Hush, Hush, Sweet Scarlett! Hollywood Dominatrix Tells All!

Bazarre Honeymoon, Gregor, c1950.

A sex dungeon in Los Angeles! The aphrodisiac effect of licking a broom! A client who begs his mistress to ride a bicycle. Into him! Before you naughty people jump to the conclusion that The Sultanette engages in such behavior, blame it on Miss Scarlett.

I plead guilty only for reviewing her memoir, The Scarlett Letters (St. Martin’s Press) as reported in the revered British weekly, New Statesman, which boasts “enlightened thinking in dark times” since 1913. In fact I should be canonized for struggling through the shocking read solely for your education, dear followers. So let the enlightenment begin:

Faun & Nymph, Franz Stuck c.1904.

Over tea at a King’s Cross café, New Statesman Arts Editor Kate Mossman spoke with author Jenny Nordbak’s (aka Mistress Scarlet) about her two-year stint as an elite professional dominatrix, servicing the biggest swinging dicks in Hollywood’s entertainment world.

Nordbak’s book on the adventure, says Amazon, “explores the spectacularly diverse array of human sexuality and the fascinating cast of characters that the author encountered along the way.”

Temptation of St Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch c1500.

Take the powerful entertainment lawyer who liked to wear stockings under his suit to the office. His frustrated wife (maybe because he was putting runs in all of her pantyhose) sent him to the dungeon for a romp in stilettos to get it out of his system. Welcome to the tangled underbrush of the sexual jungle. Kinky fantasy, anyone? Guilt-ridden longing? Hideous secret?

What inspired Nordbak, a USC graduate with a day job in healthcare construction, to get into the profession? She tells Mossman she had become “tired of bad sex and of the sexual politics women often live by.” She doesn’t exactly explain how mastering the head-scissors (chocking with thighs) solved that dilemma but don’t dismiss The Scarlett Letters as another sensational tell-all. Turns out, sex between humans in dungeons calls forth truisms that you thought you could only acquire on a therapist’s couch.

Vision of St. Jerome, Bernardino Mei, c1660.

Truism #1: “The more powerful [her clients] were in life,” reports Nordbak, “the more demeaning their fantasies.” Surprised? Consider our honorable lawmakers on the Hill. One squeaky clean congressman gets caught with his pants down and the rest form a chorus of shock and horror – until the loudest protestor is discovered with a DC Madame wearing diapers.

Truism #2: “Submission is misunderstood.” Nordbak posits that “It is powerful to be submissive” because a dominatrix is “submitting to a submissive’s desire.” (Sounds like most marriages.)

Marriage, Gari Melchers,1893.

Nordbak adds that Fifty Shades of Grey got it all wrong by portraying the “desire to dominate … as some kind of affliction, something you do if you’re broken somehow.” There is great trust and great communication built between a dungeon pair, she says.

Trust and communication, what a concept. How many relationships are doomed to loveless dungeons where built-up resentments have a choke-hold on emotional freedom and monogamy is a form of bondage not a matter of choice?

English Magic Poster, Library of Congress.

Nordbak felt it was time to hang up her whips and brooms when she found herself thinking about what to have for dinner while treating a client to a beating. Now twenty-nine with a husband and baby, she credits her experience as a pro-domme for teaching her how to be assertive. “How does someone know what you want, in any area of life,” she says, “if you don’t tell them?”

Truism #3: “Another person is never going to read your mind.” Short of becoming mind-readers, perhaps we could all take some tips from the dominatrix: How to ask and acquiesce, take and let go, surrender and stay true.

Snow in Hyrynsalmi by Barasoaindarra.

Christopher Ryan, New York Times Bestselling author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate Why We Stray and What It Means describes The Scarlett Letters as “the central story of a young woman in search of her own truth.”

Our sexuality is as individual as snowflakes. What other sensation so deeply stirs our most intimate responses to pleasure and shame, power and longing, humility and vulnerability? Even our ability to love gets caught up in its tentacles. We deny the urge at the risk of denying our ineffable selves.


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.


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.


Where Have All The Playboys Gone?

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

I remember the Playboy Mansion like it was yesterday. Gotcha, salacious followers! Okay, The Sultanette never wore Bunny ears and cottontail though I’ve been known to don the random, ribboned corset. And I did press my face against the wrought iron gate of Hugh Hefner’s Chicago chateau at 1340 North State Parkway in hopes of spotting a louche Leporidae.

Freshly graduated from Dairy State U, I was living up the street in a mansion that had been converted into apartments. On weekends, my roommates and I joined the throngs along Chicago’s Gold Coast single’s bars searching for Sex-in-the-Second-City.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

When I found it on occasion, in a haze of marijuana-inspired gropings (The Sultanette never inhaled) it seemed hardly a match for the sybaritic antics at the mansion. Not that I had aspirations to serve cocktails in bunny drag to ogling James Bond wannabes. But Hefner’s televised series, Playboy After Dark, featuring girls with torpedo tits and perfect flips draped over Barcelona sofas enjoying laid-back flirtations with cool celebrities, seemed more compelling than suffering boilerplate come-on’s in the din of Rush Street’s beer palaces.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

I was reminded of the Playboy heyday upon reading Christopher Turner’s review of the phenomenon’s recent interpretations, “If you don’t swing, don’t ring” in the London Review of Books. If the same publication that holds forth on Sartre, Freud and Descartes can spill ink on Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” it’s worth a shout-out from The Sultanette.

Full frontal disclosure, I do have insider’s info on the Playboy days from the first Bunny costume design meeting to eggs with Lenny Bruce in the mansion’s breakfast nook. Nothing you can’t find in a memoir I collaborated on (unless you count the unpublished bits I’ll never reveal) with the artist LeRoy Neiman, “Hef’s” lifelong friend and Playboy Magazine contributor.

Memories of rich conversation while working on All Told with LeRoy are as potent as the aroma of the Cuban he puffed on everyday after lunch, its precarious ash accumulating as each story unfolded. But that’s another story. If you want to know how a Depression kid went from WWII GI to partying with Salvador Dali, cavorting with Sinatra, and sketching Muhammad Ali, Amazon awaits your order. For now, it’s Playboy’s art of sex for seduction sake I invite you to consider.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

When Hef conjured up the idea that LeRoy would set up studios in Paris and London and record his experiences in Man at his Leisure, the magazine’s column became his Playboy Philosophy writ large. From nude beaches to Ascot, Paris discos to the casino in Monte Carlo, the life of a jet-setting bon vivant embodied “The Man Who Reads Playboy.”

While LeRoy was gallivanting, Hef was playing lord of the bachelor pad in his pipe and silk pj’s. Turner writes that his third floor bedroom with its “circular rotating (and vibrating) bed” served as Playboy HQ. If he didn’t invent the man cave, he furnished it. Playboy’s first editorial declared, “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.”

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Stop! When did the seduction playbook change? While The Sultanette may not require beluga or a discourse on Karl Marx to surrender her accouterments, how about a subject, a verb, and some savoir faire? And when did we become so authentic we lost our sense of irony? I would still prefer a tongue-in-cheek quip like, “I know a spot with some decent Bordeaux, good music, and rare filet mignon. My place?” to a “What’s up?” on WhatsApp, i.e., “Want to grab a drink and my dick?” Note to prospective Male Harem members: A text is not foreplay.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

Once in the door, according to Playboy’s “25 Steps to the Perfect Seduction” a mandatory piece of furniture is the bar trolley which “permits the canny bachelor to remain in the room while mixing a cool one for his intended quarry … “. In that vein, while Canny Bachelor is fumbling to undo Intended Quarry’s bra strap after a libido-lubricating conversation about Kierkegaard, his couch flips to horizontal at the touch of a button. Brilliant solution to the hazards of martini spillage on the commute to the boudoir.

The last official Playboy Club (Manila) closed in 1991. The sixty-year-old Playboy centerfold was inevitably eclipsed by online porn. But where have all the playboys … and playgirls gone? In a world of multi-tasking is there no place for an intermezzo with a chéri(e) amour? A stylish caper with a sig other in the midst of life’s daily barbarism? The thrill of complicity between consenting adults seeking mutual plunder?

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Curiously, non-American men, seem to more readily embrace the concept that sex is an event that occurs before penetration, and that seduction involves gamesmanship. (Due credit to The Impresario.) American men, like good capitalists, just want to get the job done so they can concentrate on boosting the GNP and watching baseball. In their befuddled efforts to treat women as equals like they’ve been told, they’ve gone from behaving like gentleman to jocks.

In 1967, Hef fitted out a black DC-9 jumbo jet with the Bunny logo on its tail and christened it the Big Bunny. “It was a penthouse on wings,” Turner writes, “with dance floor, screening room, wet bar, sleeping quarters for sixteen and an elliptical bed for Hefner covered in Tasmanian opossum skins.” The last time we saw anything close were the bar stools on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis, upholstered with the foreskin of the minke whale.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

The plane, alias “Hare Force One” was sold in 1976. Its latest clone was the private jet of “King of Good Times” Vijay Mallya, who stamped his initials in gold on the wingtip. It was verified to me in droll conversation with a former passenger (don’t ask) that babes were frequent flyers. But recent news that the roué’s misspent lifestyle has landed the plane on the auction block by Indian tax authorities could mean the demise of flying the horny skies.

Is it the end of getting high on seduction? Turner writes that Hugh Hefner founded Playboy with a loan from his mother who had hoped he’d become a missionary. If instead, he became minister to the Church of The Glorious Chase, get me to the nunnery.

Photo: TheSultanette

Trickery! Cheating! Chicanery! It’s Tax Time!

Head over heels at The Met.

Welcome to the perilous days of April, fellow Americans, when we’re reminded that nothing is certain but death and taxes, and that cheating (not the fun, sweaty kind) is a patriotic duty. So what better inspiration than a trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play.

Encouraged by Andy Battaglia’s Wall Street Journal review promising “shady characters, dirty deeds and their often grizzly results” I hopped an uptown subway to the Met, still a sacred monument to art in spite of its jazzy new logo.

Photo: TheSultanette

Enter under your own risqué.

Threading my way past heroically endowed Greek warriors in the buff and ermine-clad monarchs in gilded frames, it was a relief to face the raw candor of honest criminals and the exhibition’s inviting threat of graphic subject matter. “Rangy social outcasts” is how the opening salvo described the gallery of reprobates – always on the Sultanette’s A-List.

Runway Chic or Runaway?

Runway Chic or Runaway?

The first set of assorted characters, posed for booking shots at the Chicago Police Department, hardly looked menacing. One woman reminded me of my Aunt Annette Krystowiak whose closest brush with crime was cooking blood sausage in Milwaukee. The men might have been posing for a Dolce and Gabbana spread.

Lend me your ears!

Lend me your ears!

On to a more encouraging crew – French anarchists. Sniffing them out in late-19th century Paris was dealt with in such scrupulous detail by French criminologist, Alphonse Bertillon, suffering the process became known as being “Bertillonaged.” As curator Mia Fineman explained it to Battaglia, “If you really wanted to make sure you had the right person, you would look at the shape of their ear, which was unique.” Credited as the first mug shots, these are selfies on steroids.

Book it, Danno!

Book it, Danno!

If you were looking for naughty nightstand reading in 1860, you’d click on Amazon (What! There was no Amazon!) for Rogues: A Study of Characters. Compiled by Samuel G. Szabo, its medley of bad boys including sneak thief, highway man, lifter, and wife poisoner, are straight out of Dickens. Each entry, labeled in elegant script, purports to uncover criminality through physical characteristics.

The eyes have it!

The eyes have it!

Why have we made such a science of exposing evildoers? Are we that easily fooled by the con man? Or do we prefer to swallow the most convenient truths, even from our lovers, family, and cohorts? … Do my darling’s eyes betray that he’s a lying, cheating bastard? Is jolly cousin Molly plotting to edge us out of the will? Might glad-handing Bob at the office really be back-stabbing Bob?

Mea culprit!

The Reverend. Mea culprit!

Working my way through the show, I became an amateur criminologist, analyzing the faces of these masters of guile. “The Reverend” Lawrence Hight’s unimpassioned stare from behind bars masked a venomous nature coiled to break free.

Freddie the farm boy

Freddie the farm boy.

The benign demeanor of 12-year-old Freddie the farm boy who shot his two sisters in Wausau, Wisconsin, belied a calculating murderer.

Then there was Frank Smith (a likely name). Hauled back to Kansas State Prison on an illegal gun charge after moldering there for twenty-six years on a previous conviction, he’s reported as saying he was “glad to be back.” Compared to the deadly reality of life on the outside maybe incarceration had its perks.

Debutante romp.

Patty Hearst debutante romp.

The exhibit may best demonstrate the allure of crime in the Femme Nikita photo of heiress Patty Hearst turned bank robber. Snatched from her gilded cage by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, she was held hostage for nineteen months of capers before being rescued by the FBI. “Tania” then listed her occupation as “Urban Guerilla” and was sentenced to seven years in prison, commuted after twenty-one months by President Carter. Upon release, she tied the knot with her prison bodyguard and raised two children. Was the marriage a form of self-imposed house arrest to resist the exciting life of crime?

If the shoe fits ...

If the shoe fits …

Or does it inevitably end on a shelf at the morgue like John Dillinger’s sheeted body, his feet tagged as if at a sample sale. I wondered studying the soles of this notoriously dashing gangster, if a hunted-down corpse manifests a different postmortem persona than a body that dies a natural death. If I ever invite a coroner into The Male Harem, we’re in for some grisly pillow talk.

Doormen on duty.

Doormen on duty.

Still, the romance of the outlaw persists. Based on the show’s 1892 portrait of the Wild Bunch, you’d take these hotties over your milquetoast accountant any day after April 18. All dapper and dandy in bowler hats, they look more like investment bankers than bank robbers (though these days they’re one and the same). In comparison, a gaggle of cops from the 40’s, taken by crime photographer laureate, Weegee, look like Upper Eastside doormen with nightsticks.

It would be easy to relegate Crime Stories as an homage to film noir and head for dinner at Demarchelier on 86th(their coq au vin makes for good tax-time comfort food). The Valentine’s Day Massacre has become endearing folklore. Even the infamous electric chair at Sing Sing earned the charming moniker “Old Sparky” and was painted by Warhol.

But that might be denying ourselves another impulse.“Poring through the gore in the collection offered certain forbidden pleasures,“ writes Battaglia of the show’s curation. Whether artistic in intention or vernacular in nature, curator Doug Eklund tells him, the images ‘have a kind of energy and make you look’.

"Old Sparky" at Sing Sing

“Old Sparky” at Sing Sing.

Maybe observing this parade of wrongdoers allows us to become voyeurs of our baser selves. These hard-boiled criminals stir up the dirty little secrets that we conceal with such immaculate pretense – those private transgressions that escape the scrutiny of judges or juries, spouses, friends, children, even the tax man. Yes villainous acts against society should be punished. But in freeing their calamitous spirits, are these daring outcasts more wildly sincere than our shamefully hidden selves?

To quote outlaw laureate, Oscar Wilde, “Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world.” These photos, in stark black-and-white attest to it.

Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 31. Suggested admission is tax deductible.