Love Skills. A Fun, Upbeat Guide to Sex-cessful Relationships
By Linda De Villers, Ph.D.
Aphrodite Media, Marina del Ray, California (2002)
ISBN: 0-9709565-3-3; US$ 15.95
Reviewed by Annette Owens, MD PhD
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Linda De Villers, a Los Angeles area psychologist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Educator, has specialized in sexuality and relationships for over twenty years. Love Skills is the expanded and revised second edition of her guide on having fun while improving intimacy, communication and sex in relationships. As De Villers points out, the initial step is to give up the myth that "great sex is natural." Then let the fun begin!
The book is organized around four sections, each dealing with a specific
1. Love Talk: The ability to communicate about sexual matters, both out of and in bed.
2. Body Love: The ability to love, accept and enjoy your body and that of your lover.
3. Love Touch: The ability to give and receive affirmation through various forms of touch alone.
4. Love Play: The ability to be creative, playful – and occasionally sexually naughty – in and out of bed.
Each section begins with general advice on a particular love skill, followed by a number of exercises to practice the skill. In the Love Talk section, initial exercises designed to explore each other's erotic vocabulary are followed by a number of "vertical" and finally "horizontal" Love Talk exercises. Many of De Villers' guidelines for communication are founded on Dr. John Gottman's well-researched and sound principles. His book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work remains one of my favorites. However, Love Skills not only complements Gottman's book but it expands on his relatively brief section on sexual issues in committed, long-term relationships.
The section Body Love is based on the understanding that the less you love your body, the less you are likely to share it with you lover. Exercises to explore nudity, as well as challenges to old messages about shame and guilt are designed to set the stage for becoming comfortable with first your own and then your partner's body. While I agree with these fundamental steps, there is excessive emphasis on exercise as a way to enhance physical shape and well being, only promoting the cultural stereotypes of sexuality being the exclusive domain of the young and attractive. True, exercise and weight loss do help many feel better about themselves and even sexier. And yes, exercise has been shown to have positive effects on depression and anxiety. But we all come in different shapes and sizes. A few words about how to learn to love your body despite a few extra pounds here and there, or maybe despite a chronic illness or physical disability might have been helpful to a number of readers of this book. It also might have been appropriate to mention here that individuals who in the past have experienced unwanted touches or sexual abuse often have difficulties loving their bodies. The impact of sexual abuse is mentioned in a later section of the book (Sensual Love Touch).
Another suggestion would be the addition of a brief footnote to the exercise for men on becoming comfortable with exploring their genitals (page 86). Just as women are encouraged to perform monthly self-breast exams, encouragement of monthly testicular self-exams would have been educational and appropriate. Testicular cancer presents in relatively young men and often can be successfully treated, especially if diagnosed at early stages.
Despite these few critical comments, I have nothing but praise for this book. The section on Love Touch provides readers with excellent guidelines and suggestions for incorporating various touches into their sex lives. It usually requires a sex counselor or therapist to successfully guide a couple through a series of sensate focus exercises. While I do not want to downplay the role of the therapist, I do believe that Love Skills does provide the best-written guidelines I have seen so far on how to do these type of exercises on your own.
The final Love Play section offers many good suggestions for introducing creativity and playfulness in your love life. Some sexual positions are illustrated in the appendix, followed by a glossary and an up-to-date list of resources (organizations, websites, books, sex-toys, etc.).
In conclusion, Love Skills is a wonderful resource for individuals who want to improve their sexual relationship. Due to a variety of exercises this book may also prove to be a useful guide for sex counselors and therapists. I have already started recommending it to some of my clients.
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