From passion parties to the little blue pill to, yes, happily ever after, we take the temperature of Westchester’s sexuality.
Illustration by Kim Rosen
“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.
The Gay Couple
Robb Bruce & Michael Sellers
“We’re like an old married couple,” says Michael Sellers of his relationship with partner Robb Bruce. He refers not only to their 14-year union, but to their sexual habits. “It’s definitely dropped off,” says Bruce, as Sellers nods in agreement.
Just like many couples, Sellers, 46, and Bruce, 40, have weathered stormy seas since they met as volunteers at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but their commitment is strong. The difference between them and hetero couples, however, is that there are different expectations imposed on them because they’re gay. “There’s more pressure now on gay men to couple up, have a union or a marriage, and have kids,” says Sellers. “We’re ‘weird’ because we haven’t adopted, like, a Chinese baby.”
At the same time, Bruce and Sellers are seen as role models by some. “Our gay friends from the City tell us, ‘People aspire to be you guys,’” Sellers says, “because we’ve been together longer than any gay couple we know, longer than a lot of married couples that we know.”
Surrounded by their overfed dog, Maggie, and two cats, Maya and Rilke, and nestled in the cozy living room of their Peekskill digs, they do seem to have settled into a decidedly suburban rhythm. Which means that, like most couples, long work hours tend to intrude on their private time.
By the time Bruce returns from his hairdresser gig at Dobbs Ferry’s Salon Topaz, around 9:30 pm, Sellers is heading for bed so he can catch the early train to Grand Central and get to his office by 8 am at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (he’s Director of Publications for Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital).
Their solution to falling prey to “two ships passing in the night” syndrome? “Every Tuesday night is date night,” says Bruce. “I cook dinner. It’s a time for us to sit down and talk.”
Their suburban bliss has occurred chiefly because Sellers’s personality as the “visionary who makes things happen” and his “grounded, practical” leanings allowed them to flee their tiny Manhattan apartment for a home with a yard in an area that had been described as “gay-friendly.” When they decided on Peekskill, it was because the price was right, it was within 50 miles of Manhattan, and it had a thriving arts scene.
At home, they have the space to entertain, and when they want to go out for fun, the Paramount Center for the Arts is their one-stop-shopping hub for movies, shows, and concerts. Still, Bruce notes, “There is no place specifically for gay people in Peekskill.”
They kiss each other goodbye in the morning in their front yard, but they don’t hold hands when they’re walking because they’re not fond of PDA. Truth be told, as much as the neighbors seem to be welcoming, Sellers admits that a group of gays gathering on the street would be cause for some ill will—or at the very least, comments. And comments, as they know, can escalate to violence—something they wish to avoid. Still, they neither hide nor announce their sexual preference, though Sellers jokes, “I’m a stealth gay. People assume I’m straight because of the way I look. I’m more the corporate type.
But with Robb it’s more stereotypical—he’s a hairdresser!”
The two have formed a community of both gay and straight friends, however. When they’re not partaking in the arts or the neighborhood book club that Bruce formed, they brunch at the Mohegan Lake Diner, or dine at Josephine’s in Cortlandt Manor.
And when they come home? “While we may be tired, what I like the most is when we’ll lie in bed, turn off the lights, and we’ll just chat,” Bruce says. “To me, that’s some of the most intimate stuff that we do. It’s the time that we can actually talk about our fears and anxieties.”
Sellers smiles at Bruce as he adds: “There’s sex, but it’s not the focal point. It’s about maintaining closeness, and that closeness can happen without hydraulics.”
The Single Woman
At the Doral Arrowwood Club in Rye Brook, Alexa Servodidio is easy to spot: she’s the 30-something blonde with the friendly smile and upbeat demeanor seated at one of the banquettes overlooking the golf course. It’s at this resort that she often trains patrons in kickboxing, Pilates, or aquacise (she also teaches at Seasons in White Plains, the Scarsdale JCC, and the Westchester Country Club in Rye). Sound like a handful? Not for Servodidio. In fact, she’s also a social worker (studying for her psychotherapy certificate, LCSW) and an actress. She just filmed a pilot for the Internet soap Nobody’s Perfect, which airs on YouTube and MySpace.
You’d think, with all those opportunities to interact with others, the Harrison-based dynamo would have plenty of suitors. “Well, at my job it’s mostly women, and the men I meet are my patients, who have psychiatric disabilities,” she says. “In fitness, I teach my classes, and I leave. I’m very shy. And with my acting and auditions, I’m focused on the character. I’ve dated a couple of people who have been in plays that I’ve acted in, though.”
Servodidio’s blue eyes flash as she describes her preferred man. “I like someone tall, in good shape, educated, who has a big heart, and really nice, big eyes. It’s usually something about their eyes. If I see that spark, then I know there’s chemistry.”
So if professionalism and shyness prevent her from getting to know someone at work, how does she meet guys?
“I don’t care for Internet sites. I’d rather meet people face-to-face. I go out a couple times a week. There are so many places to go in Westchester—restaurants and bars—you just have to know what night is good and what age group goes to those places.”
“I like dancing,” she continues. “I’ve been to Grove in Larchmont, Vintage in White Plains, and Chat 19 in Larchmont. There’s also the Brazen Fox in White Plains, Frankie & Johnnie’s in Rye, and the Porterhouse in White Plains. It’s an older, good-looking crowd, not all college kids, and the guys are usually decent and educated. But you can’t go out saying, ‘Tonight I’m going to meet someone,’ because what happens is you go with your friends and you’re sitting in, like, Morton’s Steakhouse, and it’s just ten women and you. Great food, great drinks, great atmosphere—but you’re not going to meet someone like that.”
Servodidio has found that some guys disappear when she mentions her desire to have children. “I’m in my thirties, and I’ve dated guys who already have children and don’t want more. It gets them nervous.” Such was the case with the undercover cop from Brooklyn whom she dated for a year-and-a-half. “Then I mentioned kids and we broke it off, then he came back again. But once someone gets spooked, it’s hard to make the relationship work.”
Others may push too early to have sex, asking questions geared to determine if they’ll “get lucky.” “They’ll ask me, ‘How long did you date your last boyfriend?’ ‘Do you date casually or are you very serious when you date someone?’ Stuff like that. If I’m going to be having sex, it has to be a serious boyfriend. That’s just the number-one rule. One-night stands are not for me. Never had one; don’t believe in them.”
Many of her friends are getting engaged and having kids, but she’d rather wait for the right man than settle; being picky suits her just fine. “I could have a boyfriend if I wanted to, but if there are no butterflies in my stomach, no dice. I’ve tried dating guys that were nice, but I need butterflies.”
Catalina Navarro isn’t the sort of woman who speaks easily of sexual encounters, the way American women casually share incredibly personal information. Navarro is what our parents’ generation would have referred to as “a classy dame.” Elegant, but with an easy laugh, the 40-year-old Dobbs Ferry dentist speaks with an accent whose rhythms and inflections can be traced to her upbringing in Colombia. It was there that she, then 20, met her husband. Introduced by friends and approved by family, they dated for five years before marrying. But her contentious divorce left her without a support system to usher her into a new relationship when she moved north from Fleetwood to Ardsley two years ago.
In an Irvington café near the Ardsley home she shares with her two young daughters, ages four and seven, and their live-in nanny, Navarro talks about her immersion in the world of dating after her 12-year marriage ended nearly four years ago. “I was eager to start dating,” she says. “I styled my hair differently and lost about twenty pounds.” But living in a bedroom community made it difficult to meet single men. “Maybe if you have a hobby or have time to go to museums, you can meet someone. But I work, I take care of the kids, take care of the house, and I’m not going to go out alone.”
With her daughters’ blessings, Navarro began testing the waters, even trying her luck with Match.com. But, she says, “I hated it. I don’t have the personality to be online and exposed. I met one man and he had such dark issues.” A date set up by a co-worker was an eye-opener. “We met at Casa Rina in Thornwood. After two or three dates, I realized he only wanted to go out on weekdays, not weekends. So it made me suspicious and I stopped seeing him.” She becomes pensive, and her brown tresses cascade from her face as she looks up and declares, “When guys are from thirtysomething to forty-two, they just want to be players. After fortysomething to fifty, they’re looking for something serious.”
So while out for drinks and dinner with her niece at Sherwood’s in Larchmont, when a fiftysomething gentleman politely approached, Navarro felt a spark. Evidently, it was mutual, as conversation and laughs flowed easily. He promised to call her after they exchanged cards.
When the call didn’t come, Navarro refused to call him. “Women don’t do it. Those are the rules.” Eventually, he called and they began dating. “He’s a businessman who is separated and has a child. He’s a very decent guy. We go to the movies in Port Chester and dinners in Rye or to Broadway plays. Sometimes we just go to his house. I like being with him.”
So is this an exclusive relationship? “I’m not sure. He says he just wants to be friends. So I’m still available.”
I felt betrayed by him…my cheater, the man who promised to give me his story, to be present at scheduled interview times, to share his reasons for breaking the bond of fidelity with his wife. But the same personal flaws that led him to break his nuptial vow of fidelity eased him into flaking on over half a dozen interviews. When he did speak with me, it was only briefly and cryptically.
He was a 30-year-old commodities broker, married, and dating a 47-year-old woman with a teenage son—though he also mentioned having quite a lengthy list of other dalliances. When we finally found each other, it was hardly nirvana.
I walked a long road before I encountered “Jack.” When I told friends of my search for a cheating husband, I was greeted with a vast array of responses, from a raised eyebrow of intrigue to utter repulsion. Considering the results of an AOL survey that revealed one in three married moms is having an affair, why was everyone so shocked when I asked about the more stereotypical male cheater? Besides, I wanted to profile all aspects of sex and, surely, I reasoned, the connubial catastrophe of cheating had its place in this spectrum.
Where to begin? I posted an ad on Craigslist’s personals section that read, “Upscale lifestyle magazine seeks married man who is currently involved in an extramarital affair for upcoming feature.”
I got a response almost immediately—from Craigslist, advising me that my posting was red-flagged and removed for its questionable content. I felt my purpose was rather clear; I wasn’t trolling for an affair, for gosh sakes, I’m a happily married woman! Since when did research become unacceptable? Alfred Kinsey never would have finished his report on sexual behavior with this sort of modern-day roadblock.
Intent on bagging my quarry, I wrote to ashleymadison.com, a site whose motto rather boldly declares, “For When Monogamy Becomes Monotony.” Surely, this questionable outlet would cooperate with my research? But there was no response, presumably because they were protecting the very customers whom they aid and abet in their acts of deceit.
Finally, a colleague recommended a friend who had strayed, warning, “‘Jack’ will tell you the truth about whatever you ask him, but he is a bit wacky and gets involved in wild things.”
Perfect! I called to set up an interview and we chatted briefly. He was amiable, but cagey. “Does it have to be only one person I’m with or can it be a lot more?” he asked. “More than Gene Simmons?” I joked. “Well…I’ll tell you more during the interview,” he said, then laughed.
But, just as he dangled the promise of honesty with his wife, he lured me into believing that he’d keep his commitment for our interview. I wanted to know where he went on his assignations: To her place? His car? A seedy motel on 9A? And how did these clandestine meetings begin? And with whom? Did he have a specific “type?” Did he ever feel remorse?
My questions went unanswered. Week after week, I’d set up an interview time with him, only to find his voice mail at the other end. On occasion, I’d reach him and he’d say, “I’m busy; let me call you right back,” and I would wait for naught. Other times, I’d catch him and he’d begin exhibiting cold feet. He was as disloyal to me as he’d been to his wife, making and breaking promises over and over.
Finally, I had to ask myself whether I should expect anything more from this scoundrel. And I did what his wife hasn’t done…I dumped the jerk.
Editor’s note: As we went to press, we learned the wife wised up and booted the bum out.
Adrianne Stone Gibilisco and her husband will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary this month. Their sex life is none of your beeswax.
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison. He says there is one steamy scene in his new novel, the romantic thriller Heart of Diamonds, but nothing compared to what he found researching this article.
Photography by Thomas Moore