“Am I Normal If?”: Kink As Integrative Medicine

Dr. Susan Kaye And Professional Dominant Joshua Rodriguez Discuss Normalizing Kink

 Kink As Integrative Medicine: Sexologist Dr. Susan Kaye And Professional Dominant Joshua Rodriguez Discuss Normalization

By Karma Said

Titles are important. They’re an instant, all-powerful determinant of how something is perceived. The title “Sex Therapist,” for example, makes a different first impression than “Psychotherapist,” even though they’re in the same field. The latter commands a measure of interest and respect; the first, because it contains the word “sex,” provokes a degree of wariness. The same is true, and to a much greater extent, for the title “Kink Therapist“ — which isn’t in use for a reason.  Anything with the word “kink” in it is still commonly associated with porn.

The knee-jerk sensationalization of their work has been the bane of both Dr. Susan Kaye’s and Joshua Rodriguez’s professional lives.  Kaye, author of the 2022 psychology book “Am I Normal If,” is the founder of the sexual wellness Institute for Integrative Mind-Body Therapies (IMBT). Rodriguez, who recently took on a role as the institute’s Director of NTSB (Non-Traditional Sexual Behaviors) therapies, is co-founder of the Kink Collective and SSDCE, two NYC-based groups dedicated to catalyzing personal growth. Kaye’s doctorate is in sexology; Rodriguez, hailing from the arena of BDSM, has a background as a pro-Dom (short for “professional Dominant”, the ungendered term for “Dominatrix”).

“When I started out as pro-Dom, the term ‘somatic’ didn’t exist,” said Rodriguez.  “Pro-Doms were sex workers, and that’s the context in which my work had always been perceived. But to me, it was clear that what I do opens a direct channel into a person’s psyche. It’s therapy. Working with Susan, as an integrative medicine practitioner, goes a long way towards establishing it as such.”

Kaye faced an even steeper path to recognition. “Integrative medicine”, or mind-body therapy, is the term used for healing techniques that center on enhancing the mind’s interactions with the body. These include Shiatzu, Reiki, Reflexology, Acupuncture, Massage therapy, Sexual therapy, and many other physical and touch therapies. “Practices that are common today, but were virtually unheard of when I started exploring them, in the 70’s,” she recalls. In the early 80s, when Kaye joined the practice of psychologists Dr. Bill Stayton and Dr. Caroll Cob Nettleton as a massage therapist, the notion of touch-therapy was so controversial that several psychologists left the office in protest.

At the time, Staton and Cobb were among the few progressive psychologists to believe that talk therapy should be accompanied, in some way, with a connection to the body. Kaye recalls the case that proved them right:  “One of the first clients that convinced us about this work was a 35-year-old woman, who came to see Dr. Bill with chronic neck and shoulder pain. This was before professionals like ‘chiropractors’ or ‘massage therapists’ were available,  and she came to us after no other doctor could help her.”  Kaye noted. “Dr.Bill said, ‘why don’t you go and have a session with Susan?’  She laid on the massage table, fully clothed, and when I started moving my hands over her, she began lifting her arms overhead, like she was being pulled, and sobbing. Turns out she was reliving a repressed memory of being strung up in a barn as a child, which my touch unearthed. That told us we were on the right track, we were on to something.”

Rodriguez, who’s in his mid-forties, got his start as a professional Dominant roughly twenty years ago. As a young man, his desire “to help other people” lead him first to the marine corps, and then to private security work.  It was there that one of his clients confessed that he wished to submit to him. “He wanted me to treat him like a dog,” Rodriguez recalled. He agreed, mostly out of curiosity, and was moved to see how “transformative and healing” the experience proved to be for his client. “After our session, I could see how the tension lifted from his face. I could see how relieved he was.  That’s when I knew then that there’s a lot more to sex work’ than just ‘sex work.’”

Dr Susan Kaye

Later In the 80s, Dr. Kaye trained as a surrogate with William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, whose groundbreaking research into sexual responses forms the basis for today’s diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders. Masters and Johnson formulated the Triadic Method, in which the patient, therapist, and surrogate function as a closed, three-person therapeutic unit. It was a radical system: the surrogate, filling in for a patient’s intimate partner, would lead them through a series of emotional, physical, intimate and sexual experiences, both structured and unstructured. By mimicking an intimate relationship, these experiences allowed patients to address a range of issues they would otherwise have no access to. The therapist, through discussion, would help patients understand and integrate the experiences, so that they can implement their new insights in everyday life.

One of the most common misconceptions in regards to surrogate work, Kaye noted, was the place sex played in the process. “In Masters’ and Johnson Day, there was a structured procedure in place,” she explained. Initial therapy lasted 12-15 weeks, during which there was no sexual contact. What surrogates did give clients in that time frame was socialization skills. “We taught them how to go out and date. We’d go out on dates with them. We’d send them out to buy lingerie, so they have to practice doing it. We’d teach them to dance. We would attend luncheons with them at their workplace, so that co-workers would see them and say ‘Wow. Hey, Harry bought a girl.’ It changed their whole perspective of themselves to have someone.”

In the Masters and Johnson system, she added, sexual contact per se was limited to three interactions, which might take place only after the initial 12-15 weeks period ended.  “if a sensual, sexual connection was truly needed, the possibility was there. But we didn’t get too much of the sex part, because we’ve trained them to go out there and find partners of their own.”

“The most common misconception [about professional Domination] is that the work is about sex,” Rodriguez concurred.  “That's the furthest from the truth. The work for me is about self-awareness and personal development. To build your relationship with yourself so that you are confident enough to pursue what you desire in life. That happens through conversations, as well as sessions where you come in, experience things that you have shame for, and realize that it's okay to talk about them. That there's nothing wrong with you. Through that comes confidence: the ability to say " I can".

With the aim of “bringing mind-body therapy to the forefront of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health” (Imbtinternational.com, Kaye’s Institute for Integrative Mind-Body Therapies promotes sexual wellness through the teaching and impl

Joshua Rodriguez, an NTSB consultant, has worked as a professional Dominant for the past 20 years.
“It’s Therapy”: professional Dominant Joshua Rodriguez discusses the normalization of kink. Photo by: LMB Productions

ementation of the Expanded Triadic Model (ETM). Masters’ and Johnson’s original Triadic Model was a therapeutic method involving a client, a therapist, and a surrogate. The Expanded Model, which Kaye herself developed, joins or replaces the surrogate with a customizable, ever-expanding team of mind-body therapists, from various integrative fields. NTSB (a term synonymous with BDSM) is the most recent of them.

“Before Susan and I met, one of my intentions was to legitimize BDSM as a form of Therapy,” Rodriguez recalled.  “I’ve worked with mental health professionals in the past, helping their clients in their relationship to touch, intimacy, gender, sexuality — but always as an outsider. Susan introduced me to a system that was built for that type of communication, a system that acknowledges the integral connection between the ‘head-up’ and ‘neck-down’ modalities.”Countering the stigma surrounding his field, Rodriguez dispels any sexual expectations a client might  have with a meticulous intake process, in which in-person meetings are preceded by several online ones, as well as a prolonged introspective process on the client’s end. Kaye has her own diverse toolkit for that, including,  but not limited to Masters and Johnson’s sensory technique ‘Sensate focus’.

Countering the stigma surrounding his field, Rodriguez dispels any sexual expectations a client might  have with a meticulous intake process, in which in-person meetings are preceded by several online ones, as well as a prolonged introspective process on the client’s end. Kaye has her own diverse toolkit for that, including,  but not limited to Masters and Johnson’s sensory technique ‘Sensate focus’.

“Let me demonstrate,” she offered. “When a client comes in, they’re nervous — scared, even. ‘Are we going to have sex?’ ‘Is she going to touch my dick?’ That’s often what they’re thinking. So I’ll ask them, ‘May I show you one of the exercises?’” Turning to Rodriguez, she asked: “May I have your hand?”

Taking his palm in her own, Kaye softly instructed: ”I want you to relax. Close your eyes, and pay full attention. Stay totally focused on your hand. I’m going to touch you from here to here, just from the tips of your fingers to your wrist.” Kaye’s touch was both authoritative and delicate. “I want you to just stay with me, and be related to what you’re noticing about my exploration. Stay totally focused on this one body part.”


I watched as Rodriguez’s shoulders slowly relaxed, and his face took on a contemplative expression. Kaye turned to me. “This is when we can really hone in, and have them just be present. I’ve had grown men in tears, just from this,” she said. “Because it’s really what we all want. it's really what we all want, but we're so marketed to ‘how you should be,’ that we lose it. We lose -” she reached over to cup Rodriguez’s cheek in her hand. Silence: they were both subtly altered by the gesture. The three of us were. It’s hard to explain, but it was as if, for that moment, time halted.

“Can you feel that?” Kaye asked me, “Do you see? It’s what’s missing. It’s what we’ve lost. And it’s what we’re now trying to bring back in.”


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