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.


A Venice Valentine

Reflections on Venice, Dream of Venice Architecture

Roses ordered? Champaign chilling? Massage oil heating up to caress your favorite kumquat? Valentine’s Day is around the corner, intrepid paramours! If you can’t get hashtag-laid on this day of hashtag-romance you’d better reread the Kama Sutra. Or better yet, Dream of Venice Architecture, the latest dreamy installment from Venice cognoscente, JoAnn Locktov.

This bouquet of meditations on the world’s most seductive city might be all the company you need this Valentine’s Day. (And a bargain compared to the jacked-up prices you’d pay for the Lover’s Menu at your local boite.) Add to that, The Sultanette’s exclusive report on last week’s Metropolitan Museum of Art lecture, “The Brothel House of Europe: Venice on the Grand Tour” and your adult entertainment is complete.

Meandering Venice, Dream of Venice Architecture

But before we get to the brothels, some tantalizing foreplay. “What can we learn from a city that is over 1,500 years old?” poses Locktov in the opening of Dream of Venice. Her answer is an invitation to meander among its piazzas and secluded squares, passageways and bridges, accompanied by award-winning architects and designers.

No tired travel guide clichés here. Reflecting on how Venice has “inspired their work and lives, these aficionados of form and function explore the essence of a city “built where no land ever existed.” Their intimate musings tease out its timeless allure persuading us that, above all, Venice beckons.

Venice beckons, Dream of Venice Architecture

As New York-based architect, Louise Braverman describes it “at any moment, something mysteriously intriguing may happen.” Her contemplation is paired with a graceful colonnade that exists midbreath, both exposed and enclosed. Its arched ceiling offers elegant shelter from the grey mist that threatens to encroach on either side while globes of light entice the visitor to a distant encounter … with what? Whom? Be tempted at your own risk.

Venice is “tricky” offers New York architect Annabelle Selldorf next to an image of a secluded canal. Nothing is “innocent or forthright” in this city where the only thing forbidden is your inhibitions. “Deception is everywhere, perhaps with the intention of protecting a precarious paradise.” Here, as throughout the book, the stunning photography of Riccardo De Cal, an award-winning documentarian for his films on Italy’s grand artistes, evokes a delicate, ethereal power.

Knock, Knock … Dream of Venice Architecture

Constantin Boym, Chair of Industrial Design at New York’s Pratt Institute, brilliantly describes the city’s mercurial allure through its doorways, held together “only by a miracle” – each portal with “its own unique face and expression.” The accompanying image is a peacock blue door that calls to us at the end of a timeworn stone walkway like a proud, aging courtesan.

Did I say courtesan? Time for the promised report (as if you forgot) on “The Brothel House of Europe: Venice on the Grand Tour” at the Metropolitan Museum. “Don’t say the Met never offers something scandalous,” Kevin Salatino, director of Art Collections at The Huntington Library and expert on Venice licentia began this fascinating lecture. And after he warned the audience of upper eastside ladies-who-lunch that it contained licentious language, The Sultanette was all ears.

In the eighteenth century, British aristocrats-in-training were sent on a pilgrimage to the continent, a “Grand Tour” designed to transform the future Earl of Beef Wellington from provincial twit to worldly twit. And while Rome was the main event, Venice was the requisite detour.

Venice adorned, Dream of Venice Architecture

It boasted more theaters than any city in Europe and its fading republic was an inspired example to aspiring custodians of the empire. But most likely its popularity was based on the famous description of parliamentarian George Selwyn: “Venice is an exquisite courtesan.” Or reports like the gentleman visitor who warned that “the wickedness of that place is beyond all imagination.” Most alarming was the unsettling habit of Venetian society to wear masks, not just during the depraved month of Carnival but a full five months preceding it!

No wonder it was a favorite hangout of Casanova and de Sade. And a refuge for woman like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who escaped her husband to live with a lover half her age. Venice is the place to be, she advised a friend, “if a woman has any mind to be wicked.” Lady Wortley even promoted the mask as an anti-aging device – the perfect camouflage for a ripening coquette’s wrinkles.

Venice socialites, Dream of Venice Architecture

Venice was the place to let your hair down and everybody got into the act. Along with its fabled courtesans and prostitutes, nuns were known to entertain in the cloister. There was a rare tolerance of homosexuality, cross-dressing was a sport, a unisex mask costume made gender-bending de rigueur, and the castrati, according to Salatino, were the rock stars of the day. Simply breathing the air of Venice was a threat to your moral turpitude.

But more than its lusty charms – beyond its escape from suffocating propriety and society’s expectations – what Venice really offered was an invitation to follow the distant globe of light, open the unfamiliar doorway, pursue the precarious paradise. The invitation lives on, perfectly expressed in its network of hidden passages, the sotoporteghi.

Precarious Paradise, Dream of Venice Architecture

Dream of Venice Architecture contributor, and publisher of Renaissance Rules.com Randy Bosch takes us down these “narrow, twisting, dark and mysterious tunnels bored through ancient existing buildings.” Like a subterranean force field, “they conspire with crooked bridges and offset streets to link islands never intended to join.” To follow them is to risk the unknown, says Bosch, but the reward is “wonders reached only through them.”

Let those in need of predictable romance have their wilting roses. If you’re looking for a romance with life this Valentine’s Day, The Sultanette recommends taking a dive between the covers of this voluptuous guide to the heart of Venice.


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.


When The Going Gets Tough The French Get Dressed

Marie Antoinette dressed for the guillotine, William Hamilton, 1794.

With the end of democracy just on the other side of holiday parties, it’s time for wardrobe planning. Never mind Ivanka’s festive collection of Billionaire Shabby Chic. Or Melania trending FLOOZY FLOTUS. I share with you now, fashion tips from the French countess who knew how to dress for them all.

First stop, the Albertine Library at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue where The Sultanette has recently become a member. What more ideal venue pour moi than one offering French literary punditry, posh surroundings, and free wine!

Comtesse Greffulhe, Philip Alexius de Laszlo, 1905.

The vin blanc was flowing the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to toast Proust’s Muse, the Countess Greffulhe. Inspired by an exhibit now at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Albertine had invited FIT director and curator, Valerie Steele, to discuss the countess’s haute persona with Proust expert, Anka Muhlstein.

From the moment Proust spotted the celebrated beauty at a garden party, according to Steele, it was le coup de foudre. Where hints of her can be found in several of his fictional characters, one conversation attributed to the countess is especially telling. Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes sighs, “I shall know I have lost my beauty when people stop turning to stare at me.” To which her friend replies, “Never fear, my dear, as long as you dress the way you do, people will always turn and stare.”

Tsar Nicholas II had some threads. Coronation 1896, St. Petersburg, Baketti.

“Her fashions whether invented for her or by her,” the press reported, “must resemble no one else’s.” It was said that after a couturier presented his collection with fawning fanfare, she responded, “Make me anything you like as long as it’s not that.” When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia presented a court robe to her in 1896 she promptly recycled it into an evening coat.

But enough parlor talk! It was time to ditch the Consulate (not before quaffing un petit verre de vin)and head downtown for a look at the countess’s closet.

Marcel Proust in 1895, detail Otto Wegener(1849-1924).

The stunning exhibit at FIT reveals the unapologetic vanity of a complex woman. This Proust muse, patron of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, investor in Marie Curie’s research on radioactivity, and champion of political causes, had one overriding passion: to be adored.

“I don’t know that there is any pleasure comparable in the world to that of a woman who feels that she is being looked at by everybody,” she observed. “How can one live when one can no longer provoke this great anonymous caress, after having known and tasted it.”

Yet an anonymous caress was more than Elisabeth could expect from her wealthy rake of a husband. The Count Henry Greffulhe was said to have philandered on their honeymoon. (Judging from a photo of him at the show, sporting bushy beard and pointy mustache, the count would have never qualified for The Male Harem.)

NY Stock Exchange, TJ O’Halloran, Library Congress.

Where another woman might have retreated into the shadows, the countess stepped into the spotlight. Her allure was her currency and she negotiated it like a stockbroker’s portfolio. In a photograph circa 1887 she toys with the viewer – a woman in full possession of her powers, sweeping open the folds of a chinchilla evening coat to reveal her wasp waist framed in sumptuous lace. (While photography was verboten at the FIT an uninspired viewing can be found at http://bit.ly/proustsmuse.)

But the countess was not content to be a fashion icon frozen in time. A woman of true style, she embraced each new fashion twist, adapting it to her singular aesthetic.

Venetian woman with fan, Dominik Skutecky(1850-1921).

A black lace bodice circa 1885, in glass jet pearls and silk tulle, is battle-ready for the corseted Victorian times when according to the show’s description, “women were armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes did more damage with them.”

When flappers liberated fashion in the twenties, her look went liquid. A 1925 chemise shimmers in a sea of pink and turquoise sequins under an ethereal layer of bronze netting. The minimalist chic of a black velvet gown – all sleek silhouette from tiny bodice to graceful floor-length folds – captures the elegant glamour of the Thirties.

“The Flapper” Life Cover 2/2/22, FX Leyendecker.

In 1945 when the shortage of heating during the Occupation obliged the countess to live in the servants’ quarters, she fashioned a hat from paper, cellophane, and straw, with an impish tail of woven satin ribbon – the chapeau as dragonfly.

Does style preclude substance? Can artifice tease out authenticity? What did the countess have to say for herself?

Dreyfuss Affair Cover, 10 July,1898, Henri Meyer, Bibliotheque Nat’l France.

In 1894, when an artillery officer of Alsatian and Jewish descent was convicted of treason, the Dreyfus Affair exposed anti-Semitism and ignited a freewheeling press. Emile Zola’s famous “J’accuse …” a 4500-word open letter on the front page of L’Aurore went viral, increasing the paper’s circulation from 30,000 to 300,000, the day it was published.

The Countess Greffulhe declared herself a dreyfusard. “We should have the courage of our convictions,” she said. “It is a luxury, the most important one of all.” If you’re wondering what to wear for the end of democracy, that fashion tip from the countess might be her smartest.


Proust’s Muse at New York’s FIT until January 7, is based on La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe, an exhibition organized in Paris by Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, repository of the countess’s wardrobe.


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.”