In Wake of Sex Study…

The Boston Herald
All Editions Section: News; Pg. 017
February 28, 1999 Sunday

In wake of sex study, most problems deemed treatable
By Azell Murphy Cavaan

Dean C. Dauw, a former Roman Catholic priest who left the clergy to open a sex-therapy clinic, does not specialize in virgins, but he sure has treated enough of them.

“The oldest one was 79,” said Dauw, a Chicago sex therapist. “His mother had just died, and he finally felt free to have sex.”Americans are smothered by sexual images. Advertisers routinely tie sex to success and acceptance. The president nearly lost his job because of it.

But at the end of the day, it turns out Americans are all talk and little skill when it comes to love between the sheets, according to a recently released survey.

The University of Chicago study, which has been touted as the most comprehensive sex survey since the Kinsey report in 1948, reported that 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men suffer from sexual dysfunction.

“So now we’re not only being laughed at because of the Washington sex scandal,” said Ava Cadell, a Los Angeles clinical sexologist. “We’re also being laughed at for having bad sex.”

But the news is not all bad, sex experts say. While physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, stress and prostate cancer are often the culprits behind sexual dysfunction, the majority of cases are psychological and easily treatable.Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study reported that lack of sexual desire, arousal difficulties, the inability to achieve orgasm, performance anxiety, premature ejaculation and pain during intercourse were among the problems.

But there are other difficulties, therapists say.

“You get a lot of men dragging their girlfriends and wives in here kicking and screaming,” said Dauw. “The complaint is that their partners are not reaching orgasm.”

Sex therapists say they treat as many individuals as couples. And the types of clients they treat are often those who would be least expected to need help.

Wendy Maltz, editor of “Passionate Hearts: The Poetry of Sexual Love,” co-author of “In the Garden of Desire: Women’s Sexual Fantasies as a Gateway to Passion and Pleasure,” and author of “The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse,” said many of her clients “outwardly look sexy.”

“The sense you get from television is that beautiful people are having sex, sex, sex. But a lot of them are not satisfied with their sex life either,” said Maltz, who has been deluged with calls from unsatisfied lovers since the survey’s release.”The best part about sex-function problems is that usually they are easily treatable,” said Maltz, who is also a licensed marriage counselor. “When you finally address the problem, you can recover from it in just a couple of months – even if you had the problem for years.”

Maltz, who once counseled a couple who were having problems consummating their four-year marriage, said it’s most often a lack of education that causes problems.

“Sex is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and there aren’t many challenges that cannot be overcome.”Virginity, premature ejaculation, impotence, inhibited ejaculation and lack of desire are the conditions that bring couples and individuals into sex-therapy centers the most, experts say.

“All are curable,” Dauw said. Referring to a 50-year-old virgin he treated who needed long-term therapy. “Some just take more time than others.”

Often, sex therapists begin treatment by taking sex out of the equation.

Some standard techniques offered in early counseling sessions involve touch exercises, in which couples are encouraged to stroke each other often on places like the hand or shoulder.

Survivors of sexual abuse are taught skills that help them relax. Women who lack sexual desire or have problems reaching orgasm are given exercises that help build self-esteem and confidence in their bodies.

“First, you set the tone,” said Laura Berman, a sex therapist at the Boston University Medical Center Womens’ Sexual Health Clinic. “Body image and self-esteem are often big factors in a person’s sexual performance.”

And though Cadell admits the number of Americans with some sort of sexual dysfunction is substantial, she said she cannot believe 78 percent of the American population is sexually challenged.

“It’s all a matter of who you ask,” she said.