Last year, the New York Times Magazine published an article about Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus and called her "The Orthodox Sex Guru." I work at the magazine as a photo editor, and when I saw the magical words "Orthodox Sex Guru" on our upcoming schedule, I practically fell out of my chair begging to work on the photos for that story. There is nothing more exactly in my wheelhouse than sex and religion. Well, maybe cats, too, but a story about sex, religion, AND cats would just be weird.
I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish family in a very modern Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. Turns out that Bat Sheva lives just a few blocks away from where I grew up. As a teenager, I rebelled hard against religion. It felt oppressive and insular to me, and I hated it. Now I can't believe there was this amazing woman leading a feminist-sexual-religious revolution just blocks away from me! I wish I had known her when I was young. Things might have been very different for me. But that's another story.
As soon as I met Bat Sheva at our photo shoot in her office, I adored her. She's the kind of warm person who makes you feel instantly comfortable and asks you lots of personal questions and you totally want to answer them — which is part of what makes her so great at her job. Even the shyest woman would have no problem confiding in her. Being around Bat Sheva and her lovely family helps me resent religion just a little bit less than I used to. That's huge. We are all lucky to have her.
Amy Kellner: Hi, Bat Sheva. Thank you for inviting me to your lovely home and making me delicious latkes for Hanukkah. So tell me, what exactly does an "Orthodox sex guru" do?
Bat Sheva Marcus: Well, I run a center for female sexual dysfunction. It's one of the biggest in the country. We address issues of female sexual problems, like if they don't have desire, if they have problems with orgasm, if they don't get aroused, if they have pain — and usually for most women it's some combo of those. Then they'll come to see us and we'll fix it. We are the sex fixers. Maybe 20 to 25 percent [of the women we see are] Jewish, and maybe 10 to 15 percent is the Haredi, ultra-Orthodox group. They're a pretty tight-knit group, so once they know that somebody can help they tend to send their friends.
Our youngest patients are about 17 or 18. One of my favorite patients recently was 84. I gave her her first vibrator. It was really sweet. She was a bird-watcher. She was so cute. A lovely Westchester lady who was in a marriage for a long time and was feeling really sad because she and her husband used to have a good sex life, and now they weren't. She was having a hard time orgasming, so we did some medical stuff, and I introduced her to vibrators, and it changed her life.
AK: Do you encounter a lot of women who don't know about vibrators?
BSM: Yes, but the thing is that even if she knew about it, to give yourself permission to actually use one is another thing. I see a lot of women who feel like vibrators are kinky or weird, or my favorite is that it's "unnatural." I always tell them, well, eyeglasses are unnatural, so are you just going to walk into walls? My dissertation was on vibrator use, so I'm a huge vibrator person.