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Ian Kerner, Ph.D., is a sex expert, certified counselor and author of the new book, Sex Detox: Recharge Desire, Revitalize Intimacy, Rejuvenate Your Love Life. He’s also the author of several other sex books, notably She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, and is known as the sex doctor to generations X and Y. Kerner has been featured on “The Today Show” and “Howard Stern,” writes a regular column for Cosmopolitan, and has been featured in Redbook, Maxim, and Men’s Health, among other publications. He shares his advice and wisdom on having better sex.
How did this entire journey into wanting to help people with their sex lives come about? Was it a personal mission?
Yes, it was very much a personal mission. I was in a relationship where intimacy was an issue, and we didn’t really know where to turn. We went to a number of different types of relationship therapists, and everybody was really pretty ill-equipped around the sex stuff, and I realized this is such an important area.
The typical cliché of a sex therapist, I think, is somebody in their 50s or 60s handling couples [of the same age]. I just felt as a young person, there was such a need for that guidance around intimacy. So, we went to see a sex therapist, finally. The relationship did not survive, but [the therapy] was incredibly life-transforming.
Your new book is called Sex Detox. How do you define a toxic sex life?
I think people do develop toxicity in their love lives. I think we get into relationships, particularly long-term relationships, where sex becomes routine, nonexistent, joyless or obligatory. In some cases, it’s the baggage that we’re bringing from previous relationships, or the baggage that we’re bringing from childhood, and in some cases, it’s really specific to the relationship. Hopefully, my program is a way to start addressing that and start cleansing your sex life and renewing it.
For those who think their sex life is already pretty good, how can Sex Detox take them to the next level?
I think that relationships are really journeys. In some ways, being in a relationship and having good sex is kind of like ordering good Chinese food. It’s like “Hey! It’s comfy, it’s cozy, it’s quick and it’s satisfying. There’s a fortune cookie, I know the fortune’s not going to come true, but I’ll still read it at the end.” I’m not trying to put down good, comfortable sex, but I think, for many of us, we start to take it for granted. We start to become a little tuned out and turned off. We start to become disconnected. I think this book is about catching those moments. My target is reaching the people where this stuff has been building for a little while and needs to get worked out.
For someone who is in dry spell, the basis of this new book of yours is a sex fast. How does that work?
It’s a 30-day program where I’m asking people to take sex off the table for a period of time, which really goes back to the [basic] principles of sex therapy. Masters and Johnson, who pioneered sex therapy suggested [that] sex therapy begins with [a realization].”Maybe you have to take a step backwards in order to take a couple of big steps forward.”
Over the course of those 30 days, I really ask [people] to look at sex as more than just sex, but more of a multidimensional aspect of your life where your sexuality and your sex life is affected by your previous relationships, your current relationship, your health, your self-esteem and the images that we ingest daily. I ask people to sort of turn [sex] off for a period of time and look at each of these facets. That’s what I’m really doing for the 30 days, so every day there’s a new reading, a new focus, a new piece of understanding your sex life and what it means to be sexual.
I have to be honest, in almost every case I’ve worked with, the people end up having sex before the 30 days [were over]. They ask: “Was that bad? Did I make a mistake? We had this naughty interaction and things got racy.” I always say, “it’s not about not having sex, it’s about saying no to a certain kind of sex.”
What kind of personal issues do you see affect someone’s sex life?
I think many people do tend to look at their sex lives in a vacuum, and the truth is that you’re not going to have a satisfying sex life if you’re not having the kind of life that supports having a satisfying sex life. I think stress outside the bedroom is a huge inhibitor of libido; in women, emotional stress and family stress really often come to the forefront and dampen desire. I think one of the things that women don’t always understand about men is that work-related stress, financial stress, and financial pressures have a huge impact on libido. So, if a guy is not sure what his Christmas bonus is going to be, or if he’s going to be getting that raise in this new year, or if he’s worried about the mortgage payments, he could really face a complete shut down of his sex life.
What are some of the fun ways to put sex back on the agenda?
It’s sort of become a cliché, but it is true, the mind really is the biggest sex organ—much more so than our genitals. The brain is really the pathway to arousal. So, the good thing is that it often takes very little to stimulate a much more exciting sex life.
Recently a woman approached me and she said, “I’d love to be able to talk about this with my guy. I’m afraid he’s going to judge me. I’m afraid he’s going to think I’m some sort of kinky pervert.” I said, “when you wake up one morning, just say to him, ‘hey, I had a sexy dream about you last night’ and just give him a little taste of it.” Make it about a sexy dream, make it about a sexy thought. It’s possible you’re in a relationship and the foreplay really sucks, or you don’t like the way your guy kisses anymore, or there’s a fantasy you want to share, but it’s difficult to do so. I think one of the mistakes is that we often jump to taking our problems seriously, then giving feedback. Or, we jump to giving instructions, when really talking about sex should be sexy, creative, fun and naughty.
Is there a place that’s better to talk about these things? Is it in the bedroom? Is it at the breakfast table? Is it in email?
You know, email is not bad. One thing I’ve actually learned is that when it comes to talking about sex, whether you want to give some sort of feedback or you even want to discuss something sexy, is that men are actually not very good at direct eye contact. Men are side by side communicators. Women are face-to-face communicators. I don’t think that the best time to have a sex talk is looking someone right in the eye over breakfast. I think it’s in an easygoing, comfortable, often side-by-side manner. Taking a walk, taking a drive, sitting on the couch, but not those moments when we have to look tenderly into each others’ eyes, or look at each other and have this serious conversation.
Your book addresses the concept of a “love map.” How does that work?
I personally believe that when it comes to our desires, our turn-ons and our turn-offs, that we all have a unique sexual fingerprint or template. I think part of the problem in contemporary culture is that we are bombarded with sexual imagery. We constantly see images that tell us what’s sexy, what’s not, what should make us feel sexy, what shouldn’t. I think one of the dangers is we become cut off from our unique turn-ons and turn-offs.
The idea of a love map is that you have a unique, individual sexual fingerprint that’s really a map to your turn-ons and turn-offs, and your desires and your fantasies. Not only do you need to get in touch with that love map, you need to accept your personal love maps and be able to navigate it together. In the book, I have a lot of exercises that help people to understand the terrain of their love maps. You’d be so surprised how many people are out of touch with what turns them on. Unless you give your imagination free reign, and unless you respect your love map and commit to exploring it and, in some way, sharing it with your partner, what you’re going to end up with is a very mechanical and very dead sex life.
What about people who aren’t in a relationship right now?
One of the things I talk about in Sex Detox, particularly this applies to dating, is the neurochemical rollercoaster that can ensue. When you’re dating, there’s a lot of unpredictability and anxiety. What happens is it lowers serotonin levels in the brain and raises dopamine and norepinephrine levels, and it actually creates a mania, or depression or even addiction, if you’re the kind of person who thinks “I’ve got to go on another date this week. Why am I not getting poked or flirted with or winked at on one of these [online dating] sites?” Part of my main value in creating a dating detox for single people is to help them address the sexual side of things, but also to give them a cooling-out period and breathing space. I think one of the things of the first 30 days that you should do is to cool out, get a bit of perspective, recalibrate and reset your aspirations in a realistic way.
What is the belief that you personally go to in times of change?
I believe that there are times in life where I have to hit bottom to rise up from the ashes. I think being able to be optimistic about life, being able to be entrepreneurial about life, being able to believe that I could reinvent myself has been a fundamental guiding principle for me.
The best thing about change is…
…unpredictability. Not that I’m any kind of thrill seeker, but I’m not good with routine and monotony. So, to me, change is a constant opportunity for expansion.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
One of the biggest changes I ever made for myself was being able to look back on my childhood and all the issues that I thought had formed my personality and my struggles, namely having an alcoholic father who left when I was very young, who was very charismatic, who overshadowed all of my childhood and most of my adult years. The biggest change I was able to make was seeing that was not the real story, but [it] was, in fact, a different set of relationships that had guided me and formed me. I was able to revise my understanding and my version of my story of myself.
For more information on Ian Kerner, visit www.shecomesfirst.com
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