My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's been a while since I've read a non-fiction book about sexuality (the last was the excellent Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex), and because it is an area of intense interest where actual breakthroughs are few, I thought I'd give Kerner's book a chance. I'm embarrassed to admit that I believe I'd read it before and forgotten, so take my comments with that in mind.
The overwhelming theme of the book is that a woman's pleasure is the most important aspect of sex, for it rewards both partners. This is not a revolutionary idea in 2015, nor in 2004 when the book was published, but the proportion of informed lovers to bedroom clods seems to change only slowly - much to the detriment of women everywhere. Part of this is our society that teaches about sex in the wrong way and, as Kerner points out, a lot of misconceptions are spread from pornography. As such, in this alone I applaud his message. Compounded with the suggestions for good wine, iambic Shakespearean sonnets traced upon the vulva, and good side stories (the one about Jackson Pollock is priceless), and the book's worth is unquestionable.
The prose is clinical. Even when describing the most delectable parts of a woman's anatomy and how to stimulate them with the tongue & fingers, the tone is professional and the level of erotic engagement almost reaches the level of the instructions for assembling Ikea furniture. The actual information is both interesting and, in some cases, at least questionable. The illustrations, too, or non-erotic. If you want to see gleaming genital frenula, you still have to go to dodgier places. On the positive side, though, you can read She Comes First in the library without feeling perverted.
The book's intention is to inform about a woman's sexual anatomy, redesign the sexual encounter by changing the focus of the moment from intercourse to "coreplay" (which is mostly cunnilingus), and create a plan that can be followed to bring a woman to orgasm using these techniques. There are even cheat sheets. On the surface this seems like a positive plan. The problems appear in the execution however.
The author rolls the labia (both sets), frenulum, front commissure, mons pubis, perineum, and the fourchette (along with the actual clitoris) into parts of a clitoral system, basing his redefinition on work by Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers. This might be overly pedantic, but shouldn't we just keep the word 'vulva' instead? The erogenous zone known as the G-Spot becomes a part of the clitoral cluster (sorry Dr. Gräfenberg - your time was short, but sweet). In any case, the book proceeds to document the best way to stimulate each element. Here alone was the zeal - in the execution of different techniques - and I began to have a nervous feeling (after the suggestion of leg restraint without - except in the appendix - any discussion of safe words and so forth) about the conditions of the research. The thought could best be expressed is "was the purpose of giving her orgasms for her benefit or his?" which could be recast is "is she really coming first even if she is cumming first?" Let's move away from that dark corner though and focus on another problem, which I think runs even deeper and is fundamental to the entire issue about books like these.
One thing I have learned is that women are not problems to be solved. They aren't also something to be generalized such that a user manual of techniques must be employed to leap from floundering to satisfaction. That really is just another form of objectifying them and a list of steps to bring your lover to orgasm misses the entire purpose of making love - the devotion to the spiritual moment that supersedes all terrestrial considerations. It's axiomatic. Lose yourself together and you'll find yourself together again at a peak.
The final complaint I have is the idea that men are responsible for a woman's orgasms. That's a very outdated way of thinking, still bordering on quaint in 2015, but getting lots of mold on the edges. Sex is a participatory endeavor and the results rely on the skillful execution of both parties.
All this being said, there is enough in "She Comes First" to recommend the book, especially to someone who doesn't have much world experience (or does but is misguided in thinking that his orgasm is the main event). I also think it's a decent book for women to read to understand their anatomy better, though my gut feeling is that most thinking women have already figured all of this out already.
Werner's side stories were the most endearing parts and I'm not going to spoil any of these, but I promise they're worth the price of admission. I also applaud his intent to focus on female satisfaction, but wonder if - even in 2004 - he was behind the curve. It doesn't really matter though. It's the outcome that matters. Right? Outcomes. Climaxes. Or is it the journey?
Perhaps that's a better question to ponder the difference between men and women's sexuality.
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