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In the last few years, there has
been increasing media attention of the "problem" of low-sex and
no-sex marriages. Apparently, there is
an epidemic of couples not having sex.
Some say that this is a new phenomenon, and might even link it to the
pressures on families with both partners needing to have one or more jobs,
looking after children, confusion about male and female roles, the rise of
pornography and Internet sexuality, and an increasing low self-esteem about our
bodies now that we compare ourselves with the fantasy images we see in
magazines and movies. Unsurprisingly, there
has been a surge in the number of books published purporting to explain and
solve the problem. Some experts predict
dire consequences for any couple that isn't having regular sex, claiming that
it must signal a doomed relationship.
On the back cover of In the
Mood, Again, there is a blurb from famed psychologist Aaron Beck, who
declares that book a breakthrough volume that "should improve and even
save many marriages." I wonder how
many studies have been done on the effectiveness of any self-help books, and
especially those aimed at improving the relationships between couples, which
require the cooperation of both partners.
It might be that any couple who is ready to work together using a book
to help solve some of their problems is already in a strong position to sort
things out because they already have some basic communication between
them. However, even in our self-help
nation, where so many people are open to the idea of identifying problems as
psychological and finding techniques to solve them, not everyone is open to
such an approach, and for couples, it takes two to tango. It is pretty clear from watching Dr. Phil,
for example, a TV show that specializes in revealing and solving family
problems, that most of his viewers are women.
On the whole, men tend to be much more reluctant to seek outside help
for difficulties in relationships, and by no means are all women enthusiastic
about it either.
Sexuality issues are often
especially sensitive for people, because their greatest and most personal
insecurities can center about their performance and looks. Worries about not being good enough in bed
can translate into insecurities about one's whole identity: one is not a real
man or a real woman if one doesn't get and provide satisfaction in sex with
one's partner. What's more, these worries
feed into doubts about one's very attractiveness and lovability. It is no surprise that people often find
these issues difficult to talk about.
Given all that, how useful are
books like In the Mood, Again?
It is almost impossible to judge.
People will have very personal and idiosyncratic reactions to different
books, and they will have different needs.
There are many different sorts of reasons why people stop having much
sex with each other. What's more,
there is not much consensus about what is the solution to relationship
problems. As in the rest of
psychotherapy, different therapists have their own preferred approaches, and
the scientific literature on the topic does not seem to strongly indicate that
one approach is best.
The packaging of Kathleen
Cervenka's book looks like it is aimed mainly at women. On the cover of the book is a close-up of a
blood red rose, and the center of it even looks clitoral. Each chapter starts with its own title page
with an epigram of a quotation by a famous person, all surrounded by
hearts. Yet the text is aimed equally
at men and women. It is divided into
thirteen chapters, and each chapter is divided into short sections, many of
which have exercises and bullet lists of questions. The tone is positive and friendly, and the language is
non-technical. The author addresses the
reader personally, addressing him or her as "you." This should make the book feel approachable
by many readers.
The early chapters focus mostly on
setting out basic information about sexuality and sexual problems. There's discussion of human biology,
psychology, and common patterns in relationships. From the start, there are exercises aimed at promoting
self-understanding for both partners, with the aim that they go through them
together. For example, Cervenka
suggests that you face your partner and tell him or her what attributes and
values he or she has. This should take
about an hour, and she says that you should avoid becoming angry during the
process. Another early exercise is to
spend time recalling what led you to make the commitment to your partner. Cervenka explains that these exercises help
you to gather information and get clear about your partner's point of view.
The middle chapters focus more on
the causes of sexual problems, psychological, behavioral and biological. She goes over a fairly broad range,
including inequality in a relationship, flirting with others, computer sex,
infidelity, libido discrepancy, stress, negative body image, boring or
unpleasant sexual techniques, alcohol, drugs, hormones, depression, and
illness. The chapter exercises are
aimed at identifying what the causes of the sexual problems in the relationship
The final third of the book is
aimed at solving the problems. It
contains more exercises and suggestions about what to do. It tries to integrate solving emotional
gridlock in a relationship with work on sexual connection. It recommends improved communication and
more romance. Generally, Cervenka suggests being non-judgmental and talking
about your own feelings rather than telling your partner what he or she is
doing wrong. Through the exercises and
hard work that you should have done all the way through the book, you should be
able to significantly improve your sex life.
Obviously In the Mood, Again
is not for everyone, and some readers may find it very difficult to get their
partner to actually read the book, let alone do the exercises. I imagine that many people will simply read
the book on their own using it as food for thought, getting hints about ways to
start conversations with their partners and work out problems quietly rather
announcing that they are using it to solve the problem. Potential readers should browse through the
book first and compare it to other similar books before deciding to buy
© 2005 Christian Perring. All
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.