Sex work has notoriously been reduced to a surface-level outlet for pleasure. But for one particular industry professional, her role as a sex worker has given her tools to give back to the community in a multitude of ways.
Andre Shakti, a 29-year-old professional dominatrix in the Bay Area, says her work has evolved to be so much more than the stereotype supports. She helps people work through traumatic events from their past, teaches teenagers on the autism spectrum how to flirt, and lends a shoulder to cry on.
“A lot of people see this archetypal image of this woman all clad in leather, with a whip in her hand, whipping this man while he calls her ‘mommy,’” she laughs, describing how people picture her job. “But BDSM can be used for so many different things and expressed in so many different ways.”
Shakti’s resume includes a combination of sex work, sexual health, pleasure and consent-related education — both in person and online. The online platform she utilizes is called O.school, where she teaches a variety of specialized classes geared toward informing both experienced and inexperienced, sexually-curious young people.
Her job title is long and ever changing, but the strides she’s made in the sex industry in the past 10 years are among the ones she’s proudest of.
“I was very sexually precocious from a young age. I never had any shame around sex, I just grew up very comfortable with my body,” Shakti said of her early teens. “This meant that I was curious and wanted to explore new things with my partners. Through this explanation, I found out I liked rough sex.”
While this openness and curiosity translated into a long career as an exotic dancer, she is proud to be part of a community that now educates young people on how to safely explore their kinks, fetishes and recovery.
Her private coaching sessions with her clients often take unexpected but important turns.
“Some clients say to me that they want ‘ABCD’ and when I get there, they just really want someone to sit down with them, hold them and listen to them,” she said. “This validation of feelings, identity and their their struggles often doesn’t develop into much more than that.”
She’s helped clients recontextualize trauma from their past, helping them move past hard moments in their life that haunt them. She does this through scripted roleplay that turns the bad memory into a better one.
“These exercises really do help train my clients into thinking more positively about traumatic events in their past,” she said.
One part of her work that has recently taken off is her work with young men on the autism spectrum. People on the spectrum often have issues not only understanding how to approach women, but also gauging reactions from them, intent, picking up on social cues.
Shakti teaches them how to flirt, how to approach women and how to feel comfortable talking to people they’re interested in. She calls this class Flirting 101, and it usually takes place in the form of private sessions.
“I really like doing that stuff because I can see people’s growth in comfort and confidence and excitement to try out these new skills in the real world. It is very fulfilling in that way,” she said.
Shakti still identifies very strongly as a sex worker so while she does provide educational opportunities online, she caters to a private clientele looking for BDSM-related education in person.
“I would say if you are into BDSM, I would not base your understanding or explanation of it on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’” she laughs. “But in all seriousness, you need [to know] what exactly you are getting into.”
For young people looking to get started exploring the BDSM-fetish community, Shakti assures there is still a large market in the Bay Area with many free and affordable ways to become educated on the topic.
However, she strongly advises that before getting involved, to seek out resources, reach out to the sex positive community and become an expert in your area of interest.
“You will have to invest time, money and effort into learning about BDSM. The main reason is safety of course. Assuming you care about yourself and your partner’s health, you should want to,” she said. “This can be a live or die experience.”
Genesis Palacios, a liberal studies major at SF State, said that while she has always had an interest in the sex-positive community, her time as a resident assistant has taught her that students may not realize the vast number of resources available to them.
“When I was an RA, we used to hold workshops on sex health and other related topics,” she said. “The resources are here in several places but this campus has such a fast pace. People may not realize and use them.”
Palacios is currently working on a photography-based projet, that exhibits San Francisco’s BDSM scene. This has continued to fuel her interest in learning about the community.
“It has been so interesting to [see]this colorful, vibrant community up and close,” she said about the project so far.
Shakti’s learning platform, O.school, may be a good place for students to start their education because the website is still free.
Some of the classes she teaches range from how to get comfortable with a strap-on to what she describes as a “free for all” where people ask questions about topics they are curious about and can ask for advice. Shakti also addresses consent, finding ethical porn, fingering and masturbation tricks.
“We are much more accessible to the average person and that’s intentional. I want to be able to address the full spectrum of people,” she said. “It’s important because we all come in from different backgrounds and were socialized differently.”
However, while Shakti said she loves educating in the Bay Area, she will be moving to Baltimore soon with her long-term partners.
“A lot of the sex positive community is fleeing because of gentrification. I’m one of them now,” she says. “I love the Bay, I love the community, I don’t wanna leave but I have to.”
Shakti said her clientele, who have now become her family, are looking for someone else to reach out to now that she has plans to leave. Unfortunately, she said she can only name the number of professional dominatrix’s still around on one hand.
Kia, a go-go dancer in the Castro, agrees that the sex-positive community in the Bay Area needs to be preserved.
“This is one of the only places where you can be anyone you want and people won’t judge you.” she said. “All of this exposure to lifestyles that are unique to the Bay and the level of acceptance is amazing.”
Shakti said this preservation comes with challenges because as a sex worker, your reportable income is low, which makes getting around San Francisco rental laws and standards hard. She has found that it’s become increasingly difficult to get a loan, despite the career she has built for herself.
Shakti assures that while she herself has found a new home, her line of work will continue to revolve around raising awareness for sex workers, educating through O.school and seeing private clients. She said she strives to always be radically authentic, transparent and always herself.
“I have been a ho my entire life, and I will be a ho until people want to stop paying me for it.”
Update: Since the publication of this article Shakti is no longer working for the O.school.