|WHERE TO LOOK
As Dr. Berman states, “We’re all experts” when it comes to sex, so sometimes a stroll down memory lane is all that’s needed in terms of research, but if you want to dig deeper, your best bet is to talk to someone who’s strolled down a few different memory lanes.
“Certainly consult with a sex therapist,” implores the doctor. “They’re everywhere, certainly out in Los Angeles. I think there’s something really rich about consulting with someone who’s been in the therapist’s chair and really understands the nuances of what you’re playing out on the screen. I think that just one conversation with an expert can give you tons and tons of meat to work with. In a way, it’s much easier than looking up what you’re trying to find on a million different sites on the Internet.”
In other words, best of luck to you if googling “sex” is where you plan to start your quest. However, if you’re intent on researching online, start at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Web site. There you’ll find a comprehensive list of accessible sex experts, a well as a long list of books, Web sites and expert blogs.
For the more wonky side of sex, check out the International Society for Sexual Medicine, which includes more nuts-and-bolts (so to speak) information on sex, including reports such as the awkwardly titled Priapism Made Easy.
And while Dr. Berman does stress the benefit of person-to-person research, her Web site is worth a spin if you’re looking for information on women’s sexuality or where to get a pair of those Katherine Heigl vibrating panties.
Written by Denis Faye
“The things that happen at my office would make a great script,” might be words universally loathed by screenwriters, but when they come from Dr. Laura Berman, they’re 100 percent accurate.
Ya see, Dr. Berman is a sex therapist. I could stop there, but I’ll go on to mention she’s the New York Times best-selling author of several books, including the newly released The Book of Love: Every Couple’s Guide to Emotional and Sexual Intimacy. She’s a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times; a regular on Oprah; and has appeared on Fox News, CNN and in the New York Times and USA Today. She was a sex therapy technical consultant for Meet The Fockers [Screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg] and David E. Kelly’s The Practice. She also has her own line of “intimate accessories,” including the remote control, vibrating panties worn by Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth [Screenplay by Nicole Eastman and Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith].
So when she says she’s seen things “you could never even dream of,” she’s probably right.
Recently, Dr. Berman talked candidly (consider that a warning) with Technically Speaking about sexuality and how it plays out on the screen. For the record, if you’re looking to write a script about “furries,” here’s your first source. And if you don’t know what a furry is, keep reading…
What does Hollywood get wrong about sex?
It’s not like I watch a sexual act or a sexual scene and say “No, that angle would have never happened,” but I do think, in the bulk of Hollywood movies and television, people are portrayed as having these amazing, explosive orgasms every time. Only once in a blue moon someone can’t do it. I think there was a Sex and the City [Created by Darren Star] once where one of the characters lost her orgasm, that’s the only time I’ve seen where someone couldn’t reach orgasm.
Most of the time, women come into my office having really screwed expectations of what sex should be and what it should feel like based on what they’ve seen in the movies. That’s where they’ve learned what it should be and what it feels like. So I have lots of women thinking they didn’t have an orgasm because they didn’t look like Samantha when they did.
And in the movies, you don’t see people having mediocre orgasms. Orgasms come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they’re just a little poof.
That’s one thing in terms of explicit sex, but what I notice more is relationship dynamics, especially with the therapist shows like Tell Me You Love Me [Created by Cynthia Mort]. Even with films like Couples Retreat [Written by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn & Dana Fox], there hasn’t been a good representation. I understand it has to be entertaining and funny, but therapy is all those things. The things that happen in my office every day, you couldn’t even imagine.
But they exaggerate some things and not others without really reflecting what happens in a relationship and how relationships heal. I remember in Tell Me You Love Me, there was a scene where the therapist is talking to a couple dealing with infertility and their sex life is suffering as a result, which is very realistic and very common. There are some really funny things that a real sex therapist could probably ask the couple to do, but what she said to them when they said they’re not having fun with sex anymore is, “I just want you not to think about getting pregnant and that will fix it.” Not at all what a sex therapist would say at that point and not very effective!
I’d say, “I want you to create two kinds of sex: baby sex and fun sex. Have the baby sex [that will] work for fertility and the rest of the time have non-baby sex and do it in different rooms and different places.” I would imagine you could have fun with some of those scenes as the couple tries to experiment and play those out.
It can make for interesting film and television if you use the correct intervention. It’s not like real life in this realm is not hilarious and entertaining and raw.
I guess the reality of sex is so strewn with drama that it’s hard to screw up when you’re being honest about it.
Right. I guess the point is, for me, as the expert for whatever topic is being represented in Hollywood, that there’s a wealth of knowledge there and that any writer in Hollywood could blow up into something hilarious and much less trite.
The other thing about sex is that we’re all experts from some standpoint. If you were doing a show about molecular physics, most writers would be compelled to seek a molecular physicist. But with sex, we can all look at our own lives and talk to our girlfriends and guy friends about their experiences and come up with ideas. But that’s a relatively narrow channel. A sex therapist has seen things you can’t even imagine that have the drama and the shock value to be really fascinating.
But what I see are the same sexual scenes going on again and again, like in Everybody Loves Raymond [Created by Philip Rosenthal] there’s always the wife that doesn’t want to have sex with the guy. Why not, one time, have him not in the mood? One in five men in this country has low desire, so for at least 20 percent of men, it would be striking a nerve as comedy. I’d love to see more variety.
What does Hollywood get right?
I think they nail it all the time. I think Tell Me You Love Me comes the closest. Even if we go back to Raymond, they show how your average couple struggles with differences in desire and body image issues. A lot of the really success comedies, like this new show Parenthood, the bulk of the time are great, hilarious, broad and real.
So, if there were a United States of Sex, what I’m getting from you is that Hollywood does a good job just portraying, say, Montana or Colorado, but there’s a whole other 49 states that should be investigated.
What about the sexual taboos and repression Americans are so famous for? Do they need more attention onscreen?
Definitely. And I think just talking about it more realistically really normalizes having the discussion and being okay with it. I have a tremendous amount of admiration for what Sex and the City has done, particularly for women. I was working as a sex therapist way before that and the shift that happened when that show took hold of America was huge not only in terms of the women in their 20s and 30s, but the younger girls coming up in terms of how comfortable they could feel with the permission of those characters to be entitled more to their sexuality – to be okay to go after it and not be ashamed about it.
I think Hollywood has tremendous power to create shows that will normalize sex for us. I think that the reason we’re so hung up in our culture is because we’re so repressed and this repression is the circle that never ends, whereas in other countries there’s a lot more expression of sexuality and a lot more nudity in casual ways. Sex is still titillating and interesting, but it’s not like this naughty, scary taboo like it is in our country.
And I think Hollywood can tackle those taboos not just by normalizing things, but by creating plots around them that really highlight how silly the taboos were, that showed a character dealing with them.
Could you give me an example?
Like the taboo that nice girls should be receptive to sex and enjoy it when it happens, maybe initiate it in the right context, but if something’s wrong and you get help, if you talk to anyone but your closest girlfriend, that’s putting too much importance on sex and it puts you over the edge of sluttiness. So what about a even a comedy about that, about the embarrassment a woman feels when she’s sneaking into the clinic and then she gets discovered by her neighbor who’s having the same problem? Something like that.
I guess that could go the same way for guys. They’re expected to spring to action, so to speak, at a moment’s notice and when they can’t do that, it’s a big source of comedy.
Absolutely, it’s a huge source of comedy, but not only the fact that he’s lost it and “isn’t that embarrassing?” What about showing him struggling with telling a partner about it, or going to a doctor about it? The whole checkup you get for erectile dysfunction is the making of comedy. Explore that more, the problems, the struggles, the inhibitions. Show couples learning to let go of their inhibitions in the bedroom, having a funny or dramatic scene around that.
What’s something you’d like to see in a movie or TV show, just once?
I would love to see more about paraphilia and fetishes. I think people are fascinated with those, but they come up in the tritest ways. Once again, back to Sex and the City, Carrie had a guy with a shoe fetish in love with her feet and giving her all these shoes. It was hilarious, but it would be cool to address those more because audiences find them fascinating. How funny would it be to do a show on a guy who is furry. You know what a furry is?
A furry? I, um, I think… no.
A furry is someone who gets aroused by interacting with or being inside one of those giant mascot suits. You could do something about a guy in a big suit at a theme park or a mascot for a sports team and the guy turns out to by a furry and everyone gets freaked out. You could do it in a funny way. I saw people like this when I was in training.
Also all the stuff that goes into a fetish, from the time we’re four to nine, our lovemaps are developing, which is basically everything that turns us on, a look in a person, the kind of person we’re attracted to, characteristics that turn us on. My husband always likes to say that I look like his first grade teacher who he had a crush on. From things like having been spanked as a young boy or in diapers and getting an erection that felt really good and having a synapse connection between diapers or pain and arousal, that’s when that connection gets made. I just had a guy who called into my radio show who’s been married for eight years and his wife doesn’t know that he likes diapers. It’s endless. It’s the depth and breadth of the ocean.