She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman
Ian Kerner’s 2008 book, Passionista, was about male sexuality for female readers. She Comes First is now marketed as the companion volume to Passionista, but this earlier book is for men and it’s about cunnilingus (oral sex for women). Its subject is not as broad as his book about male sexuality, but that said it is a great book on female sexual response and psychology.
Ian Kerner is a New York sex therapist with years of experience, and he writes well. He is very funny, medically and historically accurate, and psychologically insightful. She Comes First takes the (perhaps nervous) reader through the literature on cunnilingus and provides sociological information about men and women’s attitudes to the activity. His physiological explanations of what is most pleasurable to women in general are the kind of knowledge of which no man who cares should be ignorant. He provides this information in a light-hearted rather than clinical style, which means the reader is more likely to listen. For example, men will do well to recall his emphasis on the idea that women need to be ‘teased’ rather than ‘handled’.
She Comes First is not just a fascinating, intelligent, witty read but it is also that most uncommon thing with so much writing about sex—it’s useful. The fact that the book is predominantly about oral sex does limit it, and I feel a warning needs to be extended: not all women are going to enjoy cunnilingus; not all men are going to want to perform it; and even Mr. Kerner’s helpful insights are still not going to work out for everyone. There is a very cute end section about different ‘routines’ one can attempt. I feel Kerner may be having a little joke with us all here, as I imagine bedrooms full of very motivated men memorizing ‘Routine Number 3’ or lying at awkward angles with his book propped up at eyeline level as they seek to please their partners!
The book is so wonderfully informative, however, it deserves to be made into a non-pornographic documentary. It would appear Mr. Kerner and I agree that a good laugh can be the best therapy when coupled with accurate information.
Pornography, Hollywood and the Beauty of the Mundane
For some time now it has struck me that most of the Gen Y and younger clients I see as a sex therapist and doctor have, as their major educative sources, pornography, Hollywood movies and/or reality TV. By and large, most people feel very strongly that pornography is unhelpful. But I want to go on record as believing Hollywood is just as bad, and in fact the two schools of entertainment have more in common than not.
They are both fiction.
I have found this truth takes a lot of porn consumers by surprise. They know there are ‘story lines’ and it does not take a film critic to ascertain that these are fictional. But people feel the actual ‘for real’ sex must be accurate. Similarly, Hollywood films are interesting because they are seen as being harmless and inoffensive. But women in particular the world over are expecting their actual relationships to be somewhat like those on screen, or they must ‘not be in love’.
I feel compassion for consumers of either medium. How are they to understand realistic good relationships and realistic good sex? The actual forms of sex and relationships are so much more mundane than those on film. Mundane, in the sense that they are ordinary, everyday, commonplace, real and true.
People’s self esteem, self-image and optimism are eaten away by the entertaining and enjoyable lies of Hollywood and porn. Our young women now feel compelled to do some sort of psychological gymnastics to become porn ‘value-positive’ and at the same time to seek a Hollywood-style ‘soul mate’.
Probably the saddest facet of all this unrealism is that realist sex and relationships, though mundane, are good. Really good in that favourite meal of childhood, school holidays, sunset, game of tip-footy with friends, kind of way.
Think about it: these things are not dull, or less than we should hope for, but we are beguiled into thinking they are not enough and will end up boring us.
I wonder perhaps if mankind is losing its imagination, almost like losing a muscle because we don’t use it. We are getting imaginatively weak and unfit, dare I say it, lazy. We act like all the best ideas come to us on film from other people, and we can only mimic these images.
Society needs some imaginative muscle to be built up. Like any training it will need to be done gradually. We need to believe we have the capacity for good ideas and fun inside ourselves, in our own ‘mundane’ situations, and we will not be being ripped off if we do not know what the people next door are doing. In reality, we will probably be doing the same things anyway.
Imaginative training and strengthening of self-confidence. These are more valuable for us and for our children than all the Botox and lubricant in the world.
Passionista by Ian Kerner
I thought this book was excellent. It is a book ostensibly for women about men, male sexual function and sexuality. But it would be a great read for men, too.
Ian is a psychologist who works as a sex therapist in New York. He is a very witty and mischievous writer, and most importantly incredibly, informative. As a doctor and a sex therapist I was impressed by his accurate information about male sexuality—I found no errors. I cannot speak to his accurate understanding of being male, but even in this he seems to acknowledge men who are not the same as him.
It is a book that seeks to outline male sexual functioning physically, mentally and psychologically, without becoming laborious. I feel it meets its aims. He starts by getting our male anatomy and physiology straight before dealing with how it and a man’s thought world and psychological history and background combine to affect his sexual life.The book deals with some of the novel sexual realities men today as opposed to men yesterday. For example, the readily available nature of pornography through the internet has, Kerner explains, made men’s imaginations lazy.
The underlying intention of Passionista is to encourage all women to become ‘passionistas’ , that is, women who are a bit dangerous, confident and unpredictable, because they feel confident they understand what men, and in particular their man, will enjoy.This book, which seeks realistically to increase female confidence and the sense of self worth, gets a big tick of approval from me.
And if you can have a good laugh while you are being empowered, all the better.
A single digit present: reflections of a sex therapist on Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is high on my list of corny events not worth noticing. It is yet another opportunity for us to walk headlong into the traps set by marketers, credit card companies and dogmatic social commentators. The awkward and/or extravagant gifts, the expectations, the dates and meaningless hookups—it’s all rather unimaginative really.
I do have a lovely partner of sixteen years, so maybe I’m caught in domestic bliss and have forgotten how desperate for affection one can be. A token, even if it’s rushed and tacky, can help a rocky relationship get back in balance. Plenty of my patients affirm that.
I just know that if my husband hands over a red fluff-trimmed teddy on Feb 14th, that’s the end of it, no matter how genuine his affections.
We medical sex therapists have a different view of the motions of the heart. Where others see a cute, red, curvy gift-carded splotch, we see the cause of that romance-killer, erectile dysfunction. The penis really is the key to the heart. The penile and cardiac arteries are very similar, so if your penis is a little soft and droopy, then it’s likely that your heart’s arteries are a bit clogged, too.
The best Valentine’s Day present that a kind man can give his beloved if he wants their relationship to flourish is this: an early morning jog, a healthy breakfast, a blood pressure and diabetes check, and a prostate examination. That’s a present to show you really care about the future of the relationship.
And it costs a single digit.
Celluloid v. Cellutite Sex
I’m worried, not only for subsequent generations but also for my own, about the entirely unrealistic way sex continues to be portrayed on screen. The press keep saying that people are becoming sexually active younger, and current research would indicate this is so (just slightly); but my goodness, these 15 year-olds must be getting some big and disappointing shocks. I’m not even going to talk about porn, which has been feeding males with unrealistic expectations for generations, and is doing so in intergalactic proportions now that web cams and the internet are a household ‘essential’. I’m concerned about that ‘female porn’ that goes by the name of ‘prime time free-to-air drama’.
I have not been a watcher of Grey’s Anatomy, though Patrick Dempsey has not escaped my notice, being quite the most delicious TV dramatic actor of the moment. But I’m a doctor and sometimes you really do desire to leave work, even if it is a Hollywood fantasy version of work. But for some unknown reason, I was lying in front of TV for the series finale. To be truthful, I was charmed, lured into the world of beautiful doctors and gorgeous patients. The female porn had my attention. I fully teared-up twice, first when a dog was euthanased (and I’m a cat person) and then when a heart transplant patient died and his delicious doctor fiancé had to be prised off his death bed by another rather delectable male doctor! Where was that URST and the hidden personal stylists when I was an intern? Dang.
The major female porn moment is a desperate sexual scene between the lead female, Dr Meredith Grey, and the smouldering Patrick. It was good quality stuff—I thought it was hot, and found myself wondering if my husband might dye his hair and change professions, or if I could just be married to someone else for a minute or two. No genitalia were revealed, of course, and nothing lurid happened to destroy the fab production values. Next time we see these star-crossed lovers they are pretty much redressed, except that the Dr Grey has misplaced her black undies (always called ‘panties’, a term this Aussie can’t stand!).
At this point, my problems began. I was thinking afterwards of all the little 14 year-old Grey’s Anatomy devotees, and their mothers, putting together their ideas about good sex from this scene. It’s a big problem. The fact is that either Dr McDreamy had a convenient condom in his dinner suit (not unheard of I grant you, but not mentioned), or Dr Grey in the next scene in her evening gown is not wondering about her bizarre love triangle so much as she is struggling to stop the semen running down her legs. It is possible, I suppose, that Dr Grey’s anatomy includes the most super-toned pelvic floor muscles, but those trick pelvises are a medical rarity, I assure you.
We poor women, young and inexperienced or older and wistful, who judge ourselves by these celluloid havens of unreality. When do we ever see or hear anything about the ‘wet spot’, the need for tissues or awkward fumbles for condoms? We start to think that the sex we are having (past, present or future) is deficient and yet another of our failures—like cellulite, hairy legs or gagging during oral sex. Sadly, Dr McDreamy really is doing us and our daughters no favours.
Don’t ask me how to solve this dilemma. It’s complex indeed. I just think it’s cruel that we love the myth so much.
Dr Amelia Haines is a sex therapist practising in Bondi Junction.
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