Mistress Matisse, a Seattle-area sex educator, writer, and professional dominatrix, has been an outspoken figure in the world of kink and sex work for decades. Her weekly column in The Stranger, “Control Tower,” was the first sex advice column fully dedicated to kink. On Twitter, she describes herself as a “perverse, prolific, profane, political, pansexual, polyamorous dominatrix and writer.”
Thus, it’s not exactly surprising that she ended up in the cannabis industry.
“I’ve been a professional domme for twenty years or so, and I’ve been sex a worker for longer than that,” she says. “Perhaps it was my life as a domme to also think that this kind of quasi-legal industry would be a good fit for me.”
It’s even less surprising that her first product is a weed lube, called Velvet Swing. While weed lube—rightly touted as the first truly effective female sex aid—is nothing new, Velvet Swing is the first water-soluble version. Which kind of means it’s the first one that really qualifies for the term weed lube. Oil-based lubricants are technically not condom safe, meaning that products like Foria or Bond Sensual Oil are effectively restricted to people in monogamous partnerships.
The technology to do this is relatively new, and only a few companies are capable of it. The process is called nanoemulsion, and the company that makes her weed lube, Tarukino, is one of the first in the industry to perfect it.
“It coats the fatty globules in a food grade polymer, so you can use it with latex,” she says. “It’s water-based. It’s very friendly to your vaginal environment, which is pH balanced and must not be tampered with. It won’t stain your sheets or lingerie. It doesn’t have any kind of smell at all, it’s odor free. It’s got a slightly sweet taste to it, but it also doesn’t taste like pot.”
Matisse credits her friend, Chelsea Cebara, a fellow sex worker rights advocate, for helping develop the product’s cannabinoid profile. When Matisse was referred to Tarukino by another friend who’d recently joined the company, the stars aligned. “The combination of my [Chelsea’s] skills combined with a water-soluble formula makes this, to me, really revolutionary,” she says.
She’s also proud of the fact that Velvet Swing was a brand launched entirely by sex workers. Cebara, her advocate friend, also came along for the ride as a product developer for Tarukino. While Tarukino is a very mainstream cannabis company, the Velvet Swing team within it was initially all sex workers. And, Matisse says, she hopes it will eventually include a lot more, specifically as brand ambassadors.
“Whenever possible, I hire former or current sex workers for that division,” she says. “Because they’re great at it, they’re great salespeople. Very personable. And it’s a way for them to have something on their resume if they ever need to.” She notes that many sex workers have difficulty transitioning out of the industry, whenever they decide to, given their lack of resume-appropriate experience.
“That is one of my goals for Velvet Swing, is to make a difference in the community in that way and bring people more to where they want to be,” she says. “I’m trying to get my business to the point where I can hire a lot of other sex workers who may want to leave the industry.”
However, she’s also quick to emphasize that sex work is every bit as legitimate of an industry as cannabis, pointing out the many parallels between them.
“We are hampered by myths in much the same way that pot legalization was hampered by myths,” she says. “From reefer madness on up. What we have is people saying that all sex workers are basically sex slaves. And that’s simply not the case.”
The echoes of the cannabis legalization fight are hard to ignore. Just as many anti-cannabis organizations argue that legalizing cannabis is the same as giving pot to teenagers, Matisse complains that it is difficult for professional sex workers like her to separate what they do from the horrific images of child trafficking commonly found in the media.
“If somehow we could magically remove that myth, I think we’d have decriminalization in a shorter amount of time,” she says. “But, reasonably enough, no one wants people to be sexually enslaved—including me and all other sex workers. So there’s this tension between us wanting to be free and not be stigmatized and also wanting people to not be exploited.”
The other parallel between cannabis prohibition and sex work prohibition is, of course, the damage that that criminalization does.
“Criminalization harms marginalized people the most by a long shot,” she warns. “The people who are the most hurt by these kinds of laws are extremely poor people, people living on the street. Possibly even people who have mental illness issues and can’t hold a more traditional job, but do fine as sex workers and are happy doing the work. People of color, obviously, are really disproportionately targeted by this, in both the sex worker role and the client role.”
While cannabis has become part of the mainstream—ironically much less legally risky than Matisse’s original profession—sex work lags behind. “For us, it’s still like the 1960s,” she says.
The current crackdown on online listings—a law known by the acronym FOSTA-SESTA—holds websites responsible for any illegal activity conducted by third-party users of their site. This is especially damaging, she says, as it deprives sex workers of a safe, direct way to connect with clients. This forces sex workers back into a dangerous underground economy, she says, just as the drug war gave cannabis over to cartels.
“A lot of people have reported pimps contacting them and saying, ‘What are you going to do now? You need clients. You need me,’” she says. “And that’s a really horrible thing.”
Progress, for her, would be something as simple as unseating her local county prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, whose crackdowns have sent shockwaves through Seattle’s sex work community. His challenger opposes that style of enforcement.
“That’s a very small thing,” she says. “It’s just one city. But I think that’s kind of the way it’s going to have to happen, inch by inch. That’s kind of the way that pot did and does too. It’s incremental progress, usually by ballot initiative. It’s going to be inch by bloody inch.”
While she and her fellow advocates are still fighting for every inch, she’s still enjoying her adventure in the cannabis industry.
“I’ve been helping a lot of men have better orgasms for years,” she says, laughing, “and I’d like to start helping women have better orgasms too.”