The Ritual of Play with Dr. Martha Tara Lee

martha for may newsRecently, I did two podcasts on Skype, quite different from each other!

The Ritual of Play with Dr.Martha Tara Lee, young and daring sex educator broadcasting on OMRadio from Singapore, was fun! (Her OMRadio is not to be confused with the OM practice of the One Taste folks for whom I love to create rituals.)  

With Dr. Lee of Eros Evolution, I focused on newccomers to erotic power exchange and those seeking the link between sex and spirit. I shared a little history, some clarification of just what BDSM is and a lot of simple skills for people to try.  

Click here to listen:

With Lee Harrington on “Passion and Soul”

With Lee Harrington on “Passion and Soul”

Lee Harrington and I go waaaay back!  Speaking on his very popular Passion and Soul podcast was a big reconnecting for us.  I didn’t realize how personal we got on Skype, it was as if we both were in the same room, even though he was in Alaska and I was at home in California!!  It’s quite an intimate and somewhat private conversation.  Really.

Listen as trans-activist author and Kink Educator, Lee, and I talk about the nature of spirit and how it relates to our erotic archetypes and our mutual love of body rites.  I was honored to be part of his “Spirit of Desire: Personal Explorations into Sacred Kink” anthology.  His popular “Passion and Soul” Podcast is brought to you by the Erotic Awakening Network.

Click here for more,


Heat, Heart & Spirit: My Interview with Dr. Gloria Brame

Heat, Heart & Spirit: My Interview with Dr. Gloria Brame

My brave and magical friend, Cleo Dubois, asked if I’d be interested in talking to her about her Erotic Intensive Seminars, a radical educational initiative that she founded with another Leather legend, Sybil Holiday, over 15 years ago, to provide safe hands-on experiences, mentoring, kinship and support for deep explorations of the intersections between pain, spirit, energy, and BDSM.

I was VERY interested.  I’ve been documenting her life-story for over 2 decades,  first in the original volume of Different Loving and now in Different Loving Too, and hope one day she will write the complete story down in a memoir.  Wow, what a life of change and transformation she has lived!  Learning about the intensives, which I’ve never had the honor of attending, filled me in on another side of this extraordinary woman.

CLEO DUBOIS bio (via Different Loving Too)

BDSM mentor, educator, founder of the “Cléo Dubois Academy of SM Arts” and one of the most respected voices in the SM community on the intersections between dominance and spiritual energy.


GB: Your Erotic Intensive are legendary.  Can you tell me what inspired you to create them in the first place?

CD:  In the mid-eighties, I was invited to present at Living in Leather and the National Leather Association.  In the nineties, I  was a sought after speaker  at BDSM conferences as well as my local community venues, like Janus, Exiles, Differences, Odyssey, and Good Vibrations.  I realized that I wanted  to  offer more than 2 hour classes.  I wanted  to share my passion for what I call consensual connected erotic power exchanges with larger audiences too. I visualized a documentary film.   With the help of a talented camera crew  of kinksters, and two marvelous  hot subs I knew, it became a reality.  My film, The Pain Game screened  at the Frameline, San Francisco  LGBT film festival in 2001, in NYC’s first SM Film Festival  and many other venues in  the USA and abroad.  It even made it to  Paris, my home town.  I was blessed.

The positive responses to the film pushed me to be even more creative.  I next organized  an immersion weekend workshop, focusing on how to naturally connect heat, heart and spirit in play. I  approached my long time dear  friend Sybil Holiday ( co-author with Dr. William Henkin of Consensual Sadomasochism ) to help me  create that first Intensive workshop.

We developed a workbook and a curriculum.  Sybil and I were good  teaching partners. Our interests and skills were complementary and we were serious!  We accepted six students.  Eve Minax came from Chicago to take the course.  It was a great start!

Unfortunately, that was the last course Sybil taught due to personal health issues.   Eve Minax, who had been assisting us at every workshop over the years, was invited to fill in for Sybil.  Sybil  used to say, “Eve Minax is our brainchild.” Sure enough, she proved herself to be  a great collaborator.



Eve Minax (left), Cleo Dubois (right)


By 2004 we were offering  the first  Erotic Dominance intensives for Men.  That first morning,  when I arrived at the Citadel  the venue for our class,  the men were already there in a circle holding hands and getting acquainted.  I loved that!

GB:  Tell me a little about your students.  Are they pre-identified kinky people or spiritual travelers or both?  What do you think they seek from the experience?

CD:  We tend  to attract people who are seeking connection and intimacy in their kinky relationships. They are people who see the link  between sex and spirit.   They sense  that healing and empowerment can be found and cultivated in  erotic play.   Our  students do not only seek safe solid play skills, they also seek  confidence and acceptance of their own erotic turn ons.  That certainly has been my story!  I teach what I have learned.  With negotiation, trust, and informed consent in the rituals we play, I  have found a deeply loving  chosen family.

We offer  6 Intensives a year.  There are two for women who want to become professional Dominas,  two for Dominant Women and Women who switch, and two for Dominant Men and Men who Switch.  Many of us players find fulfillment on “both sides of the whip”!

Until a year ago we only enrolled Dominants and invited their partners to the meet and greet at the start of the course and the play party at the end.   Last year we decided to expand it to both partners.  It is interesting to note that student Tops prefer to play with and learn from our amazing volunteer bottoms  instead of their own partners.

We are truly blessed to have Community players who contribute their time, bottoming skills, and intelligent honest feedback to help guide our student Tops.   We could not teach our hands-on  courses without them.  Their honest sexiness and integrity delights not only me but all those who benefit from their service.


GB:  You will be conducting your upcoming  Men’s intensive on May 14-15, 2016 in partnership with SM educator, Eve Minax.  Can you explain what each of you bring, as teachers, to the sessions?  

CD:  Eve and I complement each other wonderfully.  Sybil  was right:   Eve quickly evolved into  an excellent teaching partner. She understands the importance of breath and clear focus. She  has practice in Tantra, enjoys a wide variety of BDSM play,  and remains the kinkiest woman I have ever known. Super smart too.


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We call our course an Intensive because it it truly is encompassing. With the help of the workbook we give our students,  we keep it about being in the moment , with lots of hand-on and feedback.  We love to spark lively conversations and safely take people to their limits.

We take  a maximum of 8 students at a time.  We also have an equal number of volunteers as students who attend unpartnered.  We encourage the students to play with different volunteers  to expand their repertoire.  There are so many nuances in our non-vanilla eroticism!


GB: You have pioneered new pathways in radical sex for decades.  Can you speak to your evolution as a ritualist?  What drives Cleo to continually push to new psychospiritual heights?

CD:  My interest in ritual started with my own  initiations, first into BDSM and then into the link between  ritual and BDSM.  In the mid-80s to mid 90s, almost a whole generation of Leathermen, including many of my dear friends,  died of  AIDS.   My community then  centered around Janus. I attended all the classes and parties, official and private.

Fakir was a respected presenter there.    (ed. — Read about Cleo’s and Fakir’s personal journey over the past 23+ years in Different Loving Too).  His lectures and demos fascinated me.  One day, I asked him if he would initiate me in a body ritual — my  intent  was to help relieve my overwhelming grief at my friends’ deaths.  I was looking for  some healing during this darkest time.

We designed a  ceremony together in the country. He gave me many temporary piercings.



I  sobbed and danced  hard with the balls hooked to my skin that day.  It was powerful work.



Little by little, I cultivated an ability to tune in and conduct  rituals for groups of adults seeking empowerment  thru the timeless practices of body rituals celebrated in non Judeo-Christian cultures. I weave the threads of different rites and traditions into a practice which emphasizes that the body is a gateway to spirit.   Please note this is a spiritual practice not a religious one.   I now have the honor to bring some of that work to non kink identified folks during workshops I sometimes  lead for One Taste.

GB:  In addition to group teaching, you also do individual work.   What kind of people seek you out for private one-on-one and couples work

CD:  As the weight of shame and secrecy  is finally lifting in urban culture, through all the  diligent work of  so many leather folks,  including you Gloria, more adults are willing now to look at the desires, fantasies and activities they were programmed to think of as taboo.

A quick list of my  clients includes people in new relationships who are ready to come out to their partners  and wish to be accepted,  people who have met obstacles along their kinky road or have been shut down by partners and “want to do it right this time,” long-time married people who want to rekindle their eroticism, and sometimes just  individuals in search of private rituals for self-empowerment or letting go.

Recently a woman who had just  recently  her father trusted me to do a flogging and  piercing/ ritual with her.  It reminded me of my  ball dance 30 years ago with Fakir . It was an honor.


GGB:  What do you consider some of your greatest strengths as a teacher and leader?

CD:  I  am a good guide.   I teach communication skills, give  support  in coming out, help my clients dive into  their desires for dominance or surrender.   I know how to share the play skills 30 + years in the Scene gave me.  I love to create ritualized play that involves intense sensations –including flogging, play piercing or sensory deprivation/overload.  These intentional explorations give  all of us  profound insights about our shared humanity.

I value  their  “Aha!” moments when, in the middle of guided play, the Top realizes that s/he is enjoying themselves and that BDSM is not violence, not sick, but rather comes out of love.


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It is a true honor to  be trusted to guide others  through these realms.  I help them find their limits, face their fears, and enjoy the kinky dimensions of their sexuality.   I can’t tell you how many times couples have arrived at my door, all nervous and unsure only to leave, three hours later, beaming and asking for hugs.

Find out how to register for the Erotic Intensives or to arrange private consultations with Cleo:  for information about the Intensives, plus articles and interviews for consultatons in office or via skype, and private explorations in her lovely little dungeon/temple for Cleo’s blog  “True stories of my 30 years in the scene

Watch My Sensual Flogging Instructional Video at Kink_University

Watch My Sensual Flogging Instructional Video at Kink_University

Sensual Flogging with Cléo Dubois at Kink_University

Our bodies have a big capacity for pleasure from light touch to strong sensations, often mislabeled as pain. Skilled percussive play can create a wonderful energy exchange that will send you and your partner flying. With informed consent, focused intent and a few floggers and canes, you and your partner can go on a journey of shared energy from sweet to fiery. This Kink On Demand video class focuses on centering, breathing, body language, effective timing, and good technique to build that dance of energy exchange. Negotiate your limits, release your fears, and enjoy the ride! Watch my instructional video on flogging at Kink_University!

Cléo and Tristan Taormino On The Radio!

Cléo and Tristan Taormino On The Radio!

Click here to listen to Cléo’s conversation with Tristan Taormino on!!

Friday, September 13…live on Cleo joined award winning author, speaker, sex educator and filmmaker Tristan Taormino and they explored the world of sexuality from every angle on her radio show Sex Out Loud™ on the Variety Channel of the VoiceAmerica Talk Radio Network. Tristan’s interview with Cléo delves into the history and depth of BDSM play.  Tune in for a fascinating hour on a wide range of topics from the popular to the taboo, including erotic fantasies, compassionate sadism, healing in play and more.  Open your mind and expand your erotic horizons.

A listener wrote Tristan:

Cléo Dubois was hands down one of the most informative interviews I have listened to. Rarely have I ever heard someone speak with so much eloquence and simplicity on such a complex topic. It was fascinating from an historical perspective and incredibly helpful from a personal one too.

Kiss of Leather, Tongues of Fire: the Richer Territories of BDSM

Kiss of Leather, Tongues of Fire: the Richer Territories of BDSM

In my first video, “The Pain Game” the connection between Creed (my beautiful masochist) and me allowed both of us to fly in shamanic S/M play.

This article is excerpted from a longer interview that was originally published on in 2004.  In it, I  address some of those richer, darker and more transcendent territories to which our BDSM journeys can us. Topics include the dance of flogging, achieving good bondage play, what to do when a scene stops working, how to safely push personal boundaries, claiming your power, and the role of ritual and spiritual power in BDSM.


AFF: People just beginning their explorations of BDSM may not be aware of the many flavors it can have — for example, erotic, spiritual, BDSM for personal growth, BDSM as art, and so forth. How do all these aspects of BDSM fit into your own approach to play?

DUBOIS: For me, BDSM is about hot erotic explorations, personal growth, healing, connecting with others, and spirituality. We need big pleasure that connects us to ourselves and to the Divine. That pleasure (or should I call it pain/pleasure/surrender) I have found in the erotic rituals we call S/M. Doing a scene with trust and mutual respect can not only increase intimacy with our partner(s).  It also opens the door to our inner spaces and allows our spirits to soar.

AFF: What are some things that people may not be aware of when it comes to learning one’s own or a partner’s boundaries?

DUBOIS: A good thing to keep in mind is to go slowly.  People are not aware that boundaries can come up very unexpectedly and be triggered by multiple missteps: the wrong tone of voice, wrapping the whip and not being aware of it, bad timing on the part of the Dominant, fear of hurting your partner, fear of not pleasing your partner and many more. It is always important to keep in mind that it is the submissive who enables the power exchange. A satisfying, sexy balance needs to be found to make it work for both partners.

AFF: Is it possible that a sub goes along with something, not really aware of their personal boundaries, only to have after-shocks?

DUBOIS: Of course it’s possible. Any scene could go wrong or need to be cut short. We are playing with sex and power. Even a Top can hit one of His/Her limits and push themselves beyond it, only to regret it later. Play involving embarrassment and slapping, for instance, can bring up bad memories and by surprise, take the players out of the erotic realm.

With open and honest communication, people can face difficult repercussions with a loving and caring attitude. Guilt and resentment, that’s what gets in the way of healing, and keeps us from being as adventurous as we might otherwise want to be. Leave your partner wanting more rather than taking them to an edge too fast. Again go slowly.

AFF: Can you keep your play purely recreational so that issues like these do not come up?

DUBOIS: If by “purely recreational” you mean only light and fun play, then you must try to negotiate only light and fun things to do and keep your play to only those activities. A couple of examples are a simple role reversal scene where the woman is the leader in sex play and says, “Do this; now, do that,” and the man asks, “Please tie me up, Honey and do sexy things to me.”

These “purely recreational” scenes can awaken deeper, hotter desires in both participants. And then you cross over into the world of ritual intensity and real power exchange where buttons can easily get pushed. This is not “kindergarten” sex. This is sophisticated sex/power play.

The secret of successful kinky play is open and honest communication. It is difficult for many of us to communicate our erotic needs. If issues should arise between two consenting partners, do not blame the other for the scene not working. Stop and take a break. It is extremely important to just listen to each other rather than pointing the finger for either pushing too hard, being insensitive, not reading your body language right, not playing the game right, etc. After all, we’re not mind readers. Taking risks is part of play.

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Next: Video clip of ritual, on the BDSM/ritual link, running energy, the dance of the flogger >>>

Leather and Spice: Beginning the Journey

Leather and Spice: Beginning the Journey

By Marianne Messina and Cleo Dubois

In this interview with Marianne Messina, Cléo Dubois talks about how her personal journey into BDSM began, where to find information when you don’t have a mentor, and how BDSM can help people grow in their erotic relationships. A longer version of this article, aimed at newbies and those who are “kink curious” appeared on in August 2004.

Download PDFDownload a PDF copy of this interview


Marianne Messina (MM): Can you briefly talk about your personal journey with BDSM and maybe what you’ve learned about the variety of options in the BDSM world?

CLÉO DUBOIS: I did not always know that I was kinky. In my 20s I loved to pick an argument with my lover, provoking him to get rough with me and then feel so sorry that he would do anything to please me! Well, that sort of manipulation totally disappeared from my life once I discovered my SM, the link that brought my sexuality into focus. I started to integrate all of the aspects of myself: brat, good girl, submissive, sadist, disciplinarian, mentor, control queen, Domina, mentor, slut, nurturer and ritualist.

Cleo Dubois, with friends, from the early days of her journey into BDSMIn the early 80’s, with the encouragement of a kinky boyfriend, I began exploring the SM frontiers in the San Francisco Leather Community.  These fantasy/mind/body explorations were a powerful venue for my erotic fulfillment and self-discovery; they taught me that negotiated sadomasochism is a valid path to self-discovery, healing and intimacy. It didn’t take me long to realize that I loved bottoming [being the one who submits] as well as topping [being the one who dominates], as long as it was consensual and negotiated.

I joined the first local SM education group, The Society of Janus [], attended all meetings and volunteered for everything: spanking, flogging, bondage, play piercing etc. Once I felt that I knew enough to be a safe player, I became a professional Dominant out of my passion for the Scene.

MM: Say someone’s trying something for the first time — bondage, spanking, whatever — and they don’t have the benefit of a mentor, how can they approach it safely?

CLÉO DUBOIS: First look into your fantasies, and follow your intuition. Decide what you are willing to actualize. So, you want to be a little brat and be spanked by “Daddy,” or you, Mr. Businessman, want to be a lipstick lesbian for the evening, tied up and teased by your girlfriend? If you think that the time is right, bring it up in loving conversation with your partner and listen to their response. If someone paints a picture you don’t feel you fit in, say so. You are the only one who can tell if the idea of doing something kinky turns you on or off. Listen to yourself.

Start slow whether you are the top or the bottom. It is a real good idea to leave your partner wanting just a little more, but it can be devastating for both of you, to hurt him/her by pushing yourself or them, whether you are the bottom wanting more or the top wanting more.

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Next, where to get information, BDSM and erotic growth >>>

Cléo on SM and Spirituality

Cléo on SM and Spirituality

SM allows us to look in all the dark places in a consensual environment… I find a lot of healing there. ~ Cléo Dubois

The following interview is excerpted from a longer piece titled “SCENEprofiles Interview with Cléo Dubois,” published in a section of Sensuous Sadie’s website that is dedicated to the intersection of the spirit and sado-erotic.

SENSUOUS SADIE: You have been in the lifestyle for twenty years. How has your practice changed over this time?

CLÉO DUBOIS: When I first discovered my sadistic Dominant side, I was very raw. My enthusiasm probably scared a number of submissives. In fact, many years later when I got on the Internet, men wrote me that they never forgot me and told me just that. “You scared me, but now I am ready for your intensity!”

While I am still an intense player, I have also become more nurturing, more intuitive and more understanding of people’s need to be accepted for their fantasies and kinks, regardless of how bizarre they might think they are. I have expanded my boundaries and explored practices that I never thought I would enjoy when I began this journey 20 years ago. I feel I have grown and embraced all the various facets of who I am. Perhaps the most important on-going lesson for me is to come from a place of integrity and compassion. This has helped greatly in my transition from Domina to Kink Educator and Private Coach.

Sadie: Many of the people who visit you want a big or shamanistic experience. How do you go about bringing this aspect of BDSM play into a scene?

Cléo: Well, SM players do not often call it a ‘shamanic experience.’ They simply want a great scene; they want to get out of their head. In a way, when we enter scene space, we can potentially have a spiritual body experience.

Let me give you just one example. My first video, The Pain Game, received much acclaim in the Leather and Queer community because the piercing and clothespins scenes resonated with many kinksters. The connection between Creed (my beautiful masochist) and me allowed both of us to fly in shamanic S/M play. When I pulled a feathered zipper off her back, Kali energy was running through me. I felt the destructive energy that is also loving. I also felt the symbolic removal of her ‘skin’ as a necessary part of growth and transformation.

Sadie: When did you first start exploring the connection between BDSM & spirituality? Was there a particular experience or moment that set you on this path?

The Queen of Swords, Card from "The New Tarot Deck" by Jack Hurley, Rae Hurley and John HorlerCléo: Yes, my first private experience as a fantasy slave girl connected my sexuality and my budding spirituality. The man that initiating me in ritual bottoming was Jay Magus. He was trained in Gestalt work and transpersonal analysis from the famous Esalen Institute. He was very sensitive, kind and sexy. I had met him, his wife and his slave girl at the Society of Janus. I also became friends with both women.

The day of my big scene, he started by ordering me to draw a Tarot card from a desk he had been involved in creating. I picked the Queen of Swords. He placed two of his swords in my hands and had me hold them like the image on the card for as long as I could while looking at myself in the mirror of a dimly lit room. When I finally put the swords down, I was ready to submit to him. My long meditation on the Queen of Swords ended when the pain of holding the swords had become unbearable. I was in a trance then, ready to learn and give up control. He was strict, gentle and practiced service to the Lady; the Goddess Archetype. His Dominance was also part of his spiritual path.

Sadie: What spiritual or BDSM practices help take you there? For example: yoga, meditation, Kundalini, Tantra etc

Cléo: Centering! Being fully present! Breathing! Breathing! Breathing! And guiding my bottom to do the same.

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Next, what Cléo has learned from coaching couples >>>


“Queen of Swords” from The New Tarot Deck by Jack Hurley, Rae Hurley and John Horler, © 2005-2010 Inner Light Society. Posted with permission. To see more cards, go to

Finding Better Kink Instruction

Finding Better Kink Instruction

In the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, it seems like kink has taken over the Internet. A Google search of the phrase “BDSM education” turns up over 12,000,000 entries. With so many people claiming to be “experts,” how do you start your journey in kink safely? Who can help you acquire a solid foundation that will serve you for the rest of your erotic life?

When I began learning to embody my versatile kinky desires, there was no Internet. I join the Society of Janus and volunteered. Times sure have changed! If I was new to these explorations of consent and power I too could get lost in the tidal wave of kink that is flooding the Net.

If I were just starting today, and wondering if someone was a genuine and ethical BDSM educator, here is what I’d ask:

      • Is this BDSM educator a lifestyle player or is s/he just trying to cash in on the kinky trend of Fifty Shades of Grey?
      • How long has this person been in the Scene?
      • Is s/he active in her local leather/kink community?
      • Is s/he clear about why s/he has chosen this work?
      • Does s/he credit others in the community for their contributions?
      • What do others with long standing in the community have to say about this person?
      • Is s/he published or interviewed by others about her passion and understanding of Kink?
      • Does s/he focus only on technique or does s/he understand the emotional and spiritual aspects of BDSM?
      • Is s/he concerned about the individual needs of students? How much does s/he want to know about you?
      • If s/he teaches a course that requires significant time/money, does she offer a phone number so that you can see how you feel about one another before you commit?
      • Does s/he talk about BDSM’s capacity for personal empowerment & healing?
      • Does she teach from the perspective of integrating sexuality, heart and spirit?

Cléo with Dr. Claudia Six (Podcast)

Cléo with Dr. Claudia Six (Podcast)

Click here to play or download podcast (29:00 Min)


Dr. Claudia Six, MA, PhD, is an ACS certified couples counselor and sex therapist working in Marin.  In this interview, she interviews me about how one can find one’s erotic integrity through power play & energy exchange. I discuss how I coach Dominants to distinguish between “clean fire” and anger.  I also share how I encourage coaching clients and students to move beyond their fears, safely explore their fantasies and find their own erotic truth.

This interview was originally broadcast on radio station KUSF on June 27, 2008 and posted on Dr. Six’s website, It is reposted here with permission.