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Are you sexually intelligent?
March 1st, 2012
10:46 AM ET

Are you sexually intelligent?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex weekly on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

What are the qualities that make a truly great lover?

Is it about being able to swing from chandeliers or knowing every page of the “Kama Sutra” by heart? Or are there deeper qualities to being “good in bed” that speak more to the spirit of our actions than their substance?

In his new book, “Sexual Intelligence," Marty Klein, Ph.D – a renowned sex therapist with more than 30 years of experience – challenges readers to think about their sex lives as though they suddenly woke up in Russia tomorrow, without any knowledge of the language and only a handful of rubles in their pockets.

“To figure out what to do, you’d need more than knowledge – you would need intelligence,” he writes. “You’d need the ability to figure out what questions to ask, how to find people who can help you, how to make decisions in a different culture, and so on.

“That’s what sexual intelligence is like – not the ability to be great in bed, or to function the way you did when you were 22. Rather, sexual intelligence is expressed in the ability to create and maintain desire in a situation that’s less than perfect or comfortable; the capacity to adapt to your changing body; curiosity and open-mindedness about the meaning of pleasure, closeness, and satisfaction; and the ability to adjust when things don’t go as expected.”

Klein builds on his premise of sexual intelligence by offering us a beguilingly simple equation: sexual intelligence = information + emotional skills + body awareness.

Accurate information is indeed crucial. Many of us get our sexual information from all the wrong sources.

Young men too often rely on porn and tall tales of the locker room, or on the responses of women who are all-too willing to fake it rather than put their true desires in the foreground; whereas women often rely on the sound bytes that proliferate talk shows.

In terms of emotional skills, as I discussed in last week’s column, being able to communicate empathetically and honestly with a sexual partner is paramount, but many of us resign ourselves to sex lives of quiet desperation.

And I agree with Klein’s calculus that only by adding body awareness – not just of your own body, but also of your partner’s – can you hope to become truly sexually intelligent.

In my experience as a sex counselor, one way of cultivating all three of these qualities at once with a partner is through the practice of sensate focus exercises.

Developed by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, these exercises, as the name implies, emphasize the focus on physical sensations.

In sensate focus, sex is initially taken off the table for couples, and then gradually reintroduced, one aspect at time, through a gradual process of touching, connection, and awareness, during which each partner takes turns as giver and receiver.

The object of these exercises is for partners to develop a heightened sense of sexual self-awareness and a keener understanding of what feels good to their partner.

People change. Relationships change. Why shouldn’t sex? And yet it’s the natural changes of the sexual life cycle that so many couples in long-term relationships find bedeviling — and that’s another reason why sexual intelligence is so important.

In her international best-seller “Mating in Captivity,” therapist and intellectual provocateur Esther Perel encourages readers to cultivate “erotic intelligence” and reconcile the need for what’s safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what’s exciting, mysterious and awe-inspiring.

“We are born sensuous; we become erotic. To cultivate the erotic is also to engage with sexuality as a quality of aliveness and vitality that extend beyond a mere repertoire of sexual techniques. We learn to play, be curious, engage with our imagination, anticipate. Erotic intelligence is our ability to bring novelty to the enduring, mystery to the familiar, and surprise to the known.”

Both Klein and Perel have authored important works that are not only apt for people of all ages, but can remain relevant on our bookshelves (or digital readers) throughout our lives as we age and adapt.

“Sexual intelligence is useful in different ways at different times of our life,” writes Klein. “In our 20s, in exploring the sexual world; in our 30s, in bonding with a partner and establishing a sexual rhythm; in our 40s, in tolerating and adapting to change; in our 50s, in saying goodbye to youthful sex; in our 60s and beyond, in creating a new sexual style,” writes Klein.

Now that’s really smart.

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Filed under: Relationships • Sex

soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. ceg3

    Duh! It's about getting what you want by giving what your partner wants. You both have to be observant verbally and physically as well as honest both ways. You need to vary the routine, experiment, and be willing to laugh together and not always be serious. Sometimes it's deeply intimate and at others simply fun. You get to make the rules as you go. Enjoy!

    March 1, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike Hunt

      I agree.

      Nice job!

      March 1, 2012 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
    • Pink

      I agree...sex is what you make of it. Be open and honest. Have fun, explore, be truly intimate with your partner and you will have great sex.

      March 1, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse |
    • JanetG

      Couldn't have said it better. JanetG, author, A Loving Couple: Foursomes For All.

      March 2, 2012 at 10:27 | Report abuse |
    • missadr

      It's not remotely about getting what you want.

      March 4, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
    • toodark

      Leading a comment with, "Duh" exposes your own ignorance to the issue the article is about. One can give and give until they're blue in the face (or one of several other body parts) but many times long engrained sexual repression or self esteem issues put up insurmountabable barriers to reciprocation.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • KC

      Correct. Reading all the books in the world is not going to help if the person you're with isn't interested in anything but plain vanilla. Listen to your partner, and if he/she isn't into weird positions, additives, etc., the most intelligent thing is to give him/her what he/she really does want.

      March 19, 2012 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
  2. Alaskan

    If I suddenly woke up in Russia with just a few rubles in my pockets and no grasp of the language, how to get laid would NOT be my first concern.

    March 1, 2012 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brandon

      No, but it would probably be somewhere in my top 5 concerns.

      March 1, 2012 at 20:55 | Report abuse |
    • Ck

      I seen those mail order brides. Hot! It'd definitely be in my top 5!

      March 1, 2012 at 23:01 | Report abuse |
    • liz

      Alaskan, that is the funniest online comment I've ever read anywhere. Bravo!

      As to the rest of this, for heaven's sake, just do it. Stop thinking too much.

      March 2, 2012 at 19:43 | Report abuse |
    • gord

      There was a time when a few roubles would have gotten you laid n Russia!

      March 3, 2012 at 22:12 | Report abuse |
    • BowNow

      Oh you poor Alaskan! You completely misunderstood the whole point behind the 'being in Russia' thing. You see, that is why you need to read these articles intelligently to benefit from them. The author is referring to using intelligence to survive and get what you need. I suspect this is all going to sound a little complicated for you.

      March 4, 2012 at 00:08 | Report abuse |
    • James

      The right answer is a guy with a long tongue.

      March 4, 2012 at 21:35 | Report abuse |
    • jasonb

      james, you always were a cunning linguist

      March 5, 2012 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
    • john

      Can't you see Russia from your house there, Gov Palin?

      March 7, 2012 at 17:48 | Report abuse |
    • bluebird11

      I love your response! I agree.

      March 9, 2012 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
  3. TC

    As long as the man has a large penis,that`s all the woman wants anyway!

    March 1, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • clevercandi

      Spoken like a man.

      Who cares if it's large, as long as he has a t0ngue and knows his alphabet!!!🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 16:11 | Report abuse |
    • Geoffrey Hamilton

      I'd rather know my "spots" and rhythm than my alphabet...

      March 1, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
    • James the elder

      Speaking as a hung guy, I can assure you that isn't even close to true.

      March 1, 2012 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
    • KC

      Speaking as a woman, twelve inches hurts. I've had much better experiences with men who really knew what they were doing with average-sized equipment (and a little innovation doesn't hurt). No way would I go back to Mr. Hung Like A Horse.

      March 2, 2012 at 00:45 | Report abuse |
    • informedunionvoter

      idiot

      March 3, 2012 at 00:02 | Report abuse |
    • Shelby

      Seriously? Equipment-wise my partner might be a bit on the smaller side, but he more than makes up for it with creativity, a sense of adventure, and a wicked sense of humour. I've been with larger men before and been totally unimpressed. I'm keeping this guy!

      March 3, 2012 at 08:03 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      So not what a woman wants.

      Spoken like a male who's still a virgin.

      A woman wants a man who focuses on her needs, who spends enough time on foreplay to make sure *she* is aroused, who cares enough to learn all her erogenous zones, and most importantly, who makes sure she climaxes every time they make love.

      TC, read EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. There's a lot of information in there that will answer your questions. No, a large penis isn't enough by itself to thrill us. Most men with large organs don't bother to refine their sexual technique and they're lousy lovers. That's been my experience. I did know one fellow once...but the exception proves the rule.

      March 4, 2012 at 12:57 | Report abuse |
    • missadr

      I had a man with a very large penis. I didn't like it.

      March 4, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
  4. Nat

    I'm not sexually intelligent and never hope to be! In fact I really don't care about sex, there are better things to do other than sex. I hadn't had sex with the war department in 45 years. I like it like that, she on the other hand dislikes it. She's managed all these years so a couple of more shouldn't be any problem.

    March 1, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mathew

      Spoken exactly in the way my wife would speak it. I crave sexual intelligence and have even gone through the Masters and Johnsons program with my wife and she still would rather avoid learning about herself. As long as I do to her what gets her where she wants that's all that matters. No connectivity, no closeness. I feel for your wife.

      March 2, 2012 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
    • Joe McPlumber

      I have never seen a better excuse for a wife swap.

      March 5, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
  5. Ron Burgundy

    It's all about avoiding eye contact and controlling your perspiration.

    March 1, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nightwriter

      Ok, yeah, I laughed at that🙂

      March 4, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
  6. iceload9

    "In my experience as a sex counselor, one way of cultivating all three of these qualities at once with a partner is through the practice of sensate focus exercises."

    Or alcohol.

    March 1, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mathew

      Wow, you totally don't understand sensate focus, do you?

      March 2, 2012 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
  7. James the elder

    Sex. Yum. The more you do it, the more fun it is.

    March 1, 2012 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chartreuxe

      That is entirely dependent upon your partner.

      March 4, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  8. Agnes

    You guys crack me up with these comments!!! The comment from the Alaskan is the funniest...

    March 1, 2012 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kev

    where does the donkey punch or Cleveland steamer come into play?

    March 1, 2012 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Techsupport

      Unexpectedly in the back of the head, like always.

      March 2, 2012 at 17:16 | Report abuse |
    • Jonny

      An unexpected Cleveland Steamer to the back of the head... I'm dying here!!!!

      March 4, 2012 at 02:52 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      What are you, an infant? Google is your friend.

      March 4, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  10. blinky

    What are they reading in the picture? The book spines don't even have words on them! Dumb.

    March 1, 2012 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BaldheadedGy

      you are way too anal, lol. I didn't even notice that and its not even that important.

      March 4, 2012 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
  11. tamara reina

    On the text side article is good for a reader, but it is a fruitful thought for a person to really think about because wf are sexual beings.

    March 2, 2012 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ojala Chorizo

    Let's face it, folks, there's a major league Catch-22 at play here that has been short circuiting sexual relationships for way-many moons. For a man to truly experience the release of sexual ecstasy, he has to risk vulnerability. Absent that, he always comes away spent but not truly satisfied, and he'll continue chasing Tail until his dying day without really knowing what it's all about. Women sense that and as a result, THEY won't risk vulnerability. But the moment he starts down the vulnerable path, his significant other will, more than likely, start looking for someone else who doesn't seem so soft.

    March 2, 2012 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chartreuxe

      Is this your hope or your fear?

      March 4, 2012 at 13:01 | Report abuse |
  13. Josh

    "Young men too often rely on p0rn ..."

    Men are 'programmed' to like to watch sex. That's how we learn how its done.

    March 2, 2012 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JanetG

      I agree men are programmed to enjoy visual sexual stimulation, but I doubt the underlying reason is education. Females have an estrus cycle. Men are programmed by biology to enjoy watching females because it gives them clues as to when the female is looking for sex. JanetG, author of A Lusting Couple: Foursomes For All, Vol. 1

      March 2, 2012 at 10:25 | Report abuse |
    • Jeepers

      Yeah...because everyone does the reverse cowgirl in an awkward position intended to play to an invisible camera on a couch.

      March 2, 2012 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
    • Techsupport

      If that's what it takes to educate the net generation, we should probably just go ahead and let humanity die out. Like pandas.

      March 2, 2012 at 17:19 | Report abuse |
  14. Boneman

    Chicks just wonna get boned real good.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shakti

      True! Read, or better, ask us when we want that, and when we want something else more tender and gentle, and you're onto a winner. 🙂

      March 2, 2012 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
  15. TiredODaCrap

    Not intelligent sexually here...But, ignorance is definitely bliss!

    March 2, 2012 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. highlinetrash

    And, WHY is the Queen the most powerful piece on the board?

    March 2, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • toodark

      If the Queen is the most powerful piece, why can the game continue without her? Because you can always get more when you reach the other side.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:51 | Report abuse |
  17. J-Bravo

    I may not have a foot long schlong but I do have a toe curling tongue. I get laid depending on what the girl is in the mood for.

    March 2, 2012 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • informedunionvoter

      I bet you are crusty with diseases. ewww

      March 2, 2012 at 23:54 | Report abuse |
  18. informedunionvoter

    Doesn't that picture of Dr. Sanjay whatshisname look just like that one homeless dude with the cool deep announcer's voice?!

    March 2, 2012 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jack Spratz

    Article and comments show why it is useless to talk about sex, and especially to think that someone is an "expert" on sex. Talk shows about sex are not only useless, they are stupid. So are articles written by sex columnists; and the comments by ignorant vox populi are just what you would expect from a country with an IQ. level of -5.

    March 3, 2012 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joe

    I am confused. Why is CNN abandoning Danny's Syrian buds so quickly ? One minute everyone was dying over there and needs rescuing by way of B52 carpet bombing. Next minute we don't hear a thing about it. What gives ?

    March 3, 2012 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Howie

      Because they realized we really don't care, and it isn't our problem. BTW, wrong article.

      March 4, 2012 at 10:16 | Report abuse |
  21. DAn Templeton

    It is not "sexual intelligence," but "sexual literacy". The writer of "7 intelligencies" got it wrong. Humans are born with a "meta-intelligence" like your hard drive, and then everything else you know is like an aquired app on your phone or computer. That app is one of many literacies you develop or aquire over your lifetime.

    March 4, 2012 at 01:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • toodark

      Then explain ferile children? We're blank slates when we're born except for some rudimentary instincts. "Metaintelligence" is a nonsense explaination for skills people aren't aware have developed naturally and slowly.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
  22. Sun Rises First In The East

    I definitely have no 'sexual intelligence'.. But I'd like to know who these sexually crazed, libidinous creatures are... I guess living in Asia occupying everyday with my studies, then spending 14 hours in an office everyday Monday through Saturday has made me sexually oblivious.... It may be my conservative up-bringing, or my Confucius based beliefs, or my desire to make my family proud, but I'd take success over a good romp any day..

    March 4, 2012 at 02:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Howie

      You clearly have a hormone imbalance.

      March 4, 2012 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      Are you boasting or complaining?

      March 4, 2012 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • missadr

      There is definitely something wrong with you. I strongly recommend that you see a doctor right away.

      March 4, 2012 at 23:11 | Report abuse |
  23. chriß

    A clevland steamer your sick

    March 4, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Joe

    I have no sexual intellegence but do have a wife who says you can;t push a rope down the road. She bought me the J12 Increaser. It did the trick now we are both happy. No pills and it works.

    March 4, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. CENTRAL PARK

    DID YOUR AIDS & STD'S CHECK COME BACK NEGATIVE!

    March 4, 2012 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. BaldheadedGy

    I think I'm one of the most sexually intelligent people out there because I prefer self-gratification. Masturbating instead of intercourse guarantees me pleasure 100% of the time, don't have to worry about pleasing/disappointing someone else, no melodrama, baggage, in-laws, nagging, arguments, crowding, annoyance, lol. Yes, I'm a loner but a content loner and I have a very vivid imagination. Now if I could just do something about my career...

    March 4, 2012 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • missadr

      So you have no desire to be close to another human being? I know that isn't true and your situation sounds very sad.

      March 4, 2012 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
    • guitarharry

      Have you thought about the priesthood?

      March 5, 2012 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
  27. missadr

    I stopped dating american men a long time ago. They know absolutely nothing about s e x, they don't want to learn, they don't even care that they're terrible. You can tell by the way they dress that they haven't got an ounce of sensuality in them anywhere. I thank God every day for immigrants.

    March 4, 2012 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. wellhellothere

    S__ is for procreation. I'm smart. Besides, i could never fathom the idea of sticking part of me into a complete stranger's body down there. I'm absolutely in love with the idea of being on the planet filled with hundreds of millions of beautiful women, and i love seeing beautiful faces everyday, everywhere i look, and reminiscing when i go to bed, i just can't actually understand how any 2 people on earth every actually 'get together'. It seems so odd, finding a complete stranger and sticking part of you in them for a little while.

    March 5, 2012 at 03:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • guitarharry

      What? You don't like anonymous one-night sex? You should get married, dude.

      March 5, 2012 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
  29. guitarharry

    Well...it's all relative, I suppose. Most guys are guilty of letting their johnsons do their thinking for them at some point...

    March 5, 2012 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. wiko

    Every sexually dissatisfied couple has one person who would LOVE if the other read and did what this article said and one that truly doesn't understand why they shoud even care about how their partner likes to be touched.

    March 5, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Rick in L.A.

    I just want to know why sex is great the first 100 times with the same person, but gets significantly less exciting after that.
    Every possible position known to man, and I still think about sliding into second....

    March 5, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Rick in L.A.

    I just want to know why sex is great the first 100 times with the same person, but gets significantly less exciting after that.
    Every possible position known to man, and I still think about sliding into second.

    March 5, 2012 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. pete

    Not sure sex should be associated with intelligence.

    March 5, 2012 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Rob

    Wow, put down the books... Yawn. This article makes sex sound like a bunch of boring work. No, being dropped downtown Moscow without no help and no language skills does not sound at all enjoyable at all. Either the sparks are there or they are not. Either the two care about pleasing each other or not. Over analyzing and studying it as though it's a college course is going make 'sex' a profession instead of a past time. And for that, one should be paid.

    March 6, 2012 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rob

      ..with no help and no language skills...

      March 6, 2012 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
    • christy

      I agree with you Rob

      March 6, 2012 at 22:34 | Report abuse |
  35. toodark

    I look at it this way...I can get myself off anytime I like. When I have the opportunity to make a woman feel good it's all about her. If she is moved to reciprocate that's great but intercourse is only one....course as it were. It can be difficult for some women to let go and tell you something feels good, while it's feeling good and so the barometer is hard to read many times. By putting her pleasure first it's much easier to tell if what you're doing is having a positive effect. Always...ladies first.

    March 12, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Assembleia

    ellen Posted on I think this is mean spirited. Though the thngis in the place are truely horrifying Someone thought well enough of it to put it up. I enjoy the humor of people sharing their own thoughts about thngis gone wrong it is different when someone makes fun of someone else.

    September 13, 2012 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply

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