Running a Los Angeles sex speakeasy is no roll in the hay — what with parking, skyrocketing rents and plunging tolerance for lewd behavior — which is why Dr. Susan Block’s own eponymous Speakeasy, located just beyond downtown’s Fashion District, is so impressive. During the day, a languid Weimar-hangover atmosphere hovers over her loft’s 16,000 square feet; pallid sunlight barely penetrates to illuminate walls hung with erotic paintings, vitrines of glass dildos and the occasional self-pleasuring sex machines that are scattered about like exercise bikes. But at night, during the Speakeasy’s periodic gatherings of swingers and singers, there’ll likely be porn actors on hand (doing what porn actors do best), along with academics, journalists, piano players and the odd — very odd — guy with a home-video camera. These bacchanals are presided over by Block, the sex therapist, blogger and cable/Web-TV MC whose censorship tussles with the late Adelphia Cable company exposed its owners, the Rigas family, as the white-shoed grifters we always knew they were.
(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)Susan Block is a quixotic crusader, championing our bodies’ unruly desires in a country that equates sex with pornography and confuses love with a box of cherry cordials. Broadcasting from a bed built for a three way, she interviews guests (the Q&As are clothing-optional), takes calls from the lonely, the horny and the merely confused. Mistress of the triple entendre, advocate of wide-brimmed hats and defender of female ejaculation, Block began as an L.A. Weekly theater critic in 1983 and made the evolutionary leap to dating-show radio host — until she realized she didn’t want to play matchmaker but, instead, to discuss sexuality. This is not so easy in a country where heterosexual hedonists are usually portrayed as gold-chain-wearing goombas with permanent hot-tub rings. When asked why even liberals tend to smirk at public displays of the libido, Block traces their disapproval past the Puritans and all the way back to image-conscience Romans.
“Sex,” she says, “is something we’re taught is private, even though we have a desire to be somewhat public with our sexuality. We’re conditioned to be embarrassed into acting cool and laughing at sex as something desperate.”
Block’s pleasure dome is not merely a lingerie-draped mattress surrounded by whips and feather boas, but an awareness of the body and its political implications — which has led her to espouse what she calls “ethical hedonism.” She’s inspired by the example set by bonobos — the Congo’s pygmy primates who, unlike their chimpanzee cousins, settle conflicts through sexual negotiation and engage in sex not only for reproduction but, apparently, for pure pleasure.
Block’s lust-not-war position has moved her to frequently write against the Iraq war and President Bush for Alex Cockburn’s CounterPunch Web site. In a truly bizarre twist, “The Rape of Iraq,” the title of a CounterPunch column she wrote immediately after the invasion of Iraq, was seized upon by Islamists and got mangled in a Turkish translation. Seems it came out as something like “American Soldiers Rape Iraqi Women.” The incendiary headline caused one man to drive up to the Istanbul branch of the British HSBC bank and blow up himself and a dozen others with a car bomb. The notoriety earned Block The Wall Street Journal’s sobriquet, Saddam’s Sex Therapist. The Journal denounced Block and her anti-war opinions, taking the empress-has-no-clothes approach — which was a mistake, for she wouldn’t have it any other way.