01/24/17

Intimacy With Strangers

Beijing Chaoyang Park, 2008, drnan tu.

Open on woman alone in cozy living room. A sudden shattering of glass breaks the stillness as a man bursts through French doors behind her. He is hooded, all in black. He throws her to the ground. She thrashes back. Vases crash. He takes her violently and disappears.

I almost left Elle after Isabelle Huppert’s first rape scene, already skittish at the thought of returning to my New York apartment, alone with the image. Yes, I did say “first rape scene” and yes, I’m glad I stayed. Because after its brutal introduction the film, this year’s Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, takes an even more kinky but intriguing turn.

Crime of Passion, Yumi Kimura.

To tiptoe around full disclosure (if you have a low spoiler threshold, continue at own risk) the woman Michele, played with icy reserve by Isabelle Huppert (Golden Globe Best Actress in a Drama) has a compromised past which keeps her from reporting the incident. When the attacker returns, she rips off his hood. She knows him. Previous casual encounters have been sexually charged. And now the games begin. Rather than repulsion, violence fuels their attraction.

CAVEAT: The Sultanette does not endorse the above. Though I’m all for sampling the next course on the sexual tasting menu, violence is not my cup of tea. But the film suggests (without presenting solutions, as the French have mastered over centuries) a more nuanced story.

The Fisherman & the Siren, Frederic Leighton, c.1857.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven of Basic Instinct, Elle is a sly exploration of the implicit understanding between two beings. It toys with who we sense behind the masks (and if we need to rip them off). And shocks us into contemplating the psychological forces that trigger sexuality between two bodies.

As previously stated on this blog (to the disappointment of the horndogs among you) The Male Harem is not about sex. But intimacy? Call me an intimacy whore. An intimacy nympho. I can’t get enough of it. Not the tell-all brand of intimacy pushed by the couple’s counseling industry. In the harem, we are strangers of a sort. We don’t share to-do lists. We aren’t responsible for each other’s lives. We share precious time together but not vows to stay together for all time.

Nude Boy & Girl on Beach, c.1913, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

What fills our time is the present. It might include good food, adult beverages, a movie, music, or play. It will not include conversation concerning the price of condos, celebrity scandals, Facebook, or Monday Night Football. (A girl just gets tired of talking about balls.)

If sex happens to be a component it’s not fuck-buddy sex. As anyone in holy wedlock knows, good sex doesn’t happen on a schedule. It rises from desire that’s not required. And the good kind satisfies the libido which curbs the need to settle for the boring kind. It’s like having “I don’t need to fuck you money” in the bank.

Amor & Psyche, William-Adolphe Bouguereau,1890.

Before The Male Harem I paid my dues: two committed couplings steeped in monogamy that added up to one-third of my life. I have no complaint with mutual bonding. I believe in loyalty, trust, and having somebody’s back. What confounds me is how proficient we are at inhabiting the same four walls and ignoring each other’s essence.

We’re wired to negotiate relationships by the jobs we have, the stuff we accumulate, the offspring we perpetrate. And while these are worthy tasks necessary for survival of the species, they’re hardly conducive to exploring the rich, sometimes contradictory, endlessly surprising subtleties of another human being.

Enter Under Your Own Risk

Self-indulgent? Impractical? Fantastical? Easy, really. You don’t have to borrow on the credit card, give up gluten, or spend an hour on the elliptical everyday. All that’s required is that you mute the mobile, dismantle preconceptions, douse expectations, and get your mitts off of shaping someone into your Fred or Ginger or Tonto or Trigger.

Online matchmaking has its merits. But it’s doped us into paying more attention to algorithms than instincts. What if all those carefully curated facts distract from the untidy mystery lurking behind them? In that sense, Isabelle Huppert and her masked intruder might be onto something.

09/23/16

Introducing the State-of-the-Art Orgasm

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave.

You say your Apple Watch can give you an orgasm? Okay never mind then, you won’t need Objects of Desire, a tantalizing compendium of sex toys, brilliant widgets, and couture erotica you didn’t know existed, designed to inspire an orgasm you didn’t know you could have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the book’s writer, Rita Catinella Orrell and designer, Jason Scuderi by email. What struck me was their smart and thoughtful approach to a subject that so often gets tossed in the taboo file. No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about pleasure. It’s now possible to get sex at the click of a mouse or swipe of an app but pleasure isn’t so easy to manufacture.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

I know, I know, who has the time? Pleasure requires finesse. A slowing down and savoring. A connection with the sensorial coaxed by a willingness to be present. But if there is a single theme to the book’s array of elegant paraphernalia, it can be found in the introductory quote by American designer & architect, Charles Eames. “Take your pleasure seriously.”

A look at the table of contents reveals the stunning choices. Beyond dildos so brilliantly devised they could get off a rocket scientist, the collection includes vibrators, strokers, harnesses, couture, jewelry, light BDSM, toys for every orifice, and a chapter dedicated to “A category of their own.” (If you want to know about those cheeky items, including a Swedish oral sex stimulator that beat out Samsung for a Cannes Lions in product design, you’ll have to buy the book!)

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Truth told, I’ve never been one to collect an arsenal of sex toys, generally preferring human beings to batteries. But these products aren’t just clever new mouse traps. “I don’t think replacing the middle man is the goal exactly,” says Orrell. “It’s that you now have more options to customize your experience.”

Example? If your lover isn’t the brightest bulb on the marquee, try the artificial intelligence of Hum by Dimensional Industries, Inc. “This technology can respond to the female orgasm and draw out the experience,” says Orrell. The smarts? “A 3D-printed internal structure, motion sensors, and thousands of lines of code, respond intelligently to movement and touch, delivering varying frequencies of vibrations in response to how much pressure is exerted, and in return, creating an organic experience for the user.” In short, fasten your safety belt.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

But does the spontaneity get lost in the coding? Scuderi hit my cerebral G-spot when he explained it this way: “I like to think of myself as an adult but in all reality, I also like not to grow up.” These gizmos may be highly rational but their brilliance is in their ability to provoke highly irrational results.

Scuderi was drawn to the project when his work on conventional consumer products lead him to see the “addictive, almost sensual relationship” between products and consumers. He views the entrepreneurs featured in Objects as intensifying that connection through a kind of sensorial production quality. “These are real artisans with real emotion creating seriously designed pieces,” says Scuderi. “With a dash of sex aficionado thrown in for good measure,” adds Orrell.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Beyond possessing state-of-the-art brains, this new age of digital widgetry is as irresistible as it is ingenious. These are sleek objects you want to hold, exciting fabrications you want to feel next to your body, and elegant accessories that dangle around your neck like the discreetly vibrating pendant on the book’s cover. Which brings me to one more quality these products embody – a sense of complicity. And Ohmibod’s Bluemotion wins in that category hands down.

Imagine your standard office cocktail party. Your date appears to be fiddling with an app on his smart phone but in fact he’s remotely manipulating a massager tucked in your Ohmibod-designed lacey thong. Depending on which functions he chooses, you are experiencing various levels of vibration as you nibble on a shrimp canapé while talking office politics with your boss. When I commented on the delicious complicity of such a concept, Orrell concurred that Ohmibod is taking “the erotic experience out of the bedroom while keeping it discreetly between the participants.”

Might complicity be life’s ultimate aphrodisiac? Is there anything more intoxicating than the stolen kiss? The clandestine interlude between lovers? And now, the Bluetooth-enabled foreplay across a crowded room? Yet as we persist upon posting, sharing, and tweeting every digital detail of our existence, are we denying ourselves the joy of secrecy?

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

To further research this modern conundrum, The Sultanette is about to spend a month in Paris. There, in the city that invented the cinq à sept (the witching hours reserved for rendezvous between five and seven p.m.) I will contemplate keeping secrets. (Okay, I’m writing a book about a spectacularly surreptitious French affair, but why would I tell you that!)

If a tangle offers itself at cinq o’clock, I may not refuse. But there will be oysters on the half-shell and aperitifs at the Ritz, shopping in Le Marais and book stalls along the Seine to keep The Sultanette entertained. And a state-of-the-art toy or two in the privacy of my pied-à-terre? Maybe so, but I’ll never tell. “I love products that hide secrets” says Orrell, “they are magical in a way.”

06/7/16

Sex Talk 101. Will you pass or fail?

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

“This is important to me. How can we create a situation that is comfortable for both of us?”

Talking points for your annual employee review? No, this is pillow talk as reported in the May 31 Wall Street Journal piece, “The Question About Sex So Many Men Have Asked” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

Note the diplomatic use of “we” vs. “you.” (No more accusatory phrases like, “I want you, you dirty sexy beast.”) And no more delirious spontaneity. Jumping your partner on a random Sunday afternoon has been replaced by “sitting down to solve the problem together.” What was once a reckless escape from daily life is now a domestic chore like changing the toilet paper roll.

As for the sex question so many men want to know? A study by the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals the startling truth: “Women may want more sex than their husbands or partners think.”

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Easy to say but how to drag Dagwood away from the football game for a bodice-ripping timeout? Forget parading in front of the tube in your latest confection from Agent Provocateur. The Wall Street Journal report quotes that couples should: “Communicate – not just about when they want to have sex or what they like but also about what signals they use to show their desire.” Does congress put that much effort into the national budget?

And speaking of getting screwed, the article also suggests that you “consider having sex if you’re not in the mood.” Formerly known as “faking an orgasm” research now dubs it “sexual communal strength.” It’s a proven fact that “people in long-term relationships who do this … are better able to maintain their sexual desire over time.” So the more you do it when you don’t want to do it, the more you’ll want to do it!

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

If you can’t fake it ’til you make, consider scheduling sex. Here’s how: “Explain that you find your partner attractive and want to be intimate just not at the moment. And promise to find another time.” (Your Google calendar might be helpful here.)

“It doesn’t sound romantic” the Journal observes. But Amy Muise, a University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow says, “It lets you plan and get psyched about it.” You might think Amy is talking about creating that warm tingling feeling that begins in the loins and fills the body with a sense of urgent anticipation. Not exactly. Dr. Muise prefers to think of the sensation as “pre-negotiating a good time.”

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

When did sex go from reckless surrender (the French call it la petite mort) to a dilemma that needs to be examined until all the lust is x-rayed out of it? Speaking of the French, one solution to weathering slumps in the marital mattress touted by those frisky philanderers (men and women alike) is the discrete affair. Like a vacation from a demanding job, when the affair packs up, the adulterer comes home recharged. (“Mon dieu! You are such the insatiable rascal tonight, cheri(e)!)

I know what you’re thinking. What does the Sultanette of a male harem know about keeping the flames fanned with a significant other? May I remind my voyeuristic followers that before curating this mentourage, I spent time in the trenches? Once the explosive passion cooled to a sizzle with One&Only, I settled down to fifteen diligently faithful years of pleasurable but predictable sex. Looking back, if I’d known it would go south, would it have hurt to take a few hot detours along the way?

Sex Experts?

Sex Experts?

I don’t knock going for marriage refresher sessions with a good therapist. But how did getting sexual pleasure evolve into a pass-fail course conferred by academia? For prepubescents, the subject of sex as a body-rocking turn-on is considered pornography. When we’re old enough to enjoy it, wired with guilt and shame, we’re treated to psychobabble from institutions of higher learning to fix it.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Might there be more effective ways to get a bang for your buck than a university sex study can recommend? How about telling the office you have a family emergency, turning off all electronic devices, and stealing a few hours at the No-Tell Motel with partner, lover, or gardener. If you’re looking for a better idea, get a subscription to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and dive between the spreadsheets.