I never thought this girl from Lufkin, Texas, would be sitting down with Katie Couric to talk about sex. And I certainly didn’t think that prior to that conversation I’d be talking to a professor from the Kinsey Institute, listening to her tell me that she’d read Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality, loved it, and would be putting it on her recommended reading list for her students.
But on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the day Secret Sex Lives was released, that’s exactly what happened. I was in New York City to tape a “Secret Sex Lives” segment for Couric’s new talk show Katie. To say I was terrified is an understatement because I knew some of the things Couric wanted to discuss with me. In other words, she didn’t want to ask me just about my “sex freaks.” She wanted to ask me about my sex life, too. So minutes before the taping began, I ran to the restroom to have a complete and utter meltdown.
Oh, God, can I do this? Am I going to pass out right here in the bathroom? They’re going to have to call EMS, haul me off on a stretcher, and I won’t be able to do the show. This is going to be so embarrassing.
It’s embarrassing just telling you this now. After all, I’m supposed to be a pro. But I’m a pro who prefers to be in charge of the interview, and I wasn’t. Far from it.
Come on, Suzy. Get yourself together. God, help me. You’ve done this before, Suzy. You nearly passed out while doing Good Morning, America and you pulled yourself together. You can do it again. You can do this. God, please help me.
I walked back to the dressing room where the segment producer proceeded to prep me for the show. “The pressure’s on,” she said.
Maybe she said that before I raced to the restroom for my meltdown … or after my second trip to the restroom. I don’t know. All I know is that my throat was killing me. The kind Katie staff followed me around with a carafe of hot lemon water and my fabulous publicist, Jennifer Bernard, constantly refilled my cup. I sat down to have my hair done and prayed like mad, while the hairstylist worked and we were told I was wanted on set now.
I leaped to the makeup chair. Makeup was slapped on while we were told again that I was wanted on set now. Makeup finished, hair finished, and I jumped in my clothes as Jennifer handed me a peppermint to soothe my burning throat. We rushed down corridors and stairwells until we stood backstage. Couric spotted me, walked over to me, and said don’t be scared. I said, “I’m terrified” and impolitely (but so terrified that I didn’t realize at the time that it was impolite) spit my peppermint into a Kleenex and tossed them into the trash. (It was impolite because I practically spit it in her face!) “I do that, too,” Couric politely responded.
She walked onstage to talk to the audience, while I stared at and studied the audience and obsessed over how they were dressed in BRIGHT reds, oranges and yellows. Couric announced the topic of the show. Some of the women giggled nervously, others laughed, and a few looked like they were screaming inside, “What the hell am I doing in here? Get me out of here, now!”
An introductory video package of me rolled, and I was led on stage. The audience members’ eyes and mine cut back and forth between the monitors and each other as they and I watched the video and each other. I was trying to figure out what they were thinking, and they looked like they were trying to figure out how the conservative Southern Baptist journalist on the screen was the same person who sat before them, about to chat about sex freaks and her own sex life. Believe me, they weren’t alone in that thinking. Somewhere backstage, hidden from me, were “Emily and Griff,” two of the swing lifestylers from Secret Sex Lives, two people who …*
And my hands stop typing at that, which probably equates to what I looked like when the camera cut to me and Couric began interviewing me. Emily and Griff were watching us on a monitor. Emily later told me I looked terrified. I told her I was purposely looking terrified – after all, I was about to talk about sex with Katie Couric on national TV. I thought that was worthy of freak out.
But what shocked me is that I was so uncomfortable during that first segment, which was to focus solely on my sex freaks and what I learned regarding the sex lives of Americans … and when the second segment started, the one with Emily and Griff and where I knew my own sex life would be brought up, I was stunningly relaxed … perhaps because Emily was so great. She had the audience cheering, laughing, and whooping at some of her comments. She was utterly charming and completely relaxed me. And I understood why …*
After that segment, Emily and Griff and I were seated in the audience, where we briefly semi-communicated with the women behind us. I say semi-communicated because there were no words – just looks. I specifically remember one woman dressed in yellow and gold, her eyes and lips indicating that she desperately wanted to say something to me but that she just couldn’t get the words out. I wanted to reach over to her and say, “I hear you.” But if I had, that would have been a lie, because I didn’t know if she was saying, “Yes, I understand. I want to tell you my story” or “How could you?” I so wish I had been able to talk to her. But tape for the third segment was ready to roll.
That third segment was Debby Herbenick, an Associate Research Scientist at the renowned Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. On camera, Dr. Herbenick stuck to the statistical research data on sex. And as she did, I held in my heart what she’d told me during a quick hello in the hair and makeup room.
She’d complimented my ability to get my sources to be so open about their sex lives and complimented me for being so open about my own life. And that’s when she told me that she was putting my book on her recommended reading list for her students and was going to suggest that other professors do the same.
If everything else had gone wrong during that New York trip, which it didn’t, Dr. Herbenick’s words would have made the trip worth it. Certainly, I never thought this east Texas kid and her work would be receiving a compliment from a Kinsey Institute instructor. Thank you, Debby. And thank you, Katie Couric, for giving me the opportunity to talk with Debby about sex … and for the honor of talking with you about sex. Let’s face it, Katie and Kinsey make for an unforgettable day.
*Want to know what the ellipses refer to? Read Secret Sex Lives.