With new show, book, Berman tackles sex problems
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.”
EXPANDING REACH: Laura Berman has a new TV show and a self-help book.