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O: What are the biggest myths about women's sexual satisfaction?
Laura Berman: One, that you have to be with a partner to be sexually satisfied, and two, that you have to have intercourse to be sexually satisfied. Sexual intimacy does not always have to end in intercourse. There are other ways to become aroused and have orgasms, including self-stimulation, oral sex, and massage.
O: If a woman complains that her partner can't satisfy her, is it her responsibility to teach him?
LB: Yes, to a certain extent. This is actually a big crusade of mine. Men learn about sexuality, about female sexuality, in a couple of ways. They may get some basics of anatomy and physiology as part of their elementary and high school education. They may hear about it from their friends—who are all misinformed anyway—or they may watch the average porn movie, whish is really geared towards a man's response, not a woman's. So you can have a man who has been with 200 women and still has no idea how to satisfy a partner, unless one of the women he has been with was able and willing to teach him. I think a lot of the responsibility does rest with the woman—as it does with the man to educate the woman about what he likes.
O: And in cases where no amount of tutoring seems to make a difference?
LB: Well, if a woman's partner just doesn't get it, or has a problem with erectile dysfunction or early ejaculation, it becomes a couple's issue. If there's something on his part that needs to be attended to, that's what we do first. Before we beef up her response, we want to make sure her partner is where he should be. In the meantime, I think an important tip for any woman is to know your body. As Woody Allen explained in Annie Hall: "It's sex with someone [you] love."
O: How can a woman heighten her sexual response, and how do you get over your shyness about doing that?
LB: There's still a sort of subtle social taboo. A "nice" girl doesn't feel absolutely entitled to her sexual response; she fears that if she advocates too much for her sexual needs, her partner will think she's a harlot or too demanding, and he'll be turned off. You'd think this would have vanished, but even Gen Xers, who have so much power in so many areas of their lives, are still struggling with their sexuality. They say, Look, I have this high-powered job, I probably make more money than he does, I'm assertive in all these areas of our relationship. If I start telling him what to do in the bedroom, he's going to run the other direction. But if he's worth keeping, he won't. I think the urge to run depends partly on the man and partly on the style of communication.
O: Tell me how a woman might let her partner know what she wants.
LB: Well, most important, the conversation shouldn't be in the bedroom. If there is something you'd enjoy or want more of—or less of—the time to talk about it is often when you're not being sexual. Like: "I really enjoyed last night. You know what I really loved is when you did...It would be great if you did more of that. I really like being touched here. I have this fantasy that I do such and such." In the bedroom, it gets a little tricky. When you're actually in a sexual situation, the directives should all be positive: "That felt really good" versus "That felt bad."