Head Case

Cunnilingus how-to guide.
Photo: Zohar Lazar

In a town where everyone wants go down in history remembered for something, Ian Kerner wants to go down as the champion of going down. Thirty-seven and diminutive, but boyishly handsome, he’s a sex therapist who has written She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, a Chilton’s manual for cunnilingus. Kerner is so committed to teaching new skills that he names his licks—the Elvis Presley snarl (gum against clitoris, lip up), the Jackson Pollock lick (“broad strokes with pinpoint targeted precision”), even the Rope a Dope, in honor of the Thrilla in Manila (let her push and grind and then spring back with a strong stroke). If it sounds too theoretical, Kerner says that what’s important is the overall message: Sex doesn’t make women come and oral sex does, so men need to put the tongue before the sword.

Kerner grew up in Chelsea, went to Dwight and Walden, and spent his teenage years like most of the guys I dated in high school: making out with girls, not making them come, reading a lot of porn, and struggling with premature ejaculation. “It was my Achilles’ penis,” he says over afternoon tea at Thé Adoré. “Men train themselves by masturbating furtively, quickly, and in private, and build a neuropath between their brain and body.”

He lost his virginity at 17, went off to Brandeis, and, in hopes of helping himself overcome his problem, read The Kinsey Report and Masters and Johnson. Feeling like a sexual cripple, à la Jon Voight in Coming Home, he resisted sex and instead spent all his dates dining at the Y. As a result, he became known for his talents: “I got really skilled at turning oral sex from an arbitrary aspect of foreplay into something that I codified. I became deeply aware of how to satisfy a woman.” He began worrying less about his own orgasm and eventually learned to slow down his response time when he did have sex.

After college, he had stints as a playwright and a creative-writing professor, got married, and worked for a start-up. When the dot-com bubble burst (“a big premature ejaculation”), he decided to get his doctorate in clinical sexology. As he began seeing patients, mainly married couples, he became convinced that most men were too focused on intercourse, and that couples needed to find a way to, as he puts it, “turn foreplay into coreplay.”

“The average man can maintain genital thrusting for two and a half minutes before ejaculation, but the average woman requires fifteen to eighteen minutes of persistent clitoral stimulation to have her first orgasm,” Kerner says. “That twelve-and-a-half-minute difference is a gaping maw of frustration on the part of women.”

Anyone with half a brain could tell you this, but his book is detailed to the point of exhaustion—with a section on anatomy, a step-by-step guide to going down, and a mere seven pages (out of 228) on the old in-and-out. It’s almost too thorough. Isn’t it overoptimistic to think a guy can do the perineum clasp while moving the woman into a semi-split, alternating with vertical and horizontal tongue strokes? “I wanted to be more extensive and rigorous on this subject than anyone had heretofore been,” Kerner says.

“Women have just as many hang-ups about receiving as men do about giving.”

There’s certainly a nobility to the book; any guy who picks it up in a store, even if he doesn’t buy it, will come away learning something new. But if women out there aren’t getting what they want from men, it may not be entirely the fault of the men. I have many female friends who shrug when the subject of cunnilingus comes up—they say they can take it or leave it, or it takes too long, or even, dismissively, “I prefer sex.” On Sex and the City, the Mr. Pussy character was portrayed as a laughingstock because of his obsession—and Charlotte ultimately realized she couldn’t have a relationship with him.

Kerner thinks women are part of the problem: “They have just as many hang-ups about receiving as men do about giving.” He blames Freud, who scarred generations of women by defining “vaginal” orgasms as more mature than childish little clitoral ones. Seventies feminists refuted much of this, but in the eighties, the debate was renewed again with the publication of The G Spot. In more recent years, the vagina has enjoyed a comeback as sex shops have begun selling G-spot vibrators and videos on female ejaculation through G-spot stimulation. Kerner is skeptical about all this. He believes the G-spot is part of the clitoris and that a G-spot orgasm is a kind of clitoral orgasm. As for all those squirters, he points out that some say ejaculating has no positive effect on their pleasure.

For most women, he says, it’s cunnilingus that does the trick—but most men just don’t know how to do it. “One of the biggest complaints I hear from women is, ‘I love it when my guy goes down on me, but it’s like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It’s like a stampede for the clitoris, and I just want to get out of the way.’ ”

This is why so many men say they don’t have the energy for long sessions. “The men are too aggressive, and that leads to a lot of guys saying, ‘After three minutes, my tongue hurts. My neck hurts.’ But that’s because they’re approaching it in the wrong way.” Furthermore, Kerner points out, the more you do it, the less time it takes—something I have discovered with the help of my own personal Clitoral Conqueror, my husband, Jake.

Kerner believes a book on muff-diving is all the more necessary in the phallocentric era of Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis. Before pills, men would get creative—something no longer required. “A lot of women say these days that Viagra’s the worst thing that ever happened to them,” he says. “It brings everything back to the penis and back to intercourse.”

But in case anyone accuses him of eliminating the penis’s role in male sexual contentment, he’s quick to say, “I wrote the cunnilinguist manifesto, but I’m not proposing a Stalinist purge of the penis. I love my penis as much as the next guy. In many ways, though, my tongue was the mentor to my penis, and taught it to behave like a gentleman.”

Head Case