(Note: This story appears in the June 2023 issue of SE Magazine

Professional dominatrix Justine Vaccine shares the tools of the trade, which she sources mostly from an open mind. Here, we find out more about some of the BDSM products she carries in her work bag, and why these items are so vital to her role as a Pro-Domme.

“I know I shouldn’t be rewarding your growling,” Justine Vaccine scolds and soothes her dog during our interview. It’s an actual canine, a sometimes needy chihuahua named Spike, but she appears to be training him like a submissive. 

“I should have invited an actual client to play with Spike while I speak to you,” Vaccine tells me. 

“Do you want a treat?” She placates the pup. “Sorry, it’s his playtime, I guess, so I’m going to give him a treat.” 

Justine Vaccine is an independent professional dominatrix. Previously employed at Pandora’s Box, one of the longest-running commercial dungeons in New York City, she now rents dungeon spaces from other Pro-Dommes around NYC and other major cities. Vaccine has been in the BDSM scene somewhere between five and seven years (depending on if you count “Old Guard” training, or not). 

“What’s it like?” Vaccine echoes this writer’s question. “Well, I’ll start with saying that it’s really fun and beautiful to be able to drop into such intense experiences with people who just walk in off the street, as well as being able to access those latent aspects of yourself on a daily basis.” 

It’s not the first thing you might expect the domineering blonde, dressed head-to-toe in black — who once held a man hostage in her dungeon, at his request, for the length of a work day — to say, but I know Vaccine to be an artist and philosopher as well as a dominatrix. And I know domination to be a more complicated art form and practice than most can imagine. 

“There’s difficulty in doing that at times, because you are accessing a depth of the human experience,” she continues. “And, ongoing, the practice can make it difficult to access everyday conversations, at times, because then the world seems a bit banal. But it’s not like that for every domme, of course — as a hardcore player coming from the old guard scene, I demand a lot from myself as well as from the people who ‘play’ with me.” 

Somewhere between George Bataille’s Eroticism: Death and Sensuality and Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a rationale for submission that goes much deeper than the biological agreement that pain can be pleasurable. It’s the idea that a human being can sublimate their ego in three instances only: in extreme pain, in extreme pleasure and in death.  

Vaccine references Bataille’s fixation on the gaze of a torture victim: “The (im)possible extension of transgressive and excessive experience into the unchartable territory of the erotic and the mystical; a violent, paroxysmal speculation at the limit beyond which the self as perceived unity unravels into incoherence.” 

For Bataille, it’s almost humanistic. “Death operates beyond nihilist destruction: like eroticism, it presents an end to or momentary escape from the isolation of limited, self-contained existence,” according to Eroticism: Death and Sensuality. 

As for Vaccine: “The experience is almost religious,” she offers, as a means of grasping the metaphysical notion. “When you’re in a submissive space, you’re relinquishing control over to a ‘higher power.’ And I think that doing this with another human being and seeing tangible results has the effect of increasing a person’s awareness, to see through the bullshit of their day-to-day lives. An adrenaline rush is a pleasant feeling for most people, but, more interestingly, people want to feel the full range of the human experience in a facilitated, risk-aware way.” 

Then there’s the sociological aspect of domination: How we as humans are entangled already in so many bondages of power, which BDSM might momentarily unravel. Many of Vaccine’s submissive are men in powerful positions, especially economically. 

“Hegel’s master slave dialectic is most relevant to this,” she surfaces philosophically. “A common misconception about BDSM is that it’s totally overpowering. I’ve seen this especially with male dommes. It’s like, ‘Let me cover you with all of my power and all of my dominance.’ It’s not like, ‘Where are you?’ Like, where’s the person within that? Even if we’re breaking down egos, ‘Where were you?’ And how can I bring out the best that you’re able to give in the moment and facilitate the exchange of energy? That’s at least the task I take on as a Pro-Domme. I actually listen to people. And I actually give a shit. It is amazing and astounding the lack of people who give a shit. I’m also really technically-skilled. I’ve trained. And I have great hair.” 

She laughs. Because of BDSM standards like “High Protocol,” Vaccine laments that most people seem to think that there’s no laughing allowed in BDSM.  

“Myself and everyone I know laughs a lot in sessions, because sometimes it is funny,” she shares. “It’s irreverent and it’s wild and it’s weird, but it’s all about fostering connection.” 

Vaccine recommends  

When asked which tools are most useful in her work, Vaccine replies with her usual candor that, “The answer is funny because it’s not anything physical. It’s my brain and its capacity for creativity and problem-solving. And my hands.”  

But after some begging, whining, barking, etc., she does share a few products with us. With new clients, she explains that she always begins a session with a conversation about their interests, for which she generally specializes her tool bag. Vaccine’s personal specialty is impact play, specifically whips, and her favorite whip right now is a single tail by Axel Whips.  

“David Morgan Whips are also classic,” she adds. “He made whips for the Indiana Jones movies.” 

For floggers, she recommends the small, quality maker, ImpactfulSensations. She’s always looking for good hoods or blindfolds for sensory deprivation play. She recommends the Canadian brand Aslan Leather and Oregon-based Sabersmyth for harnesses. Vaccine also enjoys the vibrating toys from CalExotics. And she frequents the BDSM stores Mr. S Leather in San Francisco, The Leather Man in NYC, Purple Passion in NYC and Passional in Philadelphia.  

“I’m also really into sensation play: vampire gloves (leather gloves with spikes) are one of my favorite things,” she adds. “Everybody likes bondage, so obviously, I would bring some jute rope, and clothes pins (for pinching the skin). But again, it depends on the person I’m playing with.” 

A maker as well, Vaccine has also crafted some devices for herself, including a rotating bed of nails she recently finished.

“We’ve seen in BDSM the perfection of a lot of medieval torture devices that are now at use for play,” she explains. “Like a Heretics Fork. Come on, that’s one of the best predicament bondage tools there is! I get a lot of inspiration for ‘scenes’ from medieval torture. There’s also new stuff that I’m constantly learning about, like milking machines, and I’m always looking for other independent and queer or BIPOC makers to support because there are so many who are all making amazing things.” 

In addition to pro-domming, Vaccine also currently works freelance in latex design and production for the NYC maker, Renee Masoomian Latex, known to the general public for her contributions to the MET Gala afterparty looks as well as her designs for the fashion icon, ex-Domme, actress and model Julia Fox. 

“I also think there’s a lot to just perfecting your own technique, regardless of what tools you’re using,” she continues. “Like, some people do anal pretty dangerously and not in a risk-aware way. I’ve seen people try to fist clients who are completely new to anal play without a warm up and I’m like, ‘Please don’t do that. Now they’re bleeding all over the place.’ The same goes for sounding people who are new to that.” 

If you’re interested in BDSM …  

“Pleasure wants to be witnessed, as much as pain does,” says Vaccine. “I think that maybe something people don’t consider about BDSM is just the ability to be seen in your own wanting.” 

If you’re curious to try BDSM, Vaccine recommends first researching about who specifically you want to see via sites like DickieVirgin and Tryst.  

“And then, be exceedingly polite and gracious to whomever you decide to contact for a session,” she warns. “Don’t be one of those people who’s like, ‘I just want to fuck you,’ or whatever. You wouldn’t do that to a personal trainer, for example. Nine times out of 10, you’ll be treated with the same respect back that you extend towards your potential Mistress/Domme.” 

She adds: “It doesn’t have to hurt, but it’s much nicer if it does.” 

For more information on Justine Vaccine, email her at justine@mistressjustinevaccine.com or visit mistressjustinenyc.com.