Sexpert Bat Sheva Marcus
Westchester’s Own Dr. Ruth
Can’t get no satisfaction? Don’t despair. The county is home to one of the very few sexual treatment centers for women.
By Nancy L. Claus
We all are guilty of harboring a few preconceived notions. Like assuming a heavy chef must be a way better cook than a skinny one (meeting Dan Barber of Blue Hill fame shot that theory to hell). Or that beauty and brains don’t mix (take a gander at Westchester County’s past and present DAs). So, forgive me if I was thinking Jenna Jameson when I went to meet the sexpert at the seven-year-old Medical Center for Female Sexuality (MCFS) in Purchase, but instead met Bat Sheva Marcus, a cherubic-faced, pleasantly plump, 46-year-old mother of three who keeps a kosher house in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, plays a mean game of Settlers of Catan, and, oh yes, talks about vibrators and orgasms pretty much all day.
Talking about sex, or more likely the lack thereof, is her job. Marcus, a licensed social worker with multiple master’s degrees, is the clinical director of MCFS, one of a handful of treatment centers in the country dedicated to treating women’s sexual problems. (Men, don’t feel left out: the center has a corollary office to deal with your issues in bed.)
“In many cases, women have always been told that their problems were in their heads,” Marcus says, “and that’s just not true. There are hormonal and physical changes that can keep a woman from enjoying a satisfying sex life. ”
Ten years ago, Marcus was running the sperm bank and labs in White Plains for Dr. Michael Werner, a board-certified urologist with fellowship training in sexual dysfunction and male infertility. “Research was just beginning on sexual dysfunction in women at that time,” she says. Marcus became very interested in the subject and went on to get a master’s in public health and human sexuality. (In a few months, she expects to obtains a PhD in human sexuality from the Institute of Advanced Study of Human
Sexuality in San Francisco.) In 2000, Marcus and Warner founded MCFS.
Taking on an unusual career or a road less traveled is nothing new for Marcus. “I’m involved in the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which is kind of an oxymoron, and I really believe that sexual satisfaction is a feminist issue. For so long, women’s needs have been ignored or put down.”
While Marcus can discuss sex as casually as she can the weather, she is amused by the reaction of others to her line of work. “At a dinner party, when people hear what I do for a living, there are just two reactions: either dead silence and a quick change of subject or else sex dominates the conversation. There aren’t many places you can go to talk about sex.”
“Invariably, sex enters into all conversations when Bat Sheva is around,” says her neighbor Devorah Zlochower, who has become a good friend. “But it’s not always Bat Sheva’s fault. One Shabbat, we were sitting in the synagogue when a friend of ours, who is a marital counselor, came and sat next to us. After exchanging a few pleasantries, she started telling Bat Sheva about a couple she was seeing for counseling and the man was suffering from premature ejaculation. They started to discuss treatment plans right there in synagogue!”
Does talking about sex all day make you, well, more sexual? “My nurse and I were just discussing how great it is for our sex lives,” Marcus says with a laugh. “Talking about sex primes you for it. It is always in the forefront of your mind; it makes it easier to get turned on. My husband is thrilled, not only that I’m working at something I’m passionate about, but about the side benefits!”
But it’s a different story with her parents. “They don’t talk about it, but since they live overseas, they don’t have to deal with it,” she says. “I totally embarrass my kids”—she has a daughter, Shalhevet, 9, and two sons, Yishai, 17, and Yedidya Schwartz, 19—”but I think they get a kick out of it. I’m just their loudmouth mother getting into trouble.”
Her middle child, Yishai, doesn’t disagree. “Sex is a regular enough topic around the house, around the dinner table, and even at our traditional Shabbat meals, that at this point I am only amused by my mom’s willingness to talk explicitly in front of anyone that crosses our doorstep,” he says. “The conversation is never crude or coarse—my mother has that rather unique ability to be funny, explicit, not take herself seriously, while still being unfailingly polite and analytical. Obviously, this all makes for quite the scene when my friends come over. We have a close friend who jokes that my mother can’t go five minutes in a conversation without somehow bringing sex into it. He’s not far off.
“Once, I had two friends over,” he continues, “and because we had just had a sex-ed class earlier that day, the topic came up even before those requisite five minutes. After discussing what we had covered in class, my mother was determined that both boys have a sufficiently accurate definition of an orgasm, especially female, and a good enough handle on the female anatomy. Needless to say, she enlightened them.”
(Marcus’s husband, who is, according to his wife, very shy, declined to comment.)
Talking about sex is all well and good, but they do much more than talk at MCFS. “As we learn more about women’s sexual function, we are discovering physiological causes for sexual dysfunction,” Marcus says. MCFS integrates both medical and psychological approaches to treatment.
“One of the first things we do is check hormone levels,” Marcus says. “If a woman’s testosterone levels are too low, it may cause problems—it’s like the base coat for sexual satisfaction. Or sometimes we need to tweak the estrogen levels to find the right balance.” One patient, Marcus reports, lost all desire for sex after a hysterectomy. She had gone to four ob/gyns without success before coming to see Marcus. “We adjusted her hormone levels until we got the right combinations,” she says. “The last time she was in, her husband whispered to me that now he can’t keep up with her!”
Sometimes the problems are more complex, requiring biofeedback and sometimes sex therapy. (Sexual surrogates, therapists who actually engage in sexual activity with their patients, are legal only in—surprise—California.) Sex therapy includes teaching couples how to use sexual aids—of which MCFS has a full arsenal. The center sells a range of hot pink and lavender vibrators and dildos with evocative names like Emotional Bliss, Turbo Glider, and the shockingly large Hitachi Magic Wand, which Marcus, whose dissertation is on vibrator use in women, deems an “excellent choice” for those who have a difficult time reaching orgasm.
She notes that only 33 percent of women can achieve an orgasm through intercourse while 80 to 90 percent can reach orgasm via hand or mouth, and a full 97 percent with a vibrator. “We have helped hundreds of women enjoy the improved quality of life that comes from a satisfying sex life,” Marcus says.
For more information, visit www.Center ForFemaleSexuality.com