Love and the city
One man’s search for answers
Thu, Feb 11, 2010 (midnight)
My friend Kelly says that Las Vegas is a bad city for dating. But my friend Rachel says the same thing about New York, and Sylvia says the same thing about Chicago, and Hanna says the same thing about Los Angeles. So maybe the city isn’t the problem.
“The city is the problem,” Kelly insists. “The standard of beauty here is impossibly high, and I feel like I can’t compete with it.”
“You’re the one setting the standard,” I reminded her.
Kelly, you see, is a Jubilee! showgirl, and she’s very pretty. But you wouldn’t know it from the things she says:
“It doesn’t feel like I’m setting the standard. All I know is, the guys here in Vegas treat me noticeably different from the way the guys treated me back in Omaha. In Omaha, I was a catch. Even in New York, when I’d walk down the street, I’d get catcalls and that sort of thing. But that doesn’t happen here.”
Kelly told me this at Starbucks. I’d invited her there, along with our mutual friend Sheena (another Jubilee! showgirl) to discuss the dating scene in Las Vegas. Here’s what Sheena had to say:
“It feels like a lot of the guys I meet moved to Vegas for money or for sex. Vegas is so consumed by those things. And when you move here looking for that stuff, you’re not in the right mindset to have a committed relationship.”
You can’t refute the truth of the premises on which Kelly and Sheena’s arguments rely: Las Vegas does have a high standard of beauty., and the city is fixated on sex. But does a sexual fixation really impede a committed relationship?
A month back, I wasn’t so sure. But I was sure where I could look to find out ...
On January 9, I attended the Adult Video News awards—the porn Oscars. My thinking: If I can find one instance of true, committed, romantic love at a ceremony that glorifies the glorification of casual sex and its glorifiers, then there’s hope for the rest of us. In other words, I was looking for the exception that disproved the hypothesis that sexual preoccupation impedes committed, loving relationships.
Twenty minutes before the awards began, I entered the Pearl Theater at the Palms, and propped myself against the wall by the downstairs bar. I saw a small blond woman in a small royal-blue dress get off the elevator, and then I saw a giant guy intercept her with his giant right arm.
“Fuck, you look hot tonight,” he said, as he put his left hand on the small of her back.
“Gross!” she said as she threw his hand off her body and walked away. The guy turned to his friend and said, “Bitch never remembers me. We fucked in two movies two years ago, and I was always so nice to her.”
I took my seat in the balcony, among patrons who’d paid $300 to attend. I watched porn star Erik Everhard (get it?!?) present Sasha Grey with the award for Best Oral Sex for her work in Throat: A Cautionary Tale. Grey, 21, has been the toast of the San Fernando Valley ever since she scored the leading role in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. She’s the closest thing to Sally Field the world of porn has, so the bar for her acceptance speech was set pretty high.
And here was her speech:
“Can somebody out there please remind me which guy was in this film with me?”
The only evidence I saw of a committed relationship in the world of porn came from the acceptance speech of the guy who won “Best Ethnic-Themed Series—Black.” He said, “I want to thank my wife for allowing me to make porno and then come home without getting in trouble.”
Thanking your wife for not punishing you after you sleep around isn’t exactly Danielle Steel material, but it’s moving in the right direction. Then again, when Sheena talked about a “committed” relationship, she presumably meant an exclusive one.
As I understand it, the general sentiment in the psych community is that open relationships don’t work because one partner will inevitably find somebody who he/she prefers to his/her initial partner. And even though this preference might be temporary, its effects are not.
But maybe the psychologists have it wrong. Maybe it is possible to stay in a committed, open relationship. After all, there is one porn star who, in recent years, has grown famous for having a solid, loving marriage, despite being in the industry: Tera Patrick.
So I knew that before I came to any conclusion, I’d have to hear what Patrick had to say ...
Tera Patrick’s book, Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love and Porn, tells the story of how she and Oz actor Evan Seinfeld met, married and managed to survive, despite her involvement in the industry. According to the book jacket, Sinner Takes All reveals “how love and marriage fit into the triple-X world.”
Writes Patrick, “I really did know that Evan would be my husband on that first night together. I never believed in that until it happened to me. With Evan, I just knew it.”
Writes Patrick, “Nobody believed in us in the beginning, but that only made our bond even stronger. It felt like Evan and me against the world, and I liked that.”
Writes Patrick, “[Evan was] the one solid thing I could always count on for all my needs.”
So I read all that, and then I read the book’s afterword, which goes like this:
“Over the course of putting together this book over the past year, a lot has changed. And the biggest change is that I am no longer with Evan ... He was looking for his entry into porn and he got it through me. So, yeah, I do feel used to some extent ...”
So maybe the psychologists have it right, after all.
Patrick, who was in town for the Adult Entertainment Expo—the porn convention—came to Borders bookstore at Town Square for a book signing. After the event was through, I met her for an interview in the back office. She introduced me to her mom, and then to her sister, and to her friend. Then she said she was ready to start the interview.
“In here?” I said. “In front of your whole family?”
“Sure. Why not?” Patrick asked
Uh, because I plan to ask you, among other things, about the time Erik Everhard tore your vagina. And even if you feel comfortable discussing this in front of your mom, I don’t.
“Can we just go to the next room?” I said.
We walked to the kitchen and sat across from each other. I jumped right into the topic of Island Fever 2.
In Sinner Takes All, Patrick describes the filming: “I was in cowgirl position on top of [Everhard], and all of a sudden something in him snapped. He started fucking me violently, so hard that I bled everywhere. He actually tore my vagina. It was embarrassing and violating ... he was pounding the shit out of me and it hurt. I was so tired of working at this point that I just shut off my emotions, turned that ‘switch’ on, and went through with my job.”
“Tell me about the switch,” I said.
“I learned early on how to turn on and off my sexual side,” Patrick replied. “For me it comes from early traumatic sexual experience. But I think all women have this inside of them. When women say, ‘How do I be sexy?’ I tell them, ‘It’s inside of you.’”
“So you’re saying ‘the switch’ is something you turn on? That you’re turning on your sexual side? Because in the book it sounded like you were turning something off. It sounded like you were turning your emotions off ...”
“The two are connected,” Patrick explained. “I turn my personal emotions off and my professional mind-set on.”
“And you can flip the switch at any time?”
“So you were torn, you were bleeding, you were in pain, you felt violated ... but you could still flip the switch?”
Now, I suspect Patrick believes that her experiences during sex are just as intense of those of everyone else (until she flips the switch). But to me, Patrick’s ability to flip the switch suggests that her emotional experiences during intercourse are not as intense as those of most people. I don’t see how any emotionally healthy person could flip off his or her emotions in a situation like that. I don’t see how any emotionally healthy person could grin and bear an experience like that.
Anyway, if you’re still keeping score, my chat with Patrick and my observations at the AVN awards both confirmed the hypothesis that sexual fixation impedes committed relationships.
But if that’s true, and if Las Vegas is so fixated on sex, then how do any local couples makes it longer than a week? After all, a lot of couples do. Some even marry—and what’s more, they do it in non-drive-thru/non-Elvis chapels. White gown and all.
So how do these women in white transcend the lust?
Well, they don’t.
Men: The Bridal Expo at Mandalay Bay is a great place to pick up women—way better than the porn convention. Think about it: 90 percent of those in attendance at the porn convention are male, and 90 percent of those in attendance at the Bridal Expo are women. And not all of the women are brides. Many are jealous/available/vulnerable sisters and girlfriends, in desperate need of your companionship.
Women: When it comes to convention lust, you’re just as guilty as us. The Bridal Expo is kind of the like the porn convention, but for women. The women walk around from booth to booth, lusting after what they see. They don’t lust after people, they lust after wedding objects. Winged bridal gowns, opulent three-tier cakes, Bellagio-caliber floral arrangements. They lust after the perfect wedding.
That last line is more than liberal linguistics; it’s really important. Obsessing about your wedding is like buying a puppy because you like puppies. Just as the puppy will grow into a full dog faster than you can say, “Mr. Popsicles shat on the bed,” weddings become marriages faster than you can say, “If you wanted to remodel the den, then maybe you should have thought twice before you ordered those gold-leaf panda-skin wedding invitations!” And just as the dogs are around for a lot longer than puppies, marriages last a lot longer than weddings. And you can’t drop a marriage off at the front door of a shelter in the middle of the night.
Easy for me to say, right? I’m a guy, after all, and weddings are marketed to women. But I’ve got an expert—albeit a male expert—to back me up:
Dr. Paul Dobransky wrote the book The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love, and he runs the website WomensHappiness.com. I interviewed him over the phone, and here’s what he had to say about what I’d witnessed at the bridal expo:
“There’s a lot of talk about the objectification of women, but men get objectified, too. And you might have seen that in play at the expo. One way to objectify a man is to see him as a placeholder in marriage. For some women, marriage can become an acquisition, rather than an honorable joining of individuals. The perfect wedding with the perfect cake and the perfect dress can become the end goal.”
“So might that be more problematic than the objectification of women—like when a guy watches too much porn?”
“They’re both problematic. Yeah, watching too much porn can make a relationship difficult, too. For a relationship to work, you need attraction, and then friendship, and then commitment—those three things. But if a guy is immersed in porn, he’ll have trouble making it to that second stage, let alone the third.”
Dr. Paul seemed to be supporting Sheena’s theory, and before we were through, he also supported Kelly’s—the one about Vegas’s high standard of female beauty impeding romance:
“Las Vegas glorifies the female body. The stage shows, the burlesque shows—they set expectations very high. A big sector of the Vegas economy involves promoting this ideal, the perfect woman with the perfect female body, and that ideal is impossible for any person to measure up to.”
That explains why Kelly feels like she can’t compete in Vegas: She’s not actually competing against the other women in the city, she’s competing against the ideal that they (and she) promote.
So basically, all is hopeless.
Sorry to be such a downer this Valentine’s Day, but all my anecdotal observations—from the AVNs to Patrick, from the bridal expo to my chat with Dr. Paul—only confirm Kelly and Sheena’s initial assertion: that Vegas is a bad city for dating.
Okay, I guess all isn’t hopeless. There are 10 words that make the situation a tiny bit less depressing—10 words that not even Kelly and Sheena can deny. So if you’ve got nothing else to do this Valentine’s Day, why not take five minutes and repeat them as a mantra? Dr. Paul shared them with me at the end of our interview, and I’ll pass them on to you now:
“Despite all that, you’ve got to remember, it only takes one.”
 Las Vegas attracts a disproportionately large number of attractive females from all across the country. It’s no secret: If you’re female and you’re pretty, you can make a lot of money here. When it comes to separating tourists from their money, promotional models, Pleasure Pit dealers, and bottle-service girls are our front-line warriors. And even if you don’t patronize the businesses at which these women work, you still cross their paths at the gym, the grocery store, the mall and the dog park. So they still play into your standard of beauty.
 For business purposes, of course; I appreciate that the vast majority of the women who work as convention models, burlesque performers and strippers aren’t actually looking for an endless string of casual sex partners*, but for business purposes, they have to act as if they are. And remember, men across the country see only the projection (through TV shows, movies, Vegas vacations), and they move to Vegas hoping to get in on the (largely nonexistent) action.
* One of my good friends, a stripper, identifies as asexual.
 A similar line of reasoning should tell you that Coyote Ugly and Hawaiian Tropic Zone are terrible bars to meet girls. Any place that culls patrons using beautiful women is going to attract mostly guys.
 I know this because the brides were all wearing red-and-white stickers that say “BRIDE” on them.
 Except, maybe, for male strippers at the Sapphire booth.
 Even the items at the Wedding Expo that were ostensibly marketed towards grooms were actually marketed towards brides, as groom pacifiers. Case in point: Gimme Some Sugar Cake Design’s “Groom’s Cakes”* (i.e., “This way, I can get the cake I want, and you can have a separate cake in the shape of a football for you and your friends.”)
* According to the very exciting (!!!) Gimme Some Sugar brochure, the Groom’s Cake is “An old tradition that has become a hot new trend! The bride has the glamorous cake she’s been dreaming of, and the groom gets his own personalized cake beside it! Also known as compromise!” Now seriously, can somebody get the Gimme Some Sugar brochure some lithium?