He was due to be ordained as a priest, then Dr Michael Perry changed his mind
Such was Dr Michael Perry's eagerness to be in this magazine that he rang the office while he was attending the 14th World Congress of Sexology and suggested himself as an interview subject. In order to whet the editor's appetite, he also faxed over four pages of information which began with the announcement: 'This X-priest makes X-rated videos.' There followed the teasing assertion that 'Dr Perry's videos walk the thin line between being educationally aesthetic and truly erotic', plus a promise he would discuss how studying for the priesthood prepared him to be a sex therapist.
Which is how the good doctor and I ended up having tea on two consecutive afternoons at the Grand Hyatt. We had to meet twice because he loved talking to his rapt listener so much ('I'm still a preacher, I still miss the pulpit') that by the end of the first 90 minutes he'd only just left the seminary; you might say that chat was conversational foreplay. In part two, we had consummation: progression from celibacy to marriages, from psychology to sex therapy, from photographing fellow seminarians for the year book to filming Erotic Voyages videos. (Sample storyline: 'Lisa and Chuck's relationship is in trouble. A powerful Cherokee Indian sexual teacher confronts her in the majestic bluffs of Red Rock Canyon. Her sexual self emerges to the delight of her husband.') The priest label, in fact, isn't strictly accurate; he left the seminary two months before his ordination. He had decided, as a child in 1950s California, the Catholic church needed him. 'Let me tell you about the apparition I had, I think it's somewhat significant. I was 10 or 12, on my way to Mass, it was very early, very cold, and I looked up and the sky was a blue like I've never seen in my life, indigo, incredible, with this brilliant light behind it. And I thought, this is God calling me to be a priest.' Or something else, I suggested. 'Right. A fireman. But I had no doubt I was being called.' Doubt is not part of the Perry package. Phrases such as 'I came home laden with trophies', 'I did the perfect thing', 'The kids thought I could walk on water' trip lightly off his tongue. In fact, halfway through our first chat, while he was telling me about his days as a young teacher, Dr Perry was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of his own abilities. 'Here's an interesting thing,' he began. 'I really am a very charismatic person. It's unbelievable, you won't believe this, it's like this can't be true. In my last week, they turned the entire school over to me as a student teacher. I, I ...' Dr Perry placed his head in his hands, moist-eyed. Through his fingers, a quavering voice emerged: 'Right at the end, I played To Dream The Impossible Dream, there was total chaos and tears. I was an inspiration.' We both sat in silence for a while, awed. Eventually, I ventured to ask why this memory made him so sad and he snapped, 'It's tears of joy. Now I do it in film, that's what Mother means by me still having a calling. She says by being a sex doctor I'm doing the work of God.' (There is a vivid divergence of opinion on this front: later, Dr Perry, who is occasionally wheeled out on American chat shows, described how he'd appeared on Geraldo. The canny producers had bussed in 200 fundamentalists who leaped to their feet throughout the recording, shrieking he was doing the devil's work.) 'I really did not leave the seminary in order to have sex,' Dr Perry went on. 'I left because of an authoritarian structure I couldn't stand anymore.' That was in 1969, a vintage year for kicking over the traces of authority. He decided to study psychology, and then made the 'small leap' to sex therapy - 'a much more interesting field than depression or suicide'. He put himself through school by being a professional photographer, 'doing weddings, portraits, things like that'. Any nudes? Dr Perry looked pensive, as if such a connection had never crossed his mind before. 'Actually, yes. That was a bit shocking for me. Hmm, I never thought of that before.' By this stage, he had married his sister's room-mate and had two children. Dr Perry had graphically described to me the slow, incremental process by which he lost his virginity and, prior to that, his nocturnal tussles with himself in the seminary, but he moved briskly through his marriage in about two sentences, merely saying that it hadn't ended because he wanted to be a sex therapist. What do his children think? 'Oh they're very much in favour of what I do.' He has been married to his present wife for 11 years; she, too, is deeply supportive of his work. They live in Hollywood with five snakes. I raised an eyebrow at this Freudian detail but Dr Perry didn't imbue it with any great significance. Shortly afterwards, however, I was perusing his sales pamphlet and couldn't helping noticing that Sunset, Penthouse Pet of March 1996 ('Nothing's too kinky for Sunset!'), was promising shenanigans with her husband, another woman and some exotic reptiles: perhaps Dr Perry might be cutting costs by being the set animal wrangler, as well as director, writer and photographer.
You will surely be wondering by now how enjoyable it is filming these folk in, as it were, the majestic buff. 'Very! As a matter of fact, it's even arousing. It's a real home, not a studio, and usually it's a real couple - more chemistry. My parents have even offered their home as a set.' Do they want to be filmed too? For the first time, Dr Perry looked genuinely shocked. 'No, no, no. But my mother keeps telling me I should do something for older people.' His mission, incidentally, only extends to heterosexuals. 'The market is heterosexual,' confided Dr Perry. 'That's where the need is.' I couldn't help thinking the fine, vocational aspect of his work was somewhat diminished by the fact that his production company is called Bliss Bunny. 'That came from a consciousness-raising group, they all decided that I was the Bliss Bunny because I was very exuberant. Some people think I'm way too serious, almost angry. They say, 'My God, lighten up.' I try to have a relaxing smile.' Later that evening, Dr Perry was to give a 'very explicit' presentation about sex and film which he was most anxious I should attend. I told him, truthfully, the press wasn't allowed to be present but reports filtered back that it wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs: everyone sat in complete, possibly stunned, silence and left without asking questions. 'believe I'm a very moral person but I'm not a religious person,' mused Dr Perry. So what will happen when he dies? Dr Perry, naturally, had no doubts. 'I will go to Heaven.'