Book Review: Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein

This post also appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

I read a lot of books about sex. It’s my passion as well as part of my job. And every now and then, I come across a book that I think everyone needs to read. Marty Klein’s Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex and How to Get It is one of them.*

Klein is has been a sex therapist for over 30 years. He’s also active in sexological organizations like the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and has been talking, teaching, and writing about all sorts of sexual issues. And one thing he’s noticed is that although there are plenty of books and articles about how to have sex, most of them don’t talk about why to do it.

I’ve certainly seen this, myself. In the many interviews I’ve done for websites, radio shows, and documentaries, almost all of the questions focus on tips and techniques, rather than the often-murkier issues that arise when we ask ourselves why we want to do something. And while I think it’s great that there’s more discussion than ever before about how to safely and pleasurably engage in different sexual practices, amazing skill doesn’t make up for it when your heart isn’t also in it.

So with all of his experience working with individuals and couples around sexual difficulties, what does Klein suggest? He offers the notion of Sexual Intelligence as an alternative way of thinking about sex:

Sexual Intelligence is the set of internal resources that allows you to relax, be present, communicate, respond to stimulation and create phsyical and emotional connection with a partner. When you can do that, you’ll have enjoyable sexual experiences, regardless of what your body does.

It sounds simple, right? And yet, there are a lot of different hurdles that we might face in developing Sexual Intelligence. Throughout the book, Klein explores the many different barriers that come up for us, regardless of our gender, relationship status, or sexual desires.

Instead of focusing on getting our bodies to function a certain way (whether that’s the way we used to function or not), or asking what sexual acts will inspire passion, Klein suggests that we need to develop certain skills:

  1. Information and knowledge
  2. Emotional skills (which let you use that knowledge)
  3. Body awareness and comfort (which let you express yourself and your knowledge)

Of course, learning sex techniques can be part of #1, but that’s not going to get you far if that’s all you have. After all, “good ‘function’ doesn’t guarantee the closeness, physical attunement, and the relaxation that makes sex enjoyable.”

This is a really important point, and I think there are a few different reasons it often gets left out. It’s much easier to talk about how to do something than why. The challenges that people face are so diverse that it can be hard to see the patterns among them and offer solutions. And most therapists have very little background in sexuality, even though sexual difficulties are among the most common reasons people seek therapy. So there are a lot of books about relationships or communication that simply don’t reflect the incredible diversity of sexual interests and desires. That makes them much less useful when it comes to addressing these topics.

Fortunately, Klein can cover all of these. He’s super knowledgeable about the mechanics of sex, as well as the medical and health issues that often affect us. With his many years of experience as a sex therapist, he’s seen the commonalities among the problems that people face. And he’s able to blend all of it together in a way that few other therapists can.

Sexual Intelligence is a really easy book to read. Klein’s information is very straightforward and quite accessible. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get through it all in one sitting, because you’ll find yourself putting it down and thinking a lot about a story, or a suggestion, or an example. Odds are that you’ll find yourself reflected back from the page somewhere along the way, but don’t let that scare you. Klein’s compassion is so clear that it becomes more of a revelation than a threat.

In addition to offering lots of great information about each of the three components of Sexual Intelligence, Klein also discusses some of the common obstacles to developing it, how to respond to the sexual effects health issues & aging, and letting go of the idea of sexual success or failure. I really do wish I’d had this book when I was younger, if only because it would have helped me respond to some of the difficulties that I faced. But no matter where you are on your life’s path, if you want to get the most out of sex and relationships, there’s something here for you.

I don’t think that this book will replace the amazing how-to books and movies that are available because even with Sexual Intelligence, people still need to learn how to explore and enjoy the many kinds of sexual pleasure that are available to them. And I think that it offers a solid starting point for figuring out how to get the most out of sex and our relationships. So I’m giving this book a big thumbs up!

Want to pick up a copy for yourself? You can get Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex and How to Get It here!

* Two others that are worth finding are Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind and Brene Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power.

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