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How ‘Better Sex’ can lead to a better life

In her newest book, TODAY’s Dr. Gail Saltz details how women can vastly improve their sexuality and create a ripple effect that will not only change their bedroom habits, but every aspect of their lives. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

In her newest book, “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life,” TODAY’s Dr. Gail Saltz reveals how women can vastly improve their sex lives, and why it will positively affect every other aspect in their lives, from their office performance to their self-confidence. An excerpt.

IntroductionI am a therapist. Over the years I have seen several hundred women in my practice in New York City. As the psychiatrist on the Today show, I have had many others write to me with their concerns. Some women are depressed because they are dangerously in debt. Maybe their husbands aren’t working, and they can’t make ends meet with just one salary. In other cases, women make more money than their boyfriends or husbands and are afraid of upsetting the balance of power in their relationships. Some women come to me because their children are having trouble at school and they blame themselves. Some have found themselves taking care of an aging parent and reliving old resentments. Some are afraid of failing in their careers; still others are afraid of succeeding. Often a woman starts by describing a small voice in her head, a nagging feeling that something isn’t right, that something is missing. With the women I see in my practice, we talk. We go back and forth, discussing not only what’s on their minds that day but also what hopes, fears, or regrets they may have held on to for years. Eventually, when we get to the root of the problem, almost always it’s sex.

Aristotle said, Know yourself. I agree, but when I think about how to advise women patients —and 9 out of 10 patients of mine during the course of my 15 years of practice have been women — I add one key word: Know your sexual self.

Women have far more to feel great about than most of us realize. As a woman, you carry within yourself the source of life. It is a well of power that you are born with, and women who understand that power — who understand themselves sexually — live life more fully, no matter their occupations or their marital or parental status. We’ve all seen the sort of woman who can walk into a room and pow! Everybody feels a pull toward her, a great gravitational tug. She has a presence. She might not be supermodel “beautiful” or have an hourglass figure. She hasn’t necessarily spent more time at the gym than any other woman in the room, or had breast implants or Botox. What she has is something special that radiates from within. She’s confident. She’s dynamic. She’s comfortable in her skin. You can see it in how she holds herself and how she behaves. You look at her, and you think, “She’s got it going on.”

My goal is to help you become that kind of woman.


In this book I’m going to introduce you to a new approach to your sexuality, one that will help you connect or reconnect with your sexual self. I won’t be counseling you to lift a leg here or shift a hip there. Self-help shelves in bookstores are already overburdened with claims that you can improve your sex life by inserting tab A into slot B while holding button C. That approach might help you feel good physically during sex, but it doesn’t get at your deeper sexual self. Seeing sex only in physical terms is an old-fashioned and ineffective approach that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding, like treating tuberculosis with breathing exercises, which we did before we knew that tuberculosis is caused by bacteria. We know better now.

We should know better ways to approach our sexuality, too. I believe we’ve been going about it the wrong way. We’ve been working from the outside in, hoping that a physical change will make a lasting difference in how women experience sex emotionally, even though experience has told us again and again that it won’t. Instead, in this book, we’re going to be working from the inside out. By changing how you experience sex mentally and emotionally, we’re going to make a lasting difference not only in how you experience sex physically but also in how you experience life itself. The key to this new approach won’t be what you do in bed. It’ll be how you feel about what you do in bed and how you feel about your sexual self. But the real change will be in how you feel about you.

The key to this new approach to sexuality will be to ask yourself: What do you actually think about when you think about sex?

Maybe you know the saying: The most powerful sexual organ is the one between your ears. I couldn’t agree more. How you see yourself sexually reflects how you think, feel, and behave in almost every other aspect of your life. Why? Because sex is the rest of your life in miniature. During sex, you’re literally naked to the world, even if the world is only one other person (or even if it’s just yourself). When you’re that exposed, every aspect of who you think you are stands out in stark relief. Whether you like yourself, accept your flaws, forgive yourself easily, feel strong, or can find contentment in the moment will all determine how you experience what happens in the bedroom (or wherever you happen to be when the mood strikes). How you see yourself in life determines how you see yourself in bed, and vice versa.

How you see yourself sexually doesn’t just reflect the rest of your life; it affects it profoundly. It determines how you think, feel, and behave in almost every other arena, public or private. As Louann Brizendine says in her book “The Female Brain,” “the clitoris really is the brain below the waist.” Your sexuality isn’t just the key to finding out who you are; it’s the key to figuring out who you can become. Improve how you see yourself sexually, and you will have not only better sex but also a better life.

If there’s a “Eureka!” realization I’d want you to have as the result of reading this book, it’s the same one that I’ve seen my patients experience again and again: The secret to sexual satisfaction is confidence, and the secret to confidence is sexual satisfaction. It might seem like a chicken-and-egg situation, but in this case we know which comes first. It’s your sexuality.

Can you achieve a life-changing boost to your confidence without exploring your sexuality? I hear this question all the time from my women patients. I also hear, “Not that! I’ll fix anything else. But please, not my sex life!” Men are different. It’s not just that their genitals are out there in the open; so are their attitudes toward sex. Men will talk to me about sex in the first session, but for women, sex is more internal, both physically and emotionally. In my experience, women don’t mind working on their relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. They readily admit that they can’t express their emotions to a parent, or that they need to speak out more at work, but when it comes to sex, their defenses are as high as the Himalayas. I’ve seen women who have waited months before letting slip the little fact that they haven’t had sex for years. Patients will talk about feeling depressed or anxious. They’ll blame their problems on the boss, the husband, the kids. They’ll blame themselves. All of these complaints might be real and all the finger-pointing might be valid, but peel away the layers and at the core lies this confession: Fulfilling sex, or even any sex at all, isn’t part of their lives, whether by choice, design, or neglect.

Exercising, making time for friends, and eating right — women who wouldn’t dream of neglecting these aspects of their physical and emotional health will nonetheless see a fulfilling sex life as dispensable. They think sex is for the young, the thin, the single woman with great clothes and lots of time to spend at the gym. In a society absolutely obsessed with sex, youth, and perfect bodies, many women have allowed themselves to sit on the sidelines. A fulfilling sex life is not dispensable. It is an essential way of nurturing your body and spirit.

Your sexuality is as much in the head as it is in the heart or the vagina, and that’s the female power you need to tap — the one in that powerful sex organ between your ears. Sure, you might be able to show confidence on the outside, and maybe you can even make headway on the other problem areas in your life — your guilt over your child’s struggles at school, your anger at the arrogant colleague at work — but your confidence will be false and the solutions temporary. Whether you’re not having sex at all or having it all the time but not finding it fulfilling or anywhere in between, the bottom line is the same: If you don’t address the most vital part of yourself — your actual life force — you’re living what amounts to half a life.

Once upon a time, the vagina was a symbol of power. A woman could change the course of history simply by raising her skirt. Ancient writings tell of women exposing their vaginas and turning back armies, calming seas, scaring lions, increasing harvests. Across cultures and throughout history, the vagina has been viewed as a powerful force of nature. Yet the vagina is also a source of mystery. It works its wonders in obscurity, stealthily, as if by magic. Its power is hidden. It is literally out of sight.

The trouble begins when you allow your vagina to be out of mind, too. When the vagina became a source of shame — think of the Western myth of Eve tempting Adam, how she came to bear responsibility for humankind’s banishment from Paradise — culture in general and women in particular lost something essential in their identities. A Hollywood starlet deliberately showing off her lack of underwear to the paparazzi is not a role model of sexual independence; instead, she’s perpetuating a stereotype of exploitation. If feminine sexuality is perceived as both dangerous and filthy, then the temptation for women is not to celebrate their own sexuality but to regard it as something separate from themselves, or maybe even to ignore it — to accept their vaginas as only passive receptacles, rather than the active organs they really are. The muscles of the human vagina are exquisitely sensitive on their own terms, expanding, contracting, moistening. They’re not passive. They’re powerful. I want you to know and to feel this power and to experience how it can help transform your life.

This isn’t an empty promise. Dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, the neurochemicals and hormones released when a woman has an orgasm, produce a powerful chain reaction that makes her feel on top of the world. To climb that mountain, you first need to understand how a woman’s mind and body work together. Studies show that even when women are experiencing the physical evidence of sexual arousal, they often don’t feel aroused because they don’t think they’re aroused.

In this book, I will help you change what you think about when you think about sex. I will help you reunite your mind with your body. Maybe we can’t single-handedly change what the world thinks of female sexuality, but we can change what we think of it. What you think of it. What you think of yourself.

How you think about your sexuality right now is not your fault, but how you continue to think about your sexuality from this day forward is your responsibility. In this book, you’ll have the chance to learn to bring female sexual power into everything you do by looking closely at the negative thoughts and stories that define your sexual identity and then changing them into positive ones.

I say “stories” because that’s how we actually see ourselves — as characters in a lifelong narrative. We all live our lives according to the narratives we’ve imagined for ourselves. They’re so much a part of you that you think they are you. You may not even be aware that they’re there. Like all stories, they’re true only to the extent that the storyteller — in this case, you — is reliable. Sadly, in most cases, when patients eventually ask themselves how reliable they really are, the answer is: not very.

The first thing I’ll do in this book is introduce you to other women (composites of patients I’ve seen in my own practice) with stories similar to your own. You’ll see how they uncovered their damaging stories with my help, and how they discovered the ways those stories affect them in bed and throughout their lives. We’ll try to discover what stories define your view of your sexual self, where those stories came from, and how to change them.

In particular, we’ll look at five types of stories that in my experience we all tell ourselves at one time or another. We’ll look at why you might sometimes feel insecure sexually, why you sometimes might feel so guilty that you can’t enjoy your sexuality, and why you sometimes feel envious of other people’s seemingly perfect sex lives. We’ll look at why you sometimes feel more emotionally vulnerable than you actually are and why you sometimes feel more physically vulnerable than you actually are.

We’re going to figure out how you can free yourself to be one of the women who are confident. Who know they’ll be able to live their lives fully, because they know who they are. Who like who they are, are comfortable in their skin, and don’t need to turn to anyone else to make them feel whole. Who know their vaginas inside out (pun emphatically intended). Who can give to others because they know they’ll also be able to give to themselves. Who know what they want and know how to get it, because they know what they want sexually and know how to get it. Women who know that feeling sexy and voluptuous comes not from how they look, but from how they feel about themselves. Who know that bad things will still happen but that they’ll be okay, because they have a core identity that is unshakable. Who can put their energies not only into attracting others but also into being attractive to themselves. Who feel truly alive, and who feel it all the time. Who can walk into a room and pow!

This is the power of female sexuality, and soon it could be yours.

Excerpted from “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life,” by Dr. Gail Saltz Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Gail Saltz. Reprinted with permission from Rodale Press, Incorporated. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.