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Nomis characterises as the "Golden Age of the Governess".No fewer than twenty establishments were documented as having existed by the 1840s, supported entirely by flagellation practices and known as "Houses of Discipline" distinct from brothels.A scene where both dominant and submissive are female, 1930.In this scene, the strict dominatrix has stripped the submissive and is caning her buttocks for not playing the violin properly. The history of the dominatrix is argued to date back to rituals of the Goddess Inanna (or Ishtar as she was known in Akkadian), in ancient Mesopotamia.An appointment or roleplay is referred to as a "session", and is often conducted in a dedicated professional play space which has been set up with specialist equipment, known as a "dungeon".In the contemporary era of technological connectivity, sessions may also be conducted remotely by phone, email or online chat.A dominatrix is typically a paid professional ("pro-domme") as the term "dominatrix" is little-used within the non-professional BDSM scene.
The Canadian dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, who was one of three women who initiated an application in the Ontario Superior Court seeking invalidation of Canada's laws regarding brothels, sought to differentiate for clarity her occupation as a dominatrix rather than a prostitute to the media, due to frequent misunderstanding and conflation by the public of the two terms.
The use of "domme", "dominatrix", "dom", or "dominant" by any woman in a dominant role is chosen mostly by personal preference and the conventions of the local BDSM scene.
The term "mistress" or "dominant mistress" is sometimes also used.
Ancient cuneiform texts consisting of "Hymns to Inanna" have been cited as examples of the archetype of powerful, sexual female displaying dominating behaviors and forcing Gods and men into submission to her. Nomis notes that Inanna's rituals included cross-dressing of cult personnel, and rituals "imbued with pain and ecstasy, bringing about initiation and journeys of altered consciousness; punishment, moaning, ecstasy, lament and song, participants exhausting themselves with weeping and grief." The profession features in erotic prints of the era, such as the British Museum mezzotint "The Cully Flaug'd" (c.
1674–1702), and in accounts of forbidden books which record the flogging schools and the activities practised.