As a former professional dominatrix, the "nuru" massage gave me an insight into what sessions must have been like for all my ex-clients.
I have to admit it. As a former professional dominatrix and a committed feminist, I have a penchant for penetrating male spaces. The race track. The boxing gym. The porn editing suite. Essentially, wherever men hold high court, I am compelled to infiltrate. So, during a recent trip from the UK to the US, when I was offered a trip to Sheri's ranch – a legal brothel in Nevada – I could hardly say no.
Owned and operated by former law enforcer Chuck Lee, Sheri's Ranch is a 20-acre property 60 miles from Las Vegas, and features a brothel, bar and hotel on site. It's been running for nearly 15 years, but given the restriction on brothel advertising it's the kind of place you have to be in the know to know. The ranch hosts up to 25 escorts at any given time, and applying to work here is competitive – the brothel receives hundreds of applications each month from women around the world, and it is the job of Dena, the madam, to decide who takes residency next, along with her staff.
Sheri's is not the only ranch in Nevada, or even in the improbably-named Pahrump where it's situated – a rival, Chicken Ranch, with its disconcerting logo of long legs hatching from an egg shell, advertises aggressively a few feet from the property. But it is the only brothel to offer nuru massage, a sensual, full naked-body-on-naked-body massage devised in Japan, where the escort lubricates herself – and you –with a special massage gel derived from nori seaweed.
Popularised in Japan's " soaplands", nuru was once the perfect foil to restrictions on the selling of penetrative sex. That said, technically speaking, nuru is illegal in the US – as is all massage that includes sexual stimulation (the same rules apply in the UK) – which effectively makes nuru at Sheri's the only legal nuru experience anywhere in America.
And it's enticing. When Sheri's launched their nuru massage room last October, revenue increased by 15 percent in a single month. The staff tell me that nuru is most popular with middle-aged men, although several couples have also added it on to their threesome selection, the most popular service usually requested by a visiting pair.
What's more, if you were devising the perfect LGBTQI-friendly massage, nuru would probably be it. I'm not averse to strap-ons, but as a bi woman who prefers her cocks attached to male bodies, I felt like, if I were ever to become a regular brothel client, this would be the kind of erotic experience I'd be likely to purchase.
When I arrive at the ranch I enter, like all patrons, through the bar. It's a cosy joint, a popular birthday destination for women as well as men, and quintessentially American, distinguished only by its required red lighting. We pass through to the parlour used for traditional line-ups. I perch on one of the cream and mahogany couches for a minute and stare ahead at the free-standing sex menu, trying to imagine what it must be like to make a selection this way.
Then I'm given a tour of the rest of the ranch, including the jacuzzi room and the Roman-themed VIP bungalow, complete with urns and marble and a framed poster of Russell Crowe. In every room where sex takes place sits a "condoms are mandatory" sign. Everything is explicit here.
The nuru massage room is the most elegant; tasteful Japanese decor, low lighting and a dark wood bed topped with a special waterproof mattress. It reminds me of the vacuum pack topper I used to use in a dungeon in London's East End. I would stuff the clients into it before sucking the air out from around their bodies until they resembled shrink-wrapped salami.
Salami, of course, won't be featuring on today's sex menu.
Instead, a nuru massage with a happy ending executed by a brunette will. Partly out of sisterly apologism, and partly out of the pleasure of surprise, brunette was all I could bring myself to stipulate when the staff asked me what I wanted. So when Juna arrives, she is a surprise: more petite than me, south east Asian, with a very pretty face, and dressed in a girlish skirt and lace bralet.
I'm surprisingly nervous and find myself regaling details of my domming days in a bid to differentiate myself from her usual male clientele. I've managed not to judge the men that visited me, yet here I am, eager for her to see me in solidarity as a service provider rather than as a punter.
Juna is not exactly straight, she tells me; more straight for pay. "That's what the other girls tease me about," she laughs.
I've dallied with hundreds of clients. I've taken to bed a much smaller number of women. But this is neither of those situations. So, after I've stripped and showered, and she comes to lie her body on mine, and begins to massage me by sliding the whole of it up me, I hesitate to touch her for a good 15 minutes. But the more we share conversation about our sexual politics and she tells me about the pleasure she gets from working – the more smiles and complicit nods that pass between us – the easier it gets.
The gel on her limber skin feels too inviting. I pluck up the courage to touch her and start by sliding my hands up her thighs as she brings her hands down over mine. When she flips me over, she shimmies up me, then glides her hands up the sides of my breasts and then under, and across my nipples. I've had sports massages and Swedish massages in my time, but this is pretty special. It is far more sensual than sexual, but for obvious reasons it wouldn't work clothed.
"How did you learn nuru?" I ask her.
"YouTube!" she replies promptly. "It got me too hot and bothered to watch a lot in one go – but that made me keen to learn."
When she tells me I have amazing breasts, I blush. She straddles me and rubs her bikini-bottomed crotch against mine. She has tiny boobs and the most extraordinarily prominent nipples I've ever seen, or touched. I look at her face sporadically, but it's almost unbearably intimate. And although she's touching my body, so have many before her. This is lovely, but – for me, at least – it's not intimacy. And that's just how it should be.
"Now. Would you like a little tongue action on those nipples?" she asks.
"If it's no bother," starts my very English reply, "yes please."
During the course of the massage, I begin to comprehend things about my former clients' experiences with a revelatory new kind of empathy. Namely the irrepressible urge to wonder, 'Is she enjoying this, too?' My fingers trace along and then ever so lightly under the bikini bottoms she is wearing. Before we made our way to the bed, I had made a point of saying that I would ask her if it was OK to touch – my experience has taught me that consideration. But to my shame, I find myself seeking permission with my fingers. I've shouted at clients before for the same, and reassure myself with the fact I had already been offered a plethora of more extensive sexual services to go with the massage, which I have turned down. But it gives me a new empathy for the way my clients tried to seek touching permission. It's what most of us do when we are sexual with a new lover. The rules are, of course, different when it's transactional – and I know this better than most – but intimate habits die hard.
Incidentally, at this point Juna offers to touch my vagina, but there's something inhibiting me today. I have my period. Another inadvertent factor that makes paying for sex easier for men. When I tell her, Juna is unperturbed, but the thought of bleeding on a stranger seems just plain rude.
However, the massage has certainly worked its magic: I am aroused. So I decide to get myself off while she continues with the tongue on nipple action – although I'm concerned that she will have been doing that for nearly 15 minutes by the time we finish. And then she unties her briefs and I slide my fingers up inside her. It's been a while, I have a male paramour these days, but she has an exquisite vagina. What's more, she feels wet. Or maybe that's just the nori. Who knows, but now we've created a sexual circuit, and as I touch her and she licks me, I climax quickly – and it's a sensual, rolling kind of orgasm, like a long wave breaking.
Afterwards she lies next to me on the bed. This is never something I used to do when I worked, preferring instead to give my clients a minute or two of quiet by themselves. Post-orgasm minutes, after all, are the most intimate. I'm impressed by how comfortable she seems, and how caring she is. Juna is, quite simply, a professional delight.
When I leave I've had a lovely time. I feel curiously reflective. I'm not single, so I won't be purchasing sexual services again any time soon, but now that I've popped my paying-for-it cherry, I can see how – in the right circumstances – I might very well do it again. In particular, I feel that nuru may well be the way to a woman's purse.
"I would love to think nuru could entice the queer community," Juna tells me, and, as a member of it myself, I think she's right.
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