Just over eight minutes after getting onto the table, Becky is crying. “Let your goddess out,” says Ben Rode, the 29-year-old man rubbing down her naked body with oil. “This is your goddess ceremony.” Meanwhile, Ben’s 31-year-old wife, Jen, who is five months pregnant, performs Reiki, floating her hands over Becky’s head and neck, asking questions about a past life as a queen. Swelling, chiming New Age music plays in the background, as the picture-perfect pair let out long, throaty exhalations to prompt Becky to breathe deep.
Most surfaces in this Alameda, Calif., bungalow bear crystals and lit candles. It feels like being in a womb: In the kitchen, a stove is on with the door cracked open and next to the massage table a faux fireplace blazes. After nearly an hour of working her body over, Ben’s hand slides between Becky’s legs and he begins walking her through a guided meditation on her ideal man. “Imagine seeing him for the first time,” he says. “You lock eyes from across the room.” After a lengthy narrative buildup, he says, “His lips gently touch yours. Your knees melt out from under you.” Ben, a tall all-American sort with ice-blue eyes, moves his fingers to her clitoris, ”Let your pleasure spread, down your legs, all the way up to your boobs.” As Becky’s moans deepen, he announces, ”K, I’m going inside.”
He slides on a pair of latex gloves and liberally applies lube to his middle and ring finger. As he enters, Becky’s “ahhhs” almost turn into song, and then she begins sobbing after Ben tells her, “You’re ready for him.” Jen, a petite, near-platinum blonde, begins to recite the affirmations that the three agreed upon during the intake interview. ”You’re ready for your beloved,” she says. ”Your dreams are your own!” Ben shouts to Becky, “Rub your clit,” and she does, her moans turning into yelps. “Good goddess. Feel your goddess,” he says. “Feel the Becky inside you. Feel her. Feel how powerful she is, ready to take on the world. She gets exactly what she wants.”
Ben intensifies his hand movements and then yells, “Push it out! Let it go! Surrender to the process!” Here she starts wailing like a mother who’s lost her child, then howling like a wild animal caught in a trap, and then making a sound I’ve only ever heard in a scene from “Saw II.” “You’re so fucking ready, woman,” he says. “You’re so ready, goddess.” Her back arcs, butt hovering in the air, and clear liquid begins spraying out from between her legs. With this, a droplet of ejaculate lands on my shoe.
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While their sessions encompass a host of services — from past-life readings to motivational coaching — there is clearly a sexual component in the literal climax. But unlike a “happy endings” masseur, Ben is licensed in the state of California as a sexological bodyworker. Last year’s release of “The Sessions” starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes increased pop-culture awareness about the existence of “sexual surrogates,” who sometimes engage in sexual intercourse with clients — but the realm of sexological bodywork, which in the U.S. is only recognized in the Golden State, is still little known.
The Rodes, who married seven months ago, just a month after meeting, call their particular brand of therapy “explosive sexual healing.” Most of a typical three-hour session, which costs $497, is spent talking to the client about her personal challenges and goals, developing affirmations, and then engaging in full-body massage and Reiki. This all builds to the G-spot orgasm, which they use “as a state of hypnosis or trance,” says Ben, who is also a hypnotherapist. He compares it to “hacking a computer.” As their website explains, “What we’ve noticed is that a woman’s blocks to having a FULL release (1 or 2 steps beyond orgasm), are the same blocks she has to getting what she wants out of life.” They also claim they can cure everything from depression to migraines.
Ben says they limit their services to women because his expertise is in the female body (although they have hopes of Jen getting her sexological bodywork certificate so that they can develop a way to offer couples joint treatment). At 17, he set out to read everything he could about female pleasure. He says his sexual partners started telling him, “This is sexual healing. What are you doing to me?” and he began to think this might be his calling. He completed a two-month program at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco to get his certificate in sexological bodywork and started booking sessions in the evenings after his full-time job as a mailman.
After falling in love with Jen, who was formerly a preschool teacher who offered Reiki, clairvoyance and “intuitive counseling” services on the side, he quit his postman gig and began doing bodywork full-time with his new partner at his side. Jen’s wifely presence seems to neutralize the practice. At the same time, it’s easy to imagine clients worrying, “Is she really OK with this?” But Jen tells me jealousy is simply not an issue — not even on the rare occasions when she can read a client’s mind and tell that she’s thinking naughty thoughts about her husband. (When Jen told me how rare this was, Ben joked about being disappointed.)
Comparisons to sex work are inescapable. Joseph Kramer, founder of the New School of Erotic Touch in Oakland, Calif., estimates that 90 percent of sexological bodywork does not involve genital touching. “We teach people to touch themselves well, to touch their partners,” he says. “We keep our clothes on, the touch is one way. We’re playing with erotic states, but there’s not any interaction.” He allows, though, that “it’s a form of sex work.” The key difference from prostitution, he says, is that “it’s contained.” Kramer explains, “The playground is not our bodies. The playground is your body and I’m here to help you to map out what’s possible with your body. This is foundationally about how you feel your own erotic embodiment.” And referrals are often made from psychotherapists, he says.
In California, the certification is recognized by the Department of Consumer Affairs, but Kramer still advises sexological bodyworkers to first talk to the county clerk, district attorney or police force about what they do. There’s a movement in several other states to recognize sexological bodywork. Kramer says it’s been “much easier” to get the profession recognized in British Columbia, Australia, Switzerland and Germany. This surprises him none: “Some [U.S.] states are still teaching pure abstinence for sex education, even though it’s been proven not to work,” says Kramer, but he remains optimistic. ”I think the actual breakthrough will come when there’s enough data on what we do.”
Kramer compares sexological bodyworkers to Freud and Jung at the turn of the century. “They were starting their psychological investigations and it’s taken 110 years or more to get to this place where psychotherapy is so prevalent,” he says. ”Not too long ago people thought psychotherapy was really weird.”
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In the denouement to Becky’s session, following a second explosive orgasm that did not quite reach my foot, the flushed 31-year-old yoga instructor showered and got dressed. Then she sat down with me next to a table bearing a crystal ball and tarot-like Oracle Cards. “It doesn’t feel sexual at all,” she says, wearing a blissed-out expression. “It’s not a place of thinking about sex.” She describes it as “an alert type of meditation” and a “restful awareness.” Indeed, the triad’s throaty exhalations were very reminiscent of your average yoga class. The squirting? Not so much.