03/27/14

A Miracle Pill for Marital Bliss? Depends On How You Swallow It.

Fish_Oil_CapsulesA warning to all women in long-term relationships. According to The New York Times you are suffering from HSDD (hypoactive sexual-desire disorder) registered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder as SIAD (sexual interest/arousal disorder) and otherwise known to The Sultanette as POFB (plain old fucking boredom). To wit, you’re “tired of sex” with your partner and you need a pill.

If you doubt this, be assured by the Times’ images of gently aging women copping clueless poses that accompany last May’s Sunday magazine piece by Daniel Bergner, “Unexcited? There May Be A Pill For That.” Apologies for not reporting this late-breaking news sooner but since it’s an indisputable fact that we women have sluggish sex drives, what’s another few months of abstinence?

16c satirical German woodcut, “The useless of chastity belts in ensuring the faithfulness of young wives married to old ugly husbands.”

16c satirical German woodcut, “The uselessness of chastity belts in ensuring the faithfulness of young wives married to old ugly husbands.”

I was reminded of the piece after reading “The Monogamy Trap” by Sandra Tsing Loh in this month’s Atlantic. It’s a review of Love Illuminated, a “rumination” of the Times’ “Modern Love” columnist, Daniel Jones on the many letters he’s received over the years.

In his chapter titled “Monotony” Jones shockingly reveals: “Among my fifty thousand strangers, I’ve heard from only a handful of couples who claim to have maintained sexually charged marriages through the decades.” And since the remedies posed by these flaccid strangers – like “reading to each other in bed from marriage-improvement books” – begged for massive augmentations of K-Y, I decided it was time to revisit the Times’ piece for an alternate cure.

Wundt-research-groupSure enough, there it was, the “female desire drug.” (No not, Quaaludes, horny people, that’s illegal!) This drug, if FDA approved, will be anointed by modern chemistry, and look at all the trouble they’ve gone through to bring it to you.

This mostly male panel of experts, has hooked you up to “vaginal blood flow measuring devices” and headgear that tracks the movement of your pupils “hundreds of times per second” while you watch X-rated images. They’ve recruited female hamsters and arachnids to mate so they can “glean insight into women’s sexual psyches.”

Mr. Rat-Butter, Beatrix Potter.

Mr. Rat-Butter, Beatrix Potter.

And if X-rated porn isn’t your cup of tea with its, shall we say, male focus, they’ve even penetrated your “neural networks of eros.” Alas, discovering that “the brain’s interwoven networks are too intricate for the technology to properly view them” they’ve turned to the next best alternative to slicing and dicing a woman’s desire: lab rats. (Given that many a rat has had us begging for more, this may prove the most reliable yardstick.)

The remedies along this crusade to cure your coital ennui have included a pill with “peppermint-flavored testosterone coating that melts in your mouth” enrobing a delayed-release inner tablet exclusively formulated to relieve your lack of dis-arousal by the man who just scratched his ass and flopped into bed next to you, boner waiting. Hellooooo!

Woman-wash-tubLinneah “swallowed a dose every day – and waited.” Reaction? A jump in blood pressure and vomiting. Back to the drawing board. The next version proved the better mouse, or rat trap. Zita recorded copulating five times a week instead of one, though her joy of sex meter offered less to be desired. “I would feel horny,” she reported, “and I got like a throbbing sensation, like I had to do something or it was going to bother me all night.” That and those three loads of wash piled up in the laundry room, Zita. But how did her husband feel about the drug? She laughs. “Happy!” Mission accomplished.

The Times’ piece bullishly concludes: “Perhaps the fantasy that so many of us harbor, consciously or not, in the early days of our relationships, that we have found a soulmate who will offer us both security and passion till death do us part, will soon be available with the aid of a pill.” Obviously, The New York Times has not consulted with The Male Harem.

From the culture that brought you the everything-bagel comes one-mate-does-it-all. We’ve propped up monogamy, or the illusion, as the acid test of coupling. If you’re not for it, you’re un-American. “Sexual fidelity is considered to be mature and realistic,” says couple’s therapist Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity, “while nonmonogamy, even consensual nonmonogamy, is suspect.” We want passion and predictability. Wild abandon with all the comforts of home.

Gilded Cage, George Hare (1857-1933).

Gilded Cage, George Hare (1857-1933).

In “The Monogamy Trap” Loh refers to three categories of bored spouses: the “Quashers” who settle; the “Sneakers” who stalk old flames; and the proactive “Restorers” who schedule date nights, dance classes, and “ten for tens” (ten hugs lasting ten seconds, ten times a day). The notion of stepping outside the trap isn’t considered. No rattling the monogamy cage.

After sixteen years of fidelity with One&Only it wasn’t lack of sex that did us in, it was having nothing else we could want passionately together. That’s when monogamy becomes monotony – when you’re no longer choosing one person for life but settling for one.

When we split, even without the aid of a “vaginal blood flow measuring device” I felt my libido spiking – pheromones pulsing from every pore. After sixteen years of Saturday night sex, there’s nothing like mashing in the backstairs of a New York high rise with a sinewy hunk of musculature after a sweaty session at the gym. (I’ll let you decide what “mashing” means.) Or sleepless siestas at the Ritz, Madrid. Or foregoing an uplifting homily at the First Presbyterian Church to get naked and do rude things on a Sunday afternoon. No, that’s not love. But getting back to those “neural networks of eros” for a minute, it’s a big chunk of human sensation I’m no longer willing to let wither away. And I’m not about to drug myself for it.

Some couples – those octogenarians holding hands in the diner– keep turning each other on for life. For some, I believe frothing it up doesn’t really matter. For the rest of us (and if you’re still reading this it might be you) that itch for eros could require more than popping a pill.

After a ten-year marriage and a good sixteen-year run with One&Only, I’m opting for the third rail, The Male Harem, my posse of clever, capable, sexy (whether we have it or not) and yes, desirous men. When we rendezvous it’s by choice. In their company, the pleasure is pure, not negotiated. Not under contract, there is no expectation of permanence.

William Hogarth, oil on canvas, c.1730, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

William Hogarth, oil on canvas, c.1730, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

Instead of taking a pill to ramp up my lust, I’m taking in a heady dose of uncertainty. That can be unsettling for a girl brought up to be saved by a man but mostly it’s orgasmic. My desire quotient has skyrocketed and it’s a desire, not for someone snoring next to me, but for life.

Which brings me to the final revelation in the development of the female desire drug. “There was a lot of discussion about it by the experts in the room,” recalled Andrew Goldstein who was involved in FDA approval of one of the drugs in Washington, “The need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs.“ Go ahead and feel good, girls. But don’t get carried away. Can you swallow that?

03/13/14

The Sultanette Offers Tax Advice – Straight Up And Very Dry

Dinner Series, Wikimedia.

Dinner Series, Wikimedia.

It’s not all louche living for The Sultanette. Every year come April it’s piper-paying time when I’m forced to abandon my strict code of ethics and embroider the truth for unsexy people, i.e. have a come-to-Jesus with the IRS who could care less about The Male Harem.

But over the years I’ve developed surefire ways to streamline tax preparation which I share with you now so that we can all get on with the business of work and play and trust congress to misappropriate our hard-earned money for another year.

To begin: Whether you file with TurboTax, a tax service, accountant, or nettlesome relative, have all records categorized and calculated. To do this, collect documents and receipts and – this is important – turn off all electronic devices for total focus. That was easy, right?

Now arrange the above in piles, calculator at fingertips, work sheets handy, comfy cushion on chair. How about that? You’ve already accomplished your first goal – organization!

Next, stand up, stretch, walk to kitchen, open freezer door, and remove chilled martini glass. If you have not already made a determination re: twist, onions, or olives do so now. Prepare martini. Congratulations! You are ready to sit back and survey the task ahead.

A Blonde Woman, c.1520, Palma Vecchio, National Gallery.

A Blonde Woman, c.1520, Palma Vecchio, National Gallery.

As a reward, The Sultanette now presents useful martini history to share at your next cocktail party or with the nice IRS person who comes by to audit your taxes.

Marie Antoinette’s Left Breast: Before you suspect a gratuitous sexual mention, I submit the provenance of the martini glass which was only developed in the 20th century. Its predecessor, the  cocktail glass with slightly curved rim, was said to have been inspired by Marie Antoinette who ordered a set of “nipple bowls” to resemble her aforementioned anatomy.

These molded porcelain bowls resting on three goats’ heads were produced by Limoges for her “Pleasure Dairy” located in the Petit Hameau (Little Hamlet) – the mock farming village at Versailles where she and her ladies-in-waiting played milkmaid dress-up before weighing themselves down in satin, ermine and jewels to partake in 10-course debauches of gilded peacock at the expense of starving peasants.

A Milkmaid Climbing A Stile, c.1750, Thomas Gainsborough, Yale Center for British Art.

A Milkmaid Climbing A Stile, c.1750, Thomas Gainsborough, Yale Center for British Art.

The Queen’s homage to au naturale, the hamlet was surrounded by an English garden inspired by Rousseau featuring hills, streams, rambling paths, and a neo-Classical Temple of Love where more teats were no doubt exposed. At some point, the nipple bowl graduated from milk-quaffing at the Pleasure Dairy to Champaign toasts for the Queen – perhaps as consolation while Louis worked out his erectile dysfunction issues.

Next stop, London, 2014, and the domain of the sipsmiths: After stumbling (completely sober)onto this mecca for cocktail aesthetes, The Sultanette was ready to pack her bags and head for the next tasting event “One gin. One bar.100 Classic Martinis” on March 27. Forget that I don’t drink gin martinis, this broad can be broad-minded when the occasion calls for it. And this occasion takes place in an oak-paneled private apartment at Kettner’s. Oh and the Sirs Sipsmith have that “sexy in a scruffy but cultivated Brit boy look” that can only improve once they open their mouths and the accent gives everything they pronounce about cocktails, a dirty schoolboy irony.

I imagined hearing it as I read their explanation of the martini glass design as evolved from Marie’s nipple: the steeper sides and straight rim prevent the ingredients from separating and better support a toothpick or skewer of olives. The stiff stem – sorry I meant the long stem, well let’s just move along – ensures the cocktail stays crisp and frosty. They also describe on the website that, “We’re small, we’re independent and we craft truly artisanal spirits of uncompromising quality” and I believe everything but the reference to size.

Alas, unable to jump on the next Virgin flight to London, I headed to NOHO, the quartier “North of Houston” in Manhattan where Madam Geneva resides. Described by New York Magazine as “a bit of British colonialism on the Bowery,” it is named after the moniker for gin in preindustrial London. Martinis are served there in a charming little stemmed glass accompanied by a mini-carafe on ice to keep the surplus chilled. But when I was told that Madam carries only one vodka and I would love it, the gauntlet was thrown.

Lilian_Braithwaite_&_Noël_Coward

Noel Coward with actress Lilian Braithwaite, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Not only was The Sultanette pleased, I was enthralled. Turns out Aylesbury Duck, a wheat vodka with Canadian waters in the recipe, is also artisanal, crafted by Eighty Six Noise and Spirits. As the bartender (a cute Yankee version of the Sips) explained, Eight-Six is a consortium of bartenders who have designed the bottle to be server-friendly. He demonstrated how the neck of the bottle can be grabbed just-so to facilitate a perfectly measured pour. (Not going there, do I have to spell out everything?)

Now that we’ve covered France, England and America, or New York anyway, I leave you with one more country, courtesy of Noel Coward’s recipe for the perfect martini: “Fill a glass with gin, then wave it in the general direction of Italy.”

And now I leave you to your taxes. Aren’t you done yet?