We've all got our own little kinks in the bedroom, fantasies of all types and fashions that provide a thrill from the bizarre to the sublime. Abi Wilkinson received a message from a man offering her cash, for which she'd have to do nothing. It made her wonder, is the world of financial domination too good to be true?
It happened on Instagram, out of the blue. A message dropped into my inbox in the early hours of the morning: “Can I send you money?” By the time I checked my inbox there was a follow up apology, sent at a slightly more sociable hour. No explanation, just a simple word, “sorry”.
As a woman who is publicly visible, and a seriously regular user of social media, I had a pretty strong suspicion about what was probably going on. When men you’ve never met or spoken to send you odd, unprompted private messages in the middle of the night, it’s normally safe to assume that their penis is somehow involved in the equation.
I’d like to claim it was purely journalistic inquisitiveness that motivated me to reply to him, but I’d be lying if I denied that my pitiful bank balance and looming housing costs weren’t also a factor. The thought of accepting money from a stranger made me feel uncomfortable, but chasing unpaid invoices was proving to be a slow process, and frankly I was getting desperate.
If taking his cash would make us both happy, what was the harm, really? It took me a while, but I decided to respond.
“Why do you want to do that?” I typed out tentatively. The reply came back fairly rapidly: “You’d probably think it was embarrassing if I told you. I would just like it”.
I hesitated for about an hour before responding. “Ok, you can send me some via Paypal if you like?” A few hours later, there was £40, and a message apologising that it wasn’t more. The sender told me it was just to “prove [he was] serious”, and that he hoped I would be able to “use [him] as a cash machine in the future”. In a string of further messages, he began to refer to me as “boss” and described his fantasy in more and more detail.
As this went on, I became increasingly uncomfortable. My initial worry was that accepting the gift would be taking advantage, but I started to suspect that I’d got the power dynamic completely the wrong way ’round.
Though he spoke about being subservient, there seemed to be a definite element of control. To some extent, he liked the idea of me depending on him. And the money wasn’t really a gift at all – it was a transaction. He was attempting to buy my time, to buy my attention, and the ability to involve me in his fantasies.
It didn’t take me long to realise I’d made a grave mistake. I decided to cut off contact with immediate effect. He had time to fire off one last message, calling me an “ungrateful cunt” before I blocked his Instagram account.
It isn’t that I find the idea of a transactional, sexual relationship immoral or distasteful. Nor was I worried that communicating with him via social media placed me in any sort of real-life danger. It’s just that it wasn’t something I was personally seeking and I felt like he had attempted to manipulate me.
As it happens, I was already vaguely aware of the concept of online financial domination – commonly known as ‘findom’.
On Twitter, I’d seen women in latex and stockings posting links to Amazon wish lists for men they described as ‘paypigs’ to purchase from. I knew that some men got off on the idea of being financially ‘used’ and humiliated.
The guy who’d contacted me didn’t know I knew that, though. When I’d asked why he wanted to send me money, he’d not explained his reasons. The messages became more obviously sexually motivated once I’d accepted the cash… after I was placed in a position where I felt I owed him conversation. As his final message made clear, he believed I owed him something as well.
The encounter made me curious about the experiences of professional financial dominatrixes and their clients, so I decided to contact a few women I found via the #findom Twitter hashtag. I was worried that they’d reply to my interview requests in the same way they responded to the horny men who messaged them, but none of the messages came back ‘in character’.
First to respond to my callout was Zoe*, a blonde, 19-year-old marketing student who’d originally got into findom after reading an interview in a weekly woman’s magazine. She told me her parents didn’t know how she earned money – she’d told them she was doing a part-time bar job alongside her studies – but her boyfriend and mates did and they all thought it was legit, even funny.
My question about feeling guilty or indebted to the men who send money seemed to confuse her. “I guess I’ve never really thought about it like that,” she mused. “They’re doing it because they like it. It turns them on to think about me spending their money and I like spending it, so we’re both getting what we want. If a guy is too creepy, I stop replying to them or block them.” Apparently it could be as simple as that.
Twenty-five-year-old Taya* was more circumspect. She’d previously worked as a pole dancer but had quit once she became pregnant with her first child. Surviving mainly on benefits, she uses findom to fund occasional small luxuries. She told me that she didn’t like being reliant on men, but that webcamming and messaging with strangers was better than the alternative. “I’ve got friends in relationships with men who shout at them, who cheat, who are violent, you know? They’re relying on men as well. At least this way, I’m in control.”
Both women have a small number of regular clients they receive regular payments from. Zoe has never met any of the men physically, in person, and says she’d never want to, but Taya periodically meets up with one guy for short amounts of time. She meets him at a cashpoint and he withdraws between £100 and £200 to hand to her.
She then walks away without saying anything. In emails, she tells him what she bought with his cash. “Often I’m just lying,” she confides. “I’ll say I’ve bought shoes or lingerie or something sexy, when actually I’ve bought stuff for the house or paid an electricity bill.”
I ask what the worst part of being a financial dominatrix is, and both of them give the exact same response: time wasters.
“Loads of men will try and chat to you and promise money without actually sending it,” Zoe explains. “They’ll message you and you know they’re wanking, but they don’t pay up. I talk to 10 like that for every one who actually buys me something or gives me money.” Taya says that it’s “like running a business… you have to think about it like that. You’ve got to concentrate on getting paid.”
What had played on my mind from the offset was the question of where the power was to be found in their relationships with clients. I felt uncomfortable taking money myself because I didn’t feel in control.
Zoe’s answer is unequivocal. “Obviously me,” she says. “For them it’s a fantasy but for me it’s almost nothing. It’s just money. Sometimes my boyfriend helps me come up with insults to send or tasks to set them. Stuff like taking embarrassing photos that I can threaten to post online if they don’t send enough money. She notices my hesitant pause and rushes to explain, “it’s not like, blackmail. They want me to do it. It’s a fetish.”
Taya agrees that it was her with the power, but she isn’t as certain as Zoe. “At the end of the day it’s me, but it’s about them. They’re the ones getting off on it. I have the power to tell them what to do, but it’s only because they want me to do it. It’s about their dick,” she laughs. “With men it’s always about their dick, isn’t it?”
In my mind, the domination fantasy masks the reality that this remains, in essence, a relationship between an employer and worker. And as always, the power ultimately rests with whoever’s paying out the cash.
*names changed to protect privacy
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