Dr. Andrew Scheinfeld still remembers the day he went shopping for his first vibrator. The weather was warm, and his wife and children were away on vacation in Europe. Scheinfeld, a reserved and bespectacled gynecologist with an office on Manhattan's East Side, was alone in the city, ruefully contemplating the changes in his own sexual performance. He couldn't deny it anymore: Something was missing between him and his wife—they'd lost the old zing. "So I took a walk," he says. "I took a walk to Christopher Street. I went to one of the sex shops in the Village. Here I am, an OB/GYN—I shouldn't be affected by these things—but I felt the embarrassment." Sheepishly he selected a sleek, humming wand, paid, and dashed home. Later, after his wife had returned from Europe, Scheinfeld worked up the courage to suggest that together they give the vibrator a spin. "It was wonderful," he says, a smile breaking through his professional formality. "It just added a nice little spice to the relationship."
Over time that private epiphany would turn Scheinfeld into an unlikely public pioneer. These days the doctor has officially allied himself with Lelo, a Swedish company that designs deluxe, aesthetically gorgeous vibrators, cock rings, and butt plugs, and he's selling the sex toys directly to patients as part of his medical practice. (So far, though, they are not covered by insurance.) He believes that he's the first American in his field to do so, and he feels an evangelical sense of mission about it. The way he sees it, spirited erotic exploration is as crucial to a person's health as nutrition and exercise are. "Sex is a very important part of life," he says. "These products help us find out what we're capable of."
In spite of the social changes that have swept across our porn-addled land during the past few decades, repression remains deeply ingrained—even, apparently, in the permissive precincts of Gotham—but a quivering shaft of well-engineered Scandinavian stimulation can be just the thing that leads a blocked patient to physical and psychological breakthroughs. "People still think women should have orgasms exclusively from intercourse," Scheinfeld says. "In spite of the whole sexual revolution, there's still a lack of education about these things. Most women don't have that response just through intercourse. That is a big problem and that causes a spiraling down of relationships because of the false expectations." By no means are Scheinfeld's patients only mid-lifers yawning and kvetching through the marital blues; he also sees young newlyweds who, for a variety of cultural or religious reasons, remain intensely clenched and uptight about getting off. If there's an ultimate ongoing obstacle, it might just be the male ego, which can flinch when it's challenged by a shiny, machine-tooled cock surrogate. "Women often tell me, 'My husband would be so upset'—viewing it as an accusation of inadequacy," Scheinfeld explains. "I imagine that's something very common among men. It's a barrier." Nevertheless, Scheinfeld works hard at removing the shame factor by showing off Lelo's colorful cast of carnal friends—Mona and Bo, Billy and Lily, and many more—in a refuge devoted to therapeutic healing. This way a patient doesn't have to worry about sneaking into a seedy sex shop or getting a box of rechargeable electronic cock rings delivered to the front stoop. "The Lelo products make it easier," he says, "because they are more attractive and nonthreatening."
And Scheinfeld's secret weapon, in terms of making sex toys more attractive and nonthreatening, appears to be Brenda Catapano, 47, his bosomy and effervescent office manager. Since the doctor himself doesn't feel it's appropriate for him to demonstrate the vibrators with women, he passes along that task to Catapano, who tackles the job with infectious relish. "This is a keeper," she purrs, pressing a murmuring cock ring up against a visiting reporter's belly. "Whenever I introduce it to the ladies and gentlemen, I always have them feel it, touch it, play with it." She pulls open the rubber ring to show how it fastens around the penis and then stretches it wider to illustrate how a guy would wrap it around his testicles, too. "Vibrating against the skin back there, on the gentlemen—definitely a step up," she says. She pulls out a thick, curved prong known as Billy and talks about one macho husband who, after much resistance, succumbed to Billy's prostate-massaging charms. "He was like, 'Okay, you were right,'" she recalls. "'What else you got for me, girlfriend?'" When there's shy resistance, it's not unusual for Catapano to show off some erotic drawings by the artist Carolyn Weltman to help loosen things up. ("Isn't that beautiful?" she says of one portrait of a woman in a bustier and garters giving a guy mouth-to-member resuscitation.) And whenever a patient feels prepared to advance to the next level of erotic awakening, Catapano is happy to let men and women flip through an eye-opening catalog full of bondage and pegging gear—handcuffs, masks, strap-ons. "People get stuck in ruts," she says. "You're going to get trapped in a routine unless you shake it up."
If Scheinfeld is concerned that members of the medical establishment might scoff at a doctor who's down with erotic etchings and Swedish sex toys, he's not about to let that stop him. "Most physicians don't get where they are by doing things that are against the rules," he says. "By some of my colleagues, this might be ridiculed." He knows they'll come around. "You reach a point in your life where you don't care so much what people think," Scheinfeld says. "You have to do what's right, and this is right for my patients."