‘More like therapists’: adult virgins turn to Nevada brothels for sex – and healing

<span>Madam Bella Cummins, the proprietor of Bella’s Hacienda Ranch, is offering a half-price special to raise awareness of what she describes as a ‘virginity epidemic’.</span><span>Photograph: Courtesy of Bella's Hacienda Ranch</span>
Madam Bella Cummins, the proprietor of Bella’s Hacienda Ranch, is offering a half-price special to raise awareness of what she describes as a ‘virginity epidemic’.Photograph: Courtesy of Bella's Hacienda Ranch

At Bella’s Hacienda Ranch, a brothel on the outskirts of the rural Nevada truckstop town of Wells, a half-priced special for adult male virgins this May has gone off with a bang.

What may seem like a publicity stunt has compassion behind it. May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, and the brothel’s 74-year-old namesake owner and operator, Madam Bella Cummins, wants to raise awareness of what she describes as a “virginity epidemic”. She blames digital platforms supplanting young people’s in-person, “IRL” experiences, leading to stunted social development. Brothels, she argues, offer a safe space to work through resulting feelings of anxiety, shame and isolation.

Most of the courtesan’s clients, to use the industry parlance, live in the region, yet increasingly men travel from around the country and the world, seeking out her business for “help”, as they often word it. To receive the discount, men must provide a letter from a mental health professional acknowledging their claim, which Cummins hopes encourages some adult virgins to seek therapy when they otherwise wouldn’t.

So far, the promotion has proved a hit. In a typical week, at least three adult virgins walk through the door, but according to Cummins, reservations from virgin clientele have increased this month by tenfold.

The only reason we are in these bodies is the touch, and so that we can have sexual encounters

Bella Cummins, brothel owner

Clearly these services are meeting a growing demand. The virgin special also highlights the underappreciated role sex workers play to help with emotional, as well as physical, needs. Staff at Bella’s Hacienda and other Nevada brothels say many clients are seeking a judgment-free zone that offers sexual healing as a professional service.

Cummins notes that sensual touch releases hormones in the brain that allow us to feel “fully functional” as human beings. When those chemicals remain suppressed, the madam observes, people go to “very dark places”, such as internalising feelings of severe inadequacy and distress, or turning to unhealthy sexual behaviour.

Related: US single people under 50 having less sex since Roe overturned, study finds

“The only reason we are in these bodies is the touch, and so that we can have sexual encounters, even if it’s just a one-night stand,” says Cummins.

“I’d really like to bring awareness to this issue,” she adds. “There is a safe, healthy way to solve the situation.

Growing anxiety and social isolation

There is evidence that adult virginity and sexual inexperience are on the rise in the US, Canada and other western countries, according to Marie-Aude Boislard, director of the Canada Research Chair in developmental sexology. Approximately 15% of individuals born in the 1990s are virgins in their early 20s, the highest rate of sexual inactivity since 1985. Many report “difficult emotions” and interpersonal struggles due to social stigma, the dearth of visibility of sexual inexperience in adulthood and a lack of intimacy.

Cummins has been in sex work for 38 years and is now the longest-serving madam in Nevada’s legal brothel industry. She’s seen her virgin clientele reflect shifting societal moods and norms.

She recalls how in the 1980s, it was common for long-haul truckers to introduce their adult virgin sons to brothel services. Dad would take the young man on the road during the summer after he finished high school, accompany him through the potentially awkward process of choosing a woman in a line-up, then enjoy a drink at the bar while his son got that first sexual experience under his belt.

Beginning in the 1990s, more often it was mothers who brought their inexperienced offspring to the “cathouse”, and not just for the young man to lose his virginity, but so that he might gain confidence interacting with a woman, receive guidance on pleasuring a woman and learn about the sensual side of sexual intimacy.

These days, Cummins said, virgins tend to show up alone. Some act shy about it, but most openly share their status, if only to apologise for their perceived haplessness.

“When we’ve never done something, the fear associated with doing it wrong – being inept or inadequate – it takes us over,” she mused. “They say, ‘Look I really want to learn what I’m supposed to do here.’ Others say: ‘I’m feeling distress about something my hormones are pulling me toward.’ Or ‘What am I supposed to do to get over these feelings of inadequacy?’”

How do you deny what God put in a young body – which is that desire?

Bella Cummins

Located in north-eastern Nevada, Bella’s Hacienda Ranch is about an hour’s drive from Idaho and Utah, two states with highly religious populations that Cummins describes as the most sexually repressed in the country.

“They’re told, ‘You can keep this down. Don’t feel that,’” she says, referring to the abstinence culture in faith-based communities. “But how do you deny what God put in a young body – which is that desire?”

The issue goes beyond their proximity to Mormon country, however. The adult virgins visiting Nevada brothels also bemoan their screen-based social lives, as well as permanent shifts to online learning or remote work.

A virgin client of Bella’s Hacienda Ranch in his early 20s, a jiujitsu fighter from Salt Lake City, said social anxiety affects both men and women in his community.

“One thing I notice going to bars lately is that women are so used to dating apps and social media, when I approach a woman in person, they get flustered,” said the client, who asked to have his name withheld for privacy reasons. “Nobody knows how to interact with each other any more.”

‘The intimacy they’re missing’

For some people, brothels are a place to let go of old hangups in a supportive setting.

A 22-year-old tall, athletic cowboy from Utah who requested to use the pseudonym Barry went to Bella’s Hacienda Ranch to lose his virginity after ending a long-term relationship.

He grew up in a religious family but had only remained celibate out of respect for his longtime girlfriend’s abstinence beliefs. Recently, though, Barry learned that she was sleeping with other people, and they broke up.

“I felt kind of betrayed, and like I had waited for no reason,” he said. “So I decided to just, you know, go get laid.”

Losing his virginity at a brothel appealed to Barry because he didn’t want to get involved emotionally with anyone, yet still has a “very high” sex drive. Something transactional with a skilled partner and no expectations or stipulations regarding future contact seemed perfect.

Barry hired a blond, blue-eyed courtesan named Lila. “I just want vanilla sex,” he told her. “No BDSM, nothing kinky.”

Reflecting on the experience afterward, Barry said: “I would honestly recommend it more than just going to a bar and hooking up with a stranger. I probably didn’t go try to hook up with a random girl in my area for fear of being judged. Being able to be in a place where I could express myself and learn things privately was good.”

Often, adult virgins prefer to book appointments with the older courtesans at Bella’s Hacienda, trusting that the maturity, wisdom and compassion that come with age place them in good hands.

The story is much the same on the opposite side of the state, at a brothel closer to Sin City than to Mormon country. Cameron Sloane, a 43-year-old courtesan at Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, identifies as “Your favorite MILF” on X. She receives many requests from virgin men in their early 20s. They are more intimidated by women their own age, but the “hot mom” fantasy is also part of the dynamic, Sloane says.

The primary skill she brings to these appointments is patience. She mentioned video games, and gaming culture, as another platform through which young men establish online relationships without face-to-face interaction, leaving them uncomfortable making eye contact or communicating what they want in a sexual encounter.

Recently, a young man wore sunglasses inside the brothel to avoid eye contact. Sometimes, a virgin client will shake when Sloane takes his hand to walk him to her room or look down when she places his palm on her thigh as they negotiate her price.

Sloane always feels out the client’s goals and interests, which can range from a quickie to get it over with and say he’d “done it” to a full-on learning session with guidance and feedback. Either way, she starts by letting them touch her and by helping them feel comfortable being touched.

Many virgins have a hard time staying present in their bodies, especially those who are addicted to pornography, Sloane says. Distorted thoughts of what they think sex is supposed to be like cause them to feel insecure or distracted. Sloane recalls a client who came to terms with his porn addiction during their session after he failed to climax through her sensual approach. He acknowledged that he had a problem and was going to seek help.

“We’re more like therapists than anything, and not just for virgins,” she says. “We have people who come in who’ve lost their wives recently and just need somebody to talk to and cuddle with or be close to. It’s more about companionship. I think that’s the most rewarding part of it – when you give someone the intimacy they’re missing.”

Barry, the Salt Lake City cowboy, believes that brothels can be a good place to get over sexual jitters, with added mental health benefits to boot.

“If you wanted to learn how to golf, you wouldn’t just show up to a golf course. If you did, you might embarrass yourself,” he says, reaching for a sports analogy. “So maybe if you’re a virgin and you want to have sex for the first time without embarrassing yourself – if you feel that might happen – a brothel might be a good place to start to get over the first-time nerves.”

The young man says he has done a lot of therapy and agrees that there’s an emotional angle, too: “I was able to let some stuff go, for sure.”