Talk about it

Israeli sexologist's new book goes well beyond the birds and the bees.

dsfasd (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When "Zahy" was a small boy in Tel Aviv, he decided he was going to be an actor when he grew up. His parents had other ideas and insisted he become a physician. "I accomplished both," says Dr. Itzhak Ben-Zion, deputy director-general of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, who is a urologist, psychiatrist and sexologist and gives lectures on sex to general audiences a few times a month using elements of "stand-up comedy." And the married father of four is also an author, having previously written a book on sex for the elderly; a book on selecting names for children; and now a new Hebrew-language soft-cover volume on sex in general called Sex: Lo Ma Shehashavta (Sex: Not What You Thought). The 192-page volume, published by Oranit and selling for NIS 78, has no photographs or diagrams of "positions" or anything else, except for two black-and-white anatomical drawings of male and female genitals on page 154. But the book's factual information for ages nine to 99 is jazzed up by questions and answers about sex, and numerous jokes. FOR EXAMPLE, there is the one about a boy who goes with his father to a pharmacy and notices the shelf with condoms that are sold in three-, five and 12-unit packages. "Why are they not sold in in five, 10, 30 or 50 units?" the child asks. The father answers: "The three pack is for soldiers. They come home on Thursday and Friday exhausted and go to sleep. They are tired out. The first time they can use one is on Friday night; then Saturday morning and then they sleep until Saturday night, when they use the third. On Sunday morning, they go back to their base, so three are enough. The five-pack is for students, who come home on Thursday and are potent: They can use them on Thursday night, Friday morning, Friday evening, Shabbat morning and Saturday night. They go back to school after using five. The 12-pack is for married men, like Dad: One in January, one in February..." "One needs humor so that people will pay attention to serious things," he explains. "Humor is an elegant way to minimize embarrassment and enable people to deal with problems." Before he became a sexologist and hospital administrator, Ben-Zion had a zigzagged career. He graduated from high school at 16, studying with other gifted children at Tel Aviv University until he completed a degree in philosophy. He served in the Israel Defense Forces, studied mathematics at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa for only a year, and decided to change direction and study medicine at Ben-Gurion University's Health Sciences Faculty. Ben-Zion then specialized in urology and took up psychiatry. Subsequently, he specialized in sexology in Holland and Denmark. He has been at Soroka since 1986 and in the deputy director-general's chair for the past three years. His hospital colleagues, says Ben-Zion, "have gotten used to me. They gladly accept my fixations." With all his work, including seeing patients who consult him about their sexual problems, he says he doesn't get much sleep. AT THE BEGINNING of his new book, he thanks friends, bosses, students and patients ("who taught me a lot"), and dedicates it to "the love of my life, my wife Hani." Of his four kids aged 18 to 10, only the eldest - his daughter and one of two twins - has read his new book on sex. But as he "takes his work home to Omer from the office," they all hear a lot about the "birds and the bees." He "wrote" the new volume over a year by dictating it to an electronic recorder in his car and having a secretary type it up, after which an editor put it into book form. It was meant for steady couples, young people, married couples, the elderly, secular, religious, and perhaps even some haredim, he adds. "I am told it will be a best seller." Surprisingly, he says, only a handful of factual books by Israeli sexologists have been written in Hebrew over the past few decades. As an example of the way different ethnic groups deal with sex, Ben-Zion describes the modesty and subtlety of Ethiopian Jewish couples when they communicate with each other. "There is a custom [among them] that constitutes a clear sign language. At home, they have a dish with a cover. If he wants sex, he takes the cover off and opens the vessel. If she is interested, she turns over the cover, and then he knows that the way [to sex] that night is clear. If she doesn't feel like it, she takes the cover and puts it back on the vessel." But many couples have problems with sex because they don't communicate as well as these Ethiopian immigrants. Ben-Zion discusses many such problems in the book. "One should speak more about sex. It's something intimate, carried out in innermost rooms, but when real problems or just plain malfunctions from lack of knowledge or experience occur, it's important to go for advice. First, sexual functioning is a measure of general health, and more than that, forgoing sexual pleasure is a personal loss and a loss to society and humanity in general." Most people with sexual problems are averse to discussing it with their family physician, he writes. "It's always amazing to me that they're willing to talk to their doctor about the color of their stool and about stomach gas, but when it comes to sex and sexuality, they are silent. Medicine today knows how to help with many problems related to sex, but they're too embarrassed to ask. And doctors - contrary to what many think - are also regular human beings and embarrassed to ask their patients." So, he continues, "all kinds of charlatans sell people a variety of products 'as laid down by the Rambam and Rabbenu Tam.' Almost anyone can produce and call a product a whammo name and sell it for a lot of money, taking advantage of the fear of turning to a doctor. Many people tell themselves: 'If it doesn't help, it won't hurt.' But it does cause harm if they don't go to the doctor." Ben-Zion continues: "Sexual problems are often connected to physical problems, including hypertension, high blood fats, cholesterol, back problems, depression and anxiety and more. In principle, every physical, emotional, personal, couple and family problem may be expressed in sexual function. When there are problems, it's worth consulting a physician." The Soroka sexologist relates that Dr. Alfred Kinsey - considered the "father of human sexuality," was actually an expert on insects. When students at the University of Indiana asked for a course about human sexuality, it was clear to the administration that Kinsey - who knew a lot about bees and cockroaches - would be able to teach about "the birds and the bees." He tried to object, saying he knew nothing about human sexuality and that insects "really aren't like people." But the rector said nobody knew more about reproduction than he did, so he went to the library and prepared a course." In 1948, Kinsey's book on male sexuality, "which is relatively simple," appeared. Five years later, his volume on female sexuality - the first time such a subject was really researched - was published. But his life ended badly, says Ben-Zion. US Senator Joseph McCarthy, the arch anti-Communist, objected to his research and said state funds should not have been used to conduct it. He was thrown out of his lab and lost his status. In 1956, Kinsey died of cardiac arrest and "maybe a broken heart" for failing to get recognition for his work. Today, Ben-Zion notes, Americans have restored his lost honor, and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction is going strong in Indiana. Ben-Zion says that while much has been learned since Kinsey, there is still a lot that is not understood, and some sexual problems continue without suitable treatments. "For example, there is no good Viagra counterpart for women or anything ideal to treat premature ejaculation." The author explains in detail what makes people attracted to each other and fall in love, different communication patterns and misunderstandings in women and men, taking time out and making "dates" for sex with your partner, boredom in marriage and many other subjects. People who have a lot of sex are much less likely to suffer from depression as well as ulcers (because, he explains, sex reduces the amount of gastric juices in the stomach). Men who are sexually active speak in lower, more relaxed tones, have fewer problems with their prostate gland and fewer urinary infections. Women who experience two orgasms a week have fewer wrinkles on their faces and a lower risk of migraine headaches. All of this, he says, has been proven scientifically. Ben-Zion delves into homosexuality, lesbianism, masturbation, penis size, male and female orgasm, oral and anal sex, vibrators and sex toys, exhibitionism, testosterone deficiency, effects of smoking on sex, wife swapping, pornography, sex during pregnancy, sex after heart attacks, adultery, vaginismus and other topics. Want to know more? For the details, don't depend on me. Read the book!