Inside Sex Therapy
In her 23 years as a talk show host, Oprah says she's seen a drastic shift in the way women are approaching sex. "It used to be, I think, women would have discussions on this show and send us letters about having to sort of put out for their husbands and felt it as an obligation," Oprah says. "More recently, through the magazine and e-mails we're getting [it seems] that women themselves are more interested in being pleasured."
Dr. Berman says that's fantastic news for women and their relationships. "They're letting go of some of the guilt and the shame that they may have grown up with around sex and saying, 'You know what? This is really an important part of my life, and it's something that I don't want to live without,'" she says. "And when sex is working in a relationship, it's just one small part of the working relationship. But when it's not working, it really can take on a life of its own and really fray the fiber of your connection to one another."
The biggest mistake Dr. Berman says she sees couples make is expecting sex to happen spontaneously. "It's totally different from when you were in that initial infatuation stage where you couldn't get enough of each other," she says. "You're now in a totally different stage of your relationship, and if you don't make time for it and make a shift in your mind and start to enjoy that, then it's just not going to happen."
Dr. Berman says to make an appointment with one another—it's more fun than it sounds. "What happens is you find that you shave your legs that day. He sends you some nice e-mails. You have some back and forth," she says. "And it's kind of like this anticipation of this time you know you're going to have together."
Shawn says Kerrie's lack of initiation makes sex feel like a chore for him. "There's no enticement. There's no seduction. Nothing. If you want it, you're going to have to initiate it," he says.
When they are sexual, Kerrie tells Dr. Berman that she doesn't always get back what she gives. Kerrie says she often performs oral sex on Shawn, but Shawn doesn't reciprocate. "In the very beginning, there was occasionally and now virtually never," Kerrie says.
Finally, Shawn opens up about his reluctance. "I think that I made a mistake watching the birth of our daughter," he says. "It completely distorted my perception, and I've never been able to get by that. Ever."
Dr. Berman says she's heard this story from many men. "It's hard for women to hear because we want our husbands or our partners in the room with us when we give birth ... and it's scary for them," Dr. Berman says. "And so what had happened is he just said forget it and hadn't gone back there, and here it had been years and years later, and things had gone back to normal."
For his homework assignment, Dr. Berman wants Shawn to look at his wife's vulva. "Just look," she says. "Take a few minutes to make a little visual assessment of what's in Kerrie's genitals."
Later that night, a tired Shawn takes a peek, but Kerrie isn't satisfied with his effort. "You did not look at that place long," she says. "I'm telling. You're completing your assignment half-assed."
Shawn disagrees. "She didn't put a time limit on that," Shawn says.
When Kerrie talks to Dr. Berman, she says she feels that Shawn was half-hearted on his homework. When Shawn talks to Dr. Berman, he says that he was comfortable with the assignment—but Kerrie wasn't. "I could see almost a sense of embarrassment," he says.
Later in the car, Kerrie and Shawn discuss what they each talked about with Dr. Berman. "Maybe my halfheartedness was due to your uncomfortableness," Shawn says.
"Maybe my uncomfortableness was due to your halfheartedness," Kerrie says.
Dr. Berman says it's natural for women like Kerrie to feel some unease. "She's got poor genital self-image herself," she says. "She's uncomfortable receiving that pleasure orally, and she's uncomfortable with her genitals. She's self-conscious about how they look or how they smell or how they appear."
Dr. Berman says she's seen their communication improve as well. "They're big intellectualizers. When they start to have problems, they'll start going in their heads and getting very philosophical about everything, and they don't really talk to each other about their feelings," Dr. Berman says. "And they've gotten so much better at that, which I think has really helped the overall relationship, which leads to better sex lives."
There's only one obstacle the couple needs to overcome, Dr. Berman says. "She still has a story in her head that 'He doesn't like it, and so I'm uncomfortable with it,'" Dr. Berman says.
For any woman in a situation like Kerrie's, Dr. Berman has a simple suggestion—start loving your body. The better you feel about your genitals, Dr. Berman says, the more your sex life will improve. "What we have found in the research is that women who have positive genital self-image, who feel good about their genitals and comfortable with their genitals, are six times more likely to have sexual satisfaction than women who are not," Dr. Berman says. "If you don't love your vulva, who will?"
One of Marcus and Tamica's biggest problems is that their sex drives don't match. "Tamica said to me once, which I never got, she said that my sex drive is frustrating to her," Marcus says. "My sex drive is no higher than it was when we first met and it was perfectly fine for you then, and hers changed and mine didn't."
Tamica says she holds sex back to keep Marcus from wanting more. "He's all over me after [sex]. Like I can't get a breath in like the next day," she says. "So I'm just, like, 'God, well if I give it to him today, he's going to want it tomorrow, he's going to want it Wednesday, he's going to want it Thursday.' So I back off to give it to him in rations so that he's not attacking me."
For Marcus, lack of sex is a deal-breaker in marriage, but Tamica worries more about being financially secure. Growing up, Tamica says she struggled financially and was sometimes even hungry. Although Marcus and Tamica are comfortable financially, Tamica admits that she always wants more. "I felt like he could make more money. He could buy me a bigger house," she says. "I just wanted him to take care of everything. I didn't want any stressors at all."
Marcus says no dollar amount could bring them closer. "Even if we had all the money that you want us to have ... it will be something else," he says. "If you're not realistic, then we're not going to enjoy this marriage like we should."
As a result, Dr. Berman says Tamica began to resent Marcus. "She withdrew from the relationship, and if you're resentful toward someone, you're not going to want to have sex with them," Dr. Berman says.
Tamica admits that she withheld sex from Marcus as a punishment. "I felt like he wasn't worthy of me having sex with him if he could not do things I needed him to do," she says. "I would give it to him in rations."
Rationing sex, Dr. Berman says, is protecting yourself when you don't completely trust your partner. "When you have sex with someone, you're giving them a gift," Dr. Berman says. "You're sharing something very sacred and powerful with them, and if you're not feeling good about them and good about the relationship, it's really hard to do."
Marcus says he had some trust issues of his own. He says Tamica was the one who ended every relationship she had before him. "It kind of said something to me, but I ignored it," he says. "As we've been going through this, that's been coming up inside of me—like she's preparing her bag so she can get out," Marcus says.
Then, Tamica tells Dr. Berman her biggest fear is Marcus giving up on her and leaving.
To help Marcus and Tamica regain trust in each other, Dr. Berman prescribes some high-flying homework—a trapeze exercise. "It's about cooperation and trust. You're going to be doing an activity that also allows for Marcus to be in that knightly role of holding and protecting," Dr. Berman says.
Watch Marcus and Tamica work on their trust issues in the trapeze exercise.
Initially, Tamica is hesitant. "I've got you. I'm not going to let you go," Marcus says. Finally, she makes the leap.
"It felt good, and after that I was confident. He's the one carrying me through every other exercise now," Tamica says. "I think at that moment I understood the objective of love. I understand that it wasn't what I wanted. It was doing what was best for my husband and thinking about his well-being as well as me. And I let go."
Tamica's leap of faith changed everything, Dr. Berman says. "As soon as she let go and started trusting him, everything changed in the bedroom as well. And she was able to reach orgasms during sex in a way that she hadn't before," Dr. Berman says.
As a result of their new emotional connection, Marcus says his view of sex has changed. "It actually got to the point where I didn't want sex as much as I thought I wanted it because we put more quality into the sex that we were having," he says.
Tamica says she's even keeping a sex journal. "It kind of made us realize, as we went back through the journal, we discovered our love language for each other. And, you know, when he did things like he bought me flowers or he helped me with the girls. He helped me with soccer. You know, things like that, he got sex a whole lot in one week," she says. "In turn, I understood and realized what his love language was, and he just wants to be held. He wants to be touched. He needs physical affirmation."
So how do you reconnect with your partner if you don't have a trapeze available? Dr. Berman says to start with taking an honest look about the stories you're telling yourself about your partner. "Your brain is your main sexual organ," Dr. Berman says. "[Ask yourself], 'What are the stories I'm telling myself about my partner about whether they're going to step up. Whether they're going to take care of me. Whether they're worthy of me.' ... Start to really recognize those things yourself and then out them to your partner. That's a trust exercise."
Dr. Berman recommends a technique called sensate focus to restore a couple's sexual connection. "Start by just touching each other. You both get undressed and you spend 10 minutes touching your partner front and back in a very sensual—not a massage, not a tickle—very sensual way. The person receiving the pleasure just focuses on what the sensations are. What feels good. What doesn't feel as good. The person giving the pleasure tries to communicate love and connection through touch."
Avoid touching any sexual organs for awhile, Dr. Berman says. "Take turns doing that to each other for a while and slowly work your way up into more explicit sexual behavior," she says.
Dr. Berman says parents should use the correct terminology for their body parts from a young age. "Around fifth grade, you're going to start talking to them about what to expect with puberty. How their bodies are going to be changing," she says. "It's so important to certainly tell our daughters about safer sex and sexually transmitted diseases and the risks of pregnancy. But don't forget to teach her about the joy and the gift that sex is as well."
In order for a young woman to achieve sex for pleasure, joy and passion, Dr. Berman says she must understand where it comes from. "She has to learn to love her body and to love the gift that her sexuality is," Dr. Berman says. "And then she's more likely to be selective with who she gives it to as well."
Be sensitive and talk about it out of "the moment," Dr. Berman says. "I recommend talking about it outside the sexual encounter and to frame it in the positive," Dr. Berman says. "And then the next time you're in the bedroom, you show him. 'Remember I was telling you how much I like [that]? Here's how I like to be touched.' And so you sort of guide him a little bit. But you frame it in the positive. Never in the negative."
The worst thing women can do is to fake an orgasm. "The problem is that it sets up a lie in your relationship, and eventually you come to resent it," Dr. Berman says. "Men need to understand that women don't reach orgasm necessarily every time. That their orgasms vary in intensity. And while men find it very easy to reach orgasm and that's the end of the sexual encounter for them, women are a little bit different."
As sex decreases in a relationship, so does any nonsexual physical attraction. "The threshold for anger gets lower. [Couples] fight more," she says. "You become more like roommates or co-parents, if you're lucky."
Take some time to define intimacy in your own relationship—and realize sex is only part of the package. Think about emotional intimacy, Dr. Berman says. "I'm talking about that feeling of connection. Closeness. Trust. Romance," she says. "And women in particular, I mean, that's what makes us tick in a relationship."
Overall, realize that—like any relationship—sex takes work. "It takes effort. It takes connection, and it takes learning what your partner's language of love is," Dr. Berman says. "If you try to love your partner in the way you like to be loved, it may not translate for them. So really learn what makes you feel loved, what makes you feel cared for. And love your partner that way ,and you'll see the changes that happen in your relationship."
Get instructions for seduction, learn how to nurture your relationship and more!