High is Fly

Friday, May 09, 2008

Question

My roommate is a prostitute, I'm a skydiving instructor, and we frequently tell each other funny stories about our shifts at work. She is a pretty shrewd lady who knows how to hold her own. So I don't worry about her too much. But this one anecdote really creeped me out. She had a trick who wanted her to get into a bathtub full of ice water before they met. He wanted the room to be as cold as possible, and he didn't want her to move while he did his thing. Isn't this like a serial killer in the making? I feel that she should report him to somebody. She says he was a good customer who paid more than the going rate, and he seems like a very mild-mannered guy. Which one of us is right?

Answer

Are you for real? Is this April Fool's Day? I guess it doesn't matter. Your story is an urban legend that's been popularized on televised crime shows. Seems like every series has to have at least one episode where we should have known the killer was that weirdo who wanted a freezing cold hooker who would play dead. The politics of this make me crazy, so I guess I'll use your letter to comment on those. That way, if you are serious, you get an honest answer. And if you were looking for shock value or entertainment—nyah nyah nyah.

Oops. One thing I should remember about writing this column is that it's dangerous to stick my tongue out at this crop of readers.

Fetishes are complicated narratives about alternative routes to sexual fulfillment. We all have a sex script. (Noted sexologist John Money AND A COLLEAGUE referred to these as love maps.) We know what we want to see and hear, how we want our partner to appear, and what kind of sex should happen if we are going to be satisfied. The problem is that straight vanilla sex is such a common script that anybody with a different one looks decidedly odd. This is not a society that values those who are different.

But I do, and I am supportive of people who need a variation on the traditional tale of erotic gratification. As I've said before in this column, however, I do encourage people with fetishes to develop additional skills in bed. A fetish will cause you problems if it doesn't include pleasurable activity for your partner, or if it's so exclusive that nothing else will make you happy. It can be a lonely process trying to find somebody whose needs match your own. I think we need a national fetish registry data base to help with this issue.

So what's up with the frozen trick? Several things could be going on. He might enjoy the sensation of intense cold. He might be a very shy person who loses the ability to perform if his partner moves or expresses needs of her own. Perhaps he is fantasizing that he's making love to an angel or spirit rather than a corpse. We don't know unless we ask him and get a truthful answer. Even if he is, a fantasy like that is not necessarily a "gateway drug" into violence against the living. I would want to know if he had been a victim of severe child abuse, whether he harmed animals or children, and how he behaved when he got angry. Does he have empathy with others? Does he hate women or gay men or any other group that becomes a target of violence? Has he committed rape? Does he have disturbed thinking about how relationships work? The point I'm trying to make is that there's a line serial killers have crossed that is a lot more outrageous and terrible than an unusual fetish.

Regardless of the man's personality or motivations, he's found a relatively harmless outlet. (I assume your hooker friend has her gentleman callers undress completely so she can make sure they are not carrying any weapons.) Her job will be a lot safer if she is working in a group environment like a massage parlor, where others can hear a call for help. Or if she has a good friend who is a skydiver, who can fall out of the sky and save her.