It is less about the porn, which involved a “cougar MILF”, a “yoga hottie” and some bizarrely pneumatic machinery, and more about the fact that a stranger got me to trust him with some very intimate details, details I normally wouldn’t share even with someone I knew well.
The phrase “are you a clit girl?” will forever ring in ears burning red with shame. If I’m telling you about this, it’s partly because I might as well laugh about it and come clean and tell you a good story. But more importantly, this man has done it to other women before, I don’t want him to do it to you, and the only way to prevent it from happening is to warn you.
This is how it happened. At around 4pm yesterday afternoon, as I’m about to drive off to drop off a painting at a local restaurant where I exhibit, I get a call from a blocked number. My dad insists on having a blocked number, and so do some of my clients, so I answer.
The caller says his name is Ryan. I forget the surname. But he wants to know where I am based. I tell him “Bryanston in Sandton”. He’s based in Cape Town, he says, and he wants to know if I'm available for work.
Ryan then tells me he's bringing a UK high street retail brand to SA but it's top secret and he doesn't want to say. I need to sign an NDA. He’s looking for ladies to do product testing and reviews.
This is the first piece of bait. Ryan is piquing my interest and offering me privileged information. I'm intrigued. He then says he'll tell me anyway. It's Ann Summers. Do I know it? It sounds familiar, but I can’t think of it offhand. By now I'm distracted because I have to get somewhere and I wish he’d stop talking. I'm at the bottom of the driveway when I twig what Ann Summers is.
Of course. It’s a high end sex shop for women.
Yes, says Ryan. Ann Summers is coming to South Africa. (It’s top secret though). They’re opening a store in the V&A Waterfront because the South African market prefers “bricks and mortar” and they’ll grow the online piece over time. They have a media partnership with Cosmopolitan so they’re very excited.
We get talking about sex toys, whether I’ve bought them, whether I’ve watched videos online. He asks me who I write for. I tell him that I often write about sex and relationships, because suddenly it matters to me that he thinks I am right for this job.
He asks me how old I am. I tell him. He says great, the core target market is 35 and up but younger women are into this. He uses marketing jargon at every opportunity, and refers repeatedly to research done in the US. He uses all the right marketing jargon, so I'm happy to discuss porn and sex with a perfect stranger. It's business.
Ryan also tells me he is a sexologist. As luck would have it, I can't google him as I normally would because I'm driving and I have him on speakerphone. He keeps me talking. It's very important that he finds things out about me because this is so top secret, Ryan tells me he has never heard of the make love not porn movement and that I've “blown” his mind. He must talk to me more. .
(Ryan, having baited me with special knowledge, now uses flattery, and it works.)
Ryan asks me to make a time so he can talk to me more. We agree that he'll call me at 6pm. In the mean time, he'll mail me.
An hour and a half passes. Before the appointed time, while I’m shopping in the local Pick n Pay, Ryan calls to check my email address. I spell it for him. He confirms the time again: 6pm.
I head to a friend's place because my wifi is down and I need to read my mail. At 6pm on the dot, my phone rings. Blocked number. Ryan says I must go somewhere private, but because this is a home office, the only private place is my friend's bedroom. He isn’t in it at the time, and I close the door.
Ryan checks that I am alone and then asks me about sex toys so that he knows which ones to send me. I tell him, happily. Then he tells me that he needs me to watch a porn trailer so he knows what kind to send me in order to review.
He spells out the name of the website. He apologises for the word “fucking”. He directs me to the video he wants me to watch, the one with the cougar MILF and the yoga hottie with the tan lines over her boobs.
He wants to know if I am turned on. We have an oddly cerebral discussion about it. I talk about the mutability of human sexual response, how something that I might not enjoy watching might turn me on in retrospect. I tell him I'm not wild about it as it's too theatrical, too performative, too stereotypical.
He asks me to watch it again, but not to say anything this time. Just watch while he listens on the phone. He thanks me and says it has been very useful.
As this bizarre conversation comes to an end, my (straight) friend walks into his bedroom to get dressed for dinner and sees me sitting there watching porn on his unmade bed. He is mortified that I’m sitting there because his room is a mess. We laugh at the weirdness of the situation.
I finish up some work, then head home. I wonder why Ryan hasn’t mailed me yet, and that’s when the paranoia sets in. The blocked number. The secrecy. Getting me to watch porn.
I google “Ryan” and “sexologist”, and nothing comes up. My heart starts pounding. I try "Ann Summers" and "Cape Town". Bingo. “Warning all ladies!!! Pervent scam alert!!!!” doesn’t leave much room for doubt.
I panic, briefly. Was the conversation recorded? Is this guy going to blackmail me? How could I have been so stupid? Then I think about the power he has, and why he keeps doing it: because all of his victims are too ashamed to let on.
It was a violation. Of trust. Of privacy. I gave him information willingly because I thought this was business. A project. Work.
I am telling you about it so that it doesn’t happen to you, and that you are prepared for anything like this. Ryan will probably change his name. Perhaps he will change the name of the brand. But perhaps enough of his story will remain consistent for you to cut him off or, better still, con the con artist.
So that, dear reader, is how a complete stranger got me to discuss sex toys and watch porn while talking to him on the phone. If a guy ever calls you and tries to tell you about Ann Summers, smile sweetly, take a deep breath, and tell him exactly where he can shove his high end sex toys.
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