Chris told me the way things ended with the dom made him reevaluate everything. “It was almost like a breakup. She just went very cold, and I never understood why, and then she just ignored me,” he said. “I was obviously quite invested emotionally, and it felt really horrible.” He sought the help of a therapist to move on.
For him, this is the root of the problem with findom: “It’s a very confusing relationship to start with, and money confuses that even further. You end up asking: Would we still talk if there wasn’t money involved?” He estimated that he sent more than $8,000 to one dom over a year. “A lot of these people don’t have any ethics. In all my talking with any dom, there was rarely a discussion of limits or aftercare,” he said.
Chris said he reaches out to others who seem to be in a similar position because he knows how hard it can be to feel like someone is taking advantage of you. “I think there’s quite a lot of people who got themselves into this mess and don’t know how to get out of it.”
Phillip Hammack, director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said problems can arise when people get into financial domination without doing their due diligence. “If someone is interested in this kink, probably the most important question to ask is, ‘What is my financial capacity to participate in this?’”
Hammack doesn’t see exploitation as a problem inherent in the kink itself. “The biggest misunderstanding is that it’s exploitative. There’s a demonization of the people who do it, like, ‘Oh, they’re trying to psychologically manipulate weak people,’” Hammack told me. “But that’s a lack of recognition of the power of the sub in any kind of dynamic. I mean, they’re the ones with the money at the end of the day.”
When people criticize findom, Hammack told me, “what they’re not thinking about is that the person with the most power in the dynamic is not the dom, it’s the sub. Because the entire dynamic relies completely on the submissive person relinquishing power. Most of that power is actually in the hands of the sub because they can just stop at any time.”
Hammack said he noticed an explosion in the fetish during the pandemic. “The pandemic was so much about social isolation and a fear and anxiety around human connection in person,” he told me. “All you had for information and connection was social media. More and more people actually went online and explored their kinks or explored their sexuality more broadly.” The findom kink dovetailed perfectly with social distancing. “Here’s something that is very arousing, that involves a power exchange, that is safe from a COVID perspective, and provides an opportunity for people to expand their sexuality.”
The sexual element of findom may not be apparent to people who are not in the kink, but Hammack said that the arousal “comes from a role-play dynamic that is incredibly taboo.” It’s about the larger context of the role money plays. “We live in a capitalist culture where you could say the whole goal is to make money,” he told me. “If you’re someone who’s aroused by anything that’s taboo — playing with rules and playing with power in any way — this kink is kind of the ultimate.”
People can find themselves drawn to findom for all kinds of reasons. “One of the most interesting motivations has to do with role-play to address feelings of privilege and guilt,” he explained. “People have anxieties around their own racial privilege, or guilt around economic inequality, and findom can be a way for them to address those feelings.” Silver echoed this sentiment and added, “There’s a huge pay gap between Black women and white men. I’m bridging that directly through my work.”
Some clients are drawn to financial domination because of a different type of power imbalance. “There’s also role-playing to process trauma for people who have been bullied,” Hammack said. “You’d think, ‘Why would someone who has been bullied pay someone else to bully them?’ Well, it’s because they’re the ones with the money now. So they have control over the interaction.”