ON A BUSTLING STREET in Paris’s Marais neighborhood, the gay enclave that feels symbolic of the city’s free-spiritedness, there’s a sober pair of 17th-century wooden doors. Once, they opened onto a space that belonged to a group of nuns. Now, though, they allow entry into the sumptuous and hushed sanctuary of Betony Vernon.
A designer of erotic jewelry, a self-described “sexual anthropologist” and the author of the candid yet refined 2013 sex guide, “The Boudoir Bible,” the 49-year-old Vernon is a jeweler turned sex educator. She holds sessions in her private home studio in which she helps clients find erotic awareness through a combination of talk therapy, movement and occasional treatments in the nine-foot bronze, steel and leather swinglike contraption that hangs from the ceiling of her basement. A client climbs in and is suspended horizontally four feet above the ground for 25 minutes — Vernon, a certified medical hypnotist, uses this version of her “theta rig,” which she designed, to ease the person into a meditative “theta state,” the brain-wave frequency reached during yoga and orgasm.
Vernon, who moved to Europe from Virginia in 1990, believes that Western culture no longer has many taboos around sex, but “rather a taboo against pleasure.” Her three-floor apartment, a sensual mélange of velvet and leather, is a rejoinder of sorts: a design manifesto for aesthetic pleasure, both visual and tactile. Entering it from the row of beige-stone facades on the street is like cracking a plain gray rock and finding a sparkling geode inside; you can’t quite believe this treasure is nestled in the workaday heart of a city.