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Sex sells. Be honest, many people will pick up a book which promises more or better when it comes to sex. In essence, there is a typical formula -- i) you didn't understand how to get it in the first place and now need to learn properly, ii) you learned well enough then but now bad habits have grown in the way, or iii) you are doing Ok, but your love life could use something additional, it needs extra vitalization to be fully satisfying. With the key words recharge, revitalize and rejuvenate, Kerner strives to attract all three audiences. The essence of books such as this is that we are not (and perhaps shouldn't be) entirely satisfied with what we have and this author has an answer that may work for you.
The book is based on a simple premise "when it comes to sex, dating, and relationships, sometimes we get in so deep the only way is to start over again" (p.12). It seeks to introduce couples to a program that will progressively change and rejuvenate their relationship -- like a diet. There is a 30 day program of self-reflection exercises and assignments, mostly focused on not having physical sex in order to 'detoxify' the sexual relationship. And, like any diet, it concludes with a maintenance program that promises to help keep things on track.
The book is aimed not only at regular couples, but also at single people, gay people, and even serial daters. It is accessible, but also comes across as a bit of a 'one stop shop' for dating and sex. In a way, it takes after some of the 'sex manuals' of the 1970s and 80s -- an instructive guide.
Kerner comes from a background of sexual counseling and providing discussion and advice about sex. He is clear that the end goal of the program is: "... to get rid of your prefabricated pictures and checklists and learn to trust your own instincts. And then to follow wherever they lead you, even if it's someplace you never dreamed you'd go".
Written in an approachable style, the book is scattered with stories and vignettes that seek to validate the program, and some which titillate (mildly), in order to keep you focused on the goal.
One difficulty is that the book is premised on a series of over-generalized assumptions "American sex lives are broken. ... our cultural exposure to sex has heightened ... our level of personal satisfaction has plummeted to a staggering low ... infidelity is likewise rampant ... Singles are suffering from booty-call burnout, bed hopping from one fling to the next, desperately searching for something more ..." (p.9). This runs the risk of communicating that the answer to your sex life lies solely with the individual rather than in the relationship.
Following a simple lesson on the chemicals of the brain and their role in sex and relationships, we are introduced to a program that seeks to re-O-R-D-E-R (Observe, Recognize, De-couple, Engage, Regulate) our love lives. The plan does remind the reader that this is not a miracle solution, but "what you reap will depend on how focused you are and how much effort you put into the thinking about and applying the principles and ideas learned here" (p.38). While this is a sensible reminder, it is also the 'salesperson's defense' - when a customer returns an item that did not work appropriately, the sales person can simply say 'you didn't use (apply) it correctly'.
Each day of the 30 day program has exercises, things to think or meditate about, a diary to keep. There are questionnaires and issues to face and some brief vignettes of other people who have been in that space before. People who are attracted to the self-help approach will likely find this style useful.
To me, the exercises seem oversimplified, the questionnaires (e.g. module 1) more akin to something I'd find in Cosmopolitan or similar magazines, and the whole approach dependent on whether or not my partner would agree to participate. I suspect that without my partner's participation this program could create rather than resolve issues. Some of the vignettes indicate that the program is beneficial even if one's partner does not participate, however, I have some doubt about this.
This is essentially a self help program, but there are occasional reminders that sometimes professional help is required. We cannot do everything by ourselves. Overall, I am not convinced. Yet there seems to be a vast popular market for this kind of material, so I presume that some people find it helpful.
© 2008 Erich von Dietze
Erich von Dietze, Ph.D., Manager, Research Ethics, Murdoch University, Western Australia