Girl talk with Barbara Keesling
By Naughty Mickie firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Keesling is practically a household name. The sex therapist is a regular contributor to Glamor, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Elle, Esquire and other fashion, fitness and health magazines. She has been interviewed and quoted nationwide and has appeared on more than 30 radio shows, as well as on the Web at eyada.com and iVillage.com. Keesling has also appeared on television on shows such as "Howard Stern," "Leeza" and "The View." She has written many books on human sexuality including, "Getting Close," "Sexual Healing" and her most recent release, "The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex." Now it was DaBelly's turn to find out what makes Keesling and her work so popular.
It was a hot afternoon and Keesling greeted me at the door with a towel loosely covering her bright bikini. She had been lounging by her sparkling blue pool and guided me through her middle class suburbia home to a shady spot on her patio. She had a radiant smile and an easy laugh, which promised that this was to be a pleasant interview.
Before discussing the book, I wanted to know how Keesling got to where she is today.
"In the late 1970s I was working as a mail carrier in Redondo Beach," Keesling relates. "And when you're a mail carrier, you read everybody's mail-- no I'm kidding, you read everybody's magazines. I was sitting reading this article in the newspaper about Masters and Johnson, the famous sex therapists, and they were talking about something called surrogate partners, which was somebody who worked directly with people who were having sexual problems. And I'm reading this, I had this like personal, you can even use the word epiphany too if you want to, I said 'I could do that job. This is the job that I want.'''
Keesling decided to take a human sexuality class at her local college and asked the instructor if they knew anything about sexual surrogacy. It turned out that there were speakers already scheduled to talk about it. After learning more about the career, she moved to Orange County, trained with the therapists and worked as a surrogate partner for about 12 years while also attending college.
"It's not a talk thing," Keesling explains about being a sexual surrogate. "What it is, is filling the gap in therapy because, normally if people have sex problems, they come in as a couple and they are instructed to do these exercises together in the privacy of their own home. Whereas, if you have a single person who has sex problems, they can't have an orgasm or they have difficulty having a erection or whatever, they still need to do those exercises, but they need someone to do them with. So the therapist then hires a surrogate partner to work with them. It's like a substitute partner. People get kind of freaked out hearing about that because they focus on the sex part. Yes, you're having sex with these people, but that's not the point. You don't throw a person who's really anxious in with a person and say, 'Okay, have sex with them.' You have to do these preliminary massage type things and a lot of talking, getting to know each other. And me, understanding what their problem is, it's very clinical. I'm like an instructor and when most people understand what it is, they say, 'Oh, I can see a need for this.' Because if you do have problems this is the only person you can turn to.''
Keesling worked only with male patients. She states that it would have been acceptable to work with women, but there was no call for her to do it-- the therapists already had surrogates for that.
With her interest in the field of sex therapy sparked, Keesling went on to obtain a bachelor's and master's degree and a PhD in psychology. She also began writing books mostly based on her experiences with clients and practical exercises that were performed during her sessions as a surrogate. She continued to branch out, working as a therapist for a while (the talk side of therapy) and teaching. Keesling currently teaches human sexuality full-time at Cal State Fullerton in Fullerton, California. It was her classes that inspired "The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex."
"Younger women tend to have more sex problems than older women,'' Keesling notes.
She found that her students had problems which ranged from dealing with their identities to boyfriend pressures.
"This book is about helping women who were raised to be nice girls approach sexuality from a position of strength instead of a man telling them what to do or how to feel,'' Keesling says. "It's about enjoying your sexuality and enjoying yourself.''
"The Good Girl's Guide" is targeted at women in their late teens to age 30, as well as men who would like to get into women's psyches. She also thinks that it is a good book for friends to read together and would make a good wedding shower gift or even a cool present for married women. The work encourages the reader to question their upbringing and the double standards of sexuality.
Keesling began selecting her topics by trying to think of something she hadn't already written about. Oral sex was the first subject that came to mind (this was also her favorite chapter to write because of the techniques she discusses). Ideas from her students also included oral sex, as well as clothing, writing (to work out feelings), nonverbal communication, orgasm and talking sexy.
"About a year and a half ago when I was working on this book, I had my students write an essay, for credit, on their idea of a stereotype of what is a good girl and what is a bad girl. It helped a ton; I got my topics. I intend from now on to have my students write my books. It will be the first case of a teacher plagiarizing from their students,'' Keesling laughs.
But can "bad girls" learn anything from her guide?
"What I think they could learn, if a girl considers herself bad, maybe she could learn a little more class and that you don't have to make a scene or be a diva,'' Keesling suggests.
When I ask Keesling to share her best tip from the guide, she says that writing works best for her, but she feels most women could benefit by learning about body language and nonverbal communication, as your inner personality and the image you wish to project to the world should match.
Most of the biggest sexual problems in a relationship are physical, according to Keesling. Women are troubled by low sexual desire, while men suffer from dysfunction. Men can treat the most common dysfunction, premature ejaculation, by learning muscle control, reducing anxiety and focusing on feelings. For women, the cure is more complex. Lack of sexual desire is very individual and has psychological roots. Keesling also believes that birth control pills can play a part in affecting the libido, as they affect a woman's hormones.
There are exercises that couples can do to make their sexual relationship better, plus Keesling adds that some sex usually leads to more. All of the books that Keesling has written contain exercises taken from therapy that are geared to help her readers.
You may think that's it's easy for a therapist to sit back and tell everyone else what to do, even if they have as much "practical" experience as Keesling, but she truly is comfortable with her own sexuality.
After she sold her first two books, Keesling's publicist approached Playboy offering an interview. Playboy replied that they would like to do a pictorial. Keesling posed for Playboy in October of 1994 and her photos were published in the April 1995 issue. She smiles as she tells me how easy the photo shoot was. It also paid well and she wasn't the least bit nervous.
Keesling's mother is comfortable with the course that Keesling has taken with her life. But Keesling was raised, like many of us, in a "restrictive" sexually conservative home. I felt that with all the controversy about sexuality and children, I wanted her perspective as to what is appropriate to teach them and when.
Keesling recommends that children should learn the difference between girls and boys when they are two to three years old. When they start to discover their bodies, masturbation should be discussed.
Children should be told when and where it is appropriate, such as alone in your room and not in front of company during dinner.
In early grade school, children need to start learning about menstruation and puberty because they are going through these changes at younger ages than in the past. During grade school, they also need to have pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases explained.
Keesling agrees with many of the experts on raising children in that you should answer your children's questions as they ask them. Provide your child with the correct information, but at a level that is appropriate for their age and understanding. Keesling recommends going to your local library or bookstore because there are many good books available to help you and your child learn about this part of life.
Keesling is already looking forward to two more projects, a book on male sexuality and one on sexual soul mates. But she says that "The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex" has been the most fun to write out of all her works so far.
So is there anything that is truly bad when it comes to sexuality?
"If it's dangerous, immoral or illegal, you've definitely crossed the line,'' Keesling laughs.
You can chat with Barbara Keesling each month online at Power-Surge.com, part of Thrive, a health site for women over forty. Also read her column, "Healthy Sexuality" on WebMD. "The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex" is published by M. Evans & Company and is available for $21.95 at bookstores and online booksellers.
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