The Naked City


Just before he died in April at the age of 76, Dick Sinnott told us that he couldn't believe the things he was seeing on marquees around the Theater District. “I was looking at the stage plays — you know, the penis, the vagina,” he said. “Jeez, they would have been marching on my front door if I had allowed that.”

Sinnott's interest in productions like Puppetry of the Penis and The Vagina Monologues wasn't personal. It was professional. Until the job was abolished in 1982, he was Boston's last city censor. Banned in Boston? That was him.

It didn't start with him. The Puritans banned pretty much anything that could be considered fun — most famously, Christmas. The city's assistant librarian in 1876 drew up a list of books to be suppressed for being “ribald and immoral.” Two years later, the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice formed a network of spies, informers, and postal inspectors to censor literary works that would come to include such juicy reads as Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

Mayor James Michael Curley in 1922 banished dancer Isadora Duncan for baring her breasts. Glenn Miller's “The Nearness of You” was censored because the lyrics were considered titillating. “It's not the pale moon that excites me / That thrills and delights me,” they went. “Oh no, it's just the nearness of you.” Even a ditty sung by one of the dwarfs in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs almost got the animated film shut down: “The minute after I was born / I didn't have a nightie. / So I tied my whiskers 'round my legs / And used 'em for a di-ah-dee.” Eventually, “banned in Boston” became a badge of honor for producers, publishers, and erotic entertainers, and the city's reputation as a puritanical stronghold — anti-anything sexy — was here to stay. “I banned one stripper once,” remembered Sinnott. “I'll never forget her: She was a 6-foot Texan named Darlene Dawne.

I went to see her, and the only thing she was wearing was a smile. So I banned her, and everywhere she went the next couple of weeks she would send me a postcard. 'Thanks,' they said. 'My salary went up a grand.'”

The aptly named Sinnott (as in sin not) blamed the city's reputation on “the Puritan strain that affected everything.” So where does that leave Boston today? Widely considered the most prudish city in America, for starters. Television shows about Boston aren't about experimenting nubile undergrads, but about overweight guys who drink and firms full of sex-starved lawyers. Scandals involving politicians here aren't about sex with interns, but about aides who double as babysitters. People dress more formally here than in most other cities, and they work more hours.

All of this begs the question: Is Boston, in fact, the buttoned-up city that people nationwide think it is? Does this hotbed of liberalism really pale in comparison to other cities when it comes to the libido?

To find out, we sent some reporters out to strip this city bare. What we discovered will certainly surprise you. We have gigolos here. At least one porn star. A Playboy model who works in the State House. Tupperware-style sex-toy parties in the suburbs. A Pulitzer Prize winner in Cambridge who posed nude for a calendar. And the only university-affiliated sex research and treatment institute in the nation.

Here, then, is everything you always wanted to know about sex in Boston — plus the answers to some questions you were probably afraid to ask.

BEACON HILL BUNNY

Susan Henson spends her weeks filing briefs at the State House — and her weekends taking it all off for the camera.

Aspiring Playboy playmates, like politicians and baseball players, start their careers by paying their dues in the minor leagues. Over the past year, Quincy resident Susan Henson has risen steadily through Hugh Hefner's farm system, appearing in his Casting Calls and Natural Beauties special editions. And because this aspiring playmate also happens to work in the State House — she's a committee administrator for John Rogers, the budget-slashing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — the high-gloss photos of her lissome, very nude figure have created something of a stir. Until now, on the eve of her third pictorial (she'll grace the Lingerie issue next month), the 25-year-old hasn't spoken publicly about what it's like to be Beacon Hill's homegrown pinup girl.

Did you tell your boss in advance that you were going to pose for Playboy? I did discuss it with him, and it was a nonissue, as he put it. I also told my family and my boyfriend and some of my close friends. But not that many people at work knew.

What was your boyfriend's reaction? He was a little nervous when the first magazine came out, but after he'd digested it, he was like, “Wow, that's really cool.” He's in the Marines, and he's in Iraq right now. So I sent him over a shipment of copies.

I'm sure he was the most popular member of his unit when that arrived. Speaking of popularity, have you noticed more guys wandering past your desk at work, sort of pretending to be heading for the fax machine? There's maybe the occasional extra glimpse from some of the new aides. But, you know, I've been at the State House for six years, so people know me pretty well.

And did any of those colleagues give you a hard time? No, not at all. I think people are apprehensive to even mention it. It's like, “Can I bring up the fact that this girl works here, and I've seen her naked? Is it okay to do that?” I've had a couple of them say, “I saw the pictures. Good job.” And that was as far as it went.

Would that be the case anywhere? Or does it have something to do with Boston's prudishness? I don't think of Boston as being like that. But that may just be me. I did pose nude for a magazine.
— James Burnett

MULTIPLY YOUR LOVE

Local advocates of “polyamory” say you can love two people at once. Or three. Or four.

By Michael Blanding

When Alan Wexelblat wants to go on a date with his girlfriend, he has to check first — with his wife. Together, they try to schedule the date for the same night one of her boyfriends is free. Of course, the 41-year-old software manager from Burlington also has to make sure that the night in question isn't one that his girlfriend is spending with her husband or her other, live-in, lover. But if it is, Wexelblat can always call on his other girlfriend.

Thought juggling a job and a relationship was hard? Try juggling a job and a few relationships. “It's a hassle,” says Wexelblat, “but it's worth it.” His wife, Michelle, 34, agrees: “What do you get out of it?” she asks. “The same thing you get out of any relationship, only more of it.”

Alan and Michelle belong to Poly Boston, a group for practitioners of polyamory — people who have more than one meaningful relationship at a time. Members gather for monthly discussions in an unassuming Victorian in Malden. Tonight, 20 members circle a table laden with Pepsi and wasabi peas to talk about such topics as the importance of communicating with your husband's girlfriend, and how to explain your lifestyle to your mother. (Bring it up matter-of-factly, then change the subject, one suggests.)

A few of the men look like they could play guitar on a Crosby, Stills & Nash reunion tour, but most are thirtysomethings who seem as if they'd feel more at home at Macworld than a Dead show. Alan and Michelle both have long, black hair and wear matching shirts that read, “Sharing is a Family Value” on the back. They pass their three-week-old baby back and forth as they talk. (Their other child is at home — with one of Alan's girlfriends.)

“I have what looks like a conventional situation,” says Alan, “a wife and two kids. We share a bank account and a car. And, oh, by the way, I have two girlfriends. Watching people try to wrap their heads around that, you can see the brains leak out of their ears.” Not that Michelle is missing out. She has three boyfriends. “Each person is a different flavor that makes combining with them a different interaction,” she explains. “It gives you a person to explore different parts of yourself with.”

While Alan admits to occasional pangs of jealousy, he points out that those feelings aren't solved by monogamy. “If I'm feeling jealous, it comes down to me being insecure,” says Alan. Lovers can help support a marriage when, say, the couple needs help picking up the kids, or even negotiating problems in other relationships. Says Michelle: “Alan tried to help me save my first marriage.”

Modern polyamory began with Robert Heinlein, the science fiction writer, who introduced the concept of “nesting” in 1961 in Stranger in a Strange Land and developed it over the course of a dozen more books. Various counterculture elements put Heinlein's ideas into practice, including a group in the Boston area called Family Tree, which was founded in 1979 and still exists today. Poly Boston has been meeting since 1998 and includes a few hundred members.

Visitors expecting to find keys in a fishbowl and pillows on the floor walk away disappointed. Most polyamorists insist that their other relationships are not about the sex (though that's clearly part of it), but about developing relationships that go beyond friendship. “We're less obsessed about sex than other people,” says J.M., a petite 31-year-old who works in historic preservation and who asked that her full name not be used. She makes the distinction between swingers, who trawl for sex without commitment, and polyamorists, who seek multiple deep relationships. “Poly people aren't interested in going from one sexual relationship to another,” she says. “We don't use people like tissues.”

J.M. is bisexual; she first started on the poly path six years into her marriage, when she and her husband picked up a woman together in a chat room. Now they prefer to have separate boyfriends and girlfriends.

“I get a high out of connecting with different people on a meaningful basis,” says her husband, P.R., a 36-year-old Red Sox fan who works in the hotel industry. “Sex is just the icing on the cake.”

JUST A GIGOLO

Single white male, 40, lives in the suburbs, looking for hot romance — for a fee.

By James Burnett

For the past year, Jess, a graphic artist from Boston's western suburbs, has been supplementing his income by offering, for a fee of $1,000 per day, to grant willing women the pleasure of his company. He is, in other words, a gigolo. And according to Ann, a high-end escort who acts as his booking agent, yogi, and spokesperson, the service he provides is — at least in the Boston area — one of a kind. “Gigolos have been around for centuries, but New England is so conservative. We are embarking on new territory,” Ann says. “I've researched this. I'm in the biz. I have connections, dear.”

Jess and Ann (in the spirit of Brazilian soccer stars, they prefer to use single, made-up names) agree to meet to discuss their fledgling venture; they suggest the piano bar at the Crowne Plaza in Natick and show up early. Jess, who says he's 40 but looks a bit older, is wearing a gray houndstooth blazer over a charcoal turtleneck, gray trousers, and black wingtip loafers. His rugged face is framed by black sideburns and punctuated by a thick mustache. His wavy black hair appears to be thinning on top. Ann is dressed conservatively in a long black skirt, black top, and leather jacket, which are accessorized with a collection of gold earrings extensive enough to suggest that other piercings might be hidden elsewhere on her person.

“I met Jess while he was tending bar — I can't comment on where, okay? His private life is private, and he wants to keep it that way,” Ann says. “I was watching him. I liked his demeanor, his looks. We got to talking and became friends. One day, I had this idea of him becoming an old-fashioned gigolo for women. He said, 'Sure, why not?'”

“Why not? Let's give it a try,” says Jess.

“This was about a year ago now. Then we started marketing him,” Ann says. Initially, their promotional campaign consisted of an ad on www.gigolo.com — an international directory conceived by a former Amsterdam-based gigolo who is attempting to launch a second career as a lounge singer in Las Vegas — plus some postings on a few adult Web sites. Now Jess's terms and conditions are advertised through his own home page, which emphasizes that he sees “ladies only, i.e., born a woman, not made or dressed as” one. “The client provides for all his transportation and expenses,” says Ann. “Appointments have to be booked at least a week in advance.”

“It's not like calling out for pizza,” Jess says.

“He's not there to make a spouse or boyfriend jealous, and he's not a bodyguard or babysitter,” says Ann, who explains that Jess's clients are not permitted to drink excessively or use drugs during a date. “He's not a stripper, and he's not a masseuse.”

“I can do that. But I'm not a professional,” Jess says. “I didn't go to school for it.” He swirls the ice in his scotch.

“Throughout the evening, if she wants her shoulders rubbed, yes, he can do that,” Ann says, clarifying. Jess, who lifts weights at least three times a week to maintain what Ann describes as “an eight-pack,” also makes sure to hold doors for his clients, light their cigarettes, help them with their coats. “It's all part of the etiquette training I gave him,” she says. “He has to be careful about what he's eating, too. He has to eat light. He can't get bogged down. He can't sit there and eat lobster.”

“No messy foods,” says Jess.

“No fried chicken,” says Ann. “And no beans.”

That advice has come in handy during dinners at Sonsie, the Capital Grille, Les Zygomates, and the House of Blues, which represent roughly half of Jess's assignments so far. Although his clients have ranged in age from 25 to 60, “they're usually thirtysomething yuppie professional women,” Ann notes. “We don't ask about their marital status, we don't ask about their jobs, and we can't say where they're from, dear.”

Jess has also gone inline skating with one of his clients, and several outings have led him to a dance floor. “He's an expert dancer,” Ann says. Quiet evenings at home, car rides into the country, and moonlit walks on the beach can also be arranged. “He can be romantic, but the lady's going to have to make the first move, understand?” Ann says. And what happens then?

“We're not going to comment on that,” Ann says.

“There's too much gray area,” Jess says.

“No comment, no comment, no comment, case closed, no comment!” says Ann. “Read the disclaimer,” she adds, referring to a statement on his Web site: “You are paying for my time and companionship only. . . . Anything else that may occur is a matter of personal choice between two or more consenting adults of legal age and is not contracted for . . . or compensated.”

In order to maximize the return on his assets, Ann and Jess are also pursuing another venture.

“It's called the Naked Bartender,” Ann says. “We put some shirt cuffs and a bow tie on him, and he stands behind the bar serving drinks, nude. There's no sex or anything. But he'll shake it right, get it? He'll shake your drink up right.”

THE SEX POLICE

Think you've never broken any laws? We're guessing you have.

Massachusetts is famous for its puritanical laws regarding sexuality. There are laws against all the usual stuff — incest, adultery, rape. There are also some rules in the books that might surprise you. . . .

Chapter 272: Section 34. Crime against nature: Whoever commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished. . . . Translation: “Anal penetration and bestiality are against the law,” says Gary Buseck, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. “This law no longer applies to private adult consensual behavior of a noncommercial nature.”

Chapter 12: Section 11L. Sexual contact with patients; unlicensed health and mental health professionals . . . : “Sexual contact” shall include the following, whether or not occurring with the consent of a patient or former patient: sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse or any intrusion, however slight, into the genital or anal openings . . . by any object.

Chapter 272: Section 35. Unnatural and lascivious acts. Whoever commits any unnatural and lascivious act with another person shall be punished. . . . Translation: According to a court decision in Massachusetts in 1977, the notion of “unnatural sex” means any of the following acts: “oral and anal intercourse, including fellatio, cunnilingus, and other intrusions of a part of a person's body or other object into the genital or anal opening of another person's body. . . .”

Chapter 272: Section 18. Fornication. Whoever commits fornication shall be punished. . . . Translation: “Sex between unmarried people is technically illegal,” says Buseck. “This law isn't enforced anymore.”
— Jason Fell

LOVE FOR SALE

Just how much business are local escorts doing?

By A.J. Baime

Like all cities, Boston has its share of companionship for hire. Escorts advertise in any number of publications. Web sites have made it easy for supply to meet demand. How much of this stuff goes on in your backyard? We did some investigating.

Verizon's Boston Super Pages lists no fewer than 118 escort services. Services offer “out calls” (they come to the client) or “in calls” (vice versa). The going rate in the city: $200 per hour. To gauge how much business these companies are doing, consider the fact that, to buy a black-and-white half-page ad in the Boston Super Pages, an escort service will have to pony up $32,832 for 2004. Verizon calls escort ads “high-risk headings,” meaning they have to be paid for in advance. Other businesses are allowed to pay in monthly installments. There are six escort ads a half-page or larger in the Boston Super Pages, proving that these operations have healthy advertising budgets.

Escorts from elsewhere list visits to Boston on Web sites such as www.escorts.com and www.eros.com. They book appointments, then fly in and stay at high-end hotels, much like pop singers. “Appearances” are posted on the sites (“Visiting Boston, June 3-9!”), along with photographs and descriptions (“adult film star,” “exotic stunner”).

Technically, these agencies operate within the bounds of the law. “It's not a crime to provide companionship for a fee,” says David Duncan of the Boston law firm Zalkind, Rodriguez, Lunt, & Duncan. And it's hard to prove what goes on during these dates. Nevertheless, law enforcement agents have made some arrests in the past seven months, many in the suburbs.

In Billerica, a sting at a hotel led to the arrest on prostitution charges of three women from an escort service called Cara's Angels. The women lived in Chelmsford, Methuen, and Manchester, New Hampshire. In Som-erville, police raided an alleged brothel on Broadway and arrested five women who they say specialized in S&M and role-playing fantasies. And North Andover detectives arrested a woman named Gael French at her home in that town's exclusive Bonny Lane neighborhood. French, who is 61, was advertising her services on www.escorts.com. “We sent an undercover agent in and she was arrested,” says North Andover detective Daniel Cronin. French later pleaded guilty to the crime.

Prostitution in this area “is a huge business,” Cronin says. “The money they're making is incredible.”

THE FOUR-HUNDRED-MILE-HIGH CLUB

MIT mice will spawn in space.

Students in MIT's Aeronautics and Astronautics Department will be blasting mice into space, likely in 2005, to examine (among other things) how they'll reproduce in Mars-like conditions.

Twelve mice will be launched into orbit, a third of them pregnant — 9 days into their 21-day gestation period. The idea is to figure out whether humans will one day be able to spawn on the Red Planet. Researchers considered sending up males as well, but decided against it. “We're fairly confident that both mice and humans will be able to conceive on Mars if they try hard enough,” says 23-year-old Paul Wooster, the project's chief. “Also, if we sent males, we would have to then figure out a way to separate them after conception, since male mice can get pretty aggressive toward their young.” (They like to eat them.)

Assuming Wooster and his cronies can raise the estimated $20 million in funding they need, they'll send the mice up aboard a rocket bound into orbit. They estimate all of the mice will make the return trip — the first mammals ever to reproduce in space.

SEXUAL HEALING

Probing the problem of sex dysfunction in women.

By Doug Most

Dr. Irwin Goldstein still remembers exactly when the “nuclear bomb” of sex therapy, as he calls it, exploded. It was the second week of March 1998 when Bob Dole and his little blue pill burst into our bedrooms and comedians everywhere rejoiced.

Did you hear about the first death from a Viagra overdose? A man took 12 pills and his wife died.

And the guy who spent all his money on Viagra? Now he's hard up.

At Goldstein's Institute for Sexual Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, the phones wouldn't stop ringing in the days after Viagra's release. But it wasn't men calling for samples of this miracle pill — it was women demanding equal attention. “Women were empowered,” says Goldstein, whose institute celebrates its 25th anniversary next month. “What about me?” he remembers them saying. “Goddammit, if you're helping men, you can help women.”

With a staff of physicians, psychologists, and researchers, and an affiliation with a medical school, BU's Institute for Sexual Medicine is the only one of its kind in the country. For its first 20 years, it catered only to men. From horny teens to lustful seniors, men flocked to this gray slab of a medical building in the South End, rode the creaky elevator to the sixth floor, and trudged down the hall with their heads down — only to leave a short while later with a skip in their steps and a smile on their faces.

But when women called, Goldstein sent them to their gynecologists. “We were fighting the demand,” he admits. Then came Viagra — and he stopped fighting.

In the five years since the institute opened its doors to women, more than 1,200 have passed through, complaining of some form of sexual dysfunction. Goldstein estimates he has successfully treated 70 percent of them. But it's the way they're being treated — with medicinal creams, FDA-approved vacuum devices, and doses of estrogen that carry side effects — that he wants to change. Women want a quick fix, a pill, and BU's sex institute is on the cutting edge of the effort to create one.

There's just one problem: Leading the race for a female sex pill is a bit like being the fastest tortoise. Even as help for men keeps coming (the FDA is about to approve two new Viagra-like drugs), Goldstein, 52, a blunt-talking, silver-haired, bespectacled urologist, shrugs when asked if women can expect their own pill soon. “Probably a decade away,” he says. “There will be a pill. But that day is not tomorrow. We are nowhere near understanding what is happening in women.”

That doesn't mean he can't help, as 57-year-old Lillian Arleque discovered. Married 33 years and faced with an almost nonexistent sex life since she had two children, Arleque drove down from Andover to see Goldstein after years of listening to gynecologists tell her she was healthy, that her problem was in her head. “I knew it wasn't psychological,” she says. Goldstein confirmed it, determining that her testosterone was low. He prescribed the hormone. “I felt so validated,” she says. “Sex never used to cross my mind. Now we're really enjoying life.” She chuckles at the thought of how her children will react to reading this, but she knows she's not alone.

Goldstein estimates that about 32 percent of women suffer from sexual dysfunction, and he angrily disputes an article in January's British Medical Journal claiming that researchers, including him, in cahoots with drug companies, have fabricated the entire problem. “The corporate-sponsored creation of a disease is not a new phenomenon,” the article said, “but the making of female sexual dysfunction is the freshest, clearest example we have.”

Responds Goldstein: “Sexual problems in women are highly prevalent, frequently distressing, and poorly understood. The causes and treatment have been topics of academic concern for more than half a century, long before the current era of pharmaceutical research.”

Spats aside, experts do agree that women's sex organs behave nothing like men's. And up to this point most sex research, starting with penile implants back in 1973, has focused on what's inside a man's pants, not a woman's. Only now is that changing.

The BU institute boasts a state-of-the-art lab where researchers are studying the sexual responses of rabbits and mice, examining tissue samples of the animals' genitalia to learn how they relax and contract. They're looking into how sex steroid hormones, from testosterone to progesterone, affect female arousal — long a mystery to doctors.

What is known is that men who take Viagra feel a rush of blood to their penises, while women feel a slight effect (although enough that Pfizer, Viagra's maker, is studying it further). “If you could take a pill that would be in your body for a short time, have an effect, and then dissipate, that would be great,” says Arleque.

Today, BU's sex institute divides each day to handle both men and women. It saw 200 new patients who were women last year and 500 who were men. The reason for the difference: A man's first visit takes roughly 30 minutes; a woman's, three hours. “Men are goal-oriented, they're seeking performance,” Goldstein says. “Women need emotional intimacy.”

On this point, at least, there seems to be no debate.

FREEZE FRAME

Your chance to be an angel in a centerfold.

Ever wondered what you'd look like splashed across a sizzling photo spread in an artsy skin mag — maybe clad in tight black leather or in nothing at all? Now imagine that the only people seeing these photos are the people you would want to see them — your spouse or lover and you.

Several local snappers whose work appears in underground sex and art publications worldwide — mags like Prometheus, Secret, and Skin Two — will also take sexy shots of clients for a fee. “There's definitely a movement to bring fetish photography into the fold as a fine art,” says Scott Lanes, who exhibits his erotic photography worldwide.

For everyday private erotica, sessions start at $300 to $400. “Most of my clients want something that's not your average lingerie shot,” says Braintree-based photographer Forrest Frazier. “Maybe they're rubberists, or they're into bondage. Maybe they're into latex, or they want to be wrapped in Saran Wrap. Maybe they have a dungeon at their house, or they want to be shot outside. If it's going to be an elaborate production, the price will go up.”

Scott F. Lanes Photography, 978-745-9398, www.lanes.com.

Forrest Frazier Photography, 617-710-5626, www.ffphoto.com.

GAY OLD TOWN

America's sixth-gayest city.

Years ago, gay and lesbian couples looking to move in together needed a home with plenty of closet space, if you get the picture. Not so anymore. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's study of the last U.S. Census, 1.2 million Americans identified themselves as gay or lesbian in a cohabiting relationship — lots of them right here in New England.

Portland, Maine, ranks third-gayest city in the nation in terms of concentration of same-sex households, followed by Burlington, Vermont. (Homosexual couples make up about one of every hundred households in Portland.) Maine's largest city tied for fifth place the last time the study was conducted in 1990. Burlington wasn't among the top 10 cities.

In terms of overall share of same-sex households, Boston ranks sixth in the nation, with 2.52 percent of the total. (New York is first, with 8.86 percent.) Census takers recorded 17,099 same-sex cohabiting couples in Massachusetts, the highest number in Middlesex County (3,931), followed by Suffolk County (3,505).

DIFFERENT STROKES

Inside the Hub's S-&-M community.

Cecilia Tan looks forward to the day when Boston's aficionados of leather “blow the doors off of kinky.” She doesn't mean leather coats or wallets. The spokeswoman for the Brighton-based New England Leather Alliance is talking about whips and other accessories used by people who engage in consensual sadomasochistic sex. For now, however, Tan says, the city's fetish community is feeling the sting of New England puritanism. “We're staunchly liberal, very private, very proper,” she says. “It's partly the size of the population. It's easier to blend in in New York City, where the population density is so high.” And it's partly Yankee tradition. “The way New Englanders are liberal is different from the way other parts of the country are liberal,” Tan says.

The self-described local leatherfolk (“vanilla folk” is what they call the 9 out of 10 Americans who practice nonfetishistic sex) are working hard to change that. They hosted this year's Leather Leadership Conference in April at the Park Plaza Hotel, attended by 218 kinksters from all over the nation. And they have their share of hangouts and icons — bars like the Ramrod and ManRay, clubs like Westford's Boston Dungeon Society and Cambridge's Common Bond, Danny of Leather by Danny (maker of must-have collars, cuffs, and dungeon gear), and a handful of erotic photographers (above) who shoot S-&-M footage for magazines all over the world.
— Susanna Baird

MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER

Selling sex doesn't have to be a dirty business.

By Erin Byers

At the front of the room stands an attractive blonde holding a Blue Dolphin. “Ladies,” she announces, “let me introduce you to your new best friend” — a 6-inch blazing neon vibrator. The woman holding it, Sharon, pushes the on button, and the instrument comes to life, buzzing like a Cuisinart. Some vibrators have a waterproof coating, Sharon says. “They even work in the tub!” Then she begins passing them around to the roomful of eager women seated in a sunny Natick living room, who coo wide-eyed at the apparatuses.

Beside Sharon sits a basket full of similar novelties: lotions and toys, including vibrating underwear that can be activated by remote control. This is not a brothel. It's a house full of about two dozen suburban women, ages 25 to 40, well-dressed sophisticates who share one common goal: to enhance their sexuality.

Sharon is a distributor for the Worcester-based Secret Desires, which sells adult novelty items in the privacy of people's homes. Owner Candice Ross, a stay-at-home mom, started the company seven years ago. Now she manages more than 100 distributors in the Northeast. Some of her employees work full-time (they can make up to $500 at a party), but typically this is a secondary income for women with full-time commitments — students, nurses, daycare providers, moms. Primarily, they're educators. And they're absolutely unashamed of what they do.

“We provide a comfortable, confidential environment for women to learn how to use these products — and how to enjoy their bodies — without an invasion of their privacy,” Ross says. “I get lots of calls from spouses thanking me. I've had women say that this has saved their marriages.”

With an inventory that ranges from sexual games (Foreplay Dice, $6), to a how-to book (The Complete Manual of Sexual Positions, $16), to innumerable sex toys that sell for $5 to $200, the distributors put on an arousing rendition of the classic Tupperware party. The company holds about 1,000 parties a month at homes all over New England. (If you're interested, call 877-337-9737.)

At this particular gathering in Natick, Sharon skillfully leads the group through her lesson plan. From product presentations, the party slides into a question-and-answer session, and climaxes with product purchasing (always conducted in a private room). When the evening ends, there's a distinct feeling that for these women, the party is just beginning.

RABBIT REDUX

The most unlikely Playboy Club.

They were sexy and sophisticated gentlemen's clubs staffed by women wearing skimpy, one-piece suits with cufflinks, cotton tails, and bunny ears. But when it came time to open a Playboy Club in Boston in 1966, the authorities were less than captivated.

“We showed the costume in front of the liquor commission, and one of the commissioners literally swiveled around in his chair and wouldn't look,” Hugh Hefner himself remembered later. This, despite the fact that the skirts had been lengthened, just for Boston.

The Playboy Club did eventually get a license to operate in Boston, in a building where the Four Seasons Hotel now stands; the trademark bunny logo was painted, five stories tall, on one side. And when nobody was looking, the hemlines went back up.

“I don't know how they got it through,” says Claire Smith, who became a Bunny there in 1971 when she was 21. Then again, business was good. “In Boston, there was no other place to go.”

That wasn't entirely true. Until it closed in 1977, the club shared Park Square with the Hillbilly Ranch, the Mousetrap, and the Teddy Bear Lounge. But it had something they didn't: class.

There were, of course, the Bunnies. But there were also performances by big-name entertainers like Mel Torme. “It was someplace you could go and feel like you'd be treated like a king,” says Smith, now 53 and a secretary in a theological seminary.

There were a few feminist protests. But, Smith says, “It was prestigious to be a Playboy Bunny. No one pulled my fingernails out to work there. We were just trying to make a living.”
— Jon Marcus

THE SEX-STARVED MARRIAGE

In Boston, limp libidos aren't just for old people anymore.

By Gretchen Voss

“If I had a dollar for every couple having sexual problems in the first six months of marriage, I'd be a very wealthy psychologist indeed,” says Barry McCarthy, a certified sex therapist and author of Rekindling Desire.

Huh? We all know that sliding on that ring will eventually mean less sliding between the sheets, but that's supposed to happen later, with tired, old married couples who aren't having sex because, well, they're tired and old. But those sultry young couples sipping chardonnay in Newbury Street cafés? While hard statistics about who's doing what behind closed doors are hard to come by, most sex therapists agree they're seeing more and more young married couples who aren't knocking boots like you'd think — especially, it turns out, in Boston.

“Everyone thinks that young couples are supposed to have spontaneous sex, spontaneous desire, spontaneous arousal,” says Aline Zoldbrod, a Lexington-based sex therapist. “But where's the time for sex? That is a national phenomenon, but I think it is particularly acute here. I think workaholism is more valued here and fun is less valued.”

You don't have to tell that to Cheryl and Dan (not their real names). “We had an amazing sexual relationship,” she says. “And then we got married.” The Charlestown couple, in their late 20s, went from having sex three or four times a week to having sex once a month, if that. “I used to think that after I got married, I would sit back with Dan and laugh at the patheticness of [Sex and the City's] Samantha and Carrie as they desperately scoured the streets for sex. Now, I'm jealous. They're having far more sex than I am.” For Cheryl and Dan, the long hours devoted to their careers in public relations and finance are major libido busters. “Who has the time or energy for sex?” she says. “With the amount of hours we work, all we want to do when we come home is watch the tube.”

Sexperts agree, the biggest wet blanket on young married hanky-panky is a demanding career and financial issues. Says Zoldbrod: “For low-sex young marriages in Boston, one of the biggest things is how expensive it is. [Living in Boston, she means, not the sex itself.] You have to make a lot of money to live here. Education and being the most powerful and most successful mean a lot here.” In other words, people spend more time pounding the pavement than the headboard.

Suki Hanfling, director of the Institute for Sexuality & Intimacy in Belmont, concurs. “In this area, you see people who are two-career couples, and there is so much pressure to make it financially and do the right thing with the kids that they have trouble being in the moment,” she says. “This can put a huge stress on the sexual relationship.”

Mixing work pressures with children can also result in a lustless marriage. Rob (also not his real name), a high-powered Boston attorney, had no complaints about his sex life when he married at 27. Then he and his wife had a baby, and they were both exhausted. “There was just no sex after we had our first child,” he says. “I mean zero. We would go years.” (When Rob finally went to Suki Hanfling for “permission” to have an extramarital affair, she convinced him and his wife to start therapy. “Now we're having the best sex ever,” he says.)

Professional obligations and child-rearing are only the tip of the iceberg that is Boston. “You have the Puritan influence and the Catholic Church influence. I think that might contribute in some way to people here being more inhibited,” Zoldbrod says. She also points to the weather as a major turnoff. See buff folks running around half-naked in Los Angeles and get turned on; see overweight New Englanders in snowsuits and stay turned off.

But her worst knock on our town? “I've traveled all over the world, and I can compare what's what in different cities,” Zoldbrod says. “Boston is the prudiest.”

HOT DATES

The camera isn't the only thing flashing as Cambridge big shots with high IQs strip for a new calendar.

Noted author Anne Bernays looks very saucy alongside husband and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Justin Kaplan. Cambridge Dance Complex director Rozann Kraus shows her moves. And you'd never know from the photo that former U.S. labor secretary and Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Robert Reich is actually wearing a swimsuit, if nothing else. “I tried, but I couldn't talk Reich out of his bathing suit,” says photographer Mark Ostow, who has teamed up with Cambridge Community Television to mark the station's 15th anniversary next year with a 2004 calendar featuring some of that city's most accomplished personalities in nothing but their own skins. Ostow is still trying to get Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Big Dig developer Les Marino to strip for the camera. The calendar will be available for $15 at stores all over Cambridge and at www.cctvcambridge.org.

TEST OF MANHOOD

Hormones — who's up, who's down.

When Harvard researchers studied young adult males in places as diverse as Boston, the Congo, Nepal, and Paraguay, guess who had the highest levels of testosterone? That's right: Boston men! Whoo-hoo! But don't start pounding your chest yet. “It has to do with the general health and lifestyle that populations in the West enjoy,” says Peter Ellison, professor of anthropology at Harvard, whose lab conducted the study. “By the age of 60,” he says, “everybody's testosterone level looks the same.”

More about “T” from Harvard: When men compete, whether in tennis, wrestling, or chess, the winners end up with higher testosterone levels than the losers. “Even the fans of teams that win wind up with higher levels, while losing fans' levels will drop,” Ellison says.

There is a positive correlation between testosterone levels and performance on a computerized test in which men had to mentally rotate three-dimensional objects and imagine what they would look like from different angles. Men with the highest testosterone levels performed faster and more accurately.

Married men have lower testosterone levels than single men. But then, we knew that already.
— Chuck Kapelke

WOMAN ON TOP

An ex-hooker who worked at Harvard, a sex-store owner who's a VP of the chamber of commerce — Kim Airs has done it all. (And we mean everything.) Love it or hate it, she's putting Boston's sex scene on the map.

By Gretchen Voss

“Welcome to the fourth annual 'You Oughta Be in Pictures,'” says Kim Airs, the proprietrix of the Grand Opening! sex-toy store for women and the curator of this evening's compilation of local amateur porn.

Standing in front of the gold curtain at Brookline's historic Coolidge Corner Theatre, Airs is looking sassy and sexy for a woman of 45 — cleavage spilling out of a black, lace-up bustier accented with a rhinestone pin spelling out PORN, her dirty-blond bob, graying at the edges, mussed as if she just got out of bed. Her manic energy hides the fact that she was out late last night at Centerfolds, throwing dollar bills at female strippers. Microphone in hand, Airs yuks it up for her adoring audience. As a civic leader, teacher, activist, and business owner, she's used to taking center stage. Somerville hipsters, college coeds, gay couples, middle-aged marrieds — they all whoop and holler, filling every one of the 600 seats for this sold-out show.

Airs proudly tells the audience that she just opened her second sex-toy store, in Los Angeles, “the porno capital of the world,” and that HBO will be airing a documentary about tonight's erotica festival. The broadcast, scheduled for this summer, will be titled Porn 101: Doin' It for the Big Screen. The applause is deafening. Life for Kim Airs these days is sweet, indeed.

“I show everything that I get,” she says, referring to the videos Bostonians sent her for tonight's show. “Let it roll!”

Folks, meet your neighbors.

A thick, hairy man strips off his red woman's thong to “Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?” and flashes the camera. A gray-haired woman on the down slope of middle age slides off her chaps and slaps her naked body with a whip. Two women, dressed as flappers, abandon their dates at a restaurant table and get it on in the bathroom, kissing passionately. A beautiful woman — or is it a man? — struts down a sunlit city street while exposing her breasts and erect penis.

Two hours later, with the crowd giddy and buzzing, Airs returns to the stage, her face flush with ecstasy. After ceremoniously destroying the mini DVDs with a sledgehammer, she invites the stars of the show to stand up and take credit for tonight's entertainment. It's these people, she says, who told her that their sexual fantasy was to have their own porno shown on the big screen. It's Kim Airs who makes sexual fantasies come true.

Who knew that Boston — let alone stuffy Brookline — could be a trendsetter in the sex world? That this provincial backwater, a place shackled with some of the most archaic sex laws in the country, would be home to the country's only silver-screen amateur porn night, one of only a handful of female-friendly sex shops, and an alternative sex scene so cutting-edge that HBO is devoting a special hour-long program to it? That it would export a successful sex business to L.A.?

It's hard to believe, especially these days. There's no denying that the lights have gone out in Boston's red-light district. Up and down the once-bustling Combat Zone, smutty storefronts are being taken back by the city, forced to move their XXX outlets to Rhode Island in exchange for Ritzy towers.

It makes Kim Airs sad. Back in the day, the Combat Zone served as her sexual petri dish, a place with an anything-goes ethos that formed her liberated psyche. Now, in the ruins of that era, Airs is the new face of sex in this city, with a million-dollar, upscale sexuality boutique in Brookline that is repackaging carnal spirit with a bizarre pinch of XXX political correctness.

“People say, Oh Boston, they are so conservative there,” Airs says. “And I say the difference between Boston and San Francisco is that in Boston people just pull the bedroom door shut tighter. People are doing the exact same stuff everywhere. Some people talk about it and some don't.” Not only does Kim Airs talk about it, but she's also shoving Boston's bedroom doors open so the rest of the country can sneak a peek.

So who the heck is she, anyway? An enigma, for one. She's an ex-hooker and a former Harvard staffer. She serves as a vice president of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and on the board of directors of the Coolidge Corner Theatre. She hawks strap-ons to suburban moms and hangs out with porn stars. She's active in a local women's business roundtable. She volunteers her time to local doctors, educating them about products that can help dysfunctional patients achieve orgasm. She's a darned serious female entrepreneur in a man's world.

In a nutshell, she's as simple and as complicated as sex itself.

Many people who indulge in the outer realms of sexual behavior can distill their motivations down to a single moment in time, a memory that triggers a feeling of either absolute ecstasy or utter horror. Not Kim Airs. There was nothing complicated about Bayville, New Jersey. A summer resort town on the Jersey shore, Bayville was a big gulp of homogenized milk, a place where kids watched the traffic pass by and parents didn't get divorced. Her father, Bob, was an ex-GI (“a dyed-in-the-wool Republican,” as she puts it) and her mother, Genevieve, a French expat (“a real hot ticket”). Kim lived with three siblings in a two-bedroom apartment above her dad's shop, Friendly Furniture.

Airs took her rebellions where she could. “She's never been conservative in anything she does,” her father says. “She was always coming up with big ideas.” She was also an achiever. While in high school, she worked at the local library. She taught an adult education class on how to macramé plant holders. She lost her virginity to a guy she really liked. Pretty uncool stuff for a Jersey girl in the '70s.

While attending Stockton State College on scholarship (she dropped out after two years), Kim fell in love with Tom Airs, an ad copywriter for the goofy gift catalog Spencer. In January 1978, they decided to get married.

The couple recited their vows inside her father's cavernous furniture warehouse. The 20-year-old bride wore off-white (a $19 jumper from Sears that screamed shotgun wedding). “In many ways she was very conservative,” says Tom Airs's old roommate, Paul Lewis. “Kim is a very moral person with a definite sense of right and wrong. She's very definitive about her rules, very black and white, except when it comes to sex.”

Airs took the role of dutiful wife and threw herself into both fixing dinner and a series of retail jobs — hawking jeans at Copper Rivet, cheese at Hickory Farms, menswear at Bamberger's. The couple fled the Garden State in 1980 for Massachusetts, where she spent seven years designing logos for the insoles of shoes.

But Airs was conflicted — loving the idea of marriage but not the sexual handcuffs placed on it. “We rented a porno once and [my husband] was like, 'This is stupid, they're faking.' And I'm watching and kinda getting hot,” she says. Her husband looked at her like she was crazy when she suggested a three-way, and she shut down.

“She was a strait-laced girl in so many ways, but she's got this dichotomy,” says Paul Lewis. “She told my wife that what she really wanted was this totally dedicated emotional relationship, and at the same time she wanted to be free physically.” Airs screwed around before her first anniversary. It didn't affect her relationship, she says. “He's my pillar, and they're my candy.” Her husband didn't feel the same way. After seven and a half years, they separated on Christmas Day in 1985. It was extremely painful, Airs says, but she harbors no regrets about her marriage. And why should she? The marriage might be dead but Kim Airs, Sexual A dventuress, was about to be born.

Winter 1987, and the darkness of the Combat Zone's Pilgrim Theater swallows the hard-luck transients, the tarted-up transvestites, and, yes, the Financial District bankers. Airs is sitting next to her boyfriend, a DJ at a local radio station who she affectionately calls Smut Hound, in the sticky red velvet seats. A man in a down jacket, otherwise naked save for a beat-up pair of construction boots, takes the seat next to her as the porno movie plays itself out.

Airs giggles like a schoolgirl relating the story. “I've got [the anonymous man] in one hand, Smut Hound in the other,” she says. “And I was like, I love this place!” Like a kid on a sugar high, she bounces out of her seat as she talks about the good old days at the Pilgrim. Her frankness makes it all seem so fun, even as the stories get progressively more shocking (and unprintable, even with ambiguous verbs).

The Pilgrim brought on a revelation for Airs — a coming out. “It was this incredible public space for sexual expression that was its own fraternity. There was this air of secrecy, anonymity, eroticism,” she says.

After her missionary marriage, Airs exploded onto the scene. “Public sex, strippers, porn stars, sex toys, everything!” she says. “I wanted more.”

She would certainly get more. And it wasn't her horny boyfriend or the trashy streets of the Combat Zone that would provoke Airs to explore the depths of her fantasies. It was the hallowed halls of Harvard University, where she had signed on in the summer of 1988, first as a temporary summer staffer in the economics department, and eventually as an assistant to Larry Summers's assistant when Summers was an economics professor before he became president of Harvard.

Airs remembers the September day like it was yesterday. She was at work opening letters, typing memos, and chitchatting with her officemate. About sex, of course. She told her coworker that she had a secret fantasy about working as a call girl. “My sister works as one!” exclaimed the woman. Curious, Airs called up the sister and met her in Harvard Square. “She was really normal, in her late thirties,” she remembers. “I'm like, this sounds so cool!”

And so, over the next two years, as Airs worked her way up at Harvard, she threw herself into a profession that was older than Harvard itself.

Airs checked out her reflection in the mirror of her Cambridge apartment. Too slutty, she thought. She was all dolled up for her first night as a whore, but she didn't want to look like a whore. Respect, that's what she wanted, and so she changed into a business outfit — sexy lingerie tucked into a skirt and blouse ensemble — for her debut appointment. It was perfect for the part she was playing, as Leslie, a downtown lawyer.

Her heels clickety-clacked as she sauntered up to the Swissôtel for her first call as a call girl. Sure, she had nervous jitters. But they weren't caused by the fear of danger that might be encountered in this kind of a situation. For her, the jitters were like any you'd have on the first day of a new job. But mostly she was excited. This — flat-backin' that is — was a fantasy about to be realized. That night's dream, with “a regular, big, roly-poly guy,” lasted less than an hour. “I loved it,” she says. “I loved the sex. I would sweat, I would make noise. In my real life I've had way more shitty sex than when I worked as a prostitute.”

Airs had a lot of sex as a prostitute, working for an escort agency, servicing roughly 400 mostly normal, mostly married men between September 1988 and December 1990. “It was fascinating work,” she says, on many levels: figuring out what her clients wanted, welcoming first-timers, even playing Florence Nightingale for those in need of sexual healing. (“I was so honored it was me,” she says of the widower who hadn't been with a woman since his wife died. “Being that soothing companion to someone who was going through stuff.”) She was the hooker with a heart of gold.

Did her experiences make her an advocate for this kind of risky behavior? “Definitely not,” she says. “This work is not for everybody. You always hear about prostitutes as being forced, or having drug habits, and all this horrible stuff. You don't hear about them doing it because they love sex. It's a mixed bag. I was having adulterous relations with married men. I wasn't trying to screw up marriages. I feel I was making them better, making sex between couples better.”

And she didn't care if the guy was fat, balding, and ugly. “So what?” she says. “That's all prejudicial stuff. They're humans.” In fact, her favorite call was with a 93-year-old man. She called him the professor, she remembers. He called her his Playboy model. They would speak French to each other. She saw him every Friday night for a year at his apartment in Jamaica Plain. “He was the most gentle, sweet man,” Airs says. “He was always my last call — a lovely way to end the night.” Afterwards, she would head to Sammy's and eat Middle Eastern food.

Like all things Airs, she kept her life compartmentalized. Her boyfriend at the time was in the dark. She worked the Friday night and Saturday day shift, when Smut Hound was spinning discs at the station. “I'd go on three calls,” she says. “And then I'd go home to him and make love because there was an emotional tie.” Just like the pillar and the candy.

But also like all things Airs, one life bled into the next. While she was working her night job, she was also scaling the lofty ladder at Harvard. By January of 1989, she was a full-time university employee, her duties split between the Office of the Governing Boards, where she researched honorary degree candidates and organized important dinners, and running the office of “a very high-ranking person” — a person so important she won't name him. Both jobs required complete confidentiality and top-level secretarial clearance. (“The only difference between Harvard and being a whore was the pay rate!” she likes to say.) Few within Harvard's ivy-covered buildings knew that Airs, the office pit bull, was also a call girl. “People may have made assumptions, but they didn't want to know the details,” says a former colleague. “She had two parts of her life, and she kept them separate. She had this professional side and this wild side.” Still, Airs certainly wasn't afraid to talk about sex with her coworkers.

“Dildos, I wasn't ashamed talking about them at all,” Airs says. And when one of her Harvard colleagues wanted to buy a vibrator — and plenty of them did — they went to Airs, who would escort them to the Combat Zone. The trip to the porn store was never a pleasant one. “You were made to feel shameful and dirty,” Airs says. No talking, no laughing, no open boxes to play with the merchandise. “It was ridiculous,” she says.

Little did she know that the ladies at Harvard would lead her to her calling.

Friday night of Columbus Day weekend in 1992. Airs was chatting up Deborah Sundahl, who was on tour to promote her video, How to Female Ejaculate, a film made by women for women. “I was intrigued to learn more,” Airs says. So, on the way down to visit her family in Jersey, she took in Sundahl's workshop in New York.

Sundahl told Airs that she had just been in Boston and was forced to have her workshop at Glad Day, a gay and lesbian bookstore, because she wasn't welcome at the feminist bookstores. “I said we could really use a women's sex shop in Boston,” says Airs. “And then I thought, I can do that. It was like a bolt of lightning. I'm gonna open a women's sex shop in Boston!”

Obsessed, Airs set about making her dream a reality. Flat broke, she called an old boss and hit him up for $14,000. (“It's a good field to go into,” he says now. “Let's face it: It's human nature.”) She then signed on for an apprenticeship with one of the only female-friendly sex boutiques in the country, Good Vibrations in San Francisco. Finally, she came out at Harvard. At a staff meeting, she announced, “I'm going to be leaving fair Harvard to open a women's sex-toy store.”

But then the banned-in-Boston roadblocks stopped her dead. “All the landlords were resisting,” she says. Although Airs had pictures of Good Vibrations as an example of her upscale concept, “they still couldn't comprehend that you could sell sex toys in a comfortable environment.” It was a colleague at Harvard who suggested Brookline. “Since my target customer is a straight woman living in Burlington with 2.2 kids who wants to buy a vibrator,” Airs says, “I wanted a location that a suburban woman would think was safe.” Upscale Brookline — home to little old Jewish ladies and Michael Dukakis — was perfect. And, oddly, considering it was the first town in the state to ban smoking, there were no laws against the sale of adult goods. Airs signed a lease for a second-floor space in the Arcade Building on Harvard Street.

She unveiled Grand Opening! on November 8, 1993. Since she was also working part-time at Harvard Medical School, the store was open only afternoons. Still, by year's end, Grand Opening! had grossed $50,000. One year later, having left Harvard for good in June, she expanded the store and started offering classes on everything from S&M to masturbation to how to talk to your kids about sex. She obviously filled a need: Most classes, held within the vanilla-colored, boudoir-sized space, sell out. And most days, the store is filled with suburban moms, professional women, and mainstream couples.

“I've been coming here a long time. It was very helpful when I came out of an awful, sexless 20-year marriage,” says a 52-year-old Cambridge woman. “The male-oriented stores feel grimy. Grand Opening! makes me comfortable because it's fun, and everyone is approachable and helpful.” Products that Samantha might coo over on Sex and the City, like the sparkly purple Judy Jetson (“the best low-price vibrator we've got!”) and the Hello Clitty (designed to stimulate only the clitoris), are openly displayed on oak shelves, begging to be handled. Cute instructional placards line the walls next to an enormous selection of lubricants, books, and videos. There are silk flowers and soft music. It couldn't be further from the Combat Zone. The gospel according to Kim Airs is that sex, in whatever shape or form it takes for you, is wonderful. “The motto of the store is, 'It's okay,'” she says.

Putting that message out there in puritanical Boston wasn't easy, especially when Airs joined the Brookline Chamber of Commerce in 1994. “The thought of having the owner of a sexuality boutique being a face-forward person for the chamber — some people grumbled,” says Karen Chase, a past president. “But she's really helpful in having people just get over it.” Airs was elected to the board of directors in 1999 and a vice president in 2000, even after donating a vibrator and massage oils to the annual fundraising dinner.

“This woman who was like 200 years old wins,” says Chase. “And Kim says, 'Well, vibrators do not discriminate. We can all use this.''”

“You hear anal sex in Boston,” Airs says, “and you can just hear the butts tightening up.”

On this spring evening, Airs is holding court at Grand Opening! Seven folks have forked over $34 to attend her anal sex workshop, called “Ifs, Ands, and Butts.” The participants are crunched in a horseshoe around her — a young, touchy-feely couple; a middle-aged, giggly couple; two thirtysomething men with hip facial hair and serious shoes; and a fresh-faced woman who scribbles notes.

“It's considered taboo, that it's a trap door and it only opens one way,” Airs says. Dressed in a black 1980s outfit from the Limited, she stands at an easel, working to dispel that myth. The next two hours are part anatomy class, part safe-sex instructional, and part standup comedy. Airs gives the lowdown on lubricants and sex toys, which she passes around. The audience studies them seriously.

One of the men in serious shoes raises his hand. “How do I bring up anal sex to the woman I'm seeing without seeming insensitive?” he asks.

“Just ask,” Airs says. “Say, 'Something that I've tried and really like is anal penetration.' A lot of people think it's weird and kinky, so it helps to talk about sex in a nonsexual situation.”

The man is happy. The class — going home with some new tricks and with tubes of lube — is happy. Airs, though, is the most happy. “God,” she says. “I really love teaching.” More than the national celebrity, more than the HBO documentary and the successful business, what makes Airs happy is spreading her message that sex is okay. That just because people think something is dirty doesn't make it wrong.

“I was shot down in my marriage for my natural impuls