For many years, the Flyer did a "Hotties" issue around Valentine's Day. We chose 14 Memphians of various ages, genders, and sexual proclivities and did a big photo shoot. It was a little, er, shallow, yes, but it was also fun and readers mostly liked it — and we had a few good parties.
Hotties had a nice run, 10 years or so, but this year we decided to change it up, to cut to the chase, so to speak. And though it's impossible to neatly sum up a city's sexuality, Memphis, like all cities — like all humanity, for that matter — has had a long relationship with sex — good, bad, and indifferent.
As a frontier river town, we drew the rough trade, back in the day — on Beale Street and elsewhere. Earnestine & Hazel's, now the hippest of joints, was once a thriving brothel. If you go upstairs and look around, you can still feel the vibe. It's almost palpable. And the Memphis strip club scene in the 1980s and 1990s was legendary for free-wheeling raunchiness. Mention Platinum Plus to someone of a certain age, and prepare to hear some stories.
Sure, times have changed, but sex is still here, so we decided to take a peek.
Are We Normal?
Memphis therapists on intimacy, porn, sex apps, and building better relationships.
Jennifer Valli has some good news about your sex life. "Odds are, you're normal," says the AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. "We don't talk about this, so we never get to learn that we are all probably normal. People assume everyone else is having more sex than we are, so we must be dysfunctional. Then if we ARE having dysfunction, we don't ask for the help we need to get better." The problem, she says, is shame. Especially in the Bible Belt, many people have only had sexual education from a "shame-based approach. They talk about what you're not supposed to do, and there's little emphasis on pleasure and the good things about sex. You don't talk about the healthy parts," such as a boosted immune system and longer lifespan.
Perversely, shame works both ways. You can feel shame because of your sexual desire, or you can feel shame because the media has given you unrealistic expectations. "People watch TV, then come in and say, 'I have premature ejaculation.' I say, 'OK, what does that mean to you?' They say, 'Well, I can't go 15 minutes.' And I say, 'Premature ejaculation means less than a minute. You're probably doing pretty well. Four to seven minutes is average intercourse, so if you can make it that long, you don't have premature ejaculation. We can work on it going a little longer, but we have to ask if your partner even wants it to be longer.'"
April Garner, another Memphis AASECT-certified therapist, agrees that shame is public sexual enemy No. 1. "Stop living in shame. If you're doing something that's consensual and feels good to you, and you are feeling shame about it, go talk to someone. Decide if the behavior needs to change or if it's the shame that needs to be let go."
Garner, a licensed clinical social worker with a Ph.D. in human sexuality, says she sees patients from all kinds of backgrounds. "I have quite a few couples who are in their mid-30s, who have been married for a few years, and the sex has died down. They come to me largely to try to reconnect and recreate intimacy. ... Inside an established relationship, you have to understand that sex develops organically when it has the opportunity. So you have to have an environment where sexuality can blossom and be really great."
Valli, who teaches medical students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says she's trying to ensure that health-care providers have good information and are willing to talk frankly about sex to their patients. The old Southern family doctor's standard advice, "relax and have a little wine," is a terrible idea, she says. "A little wine does not help erectile dysfunction or painful sex."
She says doctors and patients have to be open to communicating, but once again, shame gets in the way. "Half of gay men have not told their doctors they are gay. That's horrifying!"
For people who are dating, Garner has three key pieces of advice for maintaining good sexual health. First, get to know yourself. That includes understanding your emotional attachments to your potential partners, how sex might affect those attachments, and what you want out of sex. "If you're not masturbating and you don't know your body, you're not going to have healthy communication," she says. "I don't recommend pornography, by the way. I'm not against it, but you can have too much of a good thing."
"Porn is an interesting subject," says Valli. "People feel very strongly about it, and they have a lot of shame around it. Some feminists are anti-porn. They think it's degrading to women. Some feminists are pro-porn, who feel like women have been shamed for sexuality forever, and they should be able to watch it and be in it if they want to, and they should do it without shame."
Second, "Direct and honest communication is incredibly important," says Garner. "It can feel vulnerable, but it can feel bold. The more euphemism and colorful language you use, the more obscene you come off. So just say what you mean. Be honest. 'I'd like to go home with you tonight, but this is not going to be forever,' or 'You can come home with me, but this isn't going to be sex.'"
Third, practice what Garner calls "ongoing consent." She advises to "use dirty talk as a form of consent. I'd really like to have sex in these positions. Are you down for that? And ask between positions if it's still okay. You don't want to sound shy. You can just go, 'This feels amazing to me. How about you?' And give them the option to respond. Consent is an ongoing process."
In the smartphone age, dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble are increasingly popular. This has been hailed as a sea change in the way we find our mates, but both Valli and Garner say it's just a new spin on the ancient art of sexual selection. The benefits and hazards are the same, they're just coming at you faster.
"Internet dating broadens the pool, but it also broadens that experience of rejection," says Garner. "You can swipe right on five people, but none of those five people may choose to message you or respond to you. So that's five people you've been rejected by in five minutes. It normally takes five minutes to be rejected by just one person.
"It's also increased our experience of abuse," Garner adds. "The internet is a very abusive place. You message somebody, and they can go 'Oh my god, you're so hideous. Why would I talk to you?' It tends to be difficult to connect humanity to an internet profile. We have more opportunities for success, but we also have more opportunities for rejection and abusive remarks. It's important to put yourself out there, but then recognize when you're becoming too hurt to keep up and take a break again. Everything in moderation."
Valli says taking the pressure off yourself is the first step toward a healthier and more rewarding sex life. "Once you're doing this job, you ask yourself 'How did people even have sex before sex therapy?' We as a culture need to lighten up." — Chris McCoy
An interview with a stripper.
Some are single mothers, saving money for their children's future. Some are aspiring entrepreneurs, hoping to one day open a business. Many are students, paying off debts. "We're the hardest-working women in America," says Felipé, who dances under the name Sparrow.
Felipé first danced on a slow weeknight in November of 2015, at a club in East Memphis. She danced to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." Though her first customer was respectful and bought two lap dances, she felt nervous.
"Before I started dancing, I was alien to that world," Felipé says. "Strippers are judged unfairly. I have lost friends and gotten into fights with family members over my choice of employment. Some potential friendships take a nosedive when the person I'm talking to suddenly sees me as a sex object after the big reveal. I've definitely figured out who's worth my time."
The prospect of exotic dancing landed on Felipé's radar shortly after she moved back home from New York. In Manhattan, she attended Parsons School of Design, then took a year off to work at a record label. Felipé wanted the freedom to focus on her music and art without being tied to a traditional nine-to-five. It was easy in New York. She faced a different reality in Memphis.
"I was getting paid a lot just to draw at events," Felipé says. "When I got back to Memphis, no such opportunities existed. When I finally did land a gig at a creative firm, there wasn't enough work for me to do, to keep me fed, clothed, and housed, with enough art supplies and gear to create what I want to create."
Dancing provided that financial support. On a good night, Felipé can leave the club with $1,300. She says the club is the most diverse business she's been to in Memphis, in terms of staff and clientele. They employ women of all "shapes, sizes, and ethnicities," and men and women of all ages and from all walks of life come to have a good time.
"Most of the customers I get are incredibly respectful and listen to my boundaries."
The women she works with act as a family, Felipé says, teaching newer dancers pole tricks and professional business practices. Felipé's advice to patrons is simple. Be respectful, bring cash, don't ogle without tipping, don't touch a dancer without permission, and, of course, don't ask for sex.
"We do not have sex with our customers, we will not meet you for dinner, and we do not want to be your girlfriend," Felipé says. "We are here to entertain you."
Though exotic dancing supports Felipé's art, it's also inspired her work and allowed her to overcome a lifelong struggle with body dysmorphia. She's more comfortable performing on stage, a strength pertinent to an electronic-pop project named Ray Manta she shares with her partner. Felipé's visual work is expansive, from public murals to illustration, but dancing has increased her interest in portraiture and sexual representation in her art.
Felipé's long-term plans revolve around creating art and music across multiple mediums. Maybe in the future, Felipé says, she'll open her own club. "Far down the line, I want to be able to walk into a strip club and throw buckets of cash onto the dancers and bless them with thousands of dollars," Felipé says. "In the meantime, I'm supporting the club that's supported me and the women that have made this positive change in my life possible." — Joshua Cannon
Where's the best place to have sex in public in Memphis?
An inquiring mind on Reddit wanted to know the answer to the question we're all probably asking ourselves, adding, "I want to get some thrills before I get too old." We eagerly read on, hoping for some provocative suggestions. Maybe someone did it in Bass Pro, hidden behind a stuffed grizzly. Or maybe someone got frisky at AutoZone Park between, er, innings. And who among us has not considered a risky frolic on the Big River Crossing? But no.
The woods at Overton Park was the first — and probably most obvious — answer, followed by another time-tested suggestion: the drive-in theater. Another person said to "dress up like hobos and do it in an alley," which seems a bit risky, but whatever. It would be dirty, at least.
One responder suggested the kite-flying area at Shelby Farms, claiming he'd "done his thing" within sight of Walnut Grove. Hopefully, his kite stayed up.
The University of Memphis campus also got a vote or two.
The most controversial answer was "behind Bellevue Baptist at night," which led to a sub-thread on the "three giant crosses" and religious freedom, which wasn't sexy at all.
Redditors also suggested "the gas station parking lot at Poplar and Cleveland," "small parks in Germantown and Collierville," and "your mom's house."
Meh. We can do better, Memphis. And we bet many of you have.
Nothing chums the waters for a Memphis media feeding frenzy like a sex story. We're not talking about the sad ones in which people are hurt and lives are shattered. We're talking about the largely good-natured variety that shocks Puritanical sensibilities about sex and makes us laugh, gasp, or wonder, simply, WTF?
Naked in the Park
Jacqueline McKee made pulses race (in many ways) way back in 2008, when the then-25-year-old took it all off (and more) at a Bartlett playground.
McKee, who was a porn star at the time, with her own pay-to-view adult website called "Foxy Jacky," got nekkid and lounged on "various pieces of playground equipment." The act was leaked to the media, and McKee was questioned by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO). Area moms proclaimed they'd never take their children back to that park. (I mean, where had she been?!)
The Flyer's Bianca Phillips talked to McKee back then and asked the most obvious (but most necessary) question first:
Memphis Flyer: Why did you expose yourself in the park?
Jacqueline McKee: I'm on an adult website, and it features me and my husband and sometimes just me alone. My members like public shots. They can e-mail me and tell me what they'd like me to do next. Somebody asked for a park set, so I went to Bartlett Park to shoot.
Do you often shoot in public places?
I'm trying to do a lot of public shots. I'll definitely be shooting more in public places in Memphis, Collierville, and Germantown. They're going to have to get used to it.
Police visited McKee at her home after the incident. It isn't clear if they ever charged her with anything. But she did comment on the situation in a follow-up video, in which she was wearing an official SCSO shirt and badge. But, of course, then she took them off.
Cop Sex on the Radio
Memphis-area police were likely baffled (or likely not) by the moans, huffing, and puffing breaking the static of their radios back in 2012.
Sources said at the time about 30 cops (and anyone with a police scanner) in the Mount Moriah area heard Memphis Police Department (MPD) officer Dion Anthony getting it on in his squad car with an unknown woman. It was unclear at the time just how long the, uh, broadcast lasted.
Investigators at the time said they weren't sure if Anthony hit the button on his shoulder radio or the car's console. Either way, "It's possible he didn't follow proper procedure," said a police spokesman at the time.
Last September, Jamie Barnes returned home to find the door of her South Memphis house open. Inside, she found burglars bumping uglies on the couch in her living room.
"It's horrible in there," Barnes told WREG at the time. "It's absolutely horrible in there. It's like they just had a big old, nasty party."
The man went running, but the woman was arrested for aggravated burglary.
— Toby Sells