Fifty Shades of … E’ville? “The Gates” is Emeryville’s BDSM secret

Published On February 20, 2015 | By Rob Arias | Arts & Culture, In the Neighborhood

*WARNING* This post contains material not appropriate for all ages and some might find offensive.


The 2011 erotic romance novel by British Author E.L. James and subsequent movie release touched off a phenomenon and mainstream curiosity in the underground practice of BDSM. BDSM is a “catch-all” acronym for any combination of the practices of Bondage, Discipline Domination, Submission, Sadism & Masochism. In our city, the practice has been going on underground at a mysterious place called “The Gates”. A place I was made aware of through an innocuous “Emeryville” Google Alert.

The Gates is nothing new in Emeryville. In fact, they recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. The Gates is located in a 100-year-old “beautiful two-story Victorian-style home in Emeryville” (We’re unsure exactly where and probably wouldn’t disclose this if we did), “We are in a private, single-family home in a discreet residential neighborhood”.

Their website contains a phone number, hours, etiquette, testimonials, FAQs and a matrix of “Dominas” photos with Pseudonyms like “Cordelia, Echo November, Seveda & Knox”. The site offers an extensive list of services (some of which I had to look up … NSFW!) that range from spanking, wax and ice play, electrical play, scat & piss play … to genital torture & enemas (there are too many to list). The actual “activities” that can be explored at The Gates, it is explained, is “infinite and only limited by your imagination!”. The “Tools of the Trade” of BDSM are generally Whips, Floggers, Gags, Paddles, Cuffs, Bondage Rope & something called a “Wartenberg Wheel” that is described as “A spiked wheel”.

the-gates-emeryville-bdsm

The intro letter on the homepage reads as follows:

Dear Friends:

As we enter our 20th year of service to our community, we would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been part of our wonderful, thrilling and discovery-filled journey. Countless men and women have learned more about the most exciting, surprising, and erotic parts of themselves inside our doors, and we are so very, very pleased and proud to have been a part of this process!

Since 1994 we have been striving to provide a surpassing experience for all of our visitors, and think that our standing in the community reflects that. With that in mind we are now, for the first time since 2005, making some changes to our suggested donations, in order to allow us to continue to provide you with the quality service you have come to expect. Please peruse the relevant information and feel free to call us with any questions you may have.

The past twenty years have been a more fabulous ride than anyone could have hoped for, more erotically educational than we could have wildly anticipated, and more exhilarating than we would have believed. We look forward to creating more exciting experiences with you over the years to come!

With Deepest Affection –

Domina Sage of The Gates
March 2014

The laws regarding BDSM are a bit murky. The practice is consensual, does not involve any actual sexual penetration and the payment guidelines are framed as “donations” (starting at $162 for 30 minutes!). The lack of actual paid sex is what keeps the practice on the legal margins and probably something that many (including myself) find curious. Some of the acts that involve whipping and various forms of torture, even if consensual, can apparently be categorized as assault & battery by their strict definitions. There’s even an advocacy group dedicated to promoting awareness and the legality of BDMS called the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom. We reached out to Domina Sage of The Gates for further comment but she has not returned our inquiries. The EPD was unaware of any neighborhood complaints ever issued about The Gates.

This 1999 interview with Gates Mistress Selina Raven provides a bit of a peak into what transpires within The Gates: “The Gates, or another establishment like it, is a good place to find out if you like dominance and submission games. It’s much better to go to an experienced professional than to hand your girlfriend a riding crop and seeing what happens. The Gates is, despite the ferocious-looking equipment, a place of safety; somewhere to have a sexual fantasy fulfilled (up to a point) in a place where the people won’t judge you”.

The Psychology behind BDSM is complicated, but for some taking on a role of compliance or helplessness offers a form of therapeutic escape from the stresses of life, responsibility & guilt according to the BDSM Wikipedia entry. This is why the client base are often associated with people in high-powered executive positions. For others, being under the power of a strong, controlling presence may evoke the feelings of safety and protection associated with childhood and satisfaction may be derived from earning the approval of an authoritative figure.

“BDSM is about creating vulnerability, opening yourself up to your partner in a way you can trust them to take you to some of these dark places that are considered taboo overall, but in a loving way,” noted Mistress Couple in this recent HuffPost Article. Couple is the head mistress at La Domaine Esemar, the oldest BDSM training château in the world located in upstate New York.

While the portrayal of BDSM in Fifty Shades is refuted as inauthentic by most (even abusive) and many articles have been written to distinguish the movie characters behavior from actual historic practice. This subject is further explored in this HuffPost Love & Sex Podcast with an interview of two actual Dominas:

A YouTube webisode series of the basic consultation & training of BDSM at La Domaine:

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Further Reading & Resources

Visit TheGatesSM.com →
An Interview with The Gates Mistress Selina Raven
Fifty Shades Isn’t A Movie About BDSM, And That’s A Problem | HuffPost.com
The BDSM Wikipedia Entry
An Inside Look at S&M | Psychology Today
A Submissive’s Initiative Blog | asibdsm.com

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

8 Responses to Fifty Shades of … E’ville? “The Gates” is Emeryville’s BDSM secret

  1. Henrietta says:

    If u care to get follow up feedback from a longtime but only occasional frequency customer, happy to tell u about my experiences and perceptions

  2. Mark anderson says:

    I’ve been to this place. They r based in XXXX XXXXX in Oakland. On the expensive side and the women working there lack experience. Not the real deal.

  3. Gates Alumni says:

    I used to be employed there. Let’s just say, I recommend going to an independent Domme or Sub if you wish to experience pro BDSM or find an established Domme mentor if you want to do BDSM professionally. Ladies are nice but it’s the core of the establishment (headmistress Sage) that bother me. It was where I got my toes wet and to this day I continue to practice kink in my life, but there are MANY issues with the Gates.

    1.Sage allows clients who are repeat offenders of being abusive/ignore safe words to continue coming despite multiple complaints about them.

    2. There is no exact standard of how to train newcomers on cleaning procedures.

    3. It is allowed for employees to be booked sessions back to back. Barely anytime to clean or take a break before seeing another client.

    4. Highly underpaid for ProBDSM industry standard = less motivated/ more stressed employees.

    5. Often reeks of smoke.

    6. Some equipment is not properly anchored and has the potential of being dangerous.

    The rest are just personal opinions I will not discuss or reveal too much of my identity.

    BDSM is awesome, but if you do decide to see a professional don’t go here. It’s promoting an atmosphere where a woman’s safety comes 2nd to money.

    • questioning says:

      hi, would you mind giving me an email so I can reach out to learn more about your specific experiences working there? I was interesting in applying….

    • Ray says:

      Hi there! How can we connect to arrange a session? Sounds like you’re now independent and I would like can to discuss your experience and areas of expertise!

  4. Anonymous says:

    The woman who owns the place is a total pimp who has mistreated many women who have worked there.

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