The morning after Dr. Block’s Halloween Radio show she was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me. I was almost as nervous as I had been meeting her in the flesh, but I poured myself a glass of Pinot, took a deep breath and dialed her digits. It was one of the most informative phone calls of my adult life.
When did you realize that sex therapy/performance was your calling? Were you drawn to it at an early age?
I’ve been fascinated by both psychology and theater all my life, often combining them through sex. When I was a little girl, I didn’t know the word for masturbation; I just knew that it felt good. I wasn’t interested in “sex” because I didn’t know what sex was. But I was very interested in touching my genitalia, as I’d started at the age of two. But it wasn’t until I was 19 that I masturbated to orgasm; I had to learn how to do that through a pamphlet I picked up at a women’s consciousness raising group meeting when I was a sophomore at Yale. The pamphlet was Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation which later became the best-selling book Sex for One. I realized gradually that although sex could be this great, romantic, sweep-you-off-your-feet experience, it was also something I needed to learn in order to do well. The sweep-you-off-your-feet stuff didn’t actually give me an orgasm, though it did make me fall in love. I had to learn to have an orgasm through reading a book, and then I found I could do it with lovers who swept me off my feet, as well as when I was by myself and just needed to relax. What a sexual revelation! What I realized was that sex wasn’t just a feeling; it was a subject that I could study, and I wanted to learn more. Of course, I couldn’t major in sex at Yale (so I majored in theater, the sexiest subject I could major in since I could get credit for kissing my classmates). And I didn’t think it could be a career for me; I’m still not even sure it’s a career for me! But it certainly is a “calling.”
Let’s talk a little bit more about Romance versus Sex, how do they work together or not work together?
Sex is not just a subject; it’s a huge subject. You can imagine it as a big circle. Romance is another huge subject, another big circle. These two circles intersect. But then there are all kinds of stuff in both circles that don’t intersect. So you might be in love but experience sexual problems. On the other hand, you might have great sex with someone that you don’t love. But society tells us that we ought to have the best sex and the only sex with the one we love and that one should be someone with whom we have children and share mortgages and pretty much all the important aspects of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure, and pressure is the enemy of pleasure. Which creates even more sexual and romantic problems than you might have had in the first place. Therefore, I have a large clientele.
Where would you say the majority of your clientele are located? Are they mostly from cities, suburbs, country?
They’re from every culture, every background and every religion; they’re from all different parts of the world because every place in on earth has its own form of sexual repression. I don’t think there’s any modern culture that’s so liberated that people don’t have sexual problems. And even if it is a very liberated place in terms of having sex, it might not be liberated in terms of talking about sex. People may have a good-enough sex life, but if they don’t have someone they can talk to about it, they often feel alone and anxious. That’s why I have clients everywhere.
What makes your practice different from a typical sex therapist?
I usually take a three-prong approach to sex therapy: 1) analysis, 2) technique and 3) adventure. In analysis, I start by talking to the client about whatever their problem is and how they want to enhance in their sex life. Then we explore possible sources of the problem, usually talking about the clients’ past as well as present and future desires, and I give them an assessment of how I can help them. The next step is technique, and here I prescribe certain methods that help clients attain their sexual goals. That might be a physical technique like PC muscle exercises or it could be a psychological technique like counting to ten before you explode at your spouse. The third prong is adventure, and this is where I tend to go a bit further than the majority of sex therapists. While they might recommend an adventure, such as going on a romantic getaway, I offer an opportunity to really do it. You can actually come to my Institute and/or Speakeasy and live out your fantasies, some of them anyway. Of course, most people can’t make it here for one reason or another, in which case the adventure might take place right on the phone through telephone sex therapy fantasy role play. The adventure prong of my sex therapy practice can happen anywhere from a tropical island to the Speakeasy to as close as your Smartphone.
So let’s talk about the topic from your Halloween show: Girls, Gore, Scary Sex and More. What are some scary sex experiences you’ve had in your life?
Would you like to go in the fun scary sex direction or the not-so-fun scary sex direction?
Something I find very intriguing is the rape fantasy, which to me seems like a perfect example of the fine line between fun scary sex and not so fun scary sex.
It’s not just a fine line, it’s a pretty wavy line because, after all, if you could draw a firm line, then it wouldn’t be scary, would it? A pinch of fear is like salsa in your enchilada—delicious! —though too much spoils the meat. So how much is too much? It’s difficult to say, which is why society tends to be very restrictive. So let’s talk about rape fantasies. Even though nobody really seriously wants to be raped, lots of people enjoy the fantasy, the loss of control, the imperative to surrender. After all, a great orgasm is a total release of control. But how much loss of control? Is being tied up okay? How about a blindfold or gag? Would catching you unawares be okay? How about kidnapping you at work? For some, that would be supremely exciting. For others, no, that’s over the line, because it would endanger their job or maybe give them a heart attack. Taking your partner to the edge of what’s acceptable without going over that edge is the key to safe scary sex.
What is some exciting scary sex that you’ve done or wanted to do?
I’m a bit of an exhibitionist; once I had sex in a glass elevator that looked out on Sunset Boulevard with pedestrians looking up at us from the sidewalk. I’m also a voyeur; that’s one reason I do what I do. I’ve always enjoyed erotic performance. For me, that’s the most fun of theater, the sexual part. But it’s kind of scary sometimes because you’re exposing yourself and yea, that’s a big risk; you could make a fool of yourself; I could make a fool of myself and sometimes I do! I find that the show is a place for me to explore a lot of my own erotic fears that I might never get into in “real life,” and I try to help my guests to do that too, if they are so inclined.
Coming off of that, can you talk a little bit about pleasurable pain and the relationship between sex and violence?
Violence and sex are very deep, primitive passions within us, almost as basic as our need to eat. The difference is that violence and sex involve issues of consent. My favorite developmental neuropsychologist and mentor, Dr. James Prescott, wrote a landmark paper, “Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence,” demonstrating that the deprivation of pleasurable physical touch, especially during the infant and adolescent years, leads people to violence and war in 49 cultures. Essentially, pleasure deprivation turns us toward violence, murder and mayhem. But with enough pleasure, like the bonobos, maybe we could stop killing each other. On the other hand, a certain type of consensual violence which we call “BDSM” often produces a kind of marvelous, pleasurable pain, releasing endorphins and high levels of orgasmic sensation.
I often come across people that think that enjoying pain like in S&M is a type of disorder, what do you say to that?
Enjoying pain in the context of consensual BDSM play is rarely a disorder. In fact, it’s a way to bring order and harmony to rather disordered, potentially destructive, violent, human feelings. But it depends on many things. If the BDSM is harming or somehow hindering the person, then yes, they do need some healing. On the other hand, if they’re happy getting whacked, then the whacking itself is probably healing.
Not to get off topic but you started an advocacy group for the Bonobo Chimpanzees called The Block Bonobo Foundation. There are plenty of animals that are endangered, what drew you to the Bonobos?
The bonobos inspire my philosophy of ethical hedonism and peace through pleasure. It’s what I call the Bonobo Way. The bonobo is a kind of chimpanzee that swings through the trees as well as with each other. Like common chimps, they’re over 98% genetically similar to humans, and yet unlike common chimps they’ve never been seen killing each other in the wild or captivity. They can be violent, but they seem to stop short of killing and they don’t make war on each other like common chimps and, of course, humans do. They also have a lot of sex. And when I say sex, I don’t mean just sexual intercourse; I mean many more types of what we would call foreplay than even we have. They can get into more positions than the Kama Sutra, and they probably even roleplay too; it’s just that we don’t know their language well enough to pick up on it.
Yes, and I’m not the only one who thinks so! Primatologists point to how all that sex reduces violent tension or provides some sort of connection that seems to keep bonobos from killing each other. Another interesting aspect to this is that bonobos are very bisexual. The females seem to have more sex with each other than they do with the males. They rub their pussies against each other in a kind of dance that primatologists call genito-genital rubbing and the Mogandu people call hoka-hoka. And they seem to give each other orgasms that way. Not only do they get physical pleasure from this, but they develop a kind of female solidarity. So when a bigger, stronger bonobo male gets out of line and tries to rape a female, her “girlfriends” will often gang up on him, push him off, maybe even attack him. Some of these girl gang attacks can get pretty vicious, but so far none have been reported as lethal. And this kind of bonobo “sisterhood” seems to keep the males in line. And then of course once the bonobo ladies defeated the bad boy, they usually give him a nice blowjob or something as a consolation prize. You could say this is why the males put up with the females having so much power: they get a lot of sex out of the deal.
Before I continue I just want to let you know that this is really an honor for me, I think what you do is wonderful.
Wow, thanks! Well, maybe you should put that in the article you’re writing.
I definitely am.
That shouldn’t just be between you and me.
Well, for me, I have always been pretty sexually open and what you do is kind of what I wish I did, I used to be Pro Domme but what’s always held me back, what was always difficult for me was I didn’t know how to navigate between my professional life in the sex industry and my personal life being romantic with a partner and it always became an issue. I wonder if for you when you were younger if that was something that came up or was it that you were always involved with people that were in your scene, how was that for you?
I certainly combine business with pleasure at this point in my life. I don’t separate the two; my husband and I created the Institute and the Speakeasy; it comes out of our sexuality, it feeds back into our sexuality and, in turn, we try to help people with their sexuality. Everything we do is legal, having had some encounters with the LAPD (all with happy endings!); we’re quite scrupulous about that. But we are edgy in all different sexual directions, and that helps keep the love alive in a very long-term, otherwise pretty traditional marriage. And yes, before I found my husband, I struggled a lot with this issue, just as you do. I have always felt the need to be open and honest about sex. Hey, I’m an exhibitionist, so I’ve never really wanted to hide. After I graduated in Theater from Yale, I got involved with a Commedia dell’Arte troupe. I love Commedia where you play a character that is really a caricature of you, and you use that caricature to express whatever subject matter the particular play is about. I incorporate this style of improvisational performance into my current show, and I call it Commedia Erotica. But in the old days, before I found Max, I had a series of boyfriends who hated me being so open and erotic with my audience and fellow thespians. This was always a source of friction between me and previous boyfriends. I can be monogamous about sexual intercourse. But I can’t be monogamous about sex (defining sex as more than intercourse). It’s not my nature. Frankly I don’t think it’s anybody’s nature. But some people can repress it better, though they suffer in other ways. I’ve never been able to effectively repress it, and I used to have huge fights with my boyfriends over this. And then, almost 27 years ago, I met my husband Max. It’s not like I knew what I was looking for. But we fell in love, and then somehow, we created this little erotic world of ours, we made this just like we make love.
Mm, that’s so beautiful.
So there’s hope! That’s one good thing about sexual maturity. A lot of things suck about getting older, let me tell you, but if you make love first, you can make love last, and that is a beautiful thing. If you make good sex a priority in your life, you’re more likely to have a good sex life. Although sex is natural, to a great extent, it is a learning experience. Right now, I’m getting ready for my sixth Sex Week on Yale’s campus. I’m a big proponent of sex education partly because it was very important to my sexual development. Though I didn’t learn about it in my actual classes at Yale, the university provided me with one of my most important sex education lessons when I went to that on-campus women’s group and picked up that little Betty Dodson book that gave explicit instructions on how to masturbate to orgasm. I often wonder, if I hadn’t received a book on the subject, would I have ever learned to have an orgasm? I guess I would have figured it out eventually, but it might’ve been another ten years of jilling without jilling off. Some women never figure it out on their own. So although there’s no question that the beauty and energy of youth is a marvelous aspect of sex, there’s also essential and tremendous value to sex education and erotic maturity, to growing up and growing into your sexuality.
You can watch The Dr. Susan Block Show live from the Downtown Los Angeles Speakeasy every Saturday evening. For private telephone sex therapy with the Dr. Susan Block Institute, call 213.670.0066.