“We live in a culture that doesn’t acknowledge the importance of appetite,” complains Mama Gena, the proprietress of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. Mama Gena sports a head of very blonde Shirley Temple curls and a gold lamé suit at home one recent afternoon. “Nobody,” she says, “teaches us to really examine or explore the details of what creates a totally succulent, gratified, dewy, fabulous, lubricated life!” New York women are experts at denying themselves – depending on the month – carbs, sugar, dairy, fruit. They wear tall, spindly heels that uncomfortably cramp calves overdeveloped by so many hours with the personal trainer. There is very little that’s pleasant about a Brazilian bikini wax, and not much to recommend the absence of stockings on bitter winter mornings. Mama Gena’s devotees – boldface models doted on by paparazzi, business women with big titles and bigger offices, chic creative types with hunky husbands and cute children – know all of this. “Even when you go to a party, it’s like work,” one best-dressed glamazon sighs. “Everything is about success and about fame, and that’s great, but after a while, you start to feel like you’re lacking.”
What does Mama Gena have to say to these high achievers with existential angst? You’re just underlubricated. Have ice cream. Have orgasms. Tell your man to touch you right there.
“I think a lot of women just have their lights off,” she says. “I’ll see women on the street and say, ‘Look at that beautiful woman. There’s no reason for her lights to be off.’ These women need to learn to trust their pussies. Not their vaginas, their coochies, their down-theres, but their pussies. Vagina is the wrong word, because it’s referring to your internal cavity.”
Mama Gena explains that using the word vagina is not unlike calling your penis your prostate. “When women use the word pussy, it sets them free. They flush, they get all crazy. They feel all wild. It snaps a woman into her sassiness.”
So, on a typical weekday evening twenty New York women pack up their pussies in La Perla thongs and make their pilgrimage to Mama Gena’s brownstone in the West Eighties to learn to say the word (“They shout it!” Mama Gena swears. “We have to restrain them sometimes!”) and to take classes with titles like “Training Your Man,” “Power Play: The Art and Science of Hexing,” and, of course, “Trust Your Pussy.” While at school, they call themselves sistergoddesses. Mama Gena’s students are not unusual or eccentric – you’d find the same cross-section of New Yorkers in a spin class at Equinox. A few lawyers, some Upper East Side moms, a debutante, some jewelry designers. They dress in Sigerson Morrison mules, Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses, Earl jeans. They dabble in yoga; they love sushi. They are toned and plucked and blown dry. And they are absolutely willing to share with one another, in graphic detail, tips on masturbating.
’Before the class, I would intellectualize decisions,’ says one sistergoddess. ‘Now, I make choices based on what turns me on. You have to be trained to do that. It doesn’t come naturally.’
Mama Gena, whose real name was Regena Thomashauer back when she was an actress-teacher-waitress type, has devoted the past ten years to being mother figure to the lost, pleasure-challenged female population of Manhattan. She is their ur-goddess, their Eros enabler, their heroine. She is originally from Philadelphia, and her father was a psychoanalyst, a true Freudian. But Thomashauer wasn’t interested in that type of therapy. She tried it back when she was still hoping to make things happen with her college boyfriend. But it just didn’t work for her. “There’s no deliverable outcome at the end of therapy,” she complains. “Like my dad, he’s been in therapy for 40 years.” What Thomashauer was interested in was the conversations she’d had with girlfriends at Mount Holyoke College. “It was like we had a handle on the career thing, but in terms of relationships, we didn’t know anything.”
When Thomashauer met her husband, Papa Bruce, she wanted to figure out how to keep the relationship going, and so the two embarked on a series of classes at More College near San Francisco. Eventually, they brought what they’d learned to New York and began counseling couples. “He was third generation in a family business,” she says. “I went to one of his meetings with him, and I was like, ‘We’re getting you out of here.’ ” And she did. The first courses they taught were called Relationship Technologies and focused on the couple as a unit, on how to take a good relationship and, over time, make it better (they still offer these sessions). They also began personal coaching, which some gratified clients describe as six months of therapy condensed into 60 minutes. But about three years ago, Thomashauer had what she calls her Dangerous Beauty moment.
“I’m watching this movie, and by this time, we have tons of clients and we’re noticing there’s a certain thing I have not really been able to address with women in particular,” she says. “In the movie, the mother says to the daughter, ‘You can go to convent or you can become a courtesan.’ So she goes to the convent and she sees that they’re about to cut off her hair and she says no way and she goes back to being a courtesan.
“So her mother says to her, ‘If you want to give pleasure, you have to know pleasure.’ And it was like, da-ding! No one teaches women how to know pleasure. We aren’t educated into the womanly arts. Nobody teaches us how to flirt, how to own our own sensuality. We’re always looking to our husbands and our boyfriends to make us gratified and happy.
“My school is really about dipping your toe into the waters of womanhood; it’s a courtesan academy. Selfishness is our ultimate goal, because what no one teaches us is that if you’re not pleasuring yourself, you don’t have the surplus to take care of anyone else. But if you learn how to take exquisite care of yourself, you’re like, Give me your tired, your poor!”
Mama Gena, who’s now 44, offers herself as living proof: She has a beautiful 4-year-old daughter and a happy marriage. She works with her (well-trained) husband at home. “I can have sex whenever I want!” she brags. (She favors, for the record, late morning.) And she can get up afterward and put on her gold lamé suit, which makes her feel very “pussified.”
Her students start as the inverse of this model – better trained in deprivation than in indulgence – and her formula for reversing the balance involves introducing them to their crotches, to the sensual pleasures, like Brie cheese and aromatherapy candles, to their dark sides (the bitch, after all, is just another face of the goddess).
“Before the class I would intellectualize decisions,” one sistergoddess explains. “I would make choices based on data and facts. Now I make choices based on what turns me on. Mama Gena would say, what makes your pussy wet. I pay attention to my desire now. You have to be trained to do that. It doesn’t come naturally.”
They also learn to make their men do whatever they want, just like Sister Goddess Nancy Reagan did. “That man would have never made it to the White House without her,” Mama Gena says appreciatively, “so she really got the ride she wanted.”
A group of women gather in a circle on the parlor floor of Mama Gena’s house to brag. They introduce themselves; they lead sort of dreamy New York lives. Most are married or in relationships. They are thin, pretty, fashionable. They go to L.A. for the weekend, and even though it’s only early spring, a number of them look rather tan. “I am Sister Goddess So-and-so,” they begin. And then they brag. “This week, men at work called me beautiful,” says a women in a rosy Agnès b. top. “Well bragged!” raves Mama Gena. Auntie Beth, her pretty, bright, leggy protégée – a refugee from corporate America who asks herself when shopping, “Would the Charlie’s Angels wear this?” – agrees.
Another sister goddess boldly ignored her date at Bouley Bakery and flirted with everyone else at the party. One “held court” (a popular sister-goddess term) over her entire table at a benefit. Lots of women took bubble baths. One sister goddess stopped her husband in the middle of hotel sex, turned on the lights, and said, “Would you like to see my clitoris?” (He would.) One woman brags that upon seeing a “gross” woman scarf down sushi on the subway, she did not feel disdain; she did not give her a mental fashion makeover. She sent out a little prayer for her instead. This sister goddess won best brag that night and was rewarded with a pink feather boa and a drugstore tiara.
Mama Gena’s suggested curriculum begins with a seven-week, $650 sister-goddess boot camp called the Foundation Course. The class meets weekly for three hours at a time. In addition to the brag, each class has a theme. Pussify your wardrobe, for example (that is, throw out anything that makes you feel less than foxy), or dress up as your favorite woman from history or fiction (several Jackie O’s, a Princess Di here, an Auntie Mame there).
There is homework, too, such as watching Mae West movies, or practicing Pussy Appreciation. “Look at your crotch every day,” reads a handout. “Write in a journal three things you like about it. Touch your crotch in different places and see what feels good, write in your journal and bring it to class.”
And there is reading: A favorite text is called Extended Massive Orgasm and promises, much like a cookbook, fantastic results to anyone who can follow directions. Mama Gena herself doesn’t teach the mechanics of masturbation, although she does encourage and even assign it. She calls in her expert friends from California, Steve and Vera Bodansky (the married doctor-authors of Extended Massive Orgasm), who demonstrate during special, one-day weekend courses that cost $300.
After boot camp, the more specific classes open up (like the “Power Play” how-to-hex session, which is less about witchcraft than cultivating sassiness). “What I love about it,” says one client, “is that it’s not about suffering through the course so you can get results. It’s not just about having another therapist.” And Mama Gena believes that her goddesses can conjure up things. She has many tales of this female power: the sister goddess who wanted to show in a gallery but didn’t know how conjured a dealer during a party at Mr. Chow. Another sistergoddess left for L.A. with nowhere to stay and conjured an old friend on her flight. (The old friend had, naturally, a large room at the Standard.)
You can also send your man to class – Mama Gena will teach him how to kiss, how to wrangle a bitch, where, exactly, to find your clitoris, and what to do with it when he does. The philosophy behind the men’s courses is that men inherently want to make their women happy, they just need to be told how. “Men love to date my goddesses,” Mama Gena boasts.
There are many things sistergoddesses are looking for when they enroll: courage, raises, relationships. “They want to feel like they can get any guy they want,” Mama Gena says, “and they can.” But what they walk away with is another ritual to integrate into their maintenance routine: pleasure. Naps. Massages. Pedicures.
“I’m much more disciplined about my pleasure now,” one graduate says. “If I haven’t done something pleasurable for myself by the end of the day, I make sure I get it in. I think of it as like going to the gym.”