Tuesday, June 11, 2013


        Everyone expresses amazement that Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels have sold many millions of copies all over the world.  Yes, sex sells, but these numbers are very rare in any category of the book market.

        The story itself is a simple one; and in a way, the characters are simple people -- except for the fact that Christian Grey is extremely rich and handsome beyond description, but isn’t that a common fantasy of the single girl?  Anastasia, a 21-year-old college student is not pursuing Christian.  She meets him by chance when she helps out a friend who is ill.  The friend needs to interview Christian for a student newspaper and Anastasia volunteers to take on the assignment.  Christian seems benign; she is a literary major who likes to curl up at night with a British classic.  Anastasia is a virgin and has never even held hands with a man.

        In the beginning, they are like two exaggerated characters you might find in a summer beach novel.  The first hint of something dark comes when Christian sends her a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the subject of Anastasia’s senior thesis.  He has brought attention to the question from the text, “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger.”

        The danger from Christian is his compulsive desire to have sado- masochistic sexual experiences, with the female partner completely submissive.  His traumatic childhood is given as an explanation of this compulsive desire.

        There is no evidence of force or brutality or disregard of her unwillingness to participate in this behavior.  He makes it clear what the terms are and requests her to sign a contractual agreement to participate.

        Why does Anastasia agree?  Why do millions of readers, probably many of them women, identify with her, get pleasure from the detailed account of the pain and lack of control?  Her willingness to submit?

        There are no doubts many theories and conjectures about the popularity of this book.  What makes it so compelling?  In this age of the active, assertive female, fighting to break the glass ceiling and gain control, what attracts her to Anastasia’s submission?

        What came to mind is the research of my colleague, Dr. Barbara Hariton.  Thirty or more years ago, she wrote a doctoral dissertation about women’s sexual fantasies.  She studied a group of suburban, middle-class women who described themselves as happily married and enjoying their sexual life with their husbands.

        Dr. Hariton’s focus was on the sexual fantasies of these women.  She reported that a majority of them described that, during sex with their husbands, they frequently fantasized about being sexually overpowered by a strong, powerful male, or group of men, who were neither brutal nor frightening in any way.  These encounters were not viewed by any of the women as safe.  

        There are reports of subsequent research that has confirmed Dr. Hariton’s findings of women’s sexual fantasies – even in a time of even further liberation of women.

        What does it mean?  Is the research too limited?  Does it serve some biological purpose for the male to be sexually powerful to guarantee the continuation of the species?

        The questions interest me more than the book.




          Why do children like to play doctor?  I guess a parent could ask, why do children like to play fireman or policeman or ballerina or dentist?  And they do!  The fact that playing doctor often makes a parent anxious is because, for the parent, it has a sexual implication.  Children also play doctor by bandaging fingers and knees and pretending to give medicine and injections; but this is often not the usual association we have to children playing doctor.  What parents think about is children examining each other’s bodies, pulling down pants or lifting skirts and peeking at genitals.  Sometimes it means using a pretend rectal thermometer.

          Children often play this form of doctor game because they have a good deal of curiosity about the human body and sexual differences.  They are curious about everything in their growing world of experience; but even at a very young age, they sense some mystery about the way they are made.  Often they get better answers to their questions about almost everything else than they do about sexual differences.  Examining each other is one way of trying to find some answers.  Almost everyone remembers playing doctor, even though it occurs so early in life.

          Today, sex (and nudity) is everywhere.  Even very young children are exposed to sexual matters on TV, in the movies, on the Internet, and as a subject of lively discussion at the dinner table and among nannies on the park bench.

          A parent’s dilemma is greater than ever as to how to deal with their children’s questions.  But the real dilemma is their own confusion and their own curiosity.  True, today’s parents are more knowledgeable and hopefully more comfortable about sexual matters than their own parents were, but a whole new world of sexual experience opens up every day.

          How to react to it?  How to make sense of it?  How to incorporate it into one’s own value system?  How not to be too turned off by it or too turned on?  It may take some time for adults – parents – to integrate this explosion of sexual matters and to help young children cope with what they see and hear from every direction; but in the meantime, my guess is that playing doctor may get a lot more interesting. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Surprisingly, it is not always with Mr. Right. As a matter of fact, an inappropriate partner or an unavailable one often fuels the fire of sexual desire more than someone who meets the requirements of the ideal partner.

Would the story of Romeo and Juliet enthrall us to the same degree if theirs was not a clandestine affair? Would the outcome of that tragic tale be the same if their parents were not engaged in a vendetta that made their love prohibitive?

Then there’s the story of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” Remember? Diane Keaton plays the role of a conventional, compassionate teacher deciding to be her “own girl.” In the murky nightclubs she explores, she finds excitement with dangerous and unpredictable men and spurns the Mr. Right in her life. This story, too, ends in disaster.

But many of us experience yearning for an unavailable partner, pine over an ambivalent lover, or engage in risk-taking sexual encounters at some time in their lives. How can we explain the excitement in such behavior? And the intensity of the sexual feelings connected with the experience?

It’s not unlike other ways in which some people, especially in their younger years, break the rules by driving too fast, drinking too much, or getting involved in drugs.

Taking risks seems to offer a feeling of power, a sense of entitlement to engage in behavior that has been prohibited in the past.

If the risks involved in the area of sexual behavior haven’t led to disastrous or very painful consequences, most people move on to want sexual experiences to be part of an intimate, secure relationship.

Memories of these experiences often linger on and may trigger excitement in fantasy life and even add excitement to sex with Mr. Right!



No Ring, Don’t Bring may not mean anything to you, but it is a familiar phrase to those involved in the process of planning a wedding, whether they are the bride and groom, their parents or those on the guest list. The ring referred to, of course, is an engagement ring.

The tradition of an engagement ring goes back to ancient times and was popular in many cultures. It has not always meant an agreement to marry, but it often conveyed that promise; it could also be a promise of fidelity, friendship, or eternal commitment. It could be made of metal, stone, or various metals and gems. It is only in modern times that a diamond is the most popular choice for an engagement ring. I guess ever since “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” became a popular belief.

The placement of the ring on the woman’s fourth finger of her left hand is also a tradition from ancient times based on the belief that there was a vein on that finger that led straight to the heart – the vein of love. There’s no reference I found that men have such a vein – so that’s maybe why men generally do not wear engagement rings – although they have begun to wear wedding rings.

Today, the engagement ring seems to have taken on a new function – you might say as a ticket of admission to the wedding – especially for single people. Who is invited and how many guests has probably always been an issue, dependent on many different factors. One issue today is the exorbitant cost of a wedding; therefore, the guest list is carefully surveyed.

Single friends, both male and female, are often told they cannot bring an escort, a date, a dancing partner, or a potential mate unless there is evidence of a committed relationship; and the best evidence of that is the engagement ring! No Ring, Don’t Bring!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I turn the key and the door opens.  I walk into my office waiting room.  Although I have not redecorated it for a few years, I think of it as more attractive than any of the waiting rooms where I have waited as a patient.
I feel proud as I look around.  I am a Master of the Universe here.  Not a Wall Street Master of the Universe, but a respected and successful member of my profession.  Here I have the pleasure of doing work that contributes a rich dimension to my life.  Here I have earned money that has contributed to my sense of self-worth.
I am of a generation in which middle class generally did not work after college.  Their chief goal was to marry and have children.  I wanted that too, but I always wanted to pursue a career.
Here in this office, my husband and I had adjoining suites; and for a time, collaborated as a sex therapy team.  He would be proud of me that I continued in this space and purchased the office when the building became a co-op.  I rent the extra suite and so have some sense of being a business person.
The one disturbing feeling that comes over me from time to time is that my life here will come to an end -- that I will become too feeble in mind and body to be a Master of the Universe and patients will no longer come through that door.
But until that day comes and I put my key in the lock, I will as a Master of My Universe and I feel fulfilled.