https://www.smh.com.au-By Kerri Sackville
Dr Bat Sheva Marcus’ book Sex Points outlines the four quadrants that are vital to good sex: (lack of) pain, arousal, orgasm, and desire.Credit:iStock
When a woman presents to a doctor with a sexual problem, one of three things is likely to happen: she will be told it’s in her head, she’ll be offered a medical solution, or her concerns will be dismissed entirely.
In Sex Points: Reclaim Your Sex Life with the Revolutionary Multi-Point System, Dr Bat Sheva Marcus pushes back against this mind/body binary, and the pervasive disregard for women’s sexual dysfunction. She conceptualises women’s sexual response as a complex system that relies on multiple factors working in tandem; to enjoy good, satisfying sex, a woman needs ‘sex points’ derived from different areas of her life.
Dr Bat Sheva Marcus is a certified sex therapist whose PhD dissertation examined vibrator use in women, and director of Maze, the largest women’s sexual health centre in the USA. Dubbed the ‘Orthodox Sex Guru’ by the New York Times, Marcus is also an Orthodox Jew whose patients include many in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Charedi community, in which sex is not discussed, and couples do not touch until their wedding night.
“I received no sex education,” she tells me. “Like, zero. It was in contrast to the feminist world I was growing up in. I was being told ‘women can do everything, you can take on the world,’ but when it came to sexuality it was an unending abyss.′ This lack of information left Marcus feeling vulnerable and angry, and she became determined to educate and empower women to experience sexual pleasure.
Sex Points is a reference guide for women wishing to discover the sources (because there are always multiple sources) of their own sexual issues. It outlines the four quadrants that are vital to good sex: (lack of) pain, arousal, orgasm, and desire. Each of these areas can gain or lose ‘points’ from a variety of emotional and physical factors, such as hormones, the tightness of the vaginal muscles, a woman’s fantasy life, and her relationship with her partner. A detailed quiz allows readers to identify areas where their own sex points are missing.
There are some illuminating insights, particularly in Marcus’s detailed explanation of the difference between arousal and desire. There are also politely scathing critiques of the medical and psychological industries which minimise women’s pain and blame women for their own problems.
“I’ve had patients quote their therapist’s telling them that their vaginal pain was their ‘vagina’s way of telling them that they ‘weren’t ready’ to have sex.′ Oh, really? Or maybe it was actually their vagina telling them that it was time to find a new therapist,” she writes in the book.
Marcus unpacks the intricacies of women’s sexual response; orgasms, she explains, require genital stimulation plus mental stimulation plus a complex hormonal balance. She debunks the myth of easy, mutually orgasmic penetrative sex with an analogy that women will rush to show their male partners: For some women, she writes, orgasming through intercourse is the equivalent of bringing a man to orgasm by rubbing his testicles.
The second half of Sex Points moves away from diagnosis and towards solutions: the multiple tools and strategies that women can use to boost their sex points and increase their sexual pleasure. Some of these tools require medical intervention, others are techniques to work on alone or with a partner, but all involve a holistic, multi-dimensional approach.
Marcus unpacks the intricacies of sexual desire in long term relationships – how distance and tension can ignite passion, and familiarity can quash it. Unlike many couples counsellors, she is vigorously opposed to the idea that a good sex life requires only emotional intimacy, communication, and behaviour, ‘as if all your partner needed to do to fill you with desire was cover the bed in rose petals or do the dishes.’ She believes, however, that women may need to give up some of their romantic ideas about sex to develop a more ‘grown up’ understanding about sex and the role it will play.
Throughout Sex Points, Marcus calmly destigmatises and normalises vaginas and the female sexual response. There is no such thing as a ‘weird’ way of masturbating, no fantasies or desires are taboo, everything is normal and OK, and absolutely nothing is shocking. This is the great gift of the book, along with Marcus’s non-negotiable belief that every single woman is entitled to sexual pleasure. In a culture in which women’s sexual fulfilment is deprioritised, and the female orgasm is considered a bonus and not a right, this is a revolutionary stance.
Sex Points is fascinating, but never salacious or titillating; it is a practical, warm, and optimistic manual for people with vaginas and their partners. “Good sex is possible for everyone, at every age, in every situation,” Marcus writes. “And there’s a solution for everyone.”
Reclaim Your Sex Life with the Revolutionary Multi-Point System, by Dr Bat Sheva Marcus is out now (Hachette, 2021).