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Erogenous zone

A lesbian pool party for 3000 in Palm Springs helps drown the discourse of anger around sex
The world-famous annual “Dinah” lesbian pool party weekend is named after a 1970s American TV personality who apparently wasn’t gay. PHOTO: MARIAH HANSON, THEDINAH.COM

It’s been a cacophonous month, literally and figuratively. When you live in a cave near Joshua Tree in southern California, as I’ve been doing for the past three years, one of the real pleasures is to dial down into the silence of the desert. Trying to pin down that “noise” when there is no noise – no birds, no wind, no coyote howls. It goes beyond “silence” if you try and sink into its depths. It becomes a kind of buzzing. A tingling. Vibrations? It feels like the reassuring weight of a lake when you’re swimming in one.

But I’m emerging from my cave as my book on masturbation is being republished next year and I thought I’d better start to check out, if not the “real world” then at least the “other world”. So I’m putting a toe in the water by attending the biggest lesbian party in the world. Here I am in a swimming pool in Palm Springs surrounded by several hundred semi-naked women who make sounds that are variations on “Woo-hoo!” and “Yeah, baby!” as we watch an Australian rock star called G-Flip leap around on a stage a few metres in front of us.

For four days I dance, I swim, I laugh, I snog

The other vague noise in my head is the breaking news about the Russell Brand sex scandal, but to be honest that’s not too loud right now as I have a weed vape in one hand, a vodka cocktail in the other and I’m working out how to stop one of my camouflage-coloured pasties (a big trend this year and no, nothing to do with Cornish meat-and-potato pies) from coming unstuck and floating downstream.

PHOTO: MARIAH HANSON, THEDINAH.COM

I’m at the world-famous annual “Dinah” weekend, named after the female golf player and TV personality of the 1970s, Dinah Shore, who apparently wasn’t gay. For years I thought it sounded too good to be true – three thousand women? Great weather? Trendy musicians? Free dominatrix sessions around the pool? I’d always assumed it would be full of up-themselves LA chicks. Well, that just shows you how much I know – it turns out the demographic is electrifying. For four days I dance, I swim, I laugh, I snog.

An ideal rehab for Russell Brand would be to magic him into being a lesbian for a day

Forget steady, deep lakes. Right now, the water’s getting choppy because G-Flip has an announcement to make. “This song’s from my new album!”, the singer yells with a roguish grin. “It’s about eating pussy when you’re high!” An ecstatic tsunami engulfs the pool as scores of chicks start flipping around deliriously to G-Flip. My pastie’s definitely gone now, but I console myself by thinking that this is an example of life-enhancing sexy talk from the Aussie rocker. Some of us will have eaten pussy when high while others will have become high while eating pussy. It’s a great example of people getting into their pleasure around sex as opposed to getting off on their anger around sex – as seems to be the case with the hoo-ha around the aforementioned comedian.

Sometimes I think people get invested in sex scandals just because they want the excuse to read naughty words. For instance, I found this headline in the Mail Online: “The Four Disturbing Words Comedian Told an Australian Woman in LA”. It turns out they were: “I’m going to f*** you.” (Although that’s five by my calculation). A few paragraphs later there was moderate excitement over the word “penis”. Apparently Brand was “serving” it to the accuser “as you would serve someone some food”, which, I agree, is an interesting image to mull over shiftily when you’re on the rush hour Tube to work. It’s downhill from there. The word “groin” appears a few paragraphs down and then the vocab is progressively less shocking. There are references to “flashing” and the odd “sexual” (always a bit of a downer when followed by “misconduct”).

Of course I am not denying the nastiness of the ego-fuelled alleged crimes, nor belittling the impact they had on the women involved. But readers of this brand, excuse the pun, of “sex story” are denied any kind of sexual release or satisfaction. It reminds me of a quote from Aldous Huxley, who anticipated the internet age back in 1945 when he described, in The Perennial Philosophy, how technology fills the mind with “continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.”

Yet this stuff sells. We all know how easy it is to get off on nasty drama: the late-night doomscroll on the phone, for instance, rather than signing off the day with a self-induced orgasm to celebrate the miracle of another 24 hours of being alive. And it’s understandable that media moguls want to spin sex, try and tame it, besmirch it. Because unleashed sexual energy is extremely powerful. So no, you’re not allowed chocolate. You’re only allowed chocolate with a nail bomb inside.

In an ideal world, the Mail Online would run a joyful complementary story about ten ways to have great food sex. “Today we’re serving penis in a frisée lettuce bouquet with a side of blah-blah.” But that day’s not coming any time soon. So, to the woman on the Tube, puzzling about Brand brandishing his gourmet penis, I’d suggest instead checking out a website called veronicaverawrites.com. Veronica Vera was the person who, when I interviewed her in New York for Sex Drive in 2015, opened my mind to the idea that people find “bad” sex easier to deal with than “good” sex. You can now book zoom-chats to talk with Veronica about anything in her 40-plus-year career as a Mapplethorpe model, writer, sex worker, and creator of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys who Want to be Girls.

Veronica prowls the city in search of sidewalk hookers, from the black women on the Lexington Avenue beat to the queens who work near the West Side highway. PHOTO: COURTESY OF VERONICAVERAWRITES.COM

Personally, I’d dig into her years as a roving reporter for Penthouse magazine in the mid-1980s. She told me a brilliant anecdote about the Hellfire Club, a central piece of New York’s kink nightlife back then. “It was the kind of place you could find yourself drinking a lot of beer then pissing on guys,” she said. A conversation with Veronica will cost you a bit, but you’ll feel less icky afterwards than when you’ve finished reading one of those “sex scandal” articles.

Back at the pool party, it strikes me that an ideal rehab for Brand would be to magic him into being a lesbian for a day. Because while there’s this idea that lesbians are constantly rampaging around being high and eating pussy, the other side to the story is that queer women are an underfunded and often ignored minority (gay men have hedonistic pool parties like this every weekend somewhere in the world.)

Many women tell me they feel overwhelmed and emotional by being round so many other lesbians. Women who’ve taken time off work, bothered to “come out” in the first place, managed to stump up the US$400 for the ticket, not to mention accommodation and travel costs. And they’ve come here to find not just for their pleasure but also to try and take each other higher – not in the sex and drugs sense but in the more political sisterhood sense.

With all this going on, lesbians are the most boundary-obsessed sexuality group I know, often to the detriment of actually getting laid. Take the pasties. One woman had bought a bulk load from Amazon (glittery ones, camouflage ones, star-spangled-banner ones in shapes of shamrocks, hearts, butterflies, crosses) and was giving them out for free so that women like me, who are annoyed we’re not allowed to go topless, now can. But debating the idea of liberating women’s nipples from societal constraints derived from Abrahamic patriarchal religions (responsible for topless discrimination around the world) is not always an aphrodisiac. Brand would be stopped in his tracks.

And then I go and ruin it all on the last night by totally crossing the consent boundary and trying to snog a chick who clearly doesn’t want to be snogged. I mean, I’m not serving up Beef Wellington or Lobster Thermidor or anything but, as I drive back up to the desert, I think, Oh no, am I like Russell Brand now? Will I get reported? In the old days, we used to call this kind of thing “getting messy at the end of the night”.
But by the time I get back to the reassuring lake of silence, waiting for the Beyoncé-induced tinnitus to subside, I think: maybe I’ll just call it acting like a cavewoman.

Stephanie Theobald is a British author, journalist and broadcaster, currently living in a cave community in California’s Mojave desert. Her book “Sex Drive” will be reissued in June 2024

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Letter from Elsewhere, Life, November 2023

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