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Zoe Levin in leather interviewing a potential new client
Bonding follows the story of a NYC grad student (Zoe Levin, featured above) moonlighting as a dominatrix, who enlists her gay best friend from high school to be her assistant. Image courtesy of Netflix.

‘Bonding’ Review: Sex Work For Fun

This is a review of Netflix’s new original series ‘Bonding’, an open-minded show that takes a surprisingly light-hearted approach towards BDSM sex work. Featuring bondage as a form of liberation from heteronormative androcentrism, embracing ‘woke’ sexuality, through strapping-in and strapping-on. Metaphorically, but also, quite literally…

You Can Stream BONDiNG on Netflix 

‘Bonding’ follows the story of two New York best friends working in the BDSM community. Tiff (Zoe Levin), a dominatrix and graduate student of clinical psychology, and Pete (Brendan Scannell), Tiff’s gay best friend who’s a stand-up comedian – though one with rent and money issues after being financially cut-off from his parents.

Tiff recruits Pete to be her BDSM aid in engaging with clients and occasionally visiting them on location – all for some serious cash. Together, they attend to the needs of some intriguing patrons with very particular perversions. Open to most bizarre forms of sexuality, the duo never engage in prostitution themselves, but rather, serve mostly in the roles of kink fulfiller and dominatrix.

After all, someone needs to wear the furry, whip the submissive, or finger the butthole. The latter of which is really the most we get in terms of sexual engagement in the series.

Created by Rightor Doyle (Barry, You’re The Worst), the show is loosely based on his life experiences in NYC getting by as a Dominatrix’s assistant. It’s sort of his odd love story about being a young gay man in New York, with lots of closeted hang-ups, and how entering this BDSM community helped liberate himself emotionally, sexually, and even professionally.

Yet, despite this being his story, the series mostly focuses on Tiffany. A rather interesting yet polarizing character. Tiffany acts bolder in her Dominatrix life but is very introverted in terms of her personal one. She’s very staunch about honesty in regards to kinks, but by episode three, we see her own troubled sexual history and conceptualized shame regarding her sex life, as she believed sex was the only worthwhile thing of value about her character. Loosely giving it away rather haphazardly in her young adulthood – which she regrets.

This brings us to an immediate problem about the series: everything about Tiff’s work is technically a reenactment of her personal trauma. She’s trying to take ownership of her past through her studies in psychology (the academic classes seem more authentic than the BDSM), yet soon finds, that her course is run by pretentious assholes. Her experiences as a dominatrix, are seemingly worth more than the education she’s spending her wages on.

I must admit, this show does an oddly good job showing some of the fallacies I’ve personally seen in academic psychology (I’ve seen my share of pompous assholes in my psych days). It also makes the material fun by shying away from kink shaming. You will see bondage ropes and strap-on dildos. Odd fetishes and burlesque shows. The nudity in the series is surprisingly PG-13. It’s rather censored despite the show’s mature themes, yet ironically, is also rather open with its intentions in regards to sexual encounters – which is a great message in embracing the first step of open communication.

Yet, this strong point is also the show’s problem: that it comes off as comedic fiction. This, unfortunately, undermines the show’s potentially coercive undertones in BDSM and DOM/SUB relationships. Refusing to take on the responsibilities in association with trauma and consent in sexual partnerships and encounters – all for the sake of character and comedy. Yes, this show is funny. But it also misses the point of kinky sex in that it lacks a LOT of communicative discourse. Openness and honesty are the first steps in this community but are only useful with dialogue and understanding. Something the series tends to ignore.

I’m not sure if it’s the runtime, or if it’s because establishing consent, rules of BDSM, and boundaries/safe spaces are just not funny material to the showrunner, but it’s a blatant problem if you’re trying to put a positive portrayal of BDSM and sex work in the modern era…

Which is why the BDSM and sex work community absolutely HATED this series – as they felt underrepresented. Whereas something like Cam was a somewhat authentic portrayal of a cam girl’s life, and Sex Education discussed the roles of communication and needs in intimacy – this series is more about laughing about the kinks that they’re trying desperately not to shame. All while working out the kinks of its main characters’ personal lives through traditional story sitcom format. Still, its a fun setting. But it’s also one that can feel superficial. Undermining the lives of actual Doms and Subs for the sake of comedy and forcing sitcom-styled awkwardness.

In short, how geeks feel about the ‘Big Bang Theory’ or how women living in NYC feel about ‘Girls’, is how sex workers feel about ‘Bonding’. Which is to say: it’s fun to watch but represents some of the fabricated worst in its subjects. All for the sake of entertainment.

Final Score: 7.0/10

About Christian Angeles

Christian Angeles likes to watch the moving pictures. He also listens to words on the page and writes in ways that make people feel things. All on a laptop. Sometimes from an app on his phone. You can follow him on Facebook or Instagram. Read his literature reviews on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/xnangeles. Or read his articles in NewBrunswickToday: http://newbrunswicktoday.com/author/christian-angeles

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