HUFFPOST ESSAY

Published in HuffPost 2022

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“I Hired a Sex Worker to Save My Marriage. Here’s How it Changed Our Lives”

 

“Do you mind if I touch you?” asked the erotic professional whose sandalwood burning, chakra-chic bedroom I’d recently entered. She was speaking of our general arrangement. We were staring at her bed. In her red wrap-dress, gold sandals and brown bob, she looked like a fifty-something starlet from a bygone era. Her current vocation was more relevant. On her website, I’d read she was a “Tantrika” offering sensual experiences for therapeutic purposes: a practice loosely known as Sexological Bodywork. This type of genital client engagement—featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix series, Sex, Love & goop—is illegal in every state except California. We were not in California.

I hadn’t come for criminality. As a petite, middle-aged woman with a penchant for blazers and low heels, I’d arrived at this last resort to heal. Thirty years of silence, interspersed with conventional remedies, had yielded little recovery from abuse-related dysfunction. I had issues with desire, arousal, and orgasm. Penetration was just as painful as my first attempts at 17. This plethora of problems had ruined every relationship I’d ever had.

But at 46, miraculously, I married someone wonderful. Kurt supported my overcoming a universe of hurdles. I couldn’t seem to begin. In fact, all my symptoms got worse after the wedding till our union became a pendulum—nighttime crying swung, in the daylight hours, to tight-jawed pleasantries. This was not the ecstatic merging I’d waited for my entire life. I needed to reclaim a potential that had been stolen from me.

Yet now that I had the chance, I stood frozen before the Tantric expert’s brass bed.

“You know,” she began in a lilting Italian accent. Her name was Francesca. “You don’t even have to take your clothes off. Or I could take off my clothes.”

“That’s Okay!” I practically shouted. A second later, taking control of the situation, I began removing my yoga pants. “I only want to take off my lower half,” I told her.

I told myself: Just like at the gynecologist, acknowledging this was nothing like any physician’s office I’d ever been to.

 

I wanted this experience to be different.

 

Maybe I could finally get answers to questions plaguing me since the Reagan years. Why was there burning with intercourse? Were bad sensations the only reason I had no desire? Did I possess a capacity to climax?

For years, I never grilled an OB/GYN. They seemed perplexed enough by knees that wouldn’t plop open during exams, even when I told them—on their medical history forms and verbally—I’d been violated. The one time I requested an overview of coital mechanics, my lady doc pointed to a poster of the female reproductive system, blinking furiously. She said I was maneuvering my husband’s penis into the wrong part of the vagina. “It’s not supposed to hit the cervix,” she scolded. Apparently, I was a failed fornicator.


Mental health providers weren’t any better. The handful I’d seen over the decades mostly shrugged, heads tilted empathically, when faced with my intimate woes. A few were more vocal, like Dr. Fay, who insisted pedophilia had zero effect on my carnal responsiveness. “Maybe you’re just not a very sexual person,” she concluded. Her next breath was a warning: I should sleep with my husband whenever he wanted; otherwise, he’d leave. A sex therapist I consulted with—from the basement of a Panera—stopped me after three minutes. “You have pelvic pain? I don’t see anyone with pelvic pain.”

 

I was too broken for even a sex therapist.

 

Francesca had no trouble with my barrage of Qs. Prior to entering her boudoir, we had sat in a front office, where I detailed every crevice of my history. She emphasized that the physical component of our ninety minutes together could bring illumination. I nodded while secretly thinking: If this really is sex work, how will that play out?

Here’s how. Once I was undressed, the Tantric mistress placed a navy towel on the puffy gold comforter. She plopped down beside me. “Tell me,” she said. “Do you know where the clitoris is, I mean on your body?”

I laughed, relieved we were starting with basics. “Of course,” I declared, showing her what she was looking for.

“Yes, that’s it,” she said, peering in. “But you need to lift up the hood.”

“I’ve already done that.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Isn’t this the clitoris?” I asked, indicating the flesh I was holding between index finger and thumb.

“That’s still only the hood,” she replied.

Hot shame spread across my face. Francesca patted my leg gently before repeating the phrase: “May I touch you?” This time, consent was for real—with contact. A moment later, I felt her warm hand:  “So you pull this up, Okay?. . . . Here is the clitoris. Of course, when you’re aroused it will be much bigger.”

I had to strain my neck to see the shiny head poking through. “I didn’t know,” I said, wiping fat tears from my cheeks.

“That’s why you’re here!” Her liquid brown eyes were smiling, with cute crinkles in the corners. “Do you know how few women know they’re built like that?

I tried hard to believe her as she fetched a mirror.

Then, like Lewis and Clark in lipstick, the Sexological Bodyworker and I mapped my pleasure terrain. We began at the recently-excavated bliss button. She showed me how it extended from the hood to a shaft before going underground—an internal network of tumescence. On the skin above, we traced clitoral“ legs” running inside labia, and “bulbs” hugging the opening to the vagina. “The full clitoris, makes a wishbone shape” Francesca told me.”

 

No wonder I’d never enjoyed lovemaking. I hadn’t known where all the nerve endings were!

 

Sitting up now on the blue towel, resting from too many insights, sipping a glass of water she’d brought me, I listened to my guide describe our next adventure. She would teach me how to have penetration that actually felt good—the main reason I’d taken this risk. There were three parts to this lesson, and the explanation for each made me dizzy. I was advised to recline again so my brain could relinquish understanding to my body.

The first step was deep relaxation. My hostess had me do slow, audible exhales (“Ahhhhhh”) while pressing right above my public bone. Coordinating breath and pressure was awkward. Stunningly though, after some minutes, I felt a sudden release of genitals. Like a fist unclenching.

I think I was still in shock from this success when we got to step two—engorgement and lubrication. According to my teacher, I needed to comprehend these, experientially, in order for intercourse to go smoothly. In other words, she wanted me to get turned on. Her logic was sound, yet it made my armpits damp. Sure, I’d come there to get savvy about arousal. But did I actually want to get aroused? Here? With her? I didn’t. Though how else could I get the full picture? A view I’d paid 500 dollars for, after saving for months.

 

There was no turning back.

 

I let the Mediterranean sexpert stroke the upper right-quadrant of my little happy place. When she asked if she might do the same with my G-spot, I invited her to reach right in. Surprisingly, I felt no discomfort with entry. Only blood expanding the area, AKA engorgement, and, yes, emerging lubrication… As quickly as I could, I replaced her hand with my own, so I could calmly replicate her techniques. I took a deep breath, just like she taught me. The G-spot felt ridged, like Braille. It was like learning to read myself.

At this juncture, we were at step three. The finale. Francesca was going to teach me how to screw. That is, how to use my muscles in a manner that brought joy, not pain. She demonstrated while lying beside me. “As the pelvis moves forward,” she instructed, lifting her loins off the blanket. “Contract around the penis, and breathe in.”

I tried this alongside her.

As the pelvis moves back,” she continued, placing her bottom back on the bed. “Release the vagina muscles. And exhale.”

I felt thoroughly spastic, but before long I was dancing with her. Tushy up. Tushy down. With all the inner workings.

Where else was I going to get this information?

I don’t remember dressing—too much of a daze. I do recall handing her my credit card: the transaction. Hard to believe this was the act that could throw us in jail. The real exchange was something else—her compassionate skill with my traumatized body.

It’s been eight years since my visit with Francesca, and I’m happy to report Kurt and I are going well. If a great marriage grows from a stable sensual connection, then my hands-on guru is a crucial part of our root system. My husband and I use her instruction—anatomy, nerve endings, placement of parts, deep breathing—whenever we make love.

Maybe lots of nooky—and good info about it—accounts for the extra courage.

 

Once I realized I wasn’t broken (just ill-informed), bravery sprouted in my heart, and lower.

 

I became relentless in finding improved medical and mental health providers. Resolving pelvic pain, I realized, takes a village. I needed a trauma therapist, a gynecologist focused on pain disorders, a pelvic floor PT, and erotic education.

I wish it hadn’t taken me thirty years to recover from early molestation—and that doing so didn’t break the law.

Maybe one day, the U.S. will make Sexological Bodywork legal, like it is in California—that’s where Paltrow’s Netflix show is filmed. Could my country even go the way of Denmark, where “sexual advisors,” trained by the government, help people with physical disabilities (those in wheelchairs, for instance).

Trauma can do its own number on intimate function. Other factors mess with it too: hormones, aging, birth control pills, medications, childbirth, parenting, cancer, depression, weight gain, weight loss, chronic pain, vascular issues, communication mishaps, and daily stress, to name a few. Everyone deserves accessible ways to restore wholeness.

What restoration looks like will vary from person to person. Not everyone wants their package handled by a bodyworker. How are we to know options though without open discussion of healing modalities? We need frank conversations about bodies, pleasure, and sexual solutions. Not one size fits all, but customized for each individual, throughout a person’s life. I believe the Danes have it right—sexual wellness is a critical part of overall health.

Hell might have to turn as cold as Copenhagen for America to value erections, particularly, the female kind. Till then, I’d gladly commit my crime again. In fact, I did. A few weeks after seeing Francesca, I visited her a second time—with my husband. He was curious how this magic woman had transformed me. He wanted his own transformation. That session, focused primarily on emotional intimacy, equally informs our relationship. Here’s to all matrimony savers, whatever their legal status. Hail to all helpers of love.

MARRIED SEX

One-Person Play: Fiction, Based on True Events 

NEW YORK TIMES ESSAY

(MODERN LOVE)

Read NY Times Essay Here or Read Text Below

 

“Healing Sought (Bring Your Own Magic)”

 

At 42 I had never loved someone who loved me back. Recovering (still) from childhood sexual abuse by a neighbor, I couldn’t transcend romantic failure.

One night my friend Lourdes, a child psychologist who moonlighted as a yoga teacher, invited me over to fix my love life. After dinner, while drinking mint tea, she said, “You just have to visualize the exact man you want.”

Although this seemed very woo-woo, I closed my eyes. Immediately I saw Peter, a brooding soul who also had been abused as a child. Throughout my 20s I’d had a relationship with him — if you can call hot, sporadic sex with an emotionally unavailable guy a relationship.

It had been years since I had seen him. So I was shocked to find him lingering in my brain: Being in love with him was a secret I had kept even from myself. All the more shameful was my buried-yet-unequivocal conviction that Peter was the only man who could mend me. On some subterranean level, I believed if we could only be together, his abuse and my abuse would cancel each other out in some mysterious arithmetic of healing.

I had never confessed this to anyone. But suddenly it came pouring out of me. Lourdes, with black goddess curls cascading down her shoulders (my own brunette frizz worked more horizontally), said I should listen to my inner wisdom.

 

“Now that you know who you want,” she said, “the universe will bring him to you.”

 

Like Lourdes, I had been wielding crystals since the ’80s. Colorful chakra books and CDs on synchronicity were part of my world. But as the child of an Auschwitz survivor, I saw flaws in New Age positions claiming that thoughts alone could determine destiny. This mind-set blamed people like my grandparents for their own murders. Better to hold on to skepticism, I reasoned, despite my tarot-loving tendencies.

Then again, maybe Lourdes had it right. No stranger to loneliness, hadn’t she manifested (her terminology) a handsome husband at age 40? The guy was clearly a catch, even if he was from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

At home that night I picked up a journal I had received as a gift. On the first page I wrote: “Peter will come and find me.” Then I sat in a meditation pose pushing away these facts: 1) I’d had no contact with Peter in 11 years. 2) He had no idea where I lived now. 3) Last I heard, he was married and living thousands of miles away.

I had no intention of interfering with his marriage. Mostly, I pictured Peter and me having a conversation in which I confessed my therapy-resistant brokenness and he, more than anyone, understood. Then we would exchange childhood war stories.

 

I believed this interaction would somehow fix my foundation. At the same time, I found the idea ludicrous.

 

But when I looked for Peter on Google a few days later, I saw that he was coming to my city to perform a one-night-only, one-person play about his abuse. I was floored. And I was free. I usually taught on Monday nights, but I had that evening off for spring break. Coincidence?

The night of the performance I sat in the dark theater, sweating, as Peter spilled his trauma onto the stage. His father had been a madman, and Peter spoke eloquently about how this had damaged him. I identified with the powerlessness and self-hatred he detailed. His courage inspired me. After the play, as well-wishers dissipated, I stepped forward to congratulate him.

There was no wife to be seen.

We met for lunch the next day, and I told him everything: craving him, visualizing him, being unable to heal. When I was done, Peter told me he was divorced, tired of living in his hometown, and he, too, had been in love with me all those years ago. The next thing I remember we were naked. In the weeks that followed Peter and I emailed frequently. I couldn’t believe it: I was having a relationship with a man I adored. And he was reciprocating.

No longer a tepid believer, I became a zealot.

“You can have whatever you wish for,” I declared at a dinner party.

“Nonsense!” my lawyer friend shouted.

My friends circled me as accusations flew involving Darfur and pancreatic cancer. They said I was blaming afflicted individuals for their own misfortune. And wasn’t I implying they could just wish these things away? “When they die, it’s their own fault, right?” one friend said.

Of course I saw their point, yet wild faith now enveloped me like a silk robe that might actually have been polyester. I didn’t care what the material was; it kept out the cold. Sort of.

I didn’t want to see it at first, but a pattern had developed with Peter. If I emailed him, he wrote right back. If I didn’t write, he didn’t, either — that is, until I couldn’t stand it anymore and wrote him again.

Finally, the first week of May, two months after our reunion, I went to see him for the weekend. He seemed happy about my plan to visit, but once I got there, though he was kind, he kept picking fights. It was as if his ex-wife was standing just behind my right shoulder, and he was playing out ugly scenes with her.

When I left on Sunday, I still had hope, reasoning that he was just grieving his marriage. A few days later he emailed: “This is not a good time for us.”

I felt humiliated and unmoored.

Feeling betrayed by Peter, Lourdes and my own doped-up religiosity, I poured my pain into my own one-person play. Mine was about losing my mother 10 years earlier. To research her life, I traveled to Poland and Germany, where I wandered concentration camps, Nazi ghettos and the sites of death marches.

This confrontation with brutality gave me a strange relief. I finally felt grounded in the real world, where there was no correlation between what a person desired and what the universe offered. When I returned to the United States, I spent a year on my play. I gave up dating. At bookstores I avoided any aisle that featured dead ancestors, angels or the I Ching.

But one day, while putting final touches on my dramatic piece, I began listening to an interview I had conducted with my mother while still in college. It contained her entire war story. I had recently found the old TDK cassette and had it digitized.

All of a sudden there was an anecdote I had forgotten. In the last months of the war, my mother lay dying of typhus on the stone floor of a concentration camp, surrounded by corpses. In a stroke of luck, there was a small window where she could see a bit of sky. She thought that if she looked out the window every day, imagining she could fly, the typhus wouldn’t take her. It didn’t.

 

I decided magical thinking was encoded into my DNA. It was who I was.

 

Under a tangle of socks I found the journal I had used to bring forth Peter. If I wanted love, why wouldn’t I do everything in my power to make it happen? Nothing short of this commitment made any sense.

Turning to a fresh page, I wrote: “I will be in a serious relationship very soon.”

A few weeks later, after a slew of Match.com dates (I was taking the practical route, too), I went to lunch with Kurt, a man who was neither dark nor brooding. He was from Indiana.

In that bright French bistro, Kurt talked about a childhood filled with the usual cuts and bruises, but he was not the least bit abused. I liked his carefully combed hair, boyish grin and earnest blue eyes. But could he help heal me? Partners of abuse survivors can’t avoid taking on this healing role; the residue of sexual violation shows up the minute one of us is touched.

Despite my doubts, I became animated in his company. My hand gestures grew huge until, during a burst of enthusiasm, I spilled my glass of red wine all over Kurt’s light khakis. Time paused: I was certain this stranger would unveil something unsavory. I held my breath, anticipating a flash of rage or a casual infliction of harm.

Instead, Kurt threw his head back and laughed.

“I’m so glad you did that,” he said with a toothy smile. “It’s something I usually do.”

 

Safety felt odd, but as Kurt walked me home, he took my hand. His meaty palm made me calm.

 

When we arrived at my building, to my surprise, Kurt kissed me, passionately, in broad daylight. I kissed him back. Three years later, on a snowy December day, we were married.

Had I conjured Peter from my past to get him out of my system so I could find true love? I can’t say for sure.

I can say this: I didn’t need a broken man to repair me. I needed a whole man who believed in repair.

THE PLEASURE PLAN

Memoir Published May, 2020

Publisher’s Link Here

Chapter One

Every Hooha Hangup in the DSM

 

“Maybe you’re just not a very sexual person,” says Dr. Fay in a slow Southern drawl. I’ve come to this office to save my new marriage. After thirty years of searching, I’ve found a man I love who loves me back–at 48. I never had reciprocity before, meaning a real relationship. But now I do. With Kurt, my miracle husband.

 

Kurt doesn’t know the extent of my damage.

 

“What if I’m just broken?” I ask, my voice a shaky vibrato because I’m talking about secret problems plaguing me since I was seventeen: low libido, orgasm challenges, and pelvic pain. I always assumed my obstacles were permanent. Is that true? “If my sexuality is broken,” I venture, sitting taller on the maroon leather couch I’m sticking to, “I can fix it. Can’t I?”

“Not if you you’re not a sexual person,” says Dr. Fay, an attractive marriage and family therapist, specializing in hypnosis. “Look, it’s fine to have no libido. You know that, right?”

I nod, thinking of grandmas, and nuns, and those that make asexual a lifestyle. But Fay’s outfit—strange for a mental health professional, especially one who’s middle-aged—puts notions in my head. A question pulls like thread from her gold metallic mini-skirt. It sheds from her short-sleeved mohair sweater. She looks like an unwashed lover might come by right after I leave here. So I ask: “Can Eros be taught?”

The hypnotist chuckles, tucking brown hair behind her ears, widening her pale green eyes. We have the same coloring except I’m obviously nothing like her. Inexplicably, she stands and begins pacing. “Let me tell you about others in your situation. OK? Now one client, she’d rather be waterboarded than sleep with her husband.”

I know I should interrupt, revealing what I haven’t shared yet—the experiment. Two weeks ago I implemented a strategy to finally heal, after thirty years. It started with no longer believing that pleasure is out of reach, or dangerous. To hell with fragility. More feeling than fact, it seems like if I pressed on a thigh or clavicle, I could dislodge something, puncturing a vital organ.

 

Loneliness has done this to me.

 

I think of Kurt, and one night in particular. It was a summer evening, weeks after we met, and he was pushing me on a swing. Within seconds, I was up in the trees, all because of his force. Not bad for fifty-one. I let this overall impression of him—capable arms, uplifted cheeks when we’d stumbled upon the playground—replace my imagined breakability. He’s incredible, I thought, up in the sky and coming back down. A million neurons fired while I squealed, “Harder. Push harder.”

As Dr. Fay regales me with tales of lacking lust, I force myself to think about why my bedroom is nothing like the swing. I know the reason, and she does too. I need to get this visit back on track. “I understand what you’re telling me,” I say. “But do you think we can talk about my trauma?”

I watch her hands find their way to her hips. Her pose makes me think she’s forgotten what I disclosed in our telephone intake.

“That happened a loooong time ago,” she says finally with a wave of pink manicure.

“I think it’s related,” I say, explaining that every therapist I’ve seen—six of them, spread out over geography and time—agreed there’s a connection.

Silently, Dr. Fay strolls back to her purple velvet chair. She crosses her toned bare legs and peers at me.

What if she’s right about my past? These events did happen a long time ago. As for my therapists of yore, childhood was all they dwelled upon. Never what I should do with grown-up maladies I was left with. Even my gynecologist was stumped. Since I started my experiment, I’ve learned official names, in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM: hypoactive sexual desire disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, female orgasmic disorder, sexual aversion disorder, dyspareunia, vaginismus.

 

I have every hooha hang-up in the DSM.

 

Crucially, the DSM said hypnosis could help many of challenges. I cross my legs in my own mini-skirt, black and longer than Dr. Fay’s. “OK, say the past isn’t relevant? What about hypnosis? You said on the phone we could try hypnosis.”

“I know,” But honestly? I don’t think it’ll help.”

“So I should just accept—this?”

“Yes!” says Dr. Fay. “Accept that you’re not a sexual person. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.”

To argue with her assessment, I’d have to come up with a time before my dysfunctions began. All my wits can register is how my flaccid interest in lovemaking has ruined every relationship I’ve ever had. The last time Kurt and I argued about intimacy, he lay in our bed with tears rolling down his temples: “Why do you keep rejecting me?”

“So what do I do with my husband?” I ask, fishing for a pen I can’t find in my backpack.

“Just have sex,” Fay answers with a shrug.

“What do you mean?”

“Just. Have. Sex.”

“When?”

“Whenever. Say your husband wants to get physical twice a week and you don’t want to, you could just have sex. You don’t have to like working out to go to the gym, do you? I mean, you like being married, don’t you?”

I blink. A lot. Not because what she’s saying is shocking, but because I don’t know why I’m pretending I’m shocked. It’s how I always bedroom-existed until I got it into my skull I might mend myself. So what if her suggestion spits in the face of trauma recovery and consent and feminism? On the wall behind Dr. Fay’s chair, I can see her license as someone whose expertise is wedlock.

“I love being married,” I utter, with trembling again in my voice, in my bones.

“Good,” Dr. Fay’s big light eyes make their way to a digital clock on her desk. “Well, we’re just about out of time. Is there anything else?”

I gather my bag, my cardigan. No, That’s it…Thank you for seeing me.”

“It was my pleasure,” she says with glossy lips spread ear to ear. She believes she has solved my problem. I suppose she has.

My curative project has been killed. The way I conceived of it, hypnosis–or at least faith–would plow a path for adventurous, multi-dimensional repair. I named this endeavor “The Pleasure Plan.”

Finally on my feet, my mouth involuntarily mirrors hers, but my smile is fake. Then I remember something wonderful—Burger King. I noticed it in a shopping plaza down the road. Suddenly, I can’t wait to get out of there so I can order a chicken sandwich with an order of fries—large, even though I’m a yoga teacher. I’ll lick the grease off every finger until I’m sated and sleepy. I’ll drive to my house half-asleep.

Taking a last glance around the office and at the hypnotist, I say to myself: She has got to be the worst therapist on the entire planet. Consequently, I open the door to the hallway. It looks like a long tan tunnel, a portal taking me back to my delicate life. I swing around.

“I want to try hypnosis,” I announce. “I know you don’t think it will help, but I want to do it anyway.”

 

I have to start somewhere.

 

If I leave here without some implementation of my plan, I don’t trust myself to seek out another hypnotist, or to advance. Perhaps my experiment has already stirred up desire—not for greasy things, but for its own freedom. And what I desire now is autosuggestion on a red leather couch with a therapist who may or may not be incompetent. I want her to change her mind about me.

“I’d like to schedule another appointment,” I say, taking out my planner.

Reluctantly, she agrees.

Driving home to my husband, forgoing fast food, I try to imagine what lies beyond this day.
I can’t see it, not yet, what it will take to ultimately, fully heal—fifteen kinds of practitioners, thirty pleasure-enhancing techniques. I never could have predicted the struggles Kurt and I would encounter. Or the aliveness that would permeate our lives.

I have no idea what’s in store for me. All I know is that whatever happens, this visit has already altered my future—it has strengthened my body, my being, for hope.

Short Video Clips from Other Autobiographical and Fictional Plays

Found Here