in person, will probably purchase them to gain her favor.

If it sounds nice and business-like, it is. Amazon's wish lists -- product lists that allow people to buy gifts for list owners -- help provide privacy and convenience for those working in this industry. How did Amazon become a favorite of dominatrixes? For the same reason it is the Internet's top retailer -- convenience and fast shipping.

"Do you have a wishlist?" reads a question on her FAQ page. "Who doesn't?" she writes before linking to her list. "Amazon items are shipped directly to me for our convenience."

An industry standard

It's unclear how big an industry domination is, but it is one in which dominatrixes, or dommes, can make hundreds of dollars per hour for a session and receive thousands of dollars in gifts, including money and gift cards.

With these lists, the men (or women) in a dominatrix/submissive relationship can send presents without knowing the dommes' real name, or in some cases, even their shipping address. The gifts aren't necessarily payments in the traditional sense. But they can serve as an alternative to taking money through payment services like Green Dot prepaid cards or PayPal, which has shut down accounts used for transactions related to adult services.

"Ms. Savannah Sly," a Seattle-based dominatrix, said when she became a mistress, she felt compelled to start a wish list because most dominatrixes have one. She signed up for a UPS box and soon started receiving gifts through Amazon. At one point, she was receiving five items a week, usually from the same one or two submissives.

"Everyone has an Amazon wish list," she said in an interview this month. "Burlesque dancers use it, musicians use it for their fans to send them gifts. It's the easiest way to get what you want and anonymously."

That seems to be the case. If you browse the Twitter accounts and professional Web sites of various dominatrixes, you'll inevitably find a link to an Amazon wish list. On Twitter, dominatrixes tweet links to their lists frequently, demanding their subs (short for submissives) "spoil" or "pamper" them. (If you're curious, these tweets includes hashtags like #findom and #paypig.) Some lists have sex toys and fetish gear and outfits, while other lists ask for more mundane things like clothes, makeup, gift cards and electronics. Amazon wish list makers can change their settings to hide their shipping addresses.

Two-day shipping on leather whips

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Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

"Amazon has totally dominated the one-click purchase industry," Sly said. "I can get those boots with one-click and then there's Prime two-day shipping...That's what made it the king of kinky wish lists."

Whether you are into fetish or not -- Sly made it clear that her goal is to provide "healthy experiences for people" that allow them to live out their sexual fantasies safely -- it's just another industry changed by the Internet. And something as mundane as a wish list can provide insight into the evolving nature of the online world.

"Wish list was created and intended to be used between family and friends," Amazon said in an emailed statement. The company said it doesn't disclose numbers on how much money flows through wish list purchases. It does provide guidelines on how to create and use wish lists, which Amazon introduced on the site in 1999.

The word "dominatrix" probably brings to mind a woman in a leather corset, using a whip on a man wearing a leather mask or ball gag. That's true for plenty of dominatrixes, who practice their trade in person and have clients who find sexual pleasure in physical and emotional abuse from a dominant figure. But the Internet has changed that relationship for some. Dominatrixes can communicate online through sites like NiteFlirt, which let dommes post video clips in exchange for payment. There are also interactions on social media, online chats, and video conferencing.

These practices are associated with financial domination, a type of fetish that involves the exchange of power through money, and, for the most part, takes place online. The clients who pay for financial domination are often high-powered businessmen who want to relinquish control in their personal life, one dominatrix told VICE Magazine last year. Amazon wish lists are just one aspect of that fetish. The more lucrative practices involve submissives paying for bills, shopping sessions, blackmail or just straight up wiring money over to their mistress.

Gifting the fantasy

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Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

These lists may go beyond the exchange of goods for services. In some cases, a list might allow a dominatrix to extend her relationship with a client online in the same way social media does for porn stars. As Sly tells it, the whole gift-buying process can be an expression of desire -- as well as a punishment.

"Let's say somebody is wasting my time, somebody doesn't follow my protocol for making appointments -- I've been doing this for 10 years and I have a set process. I'm not going to talk to you until you get something off my wish list because you wasted my time," she said.

Other times, the gifts are meant to express admiration or as a way to get more email time. When Sly used to do videos, people from other countries would send her gifts as a way of telling her they enjoyed watching.

She also uses the wish list to learn about what kind of experience her subs may want, or what kind of person they are. She separates her wish lists into lingerie and shoes, books and sex toys.

"If a submissive gives you a really nice wooden paddle, that's a really clear communication -- it reveals they want more of a matronly female archetype," she said. "If they buy a leather whip, then they want a femme domme."

Sly talks about her clients in a maternal way, often calling them "sweet subs" or "boys." (Not surprising, since her subs often want her to role-play as a therapist, or a kinky wife or girlfriend). But when it comes down to it, the bottom line for domination is making money, and Amazon wish lists play a role. It can help keep a fantasy going, even when its Sly's own.

"It really is incredible when people actually get you things off of this. That's sort of like kinky magic," she said. "I still sort of can't believe they do that, you know, not having me met in person."

 

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