From passion parties to the little blue pill to, yes, happily ever after,
we take the temperature of Westchester’s sexuality.
By: Dave Donelson
“This is a pretty buttoned-up county,” declares psychologist Wayne Gersh. “We’re not known as a hotbed of sexuality.” Then he thinks for a minute and adds with a smile: “But if we can have a dominatrix in Pound Ridge, anything is possible in Westchester.” Gersh is clinical director of the Westchester Center for Behavior Therapy in White Plains and Pound Ridge. The dominatrix, arrested last year, lived Westchester-style in a stately century-old white clapboard house with black shutters on four acres in Bedford Hills.
Let’s face it: anything must be possible in an age when New York’s governor, otherwise known as Client No. 9, is run out of office for playing hide-the-subpoena with $5,000-an-hour call girls—and his successor holds a press conference the day after he takes office just to make sure everybody is okay with the fact that he and his wife were serial adulterers.
Or how about a place where three teenage girls recite a poem about vaginas at John Jay High School and are widely hailed for having thereby secured their tickets to Harvard? Looking for some exercise? Enroll in a Yonkers striptease class. Planning a party? Order up a genital-shaped cake and call the Passion Party hostess. Westchester may appear buttoned-up, but beneath our Donna Karan frocks and Armani suits, we—well, some of us at least—are wearing edible underwear.
Bat Sheva Marcus, clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in Purchase and Manhattan, states the obvious: “There is a very wide range of sexual activities in Westchester. It goes from people who’ve been married for thirty years and have only had sex with one person to couples who swing.”
Still think Westchester is too straight-laced to breathe? The next time you and your significant other dine out with another couple, consider this: odds are close that one of the four people at your table has had an affair with someone other than his or her dinner partner. A survey by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) found that 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands have had extramarital intercourse. When emotional affairs or sexual intimacies without intercourse are included, the numbers rise to 18 and 30 percent, respectively.
“The number of extramarital affairs has increased in Westchester—as it has across the nation,” reports Robert Filewich, director of the Center for Behavior Therapy in White Plains. The reason? “Men aren’t the only ones having them,” he answers. Filewich, who has been treating sexual problems as a cognitive behavior therapist for 27 years, estimates that today the ratio of men to women having affairs in the county is close to one-to-one.
It’s not just the professionals who notice the up-tick, either. “I’d say two out of five married people are fooling around,” says M, a hairdresser in mid-Westchester, who insists on anonymity (as did several others interviewed for this article for obvious reasons). She reports, “I had one married guy recently proposition me—very seriously—while I was doing his hair!”
For most of us, though, according to every Westchester doctor, psychologist, therapist, or clergyman I spoke to, sex is an intimate, healthy activity. Sex and related activities can also be the theme of some good, clean fun. The Loft, a unique dance and fitness space in Yonkers, offers not only classes in hip-hop, salsa, and tango, but in belly dancing and striptease, too. The striptease class draws about 20 women aged 19 to 68 every week, reports owner Jacqueline Bouet. “It’s a sexy, feminine dance class,” she says. “It’s about self-esteem and self-acceptance.” Dancers don’t actually take their clothes off, she assures. Every three or four months, dancers also get a light supper with a sex toy demonstration thrown in for their edification and amusement. That night, Bouet says, usually draws around 40 women.
You can also bring the sex-toy demonstrations right into your home. Marion DiPippo, a work-at-home mother of three in Mahopac, is a Passion Party consultant, which is kind of like selling Tupperware—only a whole lot more exciting. She offers a huge selection of lotions, potions, ticklers, lingerie, vibrators, fantasy games, passion edibles, and toys for boys and girls like you’ll never find at FAO Schwartz. The usual crowd is a dozen or so women (although there are parties for groups of couples, too) who often provide theme-appropriate refreshments (anatomically correct cakes are a big hit).
“My customers love the games we play at the beginning of a party,” DiPippo says. To break the ice, she starts with games like Erotic Bingo where the winner doesn’t shout “Bingo,” but blurts out whatever sounds he or she makes when making love. Another is the Alphabet game, where DiPippo holds up letters and the players shout out whatever sex-related word comes to mind. “A tricky one is ‘Z,’” she says. “There is one answer—but I am not giving that away.”
Of course, not everybody in Westchester is into sex-toy parties, striptease aerobics, let alone fooling around. It’s not as if every third person you see walking through the Westchester Mall is a hot-to-trot, pill-popping sex maniac. Even if the percentage of cheaters here is close to the national average, the vast majority of us are not cheating on our partners. Even fewer of us are swinging or looking for cheap thrills perched on a bar stool ogling a stripper.
Consider B, married to D (his second wife) for 15 years. They have two kids, a beagle, and a hamster named Cubby, all living in a center-hall colonial in southeastern Westchester. B and D live what they say is a perfectly happy life that includes completely satisfying sex with each other—and only with each other. Their friends, they say, do too.
“People like to talk about all this stuff, but it’s not going on in my neighborhood,” B says. “I don’t know a single person who’s cheating. Never been to a key party or know anybody who has.” He then adds, “Maybe we’re boring, but I believe most people are just like us.”
Filewich says B is probably right. “On average, people here have good, healthy sex.” That apparently holds true for married couples across the country. In a national survey of more than 650 married couples, approximately two-thirds of the husbands and wives reported “a great deal” (or more) sexual satisfaction in their marriage. Similarly, the majority (more than 80 percent) of married or cohabiting respondents in another study stated that they were “extremely” or “very” physically and emotionally satisfied by sexual activity with their partner.
So how much fooling around do we do in Westchester? I did a completely unscientific check of one of the most popular hook-up services, the online personals on Craigslist, and found that we don’t seem to be as active as other places. During the random week I tallied, there were 600 listings seeking “casual encounters” in the Westchester section of the Craigslist personals. Long Island had more than twice as many (1,450), but that is fairly comparable on a per capita basis. Raleigh, North Carolina, a metro area with the same number of residents as Westchester, had 1,650 “casual encounters” listings while Sacramento, California, had a whopping 2,700. Maybe it’s a New York suburbs thing. Or maybe it’s because, as clinical psychologist Wayne Gersh says, “Most adults here do not choose to have indiscriminate sex.”
Statistically speaking, Westchester is a bit more monogamous than the rest of the nation, at least according to 2006 Census Bureau projections. Nearly 52 percent of us over the age of 15 are married, versus 50 in the entire U.S. And yet only 9.8 percent of Westchester residents are currently divorced or separated, whereas 12.8 percent of the nation as a whole falls into the marriage-on-the-rocks category. The balance is either widowed or never married.
Still, sometimes it isn’t strictly one-on-one in staid, buttoned-up Westchester. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, a 1969 movie about various combinations among two married couples, would be tame compared to some of the social functions reportedly held behind closed doors here. “I know a woman who was DJ-ing a private party for swingers,” M says. “She told me she was not prepared for half the things she saw. We left it at that!”
Marcus says the swinging scene is nothing new. “Bondage, S&M, swinging, nudism—all that stuff’s been going on for ages. People were having key parties in the seventies.” She tells of one woman in her late 40s, who got into swinging with her husband, enjoyed it for a couple of years, but then grew kind of tired of the whole thing. She said she couldn’t stop, though, because her entire social circle revolved around swinging. “She told me she had met the loveliest people and she didn’t want to lose their friendship,” Marcus says.
Media today—be it the Internet, TV, shock radio, or even billboards—seem to portray life as one long smut fest. Notes Filewich: “You now have K-Y Jelly advertised so you can ‘have a more intimate relationship’ with your partner. Whoever thought that would be on TV?”
Ads like that used to appear only in magazines delivered in plain brown wrappers. Now we can hear similar spots for the Romantic Depot, Westchester’s one and only mature-shoppers-only retailer, on local radio. The store, squeezed into a specially zoned section of Elmsford next to the I-287 on-ramp, mostly sells DVDs, but also offers vibrators, furry handcuffs, leather straps, paddles, whips, bed restraints, and edible underwear. In the 18-and-over room, you can buy your own pole-dancing kit for $229, which comes with a telescoping pole, garter, and instructional DVD. The package carries a helpful warning just like the one on dry cleaner bags: “this is not a children’s toy.” No, it’s just another part of a Westchester world of little blue pills and battery-powered stimulators, where experts assure us absolutely every adult can get satisfaction—at least physically. “Men come in looking for better erections,” says Michael Werner, MD, a urologist who oversees the Medical Center for Female Sexuality run by Marcus. “It’s not my decision as to whether they are only using them with their wives.” He hastens to add, “Monogamy is the ideal, but it’s not always the norm.”
Maybe not always, but mostly. A study by the University of Chicago found that, depending on age, sexual activity is 25 percent to 300 percent greater for married couples than for the non-married. Married couples between ages 18 and 29 have sexual intercourse an average of nearly 112 times per year. That rate steadily decreases (but doesn’t disappear!) with age: married couples age 70 and above have sex 16 times a year on average.
“We don’t make love as often as we did before the kids came along,” R says, “but it’s more from lack of opportunity than lack of desire.” She is a young part-time paralegal with two children in school; her husband, T, works in the banking industry. They live in one of the central Westchester communities south of I-287. She adds, “Why would either one of us want to mess up our marriage and our children’s lives when we make each other happy as it is?”
Few developments have affected our sex lives as much as the Internet, where “WWW” is inextricably tied to “XXX.” There’s nothing new about pornography, of course. You can find it on ancient Greek pottery and on cave walls. But what’s changed is how easy it is to find online. As Werner points out, “It used to be that the only way you could see people having sex was to go to one of those movie theaters where you wore a raincoat. Today, you can accidentally click a link and end up at a porn site.”
Most of those clicks, however, aren’t accidental. Numbers aren’t difficult to come by, although they are difficult to verify, but type “sex” into Google and you get 718 million links. The Free Speech Coalition, an industry trade group, reports that $2.9 billion was spent on Internet-delivered porn in 2006, the latest year for which data is available. That’s a little more than Apple sold online last year. There’s no way to measure the amount of free-porn viewing that goes on, although it’s undoubtedly high. An interesting and often-quoted statistic is that 70 percent of porn viewing occurs during the 9-to-5 workday.
Another, darker side of pornography, though, is how it affects people already prone to sex addiction, a very real problem in Westchester as elsewhere. (Nationwide, an estimated 12 million people are afflicted.) There is a network of recovery groups for sex addicts, just as there are for alcoholics and drug abusers. In Westchester, a 50-member group affiliated with Sex Addicts Anonymous meet in White Plains. There is another group in Armonk.
Not surprisingly, medical science has changed our sexual attitudes, too. Just look at Viagra. The little blue pill that launched a million jokes and a gazillion pieces of spam celebrated its tenth birthday this year. Thousands of marriages have been saved—and probably tens of thousands destroyed—as more than 30 million men have lined up for prescriptions and millions more take it without their doctors’ blessing. AARP declared that Viagra is as significant as the birth control pill that launched the first sexual revolution some 30 years earlier.
A recent AARP study reported that 36 percent of men age 60 to 69 have intercourse once a week versus 24 percent of women in the same age group. Why the discrepancy? “There are a lot more older guys out there cruising for young chicks,” Filewich says. Another thing that has changed is the ease with which those older guys (and younger people of both sexes) can find like-minded pleasure-seekers. Forget pick-up bars—now it’s all arranged online. “Adult Friend Finder is a big thing,” reports Q, a medical technician who finds pleasure with various partners during her off hours. “I’ve met lots of swingers from Westchester, men who cheat on their wives, guys who are just looking for basic relationships.” A quick check of Westchester listings on the website (aff.com) finds hundreds. Q, a woman in her late 20s, says she prefers to look for partners online because it’s anonymous and, once both people are comfortable, they can move on to a real-life, physical relationship.
“People are looking for variety, not the same old boring thing all the time in bed,” she says. “Dressing up, role playing, living out a fantasy—people really like variety.”
Even in Westchester.