What is sexual education or bibliotherapy, and how can it help with my sexual function?

Women often are not aware of sexual responsiveness and genital anatomy. Understanding your genital anatomy, what it looks and feels like, will help you know your normal physiologic response and how sexual arousal occurs. As a first step, examine your genitals with the aid of a handheld mirror alone or in the presence of a sexual healthcare professional. Do you know where the clitoral tissue is located? Touch the vagina lips, feel the contour of the vaginal walls. Can you properly identify all the parts of your anatomy? This is the beginning of your sexual education. Focusing on other literature or erotica[1] may also be helpful in broadening your sexual experience and understanding.

Have you ever wondered where they keep the "magazines for women"? Where are the pictures of naked men? Next time you travel, look at the local newsstand; you're sure to find numerous magazines marketed to men—you can possibly decipher many familiar titles under the protective plastic or boards covering the erotically charged pictures. Published data support the premise that erotica and sexually explicit movies and pictures and pornography visually stimulate men more than women. Women, on the other hand, are less visually stimulated. Some women do tell of increased sexual interest and desire for sexual intimacy after reading erotically charged literature, but almost uniformly women are not as stimulated by sexually visual material as men are.

Have you ever wondered where they keep the "magazines for women"?

One of the exercises that your sexual healthcare professional may prescribe is bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy consists of many take-home items, such as pamphlets, books, videos, and other visual aids, that provide educational instruction or reinforcement for you and your partner. These materials may also serve as a future guide or reference. Many are graphic and have a variety of pictures demonstrating sexual positioning while others are narratives.

The Internet has become a main educational resource for women who suffer from sexual complaints. Women are thirsty for accurate, easily readable information. The Women's Sexual Health Foundation (twshf.org), founded by Lisa Martinez, is an excellent resource for patients and serves as an advocacy group for women's sexual health care. The International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH), the premier organization for women's sexual health at isswsh.org; the North American Menopause Society (NAMS, menopause.org); and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, acog.org) are all organizations that maintain current information on their websites concerning sexual health and sexual education. They also provide medical information about the latest updates on female sexual therapeutics. For the female cancer survivor, the American Cancer Society's booklet titled Cancer and Sexuality is an excellent patient reference guide. It provides factual information and helpful suggestions to maintain and improve your sexual functioning.

What is an erotic reading list?

Be certain to contact a reputable organization when you are seeking information and sexual education. Make sure the data are up-to-date and that the authors are reputable healthcare providers in the field of sexual medicine.

Dr. Susan Kellogg-Spadt, codirector of the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute Sexual Medicine Institute in Philadelphia, has developed an exciting and enticing erotic reading list. This is a listing of some important erotically charged, sexually explicit material that can be helpful in the comprehensive treatment of female sexual complaints. Sexual research has verified that women who read erotic literature, either instructional or fantasy, have more spontaneous sexual thoughts and fantasies. They may also be experiencing more satisfying sexual behavior than are women who do not.

Enjoying erotic literature is a perfectly normal part of nourishing your sexual soul. Your interest in certain sexual fantasy does not necessarily represent your desire for certain activities in your real life. Many sexual medicine professionals may request that you purchase a few of the books on an erotic reading list and commit to reading them at least 15 to 20 minutes three times per week. When you are reading, you should be alone, relaxed, and in a private place without distractions. Table 1 lists a few of Dr. Kellogg-Spadt's suggestions.

table 1. Instructional and fantasy r eading materials

instructional reading

fantasy reading

Becoming Orgasmic (Heiman & LaPicolo)

The Best New Erotica (Caroll & Groff)

The Elusive Orgasm (Cass)

Aqua Erotica (Mohanraj')

The Busy Couple's Guide to Great Sex (McAllister & Rallie)

The Blue Moon Erotic Reader (Burner & Russet)

The Art of Kissing (Cane)

Erotic Interludes (Barbach)

The Big O (Paget)

Forbidden Flowers My Secret Garden (Friday)

Sexfor One/Orgasm for Two (Dodson)

Erotic Edge/Pleasures (Barbach)

The G Spot (Whipple et al.)

Historical Erotica (Carroll & Groff)

Resurrecting Sex (Schnarch)

Herotica (Bright)

The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex (Keesling)

Erotic Fairy Tales (Szereto)

Satisfaction: Women, Sex, and the Quest for Intimacy (Clayton & Robin)

Getting the Sex You Want (Leiblum)

Another title to add to an erotic reading list is The Ultimate Guide to Adult Videos: How to Watch Adult Videos and Make Your Sex Life Sizzle. In this book, Violet Blue, sex educator, reviews countless DVDs, and it is perfect for the adult-video neophyte.

Some other suggestions include Real Sex for Real Women by Dr. Laura Berman, an excellent book with color picture that helps every woman, no matter what shape or size combine the realities of everyday life with satisfying sexual passion. Dr. Berman also has an extensive list of home DVDs that can help spice up your sexual life.

Celebrating Orgasm: Women's Private Self-Loving Sessions, is an excellent DVD by famous sexologist Betty Dodson. The DVD guides five women (ages 26 to 62) through overcoming their concerns, fears, and inhibitions about self-stimulation techniques. It offers suggestions for a variety of clitoral stimulation methods and is an excellent teaching tool to help women experience orgasmic arousal. The Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm is a documentary produced and directed by Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori. It explores the dynamic connection between the vibrator and the female orgasm.

How do I know if I need psychosexual therapy and counseling?

Because women's sexual complaints are complex phenomena and situational issues are a fundamental part of the diagnosis, a comprehensive treatment regime includes appropriate sexual counseling and therapy. A certified sexual therapist who is educated and trained to deal with patients with sexual complaints is often the best mental healthcare provider to treat sexual complaints. These specialists are qualified to deal with psychosexual issues that include body image, changes in intimacy, sexuality, self-esteem, and mood.

You may also need marital, individual, couples, and/or group therapy, depending on your need and specific complaint. In general, most patients can benefit from brief psychosexual interventions that include education, counseling/support, and symptom management. Psychotherapists and psychologists can be extremely effective when vaginal dilators[2] are prescribed for the treatment of vaginismus and other painful sexual syndromes where a woman's vaginal muscles close tightly almost involuntarily.

Seeking treatment of both the medical and psychological concerns of a sexual complaint with close collaboration between the medical clinician and psychosexual therapist can help alleviate your sexual symptoms. You may be required to sign release forms so that your sexual medicine specialist can discuss your case with the therapist, and vice versa. Frequent visits to your sexual healthcare team are often needed to help with sexual complaints and pain syndromes like dyspareunia, vulvodynia, and vaginismus.

Local and national support organizations such as the American Association for Sex Education, Counseling and Treatment (AASECT, aasect.org) and Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) can provide further information and support to help you achieve greater comfort with these issues, within your relationships and families and within yourself.

Seeking treatment of both the medical and psychological concerns of a sexual complaint with close collaboration between the medical clinician and psychosexual therapist can help alleviate your sexual symptoms.

  • [1] Sexually themed work such as books or sculpture deemed to have literary and artistic merit. Naked men, women, and other body parts are often featured as predominant themes.
  • [2] Medical applications that can be placed within the vagina to help restore the vaginal tissues so that they are more adaptable.
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