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The Tiger Cure

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The two women met, liked each other, and soon Kaplan agreed to train Tiger, although it was questionable who was really training whom. “I was the only one there with hands-on experience,” Tiger said. “For instance, if a guy had retarded ejaculation, Helen’s people would tell the guy to go to the bathroom and jerk off. But I said the woman should leave and the man stay, so he can learn to have an orgasm in bed. I was right, and they were wrong.”

Tiger never hid from her line of work. She gave well-publicized lectures at hospitals and colleges around the country, which led to many new clients. But although sex-­surrogate therapy was widespread in the seventies, its popularity faded in the eighties with the advent of aids and issues of illicitness (it’s a highly disputed point as to whether sex surrogacy is legal). However, it’s recently been in the news again with the success of the film The Sessions, about a sex surrogate working with a polio survivor in an iron lung who desperately wants to lose his virginity. With her help, he does.

The next step, I learned to my horror, was to have sex with other women. I protested—my previous experiences with my women friends had been disastrous.

She laughed. “You’ll be seeing call girls.”

I looked blank.

“You need to have sex with professionals. You’ll start with Amanda. Next week. Instead of seeing me.”

Another week of waiting in terror. But I had no choice if I wanted to continue the therapy, so I dutifully showed up at Amanda’s fancy apartment building on the Upper West Side. In the lobby, I felt as self-­conscious as a felon publicly announcing his crime, but the doorman glanced at me, yawned, and sent me up.

Amanda was a voluptuous blonde with a sweet smile and a sultry voice. We sat and talked for about fifteen minutes, then she motioned toward the bed. I tried to fake nonchalance, lying on top of her, kissing her, letting her rub her body against mine, but if a penis can be highly apprehensive, mine was. It wanted nothing to do with any of this.

Amanda was prepared—Tiger must have filled her in. “Relax,” she said. “Let me do all the work.” Which she then did, using her mouth and her hands to soften and ease every part of my body. She was talented. After about five minutes, I was able to get an erection, which the two of us treated gingerly and affectionately, as though it were a newborn baby. She then sat on top of it, I fantasized about men, and, a few minutes later, I came. Amanda seemed relieved. I had the distinct impression that Tiger had made her promise that we’d succeed. She asked me to stay for a drink, and we ended up chatting for another half an hour. I liked her. She was putting herself through school. We talked about college.

I saw Amanda many more times, reporting back to Tiger all the while. She was pleased with my progress.

Once Amanda and I had established a rapport, Tiger switched me to another call girl, Susanna, this time a doe-eyed brunette. The same routine: slinking past the doorman, finding the apartment, having a drink. Going into the bedroom. Letting Susanna do the work: caressing me, stroking me, making me feel at ease until my erection was strong enough to have sex. With Susanna, whom I saw many times, the process was becoming less daunting. She was a smart, funny woman, the kind of call girl you’d only expect to see in a movie. She suggested we take a vacation together (although I wasn’t quite sure if she meant simply that I should take her on a vacation).

I didn’t. At this point I had started seeing a woman in my nontherapeutic life and was desperately trying to make that work. I was doing better than before ­Tiger—I was able to get aroused, but only with enormous concentration. This relationship ended. So did the next one, and the next.

It was inexorably dawning on me that the therapy had not succeeded. Yes, I could have sex with a woman. But being able to have sex with a woman wasn’t the same thing as wanting to have sex with a woman. I didn’t. No matter how much I wanted to be straight, how much I wanted what I then considered to be a normal life, I wanted to have sex with men. Just men.

The net result of all this behavioral modification: I didn’t become a heterosexual. There is no proof whatsoever that sexual orientation can be changed, not through sex-surrogate therapy, conditioning, lobotomies, electroshock therapy, or prayer.


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