Lee Phillips is the only certified sex therapist with a physical office in the Hamptons – the long stretch of beach outside New York City known for the summer homes of stars like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Jon Bon Jovi. He didn’t open his Long Island location until August, but his practice is already busier than expected.
The main culprit? Tension.
“When people get big, famous or rich, there’s a lot of pressure on them,” he told The Daily Beast. “Because they have so many events to go to – there’s a charity event, there’s this and there’s this. I’m [on] camera, I’m going to take a picture.”
“When I think of pressure that leads to more anxiety,” he added. “And that, of course, can cause them to have sexual problems.”
Phillips specializes in what he calls “sex positive” therapy and welcomes clients from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and various kink communities. He often treats patients who want to start dating, discover fetishes, or open up their relationships — the latter of which he said is growing in popularity. Especially after the pandemic, he said, “people want to get more curious about things, they want a little more diversity.”
Sandi Kaufman, a certified sex therapist and licensed clinical social worker, previously had the only physical practice in the area but had to close her Southampton location amid COVID. However, she still sees many Hamptons customers at a distance, and insists that the rich and famous in the field of sexual problems are just like us.
Except when it comes to their schedules.
“I’ll have sessions with people when they’re in Spain or Mexico, or anywhere,” she said. “It’s hard to schedule, especially if the pairing is on and the couple are in two different time zones.”
Phillips already has offices in Manhattan and Washington, DC, where he has observed some clear differences between his patients. He compared his DC customers to a tightly wound telephone cord, always concerned about making connections or landing their next promotion. His Manhattan clients, he says, tend to be younger, rougher, more artsy types, who try to define their place in the world along with their sexuality.
His new batch of Hamptons customers, he said, tend to be older, more successful, and more grounded in their problems.
“In the Hamptons, you see very established people coming in because there’s a long history of things they’ve never covered,” he explained. “They’ve kept things in and now things are coming out.”
Unsurprisingly, those buried problems lead to a lot of trouble in the bedroom.
“A lot of them have sexless marriages,” he added. “Like, ‘We’ve been together for 10 years… and I still want to be sexual, but I don’t think she wants to be sexual, or he wants to be sexual.'”
Some issues are a little more, well, physical.
“There’s also quite a bit of toxic masculinity out there,” Phillips said, referring to a cultural pressure on men to be strong, emotionless breadwinners for their families.
“What happens is when they come into the bedroom and they have something like an erectile challenge, they feel so defeated,” he said. “And they come into my office and they say, ‘Oh my God, I feel like I’m broken.”
Phillips said he advises these patients that their problem is very common, guiding them through the possible medical and emotional root causes. He says the men always leave with a sense of relief. “I’m like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you,'” he said. “‘You’ll be fine, friend.'”
Kaufman tends to treat more women – mostly older women with successful careers in the city, who came to the Hamptons to find more peace of mind. The only problem? They also found a smaller dating pool. “I’ve got a lot of women here dealing with dating issues,” she said. “There’s a smaller group of people, so it has its own challenges.”
But Kaufman added that she had recently had a patient who started dating a local man and fell “tough in love.”
“I think there are a lot of things that people want in a relationship… It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a certain socioeconomic status,” she said. “Once you get to a certain level, it may become less of a priority.”
Despite their wealth and prestige, Phillips says, his Hamptons clients face many of the same problems as his other patients: communication difficulties, lingering resentments, and the other mundane problems of living with another person. He hasn’t delved into many of them yet, he said, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get there.
“I find myself doing a lot of work to help people communicate with each other,” he said. “But then when you also tell people you’re kink conscious, they’ll come in and say, ‘I have this fetish and my wife doesn’t know about it, or I have a kink and I don’t know’ I don’t want them to find out or I don’t want my husband to find out I’m sleeping with the pool boy.'”
Phillips’ new office space is bigger than he needs, and he says he’s thinking about converting it into a training space for other sex therapists someday.
Either that or he’s going to start a sex toy line.
“I mean, why not?” he said with a laugh. “There are all kinds of possibilities.”