“The best I ever had? Whew. That’s a tough question. Not that I have all that many to choose from.”
“Sure. Sure. Come on, fess up.”
“I suppose the best was years ago. I was a hairdresser and one of my co-workers brought in his sweet seventeen-year-old cousin who was visiting. He came in the salon every day for a week and just hung around. I’d catch him looking longingly at me, but he was so shy he’d fumble every time I talked to him. He was so cute and innocent I just wanted to make him feel better.”
“So my co-worker told me his cousin was about to have his eighteenth birthday and I decided he was old enough to get a grown-up present.”
“I did. I asked my friend if I could have a key to his apartment, and before sunrise on his birthday I slipped under the covers.”
“Just like that? What happened?”
“You could say he was pleasantly surprised and rose to the occasion. He wasn’t quite sure what to do but he was a quick study. We spent a glorious morning together and by the time I’d left he’d learned everything he needed to know to get a head start with his sex life.”
“I wish I’d gotten a birthday present like that. Even now!”
They laughed in unison.
“So he learned enough to give him a head start. What about you?”
“I also learned a thing or two. Things like good deeds reward the giver. And, of course, as if we needed a reminder, young men are more energetic and grateful. Plus, they don’t fall asleep after they climax.”
“I hear you.”
“That’s my story. What’s yours? What’s the best sex you ever had?”
I wanted to hear that myself. I felt a bit awkward standing in the hotel check-in line behind these two middle-aged women as they reminisced about their sex lives. I don’t really consider myself overly voyeuristic, but this was hard to pass up.
“There’s one thing that comes to mind. If that’s the right organ.”
They giggled and continued, oblivious to my posed indifference.
“The best, and most romantic and sexy time, was this incredible fantasy that happened to me at a Club Med. You’ll never believe it because I don’t even believe it myself, but I swear it’s true.”
“I believe. Now tell me.”
“In order to believe this, you have to understand being at that place put you in a state of perpetual arousal. It’s not like it is now. This was in the days when Club Med meant sex, sex, sex.”
This was one of the only times I was glad a line was moving slowly. However, I wanted her to hurry up before they got to the front. Fortunately, a lot of people were checking into the hotel for the conference so hearing the end of her story looked promising.
“I remember. So tell me already,” said her friend.
“One evening after a long day of tanning and drinking, I went for a walk by myself on the beach to watch the sunset. It was a lovely evening and a fog was starting to roll in. I was strolling along, trying to commune with nature. Remember how we used to do that?”
So do I, but that’s not why I’m eavesdropping.
“I was ambling along the water’s edge and this man came strolling toward me. He sorta came out of the fog. I didn’t think much of it, but as we got closer it began to feel like one of those TV commercials. The nearer we got, the sexier I felt As we approached each other, everything seemed to move in slow motion. He seemed so statuesque and assured.”
“And,” her friend prompted as she paused to embrace her memory.
“And when we were at arm’s length, we stood still and just looked into each other’s eyes. It seemed like forever. And then, very slowly, we started to kiss. I couldn’t believe it was happening. It was so picturesque and perfect and weird and sexy all at the same time.”
“You didn’t say anything? Not even hello?”
“We never said a word to each other. We just kissed, embraced, and then lay right down on the sand and made love. It was like that scene in From Here to Eternity. It was all too glorious …”
We each stood there quietly and pictured the empty beach and the lovers at sunset.
“I looked up as the stars were coming out and said to myself, ‘Now this is a vacation.’”
“And the strangest part was, after we’d finished, we slowly got dressed, kissed, and walked off without saying a word.”
“What? Come on, you didn’t even get his name or room number?”
“What for? The whole thing was complete as it was. To say anything would have spoiled it.”
I agreed though I didn’t say so. Although if it had been me, I’d have kicked myself later on for not getting her phone number.
August 22, 1977
I was sitting at a small table by the window in my hotel room, enjoying the ocean view and my over-priced fifteen-dollar continental breakfast, thankful the school was picking up the tab. That was more than I wanted to pay—if I’d been paying. Free of that burden, I read over the workshop catalog and debated which morning presentation to attend. Would it be “Introduction to Talking About Sex,” “How to Enjoy Sex When You’re Afraid of Disease,” or “Sex Games to Revitalize Your Relationship”?
There was a knock on the door. Britt was standing there looking like she’d been up most of the night.
“I have to speak with you,” she said as she strode into the room.
“Come on in.”
“I don’t know what to do,” she said hesitantly. “I’m afraid and I’m not even sure I should be here talking with you.”
“What’s the matter?”
She turned to leave, then blurted out, “Can I trust you?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
She sat down at the table. “You’re the only person here who I know doesn’t know anything.”
“Thanks,” I replied, trying to show I didn’t have a glass jaw. “Just what is it I don’t know anything about?”
“You don’t know anything about sex.”
“Excuse me? That’s hitting a bit below the belt Besides, you don’t know me that well. Maybe after we’ve known each other for a while you could say that. But— ”
“You don’t understand. It’s not that you don’t know anything about sex. You just don’t know about human sexuality.”
If that had been meant to make me feel better, it wasn’t working. I started to feel uncomfortable and unsure; that’s not uncommon for me but rarely first thing in the morning.
“What do you mean I don’t know anything about human sexuality?”
“I can tell you haven’t formally studied it.”
“Only in a fumbling way,” I said, trying to invoke some humor into the situation. Which I often do when I’m uncomfortable and unsure. In the therapy business, we’d call that a defense mechanism.
“Why does it matter that I haven’t formally studied sex?”
“Well … it means you don’t know Dr. Goodst.”
“I’ve seen him on TV a few times and was looking forward to seeing him last night.”
She started to cry.
“I can see how upset you are. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on.”
Her tears soon subsided and she stood up, went to the window, watched the sail boats breezing by without seeing them, then reached into her pocket.
“Here,” she said, handing me an envelope. “Read this.”
It was a plain white envelope with Britt Pearson printed on the front. I opened it, took out a standard piece of paper, and read:
Dr. Goodst is being held hostage. If you ever want to see him again, you will leave $5,000 in small bills at the Goodst Institute by Thursday noon. The sooner you pay the better. If you inform the police, Dr. Goodst will die.
I looked it over twice and handed it back to her, then realized my fingerprints were now neatly placed on the note. Putting my concerns in the background, I said, “This is serious stuff. No wonder you’re so upset.”
“What do you think I should do?”
I have to stop here and point out something all therapists are taught. You might not be interested in this insider information but, since I’m a therapist and a professor, I’m gonna share some therapeutic approaches and theories along the way. You can grade me later.
What therapists are taught is, of all the things we can say or do, the least useful is to give advice. Of course, that doesn’t stop me.
It might be hard at first to discern why giving advice would be the least useful. After all, we’ve all been the recipient of some excellent advice that’s improved our lives. And we’ve all been the recipients of a lot of advice that’s gone in one ear and out the other. But that’s not why it’s unhelpful.
When someone gives you advice, they’re basically saying they know better than you. That’s fine when you’re trying to do something you know little about. But when it comes to relationships and how to respond to what life presents you, it’s usually best to remember what therapists are taught—“What advice would you give yourself?”
I must admit, when Britt asked me what I thought she should do, my initial reaction was to say, Forget about Dr. Goodst and spend some time with me. But I knew better than to blurt that out.
Britt was right. I didn’t have any formal knowledge of human sexuality. I could joke about having obtained my full share of informal experience, but I’d never studied human sexuality in graduate school or anywhere else. My lack of knowledge was, in fact, my reason for attending the 1977 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Sex Therapists and Surrogates—a week-long event devoted to learning the latest research, innovations, techniques, theories, and practices.
The sixties had birthed the sexual revolution and now, almost a decade later, sexuality had gone out of the bedroom and into the classroom, the workplace, and everywhere else. All kinds of therapists, educators, researchers, journalists, and surrogates were gathering to find out the newest methods to help the needful public with their sexual concerns.
It was also a good excuse to spend a week in San Diego and learn a few things that could help me out professionally and, I hoped, personally.
The dean had informed me that the school’s resident human sexuality teacher was taking an emergency leave, and she wanted me to teach the course. I needed to fill three hours once a week for ten weeks. Surely I could do that, she’d opined. Wanting to stay on her good side and glad she trusted me, I’d assured her I’d be able to fill in.
Earlier in the year, the dean had sent me to the First West Coast Computer Faire where two twenty-one-year-olds named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had informed the audience there were between twenty and thirty thousand computers in the country and one day everyone would have one. I’d told the dean the conference was useless as computers were destined to join the dodo but sex was here to stay. I was glad that after wasting the school’s money on the computer faire, she’d been willing to invest in my attending another conference.
My first reaction had been it would be fun and challenging. Not to mention a little provocative. I’d recently read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and knew she’d created a second wave of feminism that had opened up the sexual dialogue. Surely I could keep the conversation going.
As soon as I got hold of a couple of textbooks and started reading, I knew I was in trouble. I’d thought Vas Deferens was a Spanish explorer and vulval orgasm the title of a porn movie that takes place in a foreign car. If I was going to be teaching this stuff, I’d need to learn it.
I’d talked it over with the dean and she’d told me the school would pick up my expenses. So here I was, on a mission to spend the week learning as much as I could about human sexuality and how to teach it. All in all, not a bad homework assignment and certainly open to a range of interpretations.
Whatever I’d learn, I needed to do it fast because the following Monday afternoon I was scheduled to teach my inaugural human sexuality class to fifteen graduate students who would soon be therapists.