This is the 2nd installment of my Lonnie Barbach interview blog. This is what I hope will be the first of several interviews with people who I feel have positively contributed to a realistic perspective of female sexuality. Check her website out here, and if you missed the first installment, check it out here.
Something that intrigues me (as I have particular ideas about this represented in my movie, Science Sex and the Ladies) is the effect on the cultural landscape of sexuality from the 1982 book, The G-Spot and Other Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality. Although, one couldn’t really say this is when the G-spot was discovered, one could say that this was when the American culture discovered it. Since Lonnie had been a player on the sexual research and therapy scene during this time, I asked her about her impressions of the “G-Spot drop.” She told me she had rather mixed feelings about it. She did know Beverly Whipple, one of the co-authors of the book, and praised her as a really well-educated and excellent researcher, but while the g-spot exists, she also said the “G-spot drop” (that’s my stupid phrase – not hers) brought back a sense of the Freudian vaginal orgasm that had caused so much trouble in the past.
Freud’s ideas convinced a lot of people that vaginal orgasms were the only right orgasms for a woman, and it was really just starting to go out of vogue to think in those terms when the G-Spot dropped on the scene. Since the book brought to the forefront the idea that there was a center in the vagina that had sensitivity, Lonnie worried that there could be more issues with women believing there were right and wrong ways to function sexually. In fact, Lonnie really does care about making sure women know that no type of sexual release is better than any other. During our very first phone conversation, after I had written her an explanation of my rather stark stance on the definition of an orgasm, she cautioned me. Her experiences over the years have led her away from making such statements about female sexual response, and she hoped that I could get my point across without creating a sense in women that there was a right and wrong way to respond sexually. It’s a good point, and I too hope I can create more relief in women than anxiety. I think Lonnie and I both agree that there is unlimited ways in which a woman can enjoy and find pleasure in sexual activity. It is my somewhat inflexible stance on the definition of an orgasm where we may part ways. Although I stand by my resolute stance, I truly respect and appreciate the compassionate approach she takes to women’s sexuality. That’s probably what has made her such a successful therapist.
Speaking of orgasm I asked her whether she has seen women who she believes cannot physically orgasm. “Yes, it is not common, but there are drugs that can cause a person to be anorgasmic. But otherwise, most women can orgasm with a vibrator,” she told me. She has seen a small number of women who can only come with a vibrator. Why? I ask. She’s not sure exactly. She thinks it could be that they are simply used to the intensity of the vibrator that cannot be duplicated by other means. Also, she does know that anyone can stop an orgasm with his or her brain. We can prevent ourselves from orgasming, and that may be what is happening with those women.
When I asked her about women who were not sure if they’d orgasmed or not, I expected her to discuss the idea that if you are unsure, then you probably haven’t, but instead she discussed women who she believes had not recognized that they had orgasms. She told me, “I’ve had women who come into my office thinking that they can’t orgasm and coming out with nothing other than the realization that they have had one.”
I asked her to explain how she might begin discerning whether a woman had actually orgasmed or not. She replied, “Well, I would ask, why did you stop masturbating? If it was that their hand was tired or they got bored, then they probably didn’t orgasm, but if they stopped because it just felt like they were finished, or their clitoris got really sensitive then maybe they did orgasm. Then we could work on what it felt like up to that point and learn to extend that arousal so the release would be stronger and something they could feel more easily.” She went on to say that women often expect an orgasm to be some kind of mind-blowing, earth-shaking thing, and that expectation can cause confusion. It actually made a lot of sense. I don’t think I’m too far off by saying that usually the first orgasm a person has is not exactly their strongest. There is an amount of practice that goes into controlling and enhancing your own orgasm (Yay masturbation!!!). Anyway, it was an interesting insight, and it was a reminder that these things are not instinctual.
My final question to her was about her experiences with lesbians in therapy. I think there is often a sense that lesbians don’t have the kinds of orgasm issues that hetero women do; that because their partners are other women there is a belief that their sexual encounters are better. I have a sneaking suspicion that lesbians are first and foremost women, and thus have the same miseducation, unnatural expectations, and hang-ups that many hetero women face. Lonnie agreed saying, “With lesbians, it’s very similar except that they may feel even worse about their inability to orgasm because they feel they should be able to or it should be great. There’s even more pressure.”
At that, we both thanked each other, but what the hey, I’ll thank her again. I really appreciate Lonnie’s openness. The simple fact that she responded to my first letter was pretty exciting to me, and then later that she agreed to an interview – well that was just awesome. If you’re interested in learning more about Lonnie Barbach or reading any of her books, check out her website Here.
On April 7th, I had a fantastic opportunity to interview Dr. Lonnie Barbach. Dr. Barbach was extremely gracious during the hour phone interview, and I’m excited to share her story. I am hoping this will be the first of several interviews with people who I feel have positively contributed to a realistic perspective of female sexuality. Dr. Barbach is currently a working therapist and writer on the west coast. She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, CBS Morning News, and Charlie Rose, and has written advice columns for Playgirl Magazine, New Woman Magazine, eternelle Magazine and McCall’s. You can find information about her and about her books, CD’s, videos, and psychotherapy practice at http://www.lonniebarbach.com/.
I recorded our interview with the hopes of simply transcribing the majority of it for this blog. However, during the transfer of the recording, the file was corrupted, and I only have my notes and a few select transcribed quotes left. I won’t lie, this was highly depressing, but I learned an important lesson about data back-up. So…this blog will have less of a transcribed interview feel and more of a “profile” feel – which I actually think I like better. Enjoy.
Dr. Lonnie Barbach was kind enough to write me back after she received an unsolicited letter I had written her about my movie, Science Sex and the Ladies, and the influence her book, For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality had on it. For Yourself was her first book, published in 1975, and it began a long and respected career in sexual therapy. I asked why she decided to go into this field.
Lonnie: “Well, I got into it kind of serendipitously. I never really meant to go into sexuality – not that I had any negative feelings toward it. I just hadn’t considered it.”
Lonnie, you see, was a poor grad student and had just worked on a seminar with Planned Parenthood, when someone suggested she try for a job at UC Berkley as a Masters and Johnson sex therapist. It was a paying position, and she was, to say the least, all for a paying job. So, she did a lot of studying and found 2 male students who were interested in working with her (the Masters and Johnson therapy style necessitates that a male and a female therapist work as a team). They were accepted, but unfortunately, both men found that it would take up too much of their time. They dropped out, leaving Barbach high and dry.
I think this just might have been a lucky twist of fate though, because it left her open to pursue something even more interesting. You see, M&J sex therapy was only for couples. Men could go through it with a surrogate female in some cases, but women were out of luck if they had no man willing to go. Yet, there were several females who had come to the clinic and didn’t have a male partner - because they were single or homosexual or just didn’t want to involve the one they had just yet. So Barbach ended up designing a group therapy method for women. She did her research. She took some parts of the M&J techniques, modeled some aspects after the 9 step masturbation program of Lobitz and LoPiccolo, and took a cue from the consciousness raising groups at the time. She ran her first preorgasmic group for 10 sessions over 5 weeks, and by the end all the women were all able to orgasm. She brought in a bottle of Champagne to her first group in celebration.
At this point, it was clear that this therapy was working, and so she looked into getting some space for the therapy with the University of California San Francisco Human Sexuality Program because she needed some sort of umbrella to do this work under and she didn’t want to be limited to college students. UCSF Sex and Counseling Unit told her it was fine as long as she paid for the space. At the time there was this sort of ground-breaking sex-talk radio program called California Girls, http://www.bayarearadio.org/people/don-chamberlain_obit.shtml. It was super popular, and when women called in about orgasm problems, the host would send them to Lonnie. She soon had a waiting list of over 100 women, and the umbrella she was working under decided it was more lucrative to hire her than just have her pay rent for the room. So Lonnie eventually became the head of the women’s side of the human sexuality program there. These therapy groups worked, and a colleague told her she should write a book about them. I kinda liked her response to this. I think a lot of people feel this way. She said, “I spent my whole college career avoiding classes with final papers. Tests I’m fine with, but papers…” Besides, she sorta felt like this stuff was obvious. It was not though, and if I might say so, it still isn’t. Let me digress for a second.
Talking to Lonnie, she is quite humble about these therapy groups, but I want to reiterate that her work here was and is important. First of all, let me point out that she and the women in these therapy groups were the ones that coined the term pre-orgasmic, which is the term used now for people (usually women, of course) who have not had an orgasm. Previously the professional terms were things like anorgasmic, but turns out that’s an incorrect assessment. People are not, as these women demonstrated, physically unable to orgasm. They simply haven’t figured out how to orgasm yet. That’s a big deal, because then as now, around 10% of women fall into this category. That number for males is nowhere near that high.
When I asked her why she thought that the amount of pre-orgasmic women has not budged over the years, she mentioned that she wonders if it has to do with the fact that young people are always around - constantly replenishing themselves, if you will, and that young women are generally less orgasmic than older women. They haven’t discovered orgasm yet. I had never thought of it in those terms, and she may have a point. However, I would argue that it has at least a little something to do with our culture’s ignorance about something she found so obvious. There is a significant cultural element for females that inhibits our ability to orgasm or to orgasm regularly in partnered situations. Once those cultural elements are identified, female orgasms are no more mysterious than male orgasms. Lonnie learned this while creating and engaging in therapy to help pre-orgasmic women learn to orgasm, and other visionaries of the time, like Shere Hite, found this out through listening to many women speak about their experiences with sex and sexuality. I would argue that the number has not budged because the wisdom of people like Lonnie Barbach has not made it into the greater public knowledge on this issue. Of course, she would never say that, but I will.
The truth is, the therapy she founded works. I mean it works so well, she even got bored with it eventually. Later in the interview she told me that her work with helping pre-orgasmic women had become a little too easy and she wanted to delve into more complex areas, and like I said before, when someone suggested she write a book about her therapy groups, one of her first thoughts was that people wouldn’t be that interested because it’s too obvious. She had this stuff on lock, and now when women seek help in the right places they do too, but where the right places are has unfortunately not become obvious over the years. I think pop culture sex advice is more interested in sexual positions and how to give the perfect blow job than they are about how to legitimately help women navigate within the sexual landscape to a place where we can orgasm as easily as men do in partnered situations. The physical capacity is there. Anyway, my point is that I think Lonnie is somewhat modest and maybe doesn’t acknowledge what a visionary she is. I think she just enjoys what she does and continually craves challenges.
One can see her trend towards more complicated issues in the type of books she’s put out over the years. Her next book after For Yourself was For Each Other: Sharing Sexual Intimacy, which built upon many of the ideas in For Yourself but focused on creating satisfying sex together as a couple. She then co-wrote Shared Intimacies: Women’s Sexual Experiences and The Intimate Male: Candid Discussions About Women, Sex, and Relationships, in which she tackled the feelings men and women have about each other, sex and relationships. She later paired up with her partner, David Geisinger, Ph.D. to write Going the Distance: Finding and Keeping Lifelong Love which delved into how to understand, assess, and nurture a long-term monogamous relationship. The Pause: Positive Approaches to Premenopause and Menopause came out later where Lonnie tackled menopause. During all this she also began compiling erotic stories for women. She realized early on in her therapy career that women had a hard time finding erotica/porn that they liked. There simply wasn’t too much out there for and by women. She had been thinking of putting these books together for a long time, but wanted to make sure her career was well established, and that she wouldn’t be pigeon-holed. What I’m saying is that she enjoys a challenge, gearing her work towards more interesting and complicated subjects as her career grows.
Okay, I digressed heavily there. So…Back to Lonnie’s first attempt at writing and publishing a book. She did eventually see that writing For Yourself would be a good idea, but was seriously inexperienced when it came to this kind of endeavor. She headed to New York in a crazy heat wave and found a phone in an air-conditioned department store where she sat all day and called publishers. Telling this story, she kept reiterating how inexperienced and dumbfounded she was during this whole experience. The publishers were asking how long it would take to write? Would there be an index?...things she hadn’t really thought of before. Eventually through the help of Jay Mann and his friend, she published through Double Day, which she said turned out to be a fantastic thing.
The hardcover book sold something like 15,000 copies, which was nothing, but when the paperback came out, it exploded. It turned out to be a word of mouth thing, she told me, and I can completely see that. I imagine women who did read one of those original 15,000 books would have to have been blown away a bit. This was solid stuff, like I said before.
She told me a kind a fun story about the original hardcovers though, “When I took the hardcover copy out of the box it was just this white cover with off-centered type. I just put it back in the box. I was so upset.” It was so boring. However, Barbach was pleasantly surprised when the beautiful 1936 Edward Weston picture, “Nude,” graced the cover of the original paperback edition (which happens to be the copy I own), although she wasn’t exactly sure how they were able to get rights for that pic.
Check the 2nd installment of the Lonnie Barbach interview blog here!
Critiquing "The Online World of Female Desire," a Wall Street Journal ArticleThat Ain't So Sophisticated
I am going to write about an April 30th article titled, The Online World of Female Desire, in the Wall Street Journal online. Check it HERE. I saw it when a couple friends shared it on Facebook, saying it was interesting or something of that nature. I would like to point out that this was in the Wall Street Journal and that random people in the Midwest were accepting and sharing this information with their friends. This article and articles like it are influential and respected. This is not fringe science. This is the type of "science" that people are regularly exposed to. This is pop science, and that is why I think it's important to critique it.
This article was written by one of the men who wrote a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire, and he is telling the readers what insights they may find in the book. The researchers compiled tons of data from online service providers about who went where on the internet; particularly where women went for erotic thrills and where men went for erotic thrills. Conclusion? Don't be too surprised when I tell you that men went for explicit sexual depictions and women went for character driven romance. This difference among men and women demonstrates, the authors tell us, the differences in the female and the "much simpler" male brain. Apparently, the female brain can be equated to the old timey literary sleuth Miss Marple because it is made to gather clues and make conclusions about which man is Mr. Right and which is Mr. Wrong. This, we learn, is the source of "female intuition," and is "designed to solve a woman's unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family." The author clearly feels that the data he gathered exemplifies innate brain differences in the way men and women approach their sexual outlet. This author goes on to tell us, "Only if Miss Marple gives her stamp of approval do physical arousal and psychological arousal harmoniously unite in the female brain." In other words, our lady brains won't let us simply seek sexual arousal for sexual arousal sake the way man brains can.
Okay, I will accept the following things:
1. Internet search engines have a sophisticated way to track people and where they go, so I can accept that these researchers do have a massive amount of data about where women and men go on the internet, and it is more accurate than not.
2. More women than men hit up romance stories and more men than women hit up explicit porn sites.
Yeah, and that's it. I'm a little uncomfortable with the scientific credibility of identifying the cause of "women's intuition" largely because "women's intuition" is an idea that has no clear definition. It seems a little silly to assume a cause for something when one doesn't know what exactly that something is or frankly if that thing even exists. I mean people talk about beginner's luck a lot, but does that really exist?
I'm also uncomfortable with the conclusions the researchers have made from the internet history data they have compiled. Yes, the data shows women are by far the largest consumers of Romance Novels and Fan Fiction, just as the article says. However, my problem is what the researchers have concluded from their data, particularly 2 things.
1. The researches make a clear assumption that when women are consuming