Yesterday, we learned about former cripplesex-beat Voice reporter Mara Altman's inability to orgasm with a 31-year-old Muslim man named Rafiq. Today, we go deeper—get it? Like, deeper into her vagina?—and learn about how, in Bangkok, she "learned to pay for human contact."
[Rafiq] never touched me 'down there.' I kept telling myself I was doing him a favor by stopping his hands at my hips. I told myself the exchange might mean too much for him: fingers + penis + vag = marriage? It wasn't worth the risk. As it was, I concluded we had already moved too fast because he almost didn't let me get on the plane when it was time for me to leave. As I was leaving, he bolted through the security barricade in front of my gate and waved me down. I was supposed to go back to India and I told him I would, but once I gained perspective back in California, I couldn't return. I got emails from Rafiq for years, asking me to come back. He got married a year ago, but the emails haven't stopped. In hindsight, I realize that it might not have been selflessness that led me to act the way I did. It's possible that I was too uptight even for him and I disguised my discomfort by telling myself that it wasn't fair for me to 'corrupt' this 'sweet and innocent' Muslim man.
A year and half and a masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University later, I took off to Thailand for a reporting job in Bangkok. The year that ensued managed to totally screw up any possibility of orgasm and not only because I didn't have any sex. Sexually, I regressed in Bangkok.
Bangkok is crazy. I know there are so many stereotypes and rumors, but, you know what? A lot of it's true. I had a yearlong dry spell, became asexual and learned to pay for human contact. Every girl is so tiny there that even though at a size 4—petite by U.S. standards—in Thailand, I felt like a Snuffleupagus among a herd of My Little Ponies. The proprietors of clothes shops would look at me and say, "We don't have large." Before Thailand, I took femininity for granted, but in that city, I found it was a fragile thing, like a fine layer of perfume that could easily wash off in the shower.
Bangkok was the opposite of India; I was invisible to the men there, and many of the women were so in touch with their sexuality that it was intimidating—Chandra came to visit me and even she was amazed. Let's just say men don't go to Bangkok to score a five-footer from the States; I'd bet my first orgasm on that. It's the place (and I'm being very biased here) where dorky guys that never got girls in their home countries go to exploit the poverty and enjoy the go-go bars. They finally feel like the king of the mountain because they can buy a hot young chick for the same price they used to pay for a McDonald's Happy Meal.
And after a while, I hate to say it, but I kind of understood the trend. I accidentally got my first Thai massage at a whorehouse. There was a big window; behind it were a gaggle of girls, all wearing pants that fit like body paint, playing cards. My warning flag went to half-mast, but I didn't know how it all worked yet, so I didn't want to judge. I picked out the girl with #8 pinned to her shirt and everyone cheered - it'd never been so easy to get applause. In a small musty room, she climbed all over me like I was a jungle gym. It was at the moment when she stood on my thighs, pulled my chest up by lifting my arms and twisted me to the left until my back cracked at least ten times that men's fetish with Thai women started making sense—but it doesn't mean it made it any easier to accept (she was so accommodating that I couldn't get upset; she waited as I dressed just in case I changed my mind and wanted a happy ending).
Towards the end of the year, I finally made two male friends - one was from Wales and the other from Kansas. They both taught school there and gave me a window into the expat male world. They'd often pick up prostitutes after a long night out on the town - after more than a year there they were desensitized and paying was standard. They related stories of getting Chlamydia tests—which always came out positive—the old-fashioned way, with a cotton swab down the head. Afterwards, we'd go out for a beer to help subdue the pain. I went to the go-go bars with them and watched women open bottles with their vulvas (what is the plural of vulva anyway—vulvae?) and shoot ping-pong balls and darts out of them. Sure, I was grossed out. But I couldn't help wondering how things might be different for me if I had the chutzpah to jam one of those up there and had strong enough Kegel muscles to launch it into the air.
I spent an entire year with no one making a pass at me. Okay, there was one time. I went to a male sex show with my gay Thai friend—I was the only girl in the audience. After the show the Thai boys, who make most of their money by prostituting themselves to the gay spectators, excitedly streamed off the stage to greet me—their one chance at scoring a girl. Weirdly enough, by that point, their advances, though they were only for money, felt oddly validating. Anyway, I had to pass on the opportunity—it must have been something about the sodomy I just watched them perform on each other. Instead, my weekly massages had to suffice for my quota of human contact.
Yup, she calls her vagina "down there" but worries about the plural of "vulva." Mara: good luck to you in your quest. Seriously.