Interview with Arden Leigh

Interview with Arden Leigh July 2012

Arden very kindly agreed to help me with the research for one of my BDSM novels. The heroine is a female rope Top.

Clair: Do you prefer m/f subs? Why?

Arden :I identify as heteroflexible, so I’d say generally I prefer men over women, but only by a small margin. I should mention early in this interview that I am retired as a pro-Domme (I was pro from 2005 – 2008 and specialized in rope bondage), so my answers now unless otherwise specified will generally reflect my current play, which is now almost solely in my personal life and therefore a reflection of my sexuality on a personal level. As a pro-Domme, my clients were almost all male, so men comprise the vast majority of people I’ve tied up during my lifetime. But I enjoy tying women as well.

Clair: Do you use different types of rope, knots(Ties?)/ patterns for m/f?

Arden: Not really. For me, bondage is about the pull between restraint and exposure — restricting one’s movement while at the same time exposing their body to touch. Therefore much of my work is about simply keeping a partner’s hands where they can’t use them (behind their back, for example, or tied apart to separate corners of the bed), or keeping their thighs open (tying to separate corners of the bed works, or even tying an ankle to the opposite knee, or tying thighs upward and outward). So not a whole lot of anatomical difference comes into play there.

Of course, where men are concerned, there’s always the opportunity for CBT (cock and ball torture, which often involves bondage with twine), but that was more something I did as a professional and not something I have much taste for in my personal life.

I will note that a substantial difference between playing with men and playing with women, in my perception anyway, is that men are much more vocal about what they do and don’t like, so I feel freer to take more risks because I know they’ll speak up about whether they’re into what I’m doing. With women, I find many treat their consent as a bit more of a grey area; they’ll be more passive and let their Top take the lead even if they may have some misgivings about what’s going on, trusting that it’ll all work out in the end, and then sometimes being upset afterward if it doesn’t (both with their Top and with themselves for not speaking up). I know I’m generalizing here and I may get a lot of flak from the BDSM and consent culture circles, but I’ve found it to be true in my experience, and as a woman I’ve definitely been guilty of it myself on occasions when I bottom. I guess somehow I figure my Top knows what he’s doing and will take me on a journey that will end up being a positive experience, but Tops are fallible humans like the rest of us, and it doesn’t always work out the way we both intended. I think I’m also prone to that awful thing where I feel an obligation (or at least an awkwardness) when someone is sexually attracted to me, because I purposefully embody a sexual persona, so in the past I’ve been more likely to fall into the path of least resistance when someone is being sexually aggressive with me. Lately I’ve been trying to be much more mindful of that though, and to remind myself that I’m allowed to say no or stop anywhere along the way if I’m not feeling it. I’ve made myself a rule that I won’t have sex with someone unless I’m 100% can’t-possibly-stand-to-not-rip-their-clothes-off-a-minute-longer into them. It’s been much more gratifying since then. But even today I have to consciously remind myself that I’m not obligated to fulfill another person’s desire merely because I’m the object of it.

Clair: Do you have a particular rope/tie/knot/pattern you would choose  before all others?

Arden : My favorite is tying a combination takate-kote/shinju (chest harness with hands bound behind the back), then tying a two-column tie on each leg calf-to-thigh with knees bent, and then anchoring each two-column to the middle of the shinju part of the chest harness so that the knees are drawn in to the chest and spread slightly apart. If I feel my partner is going to struggle to keep their thighs closed I can also run a rope from the outside of each two-column to an attachment point on each side (I have six lovely little wrought iron O-rings hidden on the sides of my bed). It’s best also to keep a pillow under their upper back to minimize the pressure on their arms, and also to make sure the wrist tie is a quick-release, because their wrists will be the first to get tingly, and it’s a real buzzkill to have to undo your entire chest harness to get their hands free in the middle of sex.

Clair:  How important is the aesthetic, colour pattern etc  and is it different if you are emotionally involved with a sub?

Arden: When I was pro, color was important because it differentiated my ropes from everyone else’s. My signature color was ballet pink, so I had a lovely set of pink MFP (multifilament polypropylene), and whipstitched the ends of my natural hemp rope with pink thread so that I could tell it apart from other Tops’ hemp upon close inspection. Nowadays I only have my hemp set, so color isn’t an issue.

As for aesthetic, the thing about neatly laid rope is that it’s simply more effective and comfortable. If you have a twist in one of your wraps and there’s any pressure on it whatsoever, your sub can end up feeling like The Princess and the Pea, vastly uncomfortable because of one small detail gone awry. Or, heaven forbid, you have a tie that constricts and cuts off blood flow with any movement. The more you rig, the easier it’ll get to lay your ropes in a fashion that’s precise and yet still done with gusto — rather like the way you see a seasoned chef flip stuff around in a saute pan and not drop any of it, or the way any artist can make a creation with speed and dexterity and not sacrifice integrity of structure. So aesthetic is important to me in that manner. Neat ropes are effective ropes.

Clair: What do you look for in a sub?

Arden: As a pro I looked for someone who was articulate and intelligent about his kink; who had a desire for a good, working, professional relationship; who approached his issues with self-awareness and didn’t let any insecurities about his kink cause him to lash out or shame/blame; who wanted a dominant/submissive relationship that was respectful on both ends.

When I play nowadays, it’s far more about who I’m sexually attracted to. There’s something very dark and very sexy and almost very scary about taking someone you crave physically, completely restraining their movement, and then having your way with them. It sounds all fun and playful, and it certainly can be, but for me it’s gotten very dark as well. I’ve had times when I’ve had to say to a partner, “Look, this is your safeword. Remember it. Because for the next several hours, I don’t give a fuck how you feel about what I’m going to do to you, and saying your safeword is the only thing that’s going to make me stop.” And I meant it, which is what really scared me. I mean, that sentence sounds hot when I read back over it, but I wasn’t saying it to turn them on at the time — I was genuinely afraid that whatever drive was inside me at that moment might actually cause me to push too far without realizing it, and that I would need them to take care of themselves so that I didn’t actually do any damage.

So, yeah. Nowadays, it’s about who I crave — whether it’s in the context of a meaningful relationship or just purely about sex.

Clair: Do you prefer to suspend or not?

Arden: As a pro I loved suspension because it was an advanced skill. I mean, I’m kind of an overachiever, so if there’s a next level to anything I’ve started, I’m probably going to want to master it. I also decided to specialize in a lot of things that required a lot of practice (rope bondage, singletails, etc) because it brought me clients who sought out those specific and often hard-to-find skills in a Domme, and allowed me to avoid the easy-but-gross sessions I didn’t care for (strap-on, golden showers, fisting, etc) but that everyone else seemed to do because they didn’t require much training. I also loved suspending at parties, because it was fun for me to be a show-off. There aren’t a lot of female riggers out there (the fact that our mutual friend Graydancer referred you to me and I’ve been out of the public scene for four years now speaks to that, I think), and there definitely aren’t a lot of female riggers in their 20s, so for a long time I was constantly underestimated. And I liked surprising people.

I no longer have access to a suspension rig, and frankly suspending for sex just seems rather complicated (possible, but complicated), so it’s not much of a thing for me nowadays. At the rare occasion when I do attend a fetish party these days, sometimes I’ll bring my rope and suspend myself, which is a whole other beast entirely. Then I’ll get these douchey guys coming up to me saying, “Don’t tell me YOU can’t find anyone to tie you up!” And I’ll look them in the eye and say, “Uh, yeah, but I do it a hell of a lot better.”

Clair:  What do you get out of rigging?

    a with any sub

Arden: When I was pro? I got to make a living doing something fun and artistic that I enjoyed, and I got the satisfaction of mastering a difficult skill set in a profession where many join (but usually don’t last) because they think it’s an easy job.

    b with a sub you are emotionally involved with?

Arden: Oh god, it’s like… how do I even describe this? It’s like, you have a lover arrive at your house. You’ve spent the last half hour or so setting up your bedroom, choosing which candles to light, which incense to burn, which bottle of wine to set out (you sent them a text asking simply, “white or red?”), which lingerie you’re going to be wearing when they arrive. There’s that moment at the door where you kiss them hello, and there’s the familiarity of their scent which instantly turns you on because it remind you of the last time you fucked them, and as you invite them inside you get this tiny little simmer starting somewhere deep in the pit of your stomach, this anticipation of the journey you’re about to take them on. Power is such a fucking heady thing, such a weightless rush. And so you make some small talk and ask them about their day, give them a chance to unwind a bit and relax into the comfort of the environment you’ve provided, pour them a glass of wine, maybe offer some chocolate you conveniently have lying around or some cheese sliced neatly and served on a cutting board.

And then at that first lull in conversation, you have the moment where you lean in and start kissing them, and you fall on each other and undress. And then several minutes later, you have this other moment where you gently push them off of you and onto their back on the bed, and you give them a smirk that wordlessly says, “Lie back — I got this one.” And after that, the rope is just an extension of your control. You’re at the helm, and you get to choose where the ship sails for the next however many hours (usually about four, on average, in my experience).

And after you’ve tied them up, there is this long, delicious pause that happens, and it’s so good you can almost feel a hiss coming out of your pores like some valve is being released inside you — there is this pause that happens where just sit back, and you look at them, and you wait. You wait knowing that they have to wait for you, no matter how much they’re burning for you in that moment, because they can’t move and they’re on your time now. So you take a sip of your wine, maybe another bite or two of chocolate (which you can share with them if you’re feeling generous, feeding them from your fingertips — or just make them watch you eat it if you’re not), maybe even smoke a cigarillo, which is not something you do very often, but in this moment it just seems appropriate. And you watch them. You watch them as they silently beat back their impatience, their fear, their shame, even their signs of excitement. You watch them as they attempt a poker face and fail.

And then, when you’re ready — and only when you’re ready — do you move in for the kill. And even then you take your goddamn sweet time, you make them beg for what they want, and only when you really, truly believe their pleas do you finally relent, because it’s that moment that pretend-begging becomes real begging that gets you off.

And then later, whether later that night or on a different night entirely, you let them get back at you for being such a merciless tease… and having your wickedness come back to bite you in the ass is just as much fun as being wicked in the first place.

I hope that answers your question.


Clair: How much negotiation takes place?

Arden: As a pro, I generally asked my subs to put things in four categories — things they liked, things they hated but weren’t off-limits (to use as punishments), things that were hard limits, and things they were curious about. I took that information and steered the ship from there. If I felt I needed more information after that, I’d weave it into conversation, or just pay attention — you’d be surprised how much subs (especially male ones) give you clues about what they like just by the manner in which they speak to you.

In my personal life… honestly? Virtually none. I’m probably going to get some shit for saying that. But anyone I tie up is going to be someone I’m having sex with anyway, so there’s already a level of intimacy and communication going on. I’m going to be able to read what they like and don’t like, and I’m also going to make sure I ease them into it so they don’t feel too overwhelmed (I mean, I like tying slowly anyway). Mostly it’s just about taking the time to make sure they’re relaxed and ultimately turned on enough to the point where they’re not going to feel self-conscious.

Clair:  What sort of prejudice have you encountered from

 a Male Tops –

Arden: Most male Tops have trouble believing I’m a Top. (Technically I’m a switch, but I haven’t really bottomed publicly since the first six months I joined the scene, mostly because I find subbing to be such an intimate, vulnerable experience for me, to be saved for those I trust. I tried it once again just over a year ago at a play party and some douchebag start taking pictures. Fuck that. I’m not letting anyone else get off over my ass getting whipped — that’s a highly reserved privilege.) I mean, let’s face it — I’m someone who throughout the majority of her adult life has had people project their fantasy images onto her. And, fine, I wittingly open myself up to that and I’ve certainly reaped plenty of benefits from that kind of attention. But when you get a male Top who sees someone like me, young and ingenue-like and likely wearing white lingerie instead of black leather, obviously in many instances they’re instantly going to see me as someone they’d like to dominate. And that’s fine, I guess. I just wish they wouldn’t be so obnoxiously vocal about it, especially when I probably tie better than they do.

That said, I have a few close friends who are male Tops, who are great guys, and sometimes I let them tie me up just for fun, because I trust them and because I know they regard me as a human being and not a human projection screen.

Those who top me in my personal life, on the other hand, rarely actually identify as Tops. I usually have to kind of build them myself. (I’ve been to Midori’s Rope Dojo three times, each with different partners.) If a guy is willing to learn rope bondage for me, that gives him major points in my book, and I promise he’ll reap the benefits of that investment many times over.

    b subs m or f

Arden: Subs in the pro-Domme community are an interesting bunch. I’m proud to say that my closest clients were great guys and very secure in their kink — secure enough even to hang out with one another and all talk about their sessions with me. (Seriously, by the end of my career the guys from around the country or even from other countries would book their sessions during the same two-week span, and they’d spend those two weeks in New York and we’d all go to parties or dinners or strip clubs together.) But not all guys are like that. Some are insecure in their desires and lash out at their Dommes or other Dommes. Some guys get incredibly defensive of their Dommes and then get into huge arguments on the internet about any other Dommes they think might threaten her status. You wouldn’t believe the rumors I had going around about me! Some tried to say my boyfriend was my pimp who hoarded all my money and forced me to lose weight (e.g., apparently I asked for a dollar to buy a soda and he wouldn’t give it to me), some tried to say I had a coke problem because I sniffled a lot during a session (hello, my rope is made of hemp and I have grass allergies!), some tried to say I was clinically insane because it was leaked that I was on a temporary course of an anti-depressant. Please! Hey, the tallest tree gets the axe first, you know?

After my retirement, two other Dommes in the scene hacked my email and posted on a blog several chapters I’d written on Domme marketing (I ran the training program for the new Dommes at my place of employment, and I taught them not only safe play but also strategies to be successful in the industry), and all my detractors used it as an excuse to say I was “just in it for the money” or “a sociopath” or “never cared about any of my clients.” Um, hello, if I’m in an industry, of course I want to succeed at it and am going to figure out how! Of course I want to make money! Ever notice how no one ever accuses a doctor or an architect or plumber of just being in it for the money or not caring about their clients? The irony is that I did care about my clients, and am still good friends with several of them even though we no longer have a professional relationship. People are idiots. I mean, you just can’t take anything seriously from a person who’s so obsessed with you that they go hacking your email.

All of this nonsense is why I left the public scene. It didn’t deserve me anymore.

    c Female Tops

Arden: There is a small handful of female riggers in the lifestyle scene (or professional instructors) who were mentors to me, and who have always been awesome, from whom I received no prejudice whatsoever but only mentorship and encouragement. And I am very grateful to those women.

The vast majority of the pro-Domme community was quite a different story. I got a lot of cattiness from a lot of pros out there, and especially the aging ones who were threatened by the young blood joining the industry, and threatened by me in particular since I went out of my way to learn the more difficult skill sets, and threatened even more so because I was also training so many new young women to be hot-shit pro-Dommes, girls who not only were young and hot but who also knew what the fuck they were doing. So, yeah. It was a cutthroat industry.

Every several months I log back onto the message boards where I used to post, and there’s STILL speculation about me, where I am, who I’m dating, what I’m up to and whatever. But like my grandma used to say, “Don’t put flowers on my grave, just be nice to me while I’m alive.”

Clair: How did you deal with it?

Arden: Fuck ‘em.

Clair: What advice would you give to a Female rope Top encountering such prejudice?

Arden: Know your shit, practice your ties, seek out instructors who will mentor you in a healthy manner, make sure you cover your ass playing as safely as possible, and then kick some ass. Don’t make an idiot of yourself trying to do things you don’t know how to do yet without someone there to teach you — don’t give any of your detractors any safety fouls to hold over your head for the rest of your life, because believe me, they will jump on any smoking gun they can get their hands on. But do go out and get taught — a lot. Go to workshops, hire private instructors, travel to conventions. Then, once your shit is together, don’t let what anyone else says bother you — they’ll only be upset because you’re changing the status quo, and that’s a good thing.

Clair:  As a woman in a male dominated (no pun intended honestly) profession you have to be better than the average male. Any anecdotes or put downs you’d care to share.

Arden: The pro-Domme industry is comprised almost entirely of women. I imagine there’s a gay pro-Dom industry but there’s not too much crossover from what I’ve experienced. But as far as the social scene goes, most of them figured out not to fuck with me, because there’s little that’s more humiliating for a male Top than to mistakenly treat some girl like a sub and then have her out-rig the shit out of him.

Clair: Can you keep your personal and professional lives separate?

Arden: Always have, always will. My kink may have pervaded both, but personal and pro are two different beasts in my opinion.

Clair: What equipment is essential for a rope Top?

Arden: Nowadays, I just bring rope, and keep a pair of EMT shears handy in case of a need for quick release — I’ve never needed them, but neglecting to bring them would shame my mentors. Sometimes twine is fun to have too (necessary for CBT, but also fun for fingers or toes).

Clair: What do you do with your time nowadays now that you’re no longer a pro-Domme?

Arden: I’m a seduction coach for women. I offer the sort of instruction that male pick-up artists offer for men, but for women, with women’s relationship goals in mind. I run an organization called the Sirens Seduction Forum, where I teach group classes and offer private coaching. I’ve written a book on seduction and relationships called The New Rules Of Attraction which was released by Sourcebooks at the end of last year, which teaches women a proactive strategy on how to achieve the kind of romance they want in their lives.

I’m also working on several other writing projects, including a screenplay, a second book, and then three other book ideas I have for down the road. I’m putting together my band, Arden & the Wolves, for live shows beginning this fall, and the EP drops next month. I may also have a second music project in the works that will be more electronica-based, but that’s in the very early stages. I model every once in a while. And for fun I’ve started studying parkour and MMA.

Clair: Where can we find you online?

You can find my book on Amazon:
I maintain a blog of my seduction philosophies here:
You can follow me on Twitter: @ardensirens
Same with Instagram: @ardensirens
Oh look I also have a Tumblr:
Or ask me advice on Formspring:
Or just search for me on Google (careful, some NSFW images might pop up!)

My thanks to Arden for such full and frank answers. She has certainly provided me with inspiration for my “Catriona’s Golden Angel” in the Prometheus in Chains series

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