(Getty/Aleksandar Nakic)

The sex-talking therapist I went to as a teen: “Do you want to learn how to be a woman, not a scared little girl?”

I was in high school, he was 45. I didn't realize at the time that he was abusing his power and authority over me


Estelle Erasmus
October 17, 2016 3:30AM (UTC)

“Do you think of me when you masturbate?” the man asked.

The lights in the room had been switched off, the shades drawn. I couldn’t see him, but I could sense him licking his lips in anticipation of my answer, like some old-time villain in a film noir.

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“Yuck, no. That’s gross,” 16-year-old me replied, disgusted at the thought.

His name was Ron. He was my married, 45-year-old child psychologist. This mode of questioning was par for the course during our weekly therapy sessions.

“Come on. Don’t I turn you on?” he cajoled.

“No. You don’t.”

My answer never changed, though he campaigned constantly as if one day it could.

“Why not?” he whined in the hurt tone of a hormonal teenager, which I found ironic because I was supposed to be the only hormonal teenager in the room.

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My parents had brought me to Ron, who specialized in emotionally challenged teens, because I was in the full flush of adolescent rebellion. They found it impossible to control me, while I found it intolerable living with both of them and my sister in our Long Island home in the late 1970s.

Defying my paternalistic, professional father at every turn, I stayed out past my 11 p.m. curfew, drank beer, smoked pot, and dated nerdy college freshmen, though I managed to retain my virginity. A favorite pastime was shoplifting small items like pots of Maybelline eye shadows and Bonne Belle lip gloss from the local drugstore.

I was a mass of contradictions: smart but lacking in emotional intelligence; an equal fan of Debbie Boone ballads and Joan Jett rock anthems; a studious bookworm who loved to dress up in Spandex and go to clubs or attend midnight screenings of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." My friends ranged from literary, tea-drinking goody-two-shoes who collected clothes for the homeless to stoners, one drug bust away from getting their juvenile delinquent cards.

My dad ruled our house as if he were an ancient despot. When there was a conflict between the needs of the women in the house and his, Dad’s needs always dominated. When he came home from work, he would silently change the television channel I was watching to the evening news — the program he wanted to watch. When we had cake for dessert, he claimed the biggest slice for himself, and when our family went out to dinner, it was always his choice — Chinese. If I went out with friends, he asked me intrusive questions afterward and would sulk if I didn’t want to answer or needed a moment to myself. He’d also often walk away in the middle of my answers. He insisted I help with the gardening on weekends, which I hated, and made every excuse to evade.

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It was a strange dichotomy: held hostage to his whims; I was either too visible or invisible, and in equal measures he either paid me the wrong kind of attention or was dismissive. Both hurt intensely. I reacted the only way I knew: by yelling.

In contrast, I shared a close relationship with my beautiful mother. She saw me as an extension of her, since we looked alike. She also never met a boundary she couldn’t or wouldn’t cross.

“Your dad is cheap,” Mom would complain. She resented how he’d slowly peel the dollars from his wallet to dole out her weekly allowance, and wait until appliances were on sale before buying them. She thought he was mean. My dad encouraged my companionship with Mom, as it took the burden off him. She and I spent hours together shopping, eating, and gossiping. And my mom encouraged my contemptuous attitude toward my dad — gloried in it — and in between rants she helped me stalk the guys I dated by driving past their homes multiple times and dissecting every moment I spent with them. My younger sister, who in later years confessed she’d never felt a part of our family, stayed out of the fray.

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Although it’s been more than 30 years since I last saw Ron (name kept the same to protect no one), I remember him as small of stature, big of ego. Though he was barely five feet, four inches tall — in contrast to my busty but gangly five feet, seven inches — Ron resembled a mini-Roman emperor, with a large, preternaturally tan face, an aquiline nose, and a head of thick, coiffed hair, moussed and blow-dried to perfection. I was a fair-skinned brunette with a heart-shaped face, sporting a Dorothy Hamill haircut that I could see reflected in his shoes, which were polished to a high sheen. He wore thick gold chains around his neck, under a strategically opened satin shirt, out from which peeped an aggressive tuft of chest hair.

During our initial sessions, as I complained about my father and his autocratic rules, Ron focused his unrelenting gaze on me, listening intently in a way I found mesmerizing.

Being heard was a new experience: my dad talked at me, and my mother was too self-absorbed to hear what I was saying unless it involved her.

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I loved having the focus of attention squarely on me for the first time in my life.

Like a horse trainer grooming a skittish filly into a champion, Ron painstakingly built my trust step by step, week by week. First, he agreed with me that my parents were too tough. Next, he pointed out that by “yessing” them, I could satisfy their need for control yet still do what I wanted. That was a revelation: I didn’t need to fight to get my way. My parents considered my new copacetic behavior a triumph of the therapy they’d insisted on. My life at home became easier.

Given this breakthrough, I was more than willing to open up to Ron the first time he broached sex talk.

“So, do you think about getting laid?” he asked in the same casual tone he’d employed when asking about my after-school activities.

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“No,” I said. “I’m saving my virginity.”

“Well, don’t tell me that you’ve never had a guy go down on you.”

I was surprised at this line of questioning but figured he was a parent-approved doctor. My doctor.

“Just once, a few months ago,” I answered him, as casually as he’d posed the question.

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“How was it?”

“It was okay.”

“Just okay? You didn’t have an orgasm?”

“No. I was too nervous.”

“You do have orgasms, don’t you?” he sternly inquired.

“Yes . . .” I wondered where he was going with this.

“When? When you masturbate?”

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“Of course.”

“Good. Do you think of me when you masturbate?”

“Um, no.”

“Okay. Anyway, the guy eating you out didn’t know what he was doing,” he said. “You have to make sure that the air hits the vagina — that increases the stimulation.”

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I was uncomfortable but riveted. Just as I had his complete attention, he now had mine.

He told me that I shouldn’t tell my parents what went on in our sessions — because those were private and personal. I followed that advice. I didn’t know where all this was going, but it was a new adventure. And besides, I reasoned, Ron had already helped me so much.

The following week, Ron listed several changes he said I needed to make, as if he were some sort of petite Professor Higgins molding my coarse Eliza Doolittle.

“Do you want to learn how to be a woman, not a scared little girl?” he challenged me.

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“Yes,” I said emphatically. “I want to be a woman.”

“Then you need to listen to me,” he said. “I can teach you. I can help you.”

“Okay, I will.”

“You have to really want it, or it won’t work,” he said.

“I really want it,” I replied, wondering what he could possibly say.

“Good. First of all, you’re too uptight. Second, you need to get in touch with your sexuality, and third, I’m going to get you to feel a lot more confident about your body. Look at your posture. You’re slumping. Straighten up,” he ordered. I lifted my chest and straightened my shoulders, following his directions to the word.

Eyes closed, Ron appeared to be in deep thought. Then his eyes popped open and peered directly into mine as he said, smiling, “I know where we can start.”

I didn’t expect his revelation to be, “Estelle, you have great tits. You should show them off, and stop wearing a bra.”

I was taken aback by his vulgar description of my breasts but figured that was just his way of making a point.

“But I don’t want them to sag,” I told him with all the vigor of a prim librarian.

“Bullshit,” he said. “Just go braless.”

So I did.

I didn’t realize it was a test.

My breasts bounced as I walked around the house. My mom was aghast at my display, but I sniffed that I didn’t like wearing a bra. I reported my actions to Ron, who was pleased with how I’d stood my ground, and kept our secret.

It wasn’t long before Ron introduced meditation to our sessions, claiming it would help me relax. He emphasized that this part of our work together was really important. “It’s the key to getting in touch with your sensual nature, so you can know what it means to be a woman, ready to be fucked by a man,” he told me.

I took in what he was saying, despite his surprisingly filthy word choice, hungry for knowledge. I was curious about the worlds of sex and sensuality he referenced, and my trust in him was total.

He said we would start the following week.

I looked forward to my first meditation session with Ron with great anticipation, as if I were a sun-parched desert and he a cloud about to release healing, life-affirming rain.

During our first official meditation session, I lay down on Ron’s red plaid couch, and he dimmed all the lights in his office until we were surrounded by blackness, our faces and bodies invisible to one another.

Ron began speaking in his sonorous bass. His voice had a nice timbre to it, I recall.

One of the first scenarios he described — which I later learned was his favorite — was a beach fantasy scene. He asked me to imagine I was lying topless on the beach, with a wisp of a bikini bottom covering my pubic area. I would notice not one, but two guys checking me out, which would turn me on. I’d get wet as I spread my legs farther apart, inviting the horny guys to get a closer look at my pussy, because they wanted to fuck me.

He asked me every few minutes if I was getting turned on. I was, by the story, the words, but not by Ron.

He loved using the words fuck, pussy, cock, balls, clit, dick, suck, cunt and would ask me to repeat them during the sessions. It’s no small feat to get an innocent girl to use the lusty language of a would-be porn star.

During other sessions, Ron painted the picture of me going to the mall sans panties and then purposely bending down to pick up something I’d dropped and giving the lurking guys — there were always lurking guys in Ron’s fantasies — a show. Or, maybe I’d undress in front of my bedroom window, letting my teenage male neighbors or their dads get an eyeful of my “wet cunt,” as Ron described it. He loved the “sensual” imagery of a young girl fully lubricated and ready for intercourse and would use those images throughout our meditation sessions, as if the words could manifest the deed.

Ron encouraged me to make these fantasies a reality in the interest of exploring my sensuality, but I was too practical and spooked to follow through. Instead, I’d make up stories that I had acted like an exhibitionist, going braless or forgetting to wear panties in public, so he would feel that I listened to him, when I was really just “yessing” him, as he’d taught me to do with my parents.

At one meditation session, I heard his disembodied voice huskily asking me to touch my breasts and tell him what I was doing. I followed his orders.

“Don’t you think about my dick getting hard, getting ready to fuck your pussy and stroke your clit?” he’d ask me as I lay there half-heartedly stroking my breasts, per his instruction, under my shirt in the dark.

Whatever charms Ron imagined himself possessing, I was immune to them.

“No,” I replied. “I don’t want to fuck you.”

During another session he requested, “Stroke your clit till you come all over your hand.” I refused.

A lesbian friend of mine was also going to Ron, because her parents thought Ron could “fix” her. We discovered that we both saw Ron as needy and whiny. We made fun of him for driving a red Porsche, the car driven by pathetic married men with something to prove. We’d also laugh about his constant craving for filthy sex talk but agreed that we both liked him and that he was helping us learn how to deal with our parents.

One day in between small talk, sex talk, and meditation sessions with Ron, I received a fantastic bit of therapy from him. I was in the midst of regaling him with yet another story of my dad’s bullying when he said, “Estelle, I’m going to tell you something that will shock you.”

“What is it?” I was primed to hear anything.

“Your dad is not the main problem. Well, he’s part of the problem. He can be a bully. But the real problem is your mother. She’s extremely narcissistic and competitive with you and creates a division between you, your dad, and your sister. She’s the one who is manipulative. And, your mom, not your dad, is the one you need to protect yourself from,” he emphasized.

I was shocked. My mother? She was my partner in crime — my confidante — the woman I confessed all to even when there was nothing left to say.

And yet, Ron’s words resonated as truth. I finally understood why I felt terrible when my mother, who usually teamed up with me against my dad, would band together with him over my bad behavior — real or imagined. Time after time she abandoned me — I was used for entertainment and then dismissed when it suited her purposes.

My self-absorbed parents constantly used me as a lightning rod for their dissatisfaction with each other, I realized in the most powerful moment with Ron I’d ever had. It was practically a religious experience.

That day changed everything. For the first time, I put boundaries around my relationship with my mother. By no longer sharing the details of my life with her or allowing her to trash my dad in my presence, I slowly took back my power. My contemptuous attitude toward my dad dissipated as we started spending more time together. The summer before I left for college, I worked for him and learned to appreciate his leadership, kindness, fair work ethic, and common sense. Building our relationship without my mother’s interference was helpful. I was able to communicate my needs, and sometimes he even listened. Finally, I was strong enough to calmly say, “Sorry, Dad, I love talking to you, but I need some alone time when I get home from work,” and to my delight, he understood.

My last time in Ron’s office, as I was preparing to leave for college, I cried and presented him with a poem, thanking him for all he had done for me. He told me that he’d treasure it always and that he’d miss me. I think I saw the glimmer of a tear in his eye, too.

In return, I had many of his words to remember him by, though it was years before I put any of it into practice in my sex life.

Only recently did it dawn on me that Ron abused his power in our unequal relationship. I realized I could have had him thrown in jail. I figured out that he was committing a felony by sexually exploiting me. And, as the mom of a young daughter, I felt the kind of rage I should have years ago when he insidiously infiltrated himself into my life, preying on me, grooming me for his own sexual gratification.

Last year I tried to locate Ron to get his license revoked, but couldn’t remember his last name. Perhaps he is locked in an old-age home somewhere, or perhaps an emotionally disturbed young girl, or one of her parents, took him out. I pray he no longer has access to vulnerable young girls and cannot pervert their innocence the way he did mine.

Still, I don’t believe my time with him had a negative effect on me. I’ve since discussed this with my gifted female therapist of many years. I believe I didn’t experience a negative fallout from the “therapy” because I didn’t desire Ron sexually and because I enjoyed the attention, the words, and the fantasy (I’m a writer, after all). At the time I didn’t view what he was doing as a violation, although he absolutely used me. Although Ron thought he was in charge, I didn’t take his ridiculous desire seriously. Also, he helped me learn how to get along with my parents and revealed to me the truth about my mom’s competitive nature, which has never changed.

Just as I left for college, I learned from my sister that my mother was going to Ron for weekly therapy sessions, which mom stopped before I came back for Thanksgiving break.

I supposed he had branched out to suburban moms. I supposed she thought that if I had benefited from him so much, she could, too.

I heard that during her time in therapy, she briefly stopped wearing a bra.

I’m sure she didn’t realize it was a test.

We never talked about it.

I don’t believe we ever will.

This essay originally appeared in the new anthology How Does That Make You FeelTrue Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch (Seal Press, September 2016).


Estelle Erasmus

Estelle Erasmus is a journalist and writing coach. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post,Salon, Vox and Next Avenue/PBS, among other places. She can be found at her website and on Twitter at @EstelleSErasmus. She is working on a memoir.

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