Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
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Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #217 – March 2018


"Just like a man"? "Just like a woman"?

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According to my critics, my analyses are the pathetic opinions of "a man," "a Jew," "an old guy," "a sexologist," or "a liberal Californian."

Note that men don't accuse me of thinking like a man, Jews don't accuse me of thinking like a Jew, old people don't accuse me of thinking like an old person, etc. No, it's always people who DON'T identify with a particular trait who label me as coming from that narrow-minded, prejudiced place.

Which is to say that it's only women who accuse me of thinking like a man. And they never mean it as a compliment.

Some women claim that since I have never or could never have a particular experience, I can't think clearly about it. But although I might never have the experience of menopause or miscarriage, being male doesn't disqualify me from thinking about such things, collecting data about such things, or making logical inferences about such things. If I'm a sensitive human being, being male doesn't even prevent me from understanding experiences such as menopause or miscarriage. Every human being struggles to make meaning out of loss.

Just as white people can study racism, and the non-handicapped can study disability, men can study gender, sex discrimination, sexual assault, and various phenomena connected with porn.

A thoughtful, trained person can study a subject while having no experience in it. For example, a woman who's never been pregnant can study food cravings, mood swings, libido, sleep patterns, and anxiety in pregnant women. So can a man. If s/he's a good researcher and a faithful reporter of facts and ideas, the lack of experience with pregnancy should be completely unimportant to the work.

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly acceptable for the public (especially activists) to ignore or discount someone's work because that professional hasn't had direct, personal experience of what he or she is studying, describing, and opining on. Especially if they disagree with that professional's conclusions.

This is terrible.

Declaring that someone has no legitimacy to study something (because of gender, race, etc.) is dramatically different than critiquing their work, such as pointing out assumptions or methodologies that challenge the logic or value of its conclusions. Any criticism that starts with "How can Doc say anything relevant on topic X when Doc hasn't had any real-life experience with it?" isn't a critique of Doc's work, it's a critique of an entire field of inquiry.

That's unacceptable. Critique the work, folks, not the author's demographics or life experience.

Here are two things that are NOT legitimate critiques:
~ "I had a different experience than the ones Doc describes, therefore he doesn't know what he's talking about. But Doc doesn't understand my female experience—just like a man."
~ "Doc clearly doesn't understand the pain I'm in, therefore he doesn't know what he's talking about. Ignoring a woman's pain—that's just like a man."
* * *

I periodically get such critiques, taking the form of Klein has no right to an opinion on this. Klein's work is obviously the work of a man, and therefore biased or worthless. We don't have to analyze what he's actually written—he disagrees with our viewpoint and he's a man, so we are free to ignore his data and argument.

Or someone is in a lot of pain, and I'm not addressing their particular pain, so Klein's comments on social, cultural, political, or family dynamics are arrogant, self-referential, defensive, or the product of some privilege.

Or someone feels free to psychoanalyze me based on a superficial look at my latest policy analysis or clinical position, which clearly doesn't (and wasn't intended to) address their personal pain: Klein is obviously a porn addict, or unable to connect with women (tell that to my wife of 30 years), or insecure as a man, or uninterested in seeing beyond his (alleged) privilege. The proof—for starters, I'm male.
* * *

In my various writings and lectures during 2017, I:
~ cited FBI data showing that the rates of sexual assault and child molestation have declined;
~ explained why women need to take responsibility for comparing themselves to porn actresses and then resenting their husbands and boyfriends as a result;
~ discussed the advantages of college women limiting their binge drinking, including reducing their risk of sexual assault;
~ showed therapists that women who claim the "right" to a porn-free home are reinforcing power dynamics that will undermine the relationship;
~ suggested that women with men who have unreliable erections could choose to expand their sexual interests beyond intercourse (of course, men could too); and
~ said that Hillary Clinton being a woman was a poor reason to vote for Hillary (Note: see Betsy DeVos, Sarah Palin, Sarah Sanders Huckabee, Ivanka Trump, and Michelle Bachmann; and note: I voted for Hillary myself).

Each time, I was attacked as being clueless about women—just like a man." And attacked as having a "male perspective," which made my ideas about politics and about male-female relationship dynamics of terribly limited value.

When I periodically write that men rely too much on Viagra, I never get complaints about my "male perspective."
* * *

The whole phenomenon has made me wonder what it would be like to write using a woman's name, profile, and online photo. Would those who currently agree with me still agree? Would most fence-sitters become supporters or opponents? Would those who disagree with me feel obligated to do so more thoughtfully? Less rudely?

It would be terribly sad if simply changing my alleged gender made a dramatic difference in how my work was received.

I'm old enough to remember when the opinions of many serious public figures were dismissed because they were thinking "just like a woman." I'm proud to have watched our country change—criminalizing marital rape, ending gender-based newspaper employment ads, institutionalizing the word Ms in most public places.

The idea of deriding something as "just like a woman" has gone out of fashion, and I daresay no modern woman would stand for it.

So why has "just like a man" become increasingly acceptable?

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Cool Bedroom Tricks? Not Necessary For Better Sex

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Last week I gave a weekend retreat for a dozen couples in Chicago. The people came from a wide range of backgrounds and relationships: some couples were in 30-year marriages, one was cohabiting young professionals, with the rest somewhere in between.

The topic was Real Sex in a Virtual World: Enhancing Love, Sex, and Intimacy. The men and women were a charming mix of nervous, excited, and earnest—just what you want in a workshop like this. Although they seemed pleased to be there, most were wondering what they'd gotten themselves into.

To support people before they even got there, I sent everyone a brief questionnaire about their workshop goals, their intimacy habits, what they and their partner knew about each other's sexuality, and what inhibited them from discovering more.

Their private responses went pretty much like the responses I get from workshops across the country. One of the most common interests: tricks to liven things up in the bedroom.

Yes, after years of Oprah, thousands of self-help books, billions of dollars in sex toy sales, and "sexpert" blogs and podcasts and websites, people still want to know bedroom tricks. And they expected some from me.

The first half of the workshop was spent building trust between partners, and between the group and me. That went well—some humor, a bit of my own self-disclosure, and periodic snacks helped—setting the stage for the more challenging stuff.

That's when I told them I wouldn't be discussing bedroom tricks.

"But we're here to make sex better, aren't we?" frowned one participant.

I always get this response (I get it in sex therapy, too), which is perfect. It gave me the chance to say "Yes. We're learning how to create more enjoyable sexual experiences. And that has very little to do with bedroom technique."

So what does "more enjoyable sexual experiences" involve, if not bedroom technique?

~ Self-acceptance
~ Relaxation and being present
~ Communication

And that's what we talked about.

Creating sexual pleasure and closeness requires us to accept our bodies (most of us are not going to wake up tomorrow younger or more fit); to relax and let go of performance pressure; to be present rather than distracting ourselves with thoughts of chores, problems, or children (note that these things don't distract us; we distract ourselves); and to communicate what we like, don't like, want, and don't want.

But—aw, that's not what people want to hear.

So I usually sprinkle a few bedroom tips into a workshop. Things like putting a drop of lube inside the condom to help transmit warmth and sensation (and help keep it on); when inserting a penis into a vagina, to go verrry slowly, and keep it still in there for a few moments before starting to thrust; to kiss or caress your partner before involving anyone's genitalia; and to keep the lube in the night-table instead of the bathroom (unless, of course, you have sex in the bathroom).

To pee before sex whether you have to or not. To breathe through your nose when you kiss. If you have oral sex, to start in a position that's comfortable for both people—so someone doesn't have to interrupt to rescue their neck, arm, or back.

The Chicago couples appreciated stuff like that, and wanted more, but there's always a few people who want something exotic—a new position, encouragement to wear fishnet stockings, a few new porn titles. These days someone's always asking about trying tantra, BDSM, or swing clubs.

No. Folks, I always say, that's not what most people need. In fact, enhancing sexual satisfaction is both more complicated and less complicated than tips and positions and gear.

Most "tips" that actually work are about communication. For example,

~ Look at your partner's genitalia in the light, when you're not in the middle of sex. Have him or her give you a little tour about what's sensitive (in both positive and negative ways);
~ Be honest about what activities and words you or your partner want to take off the sexual menu for the next 3 years—and then honor that by forgetting about those things;
~ When you like or dislike something, say so; after sex, say what it is that thing that you like or dislike;
~ If you don't like the way your partner smells, say "let's shower first" or "let's brush our teeth first";
~ Make sure your questions and your partner's answers are specific enough. For example, if you ask "should I play with your nipples," the answer "yes" doesn't help much. Pull, pinch, or twist? Gentle, medium, or red-hot? Teeth? If the answer is simply "no," say "no." If the true answer is "well, only if you do it really carefully and pay attention to my breathing," say so.

In fact, the answer to many of the questions people asked me in Chicago—and everywhere else I go—is "ask her" or "ask him." People often want something easier—a special insight about "men," the perfect verbal expression, a simple way to overcome self-consciousness.

The desire for such things fuels the self-help industry, which perpetuates the same stale myths about desire, and publishes ineffective substitutes for self-acceptance, relaxation, and communication.

One Chicago participant was an older woman who had a tremendous insight Sunday morning: that her inhibitions were not the fault of sex or her body, but were understandable (albeit self-limiting) choices that she actually could change. As we wrapped up the weekend, she raised her hand and asked me to suggest her next step after the workshop.

"The same step we all need to take," I told the group as warmly as I could. "Whether we're 35, 45, or 75, we all need to grieve the loss of the beautiful bodies we had in our 20s, and begin to welcome the bodies we now have—rather than resent them." I paused to let that sink in. "And don't delay," I added. "You won't have today's body very long either, and in five years you'll miss it."

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