In her headshot by Ali Mahdavi, author Betony Vernon holds a come-hither gaze worthy of an Old Master courtesan. No girl next door is she – flame-red tresses frame alabaster skin, voluptuous cheekbones and pouty lips. Her dark fingernails drape over her ear; a lush green tattoo wraps around her shoulder. She is sultry and severe, alluring and mysterious.
In person, however, this modern-day femme fatale – more precisely a jet-setting jewelry designer as well as a writer/sex educator – is equal parts elegant and down to earth. We are in a back room at Bookmarc in West Hollywood, moments before the signing party for her book, “The Boudoir Bible: The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today” (Rizzoli, $35).
I got the feeling she slipped into her fuchsia cocktail dress and Louboutins as easily as she might throw on a favorite pair of jeans. Her pale-pink back-seam tights are from a shop she loves in London. It was in London that Vernon started her educational sex salons in November 2002. She felt compelled to teach after retail buyers rejected her fine erotic jewelry collection in late 2001. The snub was a sign that there was a vast need for knowledge, among the fashion elite and everyday people alike.
Vernon is friendly and approachable, green eyes playfully glinting, lashes fluttering as she makes a point. Other times her words are punctuated with an easy laugh as fizzy as the champagne she is sipping. I can picture her growing up in the mountains of Tazewell, Va., in the ’70s, then heading to Florence to launch her design career.
I’m curious about the fact that “The Boudoir Bible” is dedicated to her mother and father who, she says, made her extraordinary life possible. Says Vernon: “I grew up with very little parental guidance. I was sort of a free agent. Sometimes absence has a greater impact than presence.”
While we live in a sex-sells society, that doesn’t mean we are truly liberated, much less enlightened, Vernon believes. Where there are hook-ups, there are hang-ups, along with taboos, repression and fear. “We’re in a country where billions of dollars are made through porn,” she says. “Sex is very accessible but pleasure’s really not.”
Vernon recommends taking a holistic approach to sexual pleasure. For starters, she suggests setting aside time to experience a sacred sexual ceremony. In her book, she explains as follows: “By creating a ritualized context for sexual exploration, extending the duration of the time of the sexual encounter, and engaging the entire body as a sexual whole, the ceremony aims to broaden the horizons of pleasure beyond that which may be experienced through ‘normal’ everyday sex.”
Or as she put it during our chat: “Fast sex is a killer.”
The beautifully laid out book (with illustrations by François Berthoud) covers basics, such as anatomy and hygiene, as well as more risqué topics such as bondage, flagellation, role playing, restraints and cutting-edge sex toys.
Also central to satisfaction: empathy and communication. “There’s still the belief that a woman’s pleasure is very much like a man’s. It’s not. People tend to consider the act a performance and make orgasm their only goal. Goal-oriented is really dangerous. It’s better if you let go and not use a script.”
Speaking of scripts, Vernon possesses a healthy irreverence for the language we use to broach the subject of sex. She has banned words such as guilty pleasure, dirty and naughty from her vocabulary. And, for those playing the field, she doesn’t like the word single. “It signals alone when in fact you could be multiple.”