WHAT is it about human sexuality that piques our interest so much, yet remains misunderstood and often times, misused? Sex is as old and practised as Adam, yet there are so many issues and inhibitions that beset both the married and the single.
The desire and the need for sex is basic and very much entwined with our humanness. But despite sex being the most intimate, and ideally, a pleasurable shared experience between man and a woman, the emotional, physical and spiritual dynamics that make the two one remain elusive for many.
It is this one single fact that gives rise to sex therapy. Although sexology and sex therapy is common in Australia and the West, it is largely deemed an unusual profession in Malaysia. That does not mean there is no use or need for it.
On the contrary, the fact that drugs like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis are in the market is an indication that sex can be a lucrative business.
According to sex therapist Dr Rosie King, much of today’s problem is the lack of communication, or the way we communicate. A lot of times, it can be non-verbal.
King, 57, has become a brand name in Australia and in the region. She was recently here on the invitation of Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, a drug to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). She gave three lectures and announced the findings of the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness survey (May-July 2008).
According to the survey, sexual satisfaction can be given a boost. “Satisfaction is not high; men and women want better sex. So there is a role for people like me,” says King.
King says sex therapy is common in Australia and the United States. It is only here in Malaysia that she is considered “unusual”.
“Wherever I go, people have a lot of questions, some of them poignant. They want to talk to me and I am glad to be of help because that is why I am in this field. I do not go in search of fame or fortune. I’m glad I never get tired talking, learning and teaching about it.”
Today, she serves as the sexual health physician at the Sydney Centre of Sexual and Relationship Therapy. She also writes and lectures.
King went into sexual therapy after working as a general practitioner for 12 years. It was not long before she had her column Ask Dr Rosie in a woman’s magazine and appeared on live TV and radio on a regular basis and became a much sought after speaker. Over the past eight years, King has been coming to Malaysia to lecture on sexual health. The response from doctors and medical professionals here is generally very good.
“Although Pfizer says it is because of me, I say it is not me. These doctors, especially urologists and other medical professionals, want to know how to treat men and women with sexual problems. They may be trained to deal with problems which are physiological in nature, while I am able to deal with both the physiological and psychological aspects. There are drugs, surgery options and counselling. But there is nothing to pop (take orally) for women’s lack of libido. There is only counselling.”
King says sex has been important to both men and women through the ages, more so to men.
“It does not matter what our cultural differences or beliefs may be; behind closed doors, we are the same, with similar needs.”
King says that in Asia, the main concerns are ED and premature ejaculation for men. For women, it is the lack of sexual desire, arousal, enjoyment and problems with orgasm.
She attributes the woman’s lack of interest to her perception that the man is no longer attentive and supportive. Treatment can be simple; when the man is loving and supportive, her interest returns. Sometimes, however, the issue may be more complex than this.
When a man has ED, he goes through psychiatric distress. He has lost confidence and self-esteem; 54% of those who have ED have symptoms of depression. They tend to avoid intimacy. Women often blame themselves. They think they are too old or too fat. The man withdraws from the relationship. If treated, the psychological and social burden encountered by both men and women is reversed, says King.
“Sex therapy takes time and because it is such an important and intimate matter, it needs to be dealt with very sensitively. It is a luxury medicine because, although it is an important part of life, it is not life-threatening. We are talking about a quality of life here. As a general practitioner, I can see one patient every five to 10 minutes; for ED, a little longer. But the treatment for desire (among women), which is counselling, is very time-consuming.”
In Australia, it is not a hospital-based medicine but a community-based medicine and much of her work is public education. Those in this work are generally private practitioners; many sex therapists in Australia and US are psychologists.
King says that generally the more satisfied one is with their sex life, the more satisfied you will be with the relationship and life in general. Sexual health is an important part of overall well-being, says King.
So, where does that leave those who abstain from sex? Are they not living a full life?
“Although sex is important, I don’t think that it is the be-all and end-all of things. There are many, single and married, who have no interest in sex. I am not saying that they cannot have a happy life.
“In Malaysia, career, financial wellbeing, wisdom, spiritual matters, family life, being a spouse and partner and parenting are viewed as important. They can be happy as long as they don’t have any significant social hang ups or concerns. It is only when you have dissatisfaction that you get a negative impact,” King says.
Twice married, King says she is rather old-fashioned when it comes to marriage. “I believe very strongly in that piece of paper. Many in Australia do not. They have pre-marital sex, although that is not necessarily a bad thing, change partners every couple of years, and our divorce rate is high.
“The fact that they are living together means they are not fully committed to working through the problems that come with a relationship.
“They run into difficulties and they give up. People who have made that commitment choose to find mutual grounds to create a harmonious relationship. Marriage matures a person.
“The sex may be good the first 18 months but those chemicals – and it is a chemical thing – only last three years. The relationship after that becomes mundane. Instead of craving passion, we should celebrate the pleasure of making love with someone who is your lover and best friend.”
King says that despite the huge trade in sex toys, sexy and titillating lingerie and adult movies in the world today, which many therapists advocate using, she would like to take a different position.
“Bliss should not come because of the sexual excitement, but because you love each other. A person who really understands how a relationship develops, the initial passion and excitement will understand that this exhilaration does not last forever. Otherwise, nothing will ever get done.”
King says she did not seek after fame and money when she took this path. She saw the pain and frustration of the people who came to her. She began to read and attend talks on sexuality. On a personal vein, she has been through an unhappy marriage.
“All I wanted was to be happily married and when I met my second husband, I won the husband lottery. My ex-husband has a drinking problem and this caused a lot of pain in our lives. When I was 40, I met Ross, my second husband, and we have been happily married these last 15 years.
“Our paths were not meant to cross. But I’m glad they did. I was then president of the Australian Society of Sexual Educators, Researchers and Therapists. He was distributing books for psychologists and medical professionals. He contacted me because he wanted our mailing list. He asked me out for a movie The Crying Game and I fell in love on that date itself. Ironically, it was a movie about transvestites. I was 40 and he, 48.
“When I got married again, I made sure I did not make the mistakes I made in the first. I learned from my experience. Many don’t.” She has two sons and he, three girls.
“I don’t think it was strange for them to grow up with a mother who is a sex therapist. I tried to give them a balanced education about sex; if they wanted to know anything, they can ask me. At school, all the students went to them for answers.
“Today, Ross travels with me and looks after me. He deals with everything, the travel arrangements, the negotiations and makes sure I get to where I am supposed to be on time. He makes sure I get fed and I have my rest and is also my body guard.”
King says there are three important things in a relationship – appreciation, encouragement and support and goodwill.
“Ross and I work very hard in our relationship. We also enjoy each other a great deal.”