You've never read a manual as warm, friendly, liberating, thorough (846 pages), and potentially sex-life-changing as the Guide to Getting It On! O's Liz Brody has a frank conversation with author Paul Joannides.

O: What do you say when you're at a cocktail party and someone asks, "So what do you do?"

Paul: I usually say I'm a publisher or an author—"psychoanalyst" tends to make people just as uncomfortable as telling them you're a sex book writer. If anyone pries, I'm very adept at changing the subject.

O: And your wife—how does she take being married to Mr. Sex Guide?

Paul: Toni is a criminal defense attorney, and she helps me with the editing. We've been married—oh, God, don't you dare say I don't know—I think nine years. When people ask her about the guide, she'll say, "It's just what Paul wishes sex could be."

O: Best home-tested technique in the book?

Paul: I would be a dead man if I went there.

O: What's new in sex research?

Paul: I read enough scholarly sex articles to euthanize an elephant. [Joannides is on the editorial board of the American Journal of Sexuality Education.] It's frightening how boring researchers can make an exciting subject. Like much of medicine today, sex research is highly dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. One of the great tragedies of our time is that now they're trying to find a Viagra for women, and the latest effort is testosterone—the same hormone they used to give the Olympic athletes from the Soviet bloc. But you wouldn't believe how many women who report low sexual desire are suddenly cured—without pills or patches—when they find a new partner who wants to talk to them about sex.

O: How do you start talking

Paul: I don't have a magic answer for opening up in the bedroom. But couples should give themselves permission to admit that they don't have a clue what they're doing. It really takes time to learn what makes another person feel good, no matter how experienced anyone is.

O: Cellulite, thighs, butt—panic!

Paul: In all the sex surveys we've done on our website, and tons of others I've seen, I don't remember any guys complaining about the size of their partner's rear end—or cellulite. By the time a man wants to sleep with you, he finds you attractive. Period. If there's any way to free your energy from that anxiety and put it into having fun with him, believe me, you'll enjoy many more good times ahead.

O: What about, "He's not aroused. He's just not that into me."

Paul: Get rid of that idea! Women do all sorts of numbers on themselves—and on him—if his penis doesn't rise to the occasion. It probably has a lot more to do with what happened at work. Understand that sometimes the penis does what a man wants it to, and sometimes it just doesn't. There are a lot of other ways to please each other, and the two of you can have a fabulous sex life perfecting those.

O: What drives one to get into this line of work?

Paul: Revenge. Revenge for eight years of strict religious schooling in California's San Joaquin Valley. Also, one doesn't become a psychoanalyst from the happiest of upbringings. My parents were both from San Francisco, and my father moved them to this farm town. To say that my mother was angry at him for the next 50 years is to put it mildly.

O: Credentials, credentials...

Paul: When I got to Berkeley in the 1970s, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. But I vowed that hell would freeze over before I ever went to graduate school. I ended up going for ten years.

O: Ten years! You must have a PhD.

Paul: You would think. I've supervised doctoral students and I'm a graduate psychoanalyst, which means I can be the training psychoanalyst for psychoanalytic candidates, but instead of writing a dissertation on some hideous psychoanalytic concept such as "An Epistemological Comparison of Projective Identification in the Semiotic Narratives and Intersubjectivity of the Pretraumatized Borderline Patient"—seriously—I wanted to practice and do other things.

O: What other things?

Paul: I was in Los Angeles and involved in some of the first research on PCP babies; I was also working with teenage prostitutes and gang members. I'd started writing a textbook for kids on the "chemistry of bikinis, skateboard wheels, and surfboards"—that was the title—thinking it was a good way to get them excited about science. I was going to do a whole series, including a textbook down the line on sex. But then I was suddenly so broke, I thought, "I'll go ahead and knock out the sex guide."

O: Dr. Ruth meets Dr. Drew?

Paul: After working on it for months and months, I give it to a friend, a playwright. This is, oh, probably about when the Jurassic phase was coming to a close [early '80s]. She reads it and hands it back to me. "You know," she says—and I'm sitting there thinking, "Wow, she's only highlighted about three sentences in the whole thing, so I guess she really liked it"—"as women, we're really sick and tired of the great white doctor telling us what does and doesn't work for us. And that's the tone you've got in this dog. Those three sentences I highlighted? That's the tone you need to have."

O: So how long did it take to finish the book?

Paul: Seven years. And then no publisher would touch it. Nobody. Finally, one company was interested. And I looked at their catalog and the list included The Anarchist Cookbook. It was hard, but I just couldn't be with the same publisher that put out books on how to make bombs. My poor agent was bleeding from the ears. So I borrowed money and started my own publishing company. Now the guide, in its fifth edition, is doing really well. Barnes & Noble is probably our biggest customer, and it's assigned reading in a bunch of college courses; it's even in some medical schools. Right now this is my full-time gig. I haven't seen patients in three or four years.

: Got to ask: What's the best sex tip ever?

Paul: It's such a horrible cliché, but the best sex tip in the world is to listen to each other.

4 Tips from the Guide to Getting It On

"Couples don't hesitate to get books and magazines on travel, business, and gardening—and they spend time discussing these subjects. That's not always true with sex. You don't need to look at hard-core magazines—consider something more classy, like a book by a good erotic photographer. Or pick up an anthology of erotic literature and read parts of it to each other. Do what you can to find humor. It helps any discussion that might otherwise be filled with anxiety."

2. "Some people struggle to get fully into their bodies. Some have trouble relaxing enough to enjoy what is being shared with them sexually. Learning to massage and be massaged might help your body put down its armor. If it's anxiety-producing at the beginning, go slowly and try to enjoy the gains you are able to make."

3. "You might consider planning a time and place to get naked together when the sole purpose is not just to have intercourse. A lot of honesty and trust can be generated that way. Some couples enjoy taking each other's clothes off; others have fun playing strip poker or using a blindfold on the partner being undressed. Occasionally, people find it helpful to tell each other some of the things they do and don't like about their bodies. Just getting your fears out in the open usually helps you feel more comfortable."

4. "The exquisite brush-off: Have your man spread his legs, and gently brush his inner thighs, testicles, penis, and abdomen with a soft makeup brush. Making circles around the scrotum can feel especially nice. The sensation can be relaxing and titillating at the same time. Brush his face, back, feet, and hands. If you're lucky, he'll grab the brush and return the favor."

— From the Guide to Getting It On! (Goofy Foot Press)

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