I don’t like this sex book

01/04/2009 at 4:59 pm | Posted in book review, sex, Uncategorized, vulvodynia | 2 Comments
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I have a confession to make.

Although I’ve been citing Let Me Count the Ways as a source of information on sexual dysfunction, and I intend to take some of its knowledge with me along my FSD journey,

I didn’t actually like it all that much.

Actually, I had quite a lot of problems with it…

I always hate marking up my books with pencils & pens. I feel like I’m defacing the book.
So I came up with a compromise system…


Every sticky note represents one or more of my comments on what the authors were saying. Every time I had a thought on something, I wrote it down. I can peel the notes off when I’m finished using them, and the book remains in tact.
Also makes finding pages of interest much faster 🙂


Obviously I had a lot of thoughts on what the authors were saying. Sometimes, I was in agreement. Other times, I felt highly critical & suspicious.

The book is on the National Vulvodynia Association Reading List. That’s the foremost reason why I got it – the NVA listed it as a book of interest. Having gone through Let Me Count the Ways, I understand why it’s on their reading list – it’s useful for couples experiencing difficulties with intercourse. You don’t necessarily have to have vulvodynia or even be female to find the book helpful.

But on the other hand, I don’t understand why it’s on the NVA reading list, because it never explicitly uses the word “Vulvodynia,” or “Vestibulitis.” So begins my criticisms of Let Me Count the Ways. It refers to pelvic pain several times, including one patient who probably did, in fact, have vestibulitis, as evidenced by the following:

I asked Pam if intercourse was ever painful, and she answered slowly.
…Yes, about half the time.”
…And that was the start of medical treatment for Pam, as well as gradual sexual reconciliation of these nice people. By the time they had been sexual together many times with their hands, mouths, and some sex toys, a minor surgical procedure had eliminated Pam’s vaginal pain, and they could proceed-slowly, with their new sexual and communication skills-to intercourse. And neither Pam nor Pete called Pam uninterested in sex ever again
(Emphasis mine, p. 84-85).

Vulvar vestibulitis is not explicitly mentioned here. It’s possible that Pam still had a strong hymen in place, or something else.
But we’re not talking about her using antifungals or antibiotics, and surgery for vaginismus is… not really there, since it’s a muscular issue.
I speculate that this patient most likely had vulvar vestibulitis – but I have no way of being 100% sure because the authors never talk about it. Pelvic pain is my main concern, but the book is vague on the types of pelvic pain & possible medical causes for it. That’s a real shortcoming. And why, if the authors never talk about vulvodynia directly, is it on a reading list of books relevant to vulvodynia? This would fit more comfortably on a list of general sexual education books.

Instead, for the most part, the authors place a strong emphasis on erectile dysfunction, failure to communicate, and sexual boredom.
None of which applies to me right now.

Despite the authors’ openness to gender play as a sex activity, I felt the patients used as case study examples throughout the text adhered to stereotypical male/female gender roles. Patient Sam is a ruggedly handsome carpenter (20,) John is another carpenter (80). (There’s a joke here somewhere, I just know it.) Vera is a small, attractive psychologist & new mother (48). Pam is a “Tall, graceful teacher” (84). Karen is a petite redhead travel agent (191). It goes on.

The examples may be based on factual cases. They may be reflecting the greater demographic – certain fields are still dominated by one sex. Or maybe the authors embellished actual cases in the interest of humanizing the characters for the readers.

Still, something put me off about not seeing any male grade school teachers, male nurses, or female executives. Why did the authors point out some of the patients jobs & attributes, but not others? What does being a travel agent have to do with anything?

On a positive note, the case studies do deal with people of various ages, young & old. There’s no ageism.

But then on a negative note, the book explicitly mentions one patient of Asian decent, but does not go out of its way to point out patients of other backgrounds.
Why did Klein & Robbins point out this one Asian patient? Why not use case studies with Black or Hispanic patients? Why so few ethnicities?

I wonder why their patient pool lacked more diversity. After all, if a thie Ebony Magazine article is any indication, blacks can deal with sexual dysfunction, too.

For all this talk about sexual diversity the authors go on about, there wasn’t much diversity in their patient examples. That might be a turn-off for nonwhites & non heterosexuals slogging through this text.

There were no homosexual couples. There were no transgendered people. This makes some sense in that the book is all about going beyond the borders of intercourse as defined by one man, one woman – but it doesn’t get into communication & sexual problems that can still pop up in non-heterosexual relationships.

Perhaps this is just a marketing thing. Or perhaps it is reflective of the authors’ own privileged backgrounds – maybe they didn’t even realize they left out minorities.

Another criticism is that, although the book remains on the NVA reading list, it’s dated now. This isn’t the book’s fault but… it is 11 years old. And it is showing its age.

11 years down the road, we can look back at the author’s statements in hindsight and say “What are you talking about?” The book was published before Sex & the City, and well before Web 2.0. Back in 1998, the internet was still fairly new in homes – that’s the same year I finally got a computer, primitive by today’s standards.

Klein & Robbins bring up the internet several times throughout the book and talk about how it was to revolutionize sexuality. And indeed, it’s made things more interesting. There are now social networking sites where you can find partners interested in the same things as you, and for better or worse, porn sites are common. You can buy sex toys online and have them delivered right to your door in nondescript packaging.

The authors make a vague reference to Teledilonics on page 190, but the technology still isn’t there yet. They overshot this one…
This isn’t a major criticism, since it’s not the book’s fault it’s so old & busted.

There’s a couple of other passages I’m not comfortable with.

In talking about expanding the definition of “Sex,” the authors encourage looking at the world from a different perspective – a more erotic perspective. “Once all of you is an erotic being, and all erotic activities are equal, the entire world is a sex toy… You and your partner can walk down the street and speculate about the kind of underwear the other pedestrians are wearing – if any” (140).

I like the idea of expanding the meaning of sex, and I like the idea of taking a different perspective, but… I’m not comfortable getting behind the last of this statement, which I have bolded. This sounds like the authors are encouraging sexual objectification.

I’m not okay with it when guys make snide comments to me on the streets or whoop at me out of their car windows. I really don’t like being sexually objectified. When I’m with my partner or maybe a close friend, I appreciate having the sexual side of me acknowledged & respected… but I can do a lot of different things besides just that one sexual component. I am not just a toy.

I don’t think I would like it if people ogled me & speculated about what underwear I’m wearing – at least, not if I knew it. And sometimes, the objectifier makes it blatantly obvious that he or she is completely sexualizing you, by making some kind of “Tell.” A vocalization, an uninvited pat on the behind, following you around… There’s debate about how much you yourself can actually do about it, too, for risk of a violent backlash if you correct the objectifier.

Dude, I don’t even know you. Let me be. Go eroticize that telephone pole over there instead.

So I’ve not yet come to terms with “Eroticizing everything,” at least, not when “Everything” includes “everyone.”

Then there’s one passage that really bothered me… one that really stood out as strange… this one bothered me the most, I think.

Warning: Possible sexual assault triggers

It goes like this.
“One can observe the clash of competing sexual values within American culture in many contexts: … universities claim to support women’s independence but pass rules to hold men accountable for female students’ drinking…” (emphasis mine, p. 60.)

Wait, what? There’s no elaboration here on what they mean by that. I know the rest of the context is that they are discussing some contradictions in sexual values in the US. Other examples included pre-teen access to contraception but a lack of sexual education & conservative Christians opposing abortion but refusing to prevent it from happening in the first place by providing access to contraceptives to teens (60).
I can’t ask the authors what they mean by the sentance in question about college students drinking, but I have a pretty good idea…

I have a sneaking suspicion that Klein & Robbins are referring to the relationship between alcohol consumption & sexual assault on college campuses. And it sounds to me like they are blaming the female victims when that happens. This line reads to me very much like “Why should guys be punished for what happens to college women when women drink? It’s their own fault.” That is what I am hearing.

Once again I must point out the obvious: It is not the fault of the victim; the onus is on the perpetrator of sexual assault. This is a particularly bad implication to make when you’re writing a book about sexual dysfunction. Are the authors really that short-sighted that they do not see how a sexual assault could in and of itself lead to some sexual struggles later on in life?

Am I reading this wrong? Am I looking too far into this? Do you see where I’m coming from?
Tell me now, does this sound like victim blaming to you? It sounds like victim blaming to me.

It’s possible that the authors are referring to other alcohol-related problems that female students may encounter, such as cutting into study time and dealing with hangovers on school days, but this is the big giant red flag that jumps out at me. There’s no way for me to ignore that.

Triggers end here

I’ve never been really good at “Take it or leave it.” Sometimes, I read things that I really like, and then the author screws something up & I don’t like it as much anymore…
But at the same time, I don’t want to leave behind the good parts. This is another one of those times where I am just going to have to cherry pick what I do like, and criticize the rest. Some parts of this book are flawed, and these parts need to be criticized. Klein & Robbins can not be called THE experts on sexuality because they tarnish their own reputation, for the reasons outlined above. I am not going to sing blind praises for Klein & Robbins.

I would also recommend against further purchases of this book, unless you are one or more of the following:
A collector of sexual education literature
A collector of out-of-print books
A collector of NVA reading list books
Genuinely curious to find out “Oh is it really THAT bad?”
In posession of unlimited time & money – because the book is out of print, you’ll probably have to pay extra to get it, and it takes time to read.

I think there are better, more sensitive books out there than this.
And I think I may have found one of them, which I can review at a later date.

Welp. The authors themselves stated that when creating your own definition of sex & tapping into your own eros, you’re probably going to encounter a lot of ambiguity.

I guess this book is in and of itself, one of those ambiguous situations.


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