100WomenChi: 005. Sophia Chase

“Back in high school I worked at an ice cream store. I remember thinking, ‘This is the best job ever. Everyone leaves this shop happy.’ Then 12 years later, when I started being a professional dominatrix, I thought, ‘No, everyone leaves here happy!’”

Sophia Chase laughs and sits back in her armchair. She is the picture of relaxed confidence, in a loose t-shirt and messy bun. She is completely unruffled despite almost an hour of answering my — sometimes naïve — questions about her unique profession.

Preparing for this interview, I had expected that Sophia would answer my questions with unabashed frankness. What I did not anticipate is the twinkle in her eye as she told me many times, and in many different ways, how she loves her work.

Sophia’s journey to becoming a professional dominatrix started with a keen interest in issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality. After earning a degree in Gender Studies in 2003, she served as an intake coordinator at a local rape crisis center, and later worked at a local feminist sex shop.

In 2006, Sophia discovered a website on which she could answers questions related to sexuality anonymously by phone. She gave advice on dating and communication and endlessly reassured clients asking the most common question: Am I normal for wanting this or that? Although Sophia’s page clearly stated that she did not offer phone sex, she received many requests.

“So I thought, ‘Hey, why not, I’ll try phone sex.’ And it turned out to be really, really fun.”

For the next four years, Sophia offered advice and phone sex during her free hours, and used the supplementary income to fund her masters in Clinical Social Work from the University of Chicago. It was also during this time that Sophia started taking on her first domination clients. When a long-time phone client suggested an in-person session, Sophia agreed.

“I found that I really enjoyed doing the domination calls… and I turned out to be pretty good at them. So when I decided to start doing face-to-face sessions, I already had years of practice dominating using only my voice, connecting with people without ever touching them.”

Over the past six years, Sophia has steadily grown her in-person sessions into a successful full-time career. In 2013, she expanded her business by opening two dungeons available for rent by other professionals and enthusiasts. Her work as a dominatrix thrives primarily on providing a safe space for clients to explore an interest that may be considered inappropriate in their day-to-day life.

“Some people are looking for power exchange. Some want to cross-dress. There might just not be any safe place for them to do that. Some people have one particular kink, like bondage — they just love to be tied up. If their partner is unwilling or inexperienced doing that, it’s not possible.”

To be clear, professional dominatrices do not engage in prostitution; Chicago laws do not allow any touching of the genitals for purposes of sexual arousal nor any penetration of the body. This is a non-negotiable rule for Sophia. Still, she understands that BDSM and sexuality are closely linked in the mind of the general population. She shrugs off any uninformed assumptions others may make about her and understands that sexual identity, desire, and kink are far more complicated and nuanced than simple sex acts.

“BDSM looks different for different people. Some will use it as foreplay or will engage in sex while doing BDSM activities. On the other hand, there is a whole section of people who are happy just doing kinky stuff without anything sexual happening.”

Sophia draws upon her experience in social work and counseling, stressing the importance of effective communication in her work. She cherishes the therapeutic confidence her clients entrust to her, sharing things that they feel no one else can know.

“For some people, a certain interest or kink can be so preoccupying that it distracts them from everything else. And when they are no longer distracted by this one desire, they can be more present with the rest of their life. I feel like I am doing a service for those folks.”

Sophia’s work has required her to develop a firm confidence in herself and her choices. She admits that embodying a dominating persona takes time, practice, and energy. Even as an experience professional, she continually strives to understand the balance of boundaries and space needed to maintain healthy relationships with her clients.

“I put the most confident parts of myself forward… I’ve made very clear decisions about what my limits are, what I say ‘yes’ and I what I say ‘no’ to. It’s a phenomenal side effect of this job: learning about myself and how to communicate with others.”

Communicating openly, especially about sensitive subjects, is what Sophia finds so fun and satisfying about her work. She delights in the power exchange between herself and her predominately male clients.

“How often do women have the opportunity to be in complete control? A man is happy to see you that way and we both benefit from role-playing.”

Most importantly, like any truly fulfilling job, she ends the day on a positive note.

“I feel good at the end of almost every session. I give my client a big hug, and it’s smiles all around.”

Interviewing Sophia allowed a small peek into a mysterious and fascinating world. But behind the initial shock of her job title lives the more remarkable tale. She followed her interests, used her skills, and built her confidence to carve a niche that suits her. She measures her success in happiness — and believes she will find both in abundance for many years to come.

This article is part of 100WomenChi, a project aimed at interviewing the 100 most interesting women in Chicago. It was originally published in November 2015.