Dr. Victoria Zdrok is not your ordinary blonde bombshell. The 31-year-old Kiev, Ukraine native came to the United States at 16 as an exchange student, speaking English, French and German. She then scored so high on her SATs that she jumped right to college, graduating from the Westchester University at 18. While in school, she took the plunge into adult modeling by become a Playboy Playmate, eager for the cash prize, but later became disillusioned with the magazine and went on to become Penthouse's Pet of the Year for 2004. The New Jersey-based Zdrok, whose goal is to be "the next Dr. Ruth," not only has a Ph.D. and a law degree (she even passed the bar in New York and New Jersey), but she has also authored Anatomy of Pleasure: The Head to Toe Guide to Better Sex, which teaches you how to use every body part (including your hair and eyelashes) to titillate your lover, and runs several websites devoted to sex education.
In person, the busty, big-lipped beauty does fit the physical stereotype, complete with an accent that would make almost anyone melt. But once she starts talking, there's no way to mistake her for anything other than a woman on a mission—to spread her vision of sexual freedom and education for all. The reigning Penthouse Pet of the Year, who prefers New York over other cities she's traveled to for its diversity, creativity, and energy, spoke with Gothamist about being a smartypants, the most underutilized erogenous zones, and beauty stereotypes.
When you came here at 16, did you plan to go through college so quickly?
I came for one year just to study and it was my dream to study psychology. I did that and I fell in love with the United States and I decided I didn’t want to go back to Russia. Another Ukrainian woman put me in touch with a man who I ended up marrying because I realized there was no other way to extend my stay. I come from an intellectual family, so I grew up with expectations of excelling academically. It’s something that I had no choice about; I was just expected to do that.
Did you feel like you were unusual?
Not so much in the Ukraine because our educational system was much more stringent. I wouldn’t say that I was the brightest in my school but when I came here I had a much stronger educational background than people my age. After I finished college, I was only 18. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My ex-husband was a lawyer, and I found J.D./Ph.D. joint law/psychology program with emphasis on forensic psychology, and he encouraged me.
How did you get started modeling?
In my second year I was having marital difficulties with my ex-husband, and I wasn’t making any money and I stumbled upon modeling as a way of making money and of helping my family. We'd gone to Chicago for an international law convention and at one point we went to a club and a Playboy scout approached me and said I should test for Playboy. At the time I was with a bunch of friends and I thought it was a trick to pick me up. My friends were teasing me and on a bet I decided to send my pictures in for me. My ex-husband was more than happy to take naked pictures of me.
I sent them in and completely forgot about them and six weeks later, I got a call from Playboy asking to fly me to Chicago. The day I got there, they said they wanted to shoot my centerfold the next week, so I didn’t have a chance to even think about the decision. Part of me thought I’d never make it, I never thought I was all that attractive, so I was pretty stunned to find out. I think I signed a contract the same day because I was afraid that if I didn't they’d change their minds.
This was 1993. I had just turned 20. I became the October 1994 Playmate, I thought it would be a one time thing to help me out financially. I ended up hosting all these events for Philadelphia magazine and I signed up with Click Modeling Agency. From October to December 1994, I was on Entertainment Tonight four times. The media just loved me. I got really enamored of being in the spotlight. When the publicity died down, I started to miss it so I pursued more and more. Entertainment Tonight even covered my swearing in ceremony as a US citizen.
My relationship with my husband fell apart after that, so I turned to modeling as a way of supporting myself but I stuck with my schooling even though some people wanted me to move to LA. I had guest roles on Baywatch, I could have gotten on Silk Stalkings and The Price Is Right but I had to be in Los Angeles to pursue all that.
I had so many offers I couldn’t pursue and I felt that the education was something I could have long-term, it was something real that I worked so hard for and the other things were fleeting. I’m really happy now but at that time I was miserable because I felt I was missing out on all these opportunities and I didn’t know if I’d ever have them again. So the minute I got done with school, I moved closer to New York to pursue more modeling and I threw myself into modeling I’ve done all those catalogs, like Fredericks of Hollywood, everything from catalog work to videos. Then I started my own website in 1998 and that’s when I had a huge falling out with playboy because they were extremely controlling and wanted to regulate everything playmates put on their websites which I thought was censorship. I felt that was going back to the communist environment where everything we did was monitored.
Why did you decide to write Anatomy of Pleasure?
I wanted to show that every body part has a role in giving and receiving sexual pleasure and by using every body part and understanding each one, we can expand its role and make it a more full body experience.
I'm working on a second book now. It’s an analysis of all the research on sexual fantasy that’s been done in the psychological literature. I’m trying to make it easy to read. I’m incorporating fantasies that my members have sent me, who they fantasize about, what are the themes of the fantasies, when does it become obsessive or destructive or lead to acting out. Can people express their fantasies and can they get in trouble, and then can they be changed, can we modify them. If you have a fantasy about something and you don’t like it and it bothers you but you get turned on, is it possible to reprogram your fantasies? It combines that research along with the law.
What body part is the most overlooked when it comes to sex?
I know that for women particularly, the area between the neck to shoulder area is one of the most overlooked erotic zones that is extremely exciting to some women. There are reports that some women find the stimulation of the neck is more erotic than nipple stimulation.. Breasts are something that have been overemphasized in our culture. Some men and women find nipple stimulation exciting, some don’t, but it’s automatically assumed that this is just part of the sexual repertoire. The sacral crease, where the buttocks meet the thigh, and the back of the navel, are underused. Few people think of the back as erogenous, but the spine is very responsive to stimulation
I wanted to show that there are many ways of giving and receiving pleasure. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve the genitals directly; the mind and psychology behind it is important. I wanted to cover people’s concerns, like men’s obsession with penises and penis size, and reassure them that instead of penis extensions there are so many ways of improving and impressing their lover that you don’t have to have a large penis to do.
Most men have some understanding of the importance of the clitoris in sexual pleasure but few men know about the mons pubis, so I think sex education can bring more enjoyment to couples, particularly to women, because male orgasm is usually more consistent and more predictable whereas for women more patience is required.
How would you suggest someone get in touch with and access their fantasies?
First I'd suggest trying meditation and yoga, and then visualize your favorite place. For me, it happens to be the beach, when I think of the beach, the island, the sun, the waves the seagulls, that always puts me at ease. For others, it may be their favorite garden, any place that they feel completely calm. The key with visualization is you have to involve all your senses. You have to almost pretend you feel the texture of the sand, the wind the smell the heat of the sun, as many senses as you can involved the more real it will feel. The next step is that I turn to my favorite sexual fantasy so if I’m laying on the beach it would be some handsome stranger or a couple of them and the sun is setting and we start making love right on the beach.
But it’s different for every person. There might be progressive muscle relaxation, it’s not my thing, but it involves tensing and relax each muscle for long periods of time. There's also body scan where you close your eyes and imagine each one of your body parts becoming heavy and warm. There are a number of techniques I touch upon in the book and visualization is my favorite.
On your love-sex-dating advice site, you say you’re bridging the gap between men and women. How big is that gap and what are you doing to lessen it?
I think women have changed a lot. Men are more task-oriented and women are more relationship-oriented in general in our culture, so for women a lot of times, sex is way of getting affection, affiliation and gaining meaning. They look for greater meaning in all of that and for men a lot of times they use sex just as a genital experience, they don’t view it in terms of affiliation and belonging and symbolic merger, a way of gaining greater meaning. So on that site, we try to make men think more about these topics rather than just simply mechanically performing, but understanding the psychology behind it why women need more time to get in the mood for sex why women want more than just a simple sexual act. Just by having sex provide some sort of affiliation and greater meaning for men, that would in itself bridge the gap. By expanding their horizons to other ways of experiencing pleasure, it would open men to new ideas and probably make women enjoy it a lot more.
How do you deal with people stereotyping you because you're both intelligent and a model?
I understand stereotyping is normal and natural, it’s the human shortcut to figuring out other people. Obviously the stereotype is based in reality; there are very few models that are intellectuals so I don’t blame people for making automatic assumptions. I assume the burden is on me, kind of like in law. The burden of proof is mine to be able to show them that I’m not just a pretty face. I think when people get to know me, when they get to talk to me, they see that. On my sexysexpert site I list all my credentials and links to my diplomas. On the Howard Stern show they'll say "she’s not really a doctor, she’s not really a lawyer." I hear that constantly,
It's very difficult. People will say "she slept her way to the top." It's almost like being attractive and posing for these magazines made it far more difficult for me to finish school; it certainly didn't make it easier. My professors thought it was unprofessional and it was a disgrace to the profession. I think my dissertation committee thought I would drop out and not come back but I stuck with it. It was definitely hard. Being attractive did not help in the academic field and posing for the magazines made it ten times more difficult.
What are you working on next?
I’m doing a sex education video based on my book. I'm also working with California Exotic Novelties to develop my own line of Dr. Z.-approved adult novelties from toys to lotions and all that, going to LA next week to work on that. I want to do a vertical integration. You have Dr. Ruth who’s written all these books and has her own tv show, or Nina harltey she has her own line of sex ed videos but she doesn’t have her own books out. When people think of Doctor Z., I want them to think sex, great sex, a satisfying sexual experience, I want to integrate it with books, DVDs and also toys and I would like to eventually have my own radio and TV shows.
I want it to be broader, not just focused on sex, but also love and dating, particularly dating, because guys want to hear advice. With women being more aggressive, men these days often don't know where they stand when it comes to dating.
Do you have any special message for your fans?
Part of it is that having fans and meeting people has been a really wonderful experience for me, it’s really enriched my life. There’s a theory in psychology that we each create a symbolic universe. For some it’s religion, for some its their family or their job, and it’s through this particular universe that they imagine themselves immortal. For me having fans and knowing and being able to touch people’s lives is a way of reaching the symbolic immortality they’re a really important part of my life, they give meaning to my life, each one of us feels this in a different way.
What about any advice for aspiring models?
Have a very thick skin, and don’t be afraid of rejection and don’t let it get you down. I’ve been rejected many times even after I became a centerfold. There’s always somebody out there who will think you’re not beautiful enough for some reason.
And others think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, that’s part of what makes life great, that people have different opinions. Believe in yourself and never give up, that’s the important part. Persistence is more important in this industry than talent or beauty. I don’t think there’s such thing as natural beauty. It’s constructed by how you carry yourself and present yourself, the totality of who you are. By changing your own attitude, a lot of times you can change your image that you present to people and come across as more beautiful or appropriate for a job. But it’s a tough field; you will face a lot of rejection and criticism and it’s hard not to let it get to the core of who you are in the core of your self-worth.
Join Victoria and other Pets, including Jenna Jameson, at the Penthouse Pet of the Year Party, Monday November 29th from 9 pm - midnight at the Penthouse Executive Club, 603 West 45th Street (212-245-0002). Admission is $20; no jeans or sneakers allowed. Visit Victoria Zdrok's website Sexysexpert.com, as well as her love, sex and dating advice site.
-- Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel