With new show, book, Berman tack­les sex prob­lems

The Washington Post Sunday - - E8 ONLOVE - BY ELLENMCCARTHY mc­carthye@wash­post.com

When Laura Berman was fin­ish­ing her doc­toral work in psy­chol­ogy dur­ing the early 1990s, she of­ten en­coun­tered cou­ples who were strug­gling with sex­ual is­sues — lack of de­sire in some, erec­tile dys­func­tion or mis­matched li­bidos in oth­ers. Berman turned to her col­leagues and su­per­vi­sors for guid­ance on how to help her pa­tients, but she­foundthat even­some pro­fes­sion­als were un­will­ing to ad­dress what went on in the bed­room.

“It was just some­thing that was blown off,” Ber­mansays. “So I started ex­plor­ing it onmy own.”

She switched her dis­ser­ta­tion topic to the fac­tors that made some clin­i­cians com­fort­able of­fer­ing sex ther­apy while many oth­ers shied away. And she made it her mis­sion to help peo­ple — es­pe­cially women — take con­trol of their sex­ual health. This week sees the launch of her show on the Oprah Win­frey Net­work, “In the Bed­room With Dr. Berman,” and the re­lease of her self-help book, “It’s Not Him, It’s You! Howto Take Charge of Your Life­andCreate theLove­andIn­ti­ma­cyYou De­serve.”

On the show, Berman vis­its cou­ples’ homes for an in­ten­sive three-day ther­apy ses­sion to ad­dress prob­lems in­side the bed­room and out. In the first episode, she coun­sels a woman who can cli­max only with aid of a laun­dry bas­ket but also learns that the cou­ple’s real prob­lems are rooted in an off-kil­ter power dy­namic.

“Sex ther­apy in its purest form is, to me, too sim­plis­tic to re­ally ad­dress what’s go­ing on— be­cause sex is never just about sex,” Berman says on the phone from Chicago, where she hosts a nightly show on Oprah’s ra­dio net­work and con­tin­ues to see clients in a pri­vate prac­tice. “It’s about what you bring to the re­la­tion­ship — how you’re feel­ing about your­self, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues.”

Berman is pleased with the way so­ci­ety has opened to more frank dis­cus­sions of sex. But while women in­creas­ingly feel en­ti­tled to sex­ual plea­sure, she says, many are still afraid to ask for what they need.

“I work with heads of com­pa­nies who can boss peo­ple around all day long but wouldn’t dare men­tion what they wanted in the bed­room,” Berman says. She be­lieves that in sub­tle ways, women have been taught that they are “at the ef­fect of ev­ery­thing,” wait­ing for­mento pro­pose or take the lead in their sex­ual lives. “It doesn’t oc­cur to us thatwe can hold of the reins to our lives,” she says.

Berman adds that women are quick to place blame for ro­man­tic prob­lems else­where (namely on men) with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing the ways they are hold­ing them­selves back. Un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, per­sonal in­se­cu­ri­ties or a need for con­stant con­trol can drive po­ten­tial part­ners away, she says. Her book cov­ers is­sues rang­ing from anx­i­ety dis­or­ders to nutrition, sex­ual in­hi­bi­tions and fear of vul­ner­a­bil­ity that rou­tinely block in­ti­macy.

“ The gen­eral re­sponse is, ‘Ohmy gosh, I didn’t even re­al­ize that I was do­ing this,’ and ‘Ohmy gosh, I didn’t re­al­ize how easy it is to fix,’ ” she says.

Her hope is that the show and the book will fur­ther the con­ver­sa­tions and cul­tural un­der­stand­ing of women’s sex­u­al­ity. “A sort of a driv­ing force formeis feel­ing like we can’t be our fullest selves — we can’t reach our full life po­ten­tial — un­til we re­ally own our value and feel per­mis­sion for ev­ery­thing thatwe­wan­tand­need,” she says. “Es­pe­cially our sex­u­al­ity.”

OPRAH WIN­FREY NET­WORK

EX­PAND­ING REACH: Laura Berman has a new TV show and a self-help book.

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