As a former professional dominatrix, the "nuru" massage gave me an insight into what sessions must have been like for 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, which features a brothel, bar, and hotel onsite. It's been running for nearly 15 years, but given the restrictions 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, fully 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.
Popularized in Japan's " soaplands," nuru was once the perfect way to foil 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—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 to their threesome selection, the most popular service requested by visiting pairs.
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 arrived at the ranch, I entered, like all patrons, through the bar. It's a cozy joint, a popular birthday destination for women as well as men, and quintessentially American, distinguished only by its required red lighting. We passed through to the parlor used for traditional lineups. I perched on one of the cream and mahogany couches for a minute and stared ahead at the free-standing sex menu, trying to imagine what it must be like to make a selection this way.
Then I was 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 sat a "Condoms Are Mandatory" sign. Everything was explicit here.
The nuru-massage room was the most elegant: tasteful Japanese decor, low lighting, and a dark wood bed topped with a special waterproof mattress. It reminded 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, wouldn't be on today's sex menu.
Instead, there would be a nuru massage with a happy ending, executed by a brunette. 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 arrived, she was a surprise: more petite than me, southeast Asian, with a very pretty face, and dressed in a girlish skirt and lace bralet.
I was surprisingly nervous and found 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 was, eager for her to see me in solidarity as a service provider rather than as a punter.
Juna was not exactly straight, she told me—more straight for pay. "That's what the other girls tease me about," she laughed.
I've dallied with hundreds of clients; I've taken to bed a much smaller number of women. But this was neither of those situations. After I'd stripped and showered, she came to lie her body on mine, and began to massage me by sliding the whole of it upon me. I hesitated to touch her for a good 15 minutes. But the more we shared conversation about our sexual politics and she told me about the pleasure she gets from working—the more smiles and complicit nods that passed between us—the easier it became.
The gel on her limber skin felt too inviting. I plucked up the courage to touch her and started by sliding my hands up her thighs as she brought her hands down over mine. When she flipped me over, she slid 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 was pretty special. It was far more sensual than sexual, but for obvious reasons it wouldn't work clothed.
"How did you learn nuru?" I asked her.
"YouTube!" she replied promptly. "It got me too hot and bothered to watch a lot in one go—but that made me keen to learn."
When she told me I had amazing breasts, I blushed. She straddled me and rubbed her bikini-bottomed crotch against mine. She had tiny boobs and the most extraordinarily prominent nipples I'd ever seen or touched. I looked at her face sporadically, but it was almost unbearably intimate. And although she was touching my body, so have many before her. This was lovely, but—for me, at least—it wasn't intimacy. And that's just how it should be.
"Now. Would you like a little tongue action on those nipples?" she asked.
"If it's no bother," started my very English reply, "yes please."
During the course of the massage, I began 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 traced along and then ever so lightly under the bikini bottoms she was 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 had taught me that consideration. But to my shame, I found myself seeking permission with my fingers. I've shouted at clients before for the same, and reassured myself with the fact I had already been offered a plethora of more extensive sexual services to go with the massage, which I had turned down. But it gave 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 offered to touch my vagina, but there was something inhibiting me that day: I had my period. Another inadvertent factor that makes paying for sex easier for men. When I told her, Juna was unperturbed, but the thought of bleeding on a stranger seemed plain rude.
However, the massage had certainly worked its magic: I was aroused. So I decided to get myself off while she continued with the tongue on nipple action—although I was concerned that she would have been doing that for nearly 15 minutes by the time we'd finish. And then she untied her briefs and I slid my fingers up inside her. It had been a while, as I have a male paramour these days, but she had an exquisite vagina. What's more, she felt wet. Or maybe that was just the nori—who knows—but now we'd created a sexual circuit, and as I touched her and she licked me, I climaxed quickly. It was a sensual, rolling kind of orgasm, like a long wave breaking.
Afterwards, she lay next to me on the bed. This was 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 was impressed by how comfortable she seemed, and how caring she was. Juna was, quite simply, a professional delight.
By the time I'd left, I'd had a lovely time. I felt curiously reflective. I'm not single, so I won't be purchasing sexual services again any time soon, but now that I'd popped my paying-for-it cherry, I can see how—in the right circumstances—I might very well do it again. In particular, I felt that nuru may well be the way to a woman's purse.
"I would love to think nuru could entice the queer community," Juna told me, and, as a member of it myself, I think she's right.
Follow Nichi Hodgson on Twitter.