Bob (not his real name), a 30-year-old financial adviser in West Palm Beach, Florida, was having a hard time getting it up. Because of the limp economy, he worked long hours to pull in much-needed cashand the routine was killing his sex life. When he was with his wife, he just couldn't perform. Masturbation came easy, however: He did the deed three times a week, sometimes with the aid of porn, saying it helped him "relieve stress." This went on for six months before Bob's wife suggested therapy.
The two agreed to see a 30-year-old psychologist named Rachel Needle, who specializes in sexual dysfunction and sexual compulsiveness. She diagnosed Bob with psychogenic erectile dysfunction, essentially ruling that his problem was between his ears, not his legs. The stress of work combined with guilt over his porn habit was making him anxiousand flaccid in bed with his wife.
Needle eased Bob's anxiety by telling him that looking at porneven introducing porn-driven fantasies into the bedroomis perfectly acceptable. She recommended homeworkmore specifically a regimen of "non-demand sensate focus exercises"through which Bob and his wife proceeded from heavy petting to self-masturbation to oral sex without the pressure of intercourse. The strategy workedBob's erections returned after a few sessionsbut talking openly about sex with his wife and Needle also played a big part in his recovery. It surely didn't hurt that Needle has wavy, sandy-blond hair, a beaming smile, and a perpetual tan. Putting it plainly, she's kind of hot, and sitting there with Needle and his wife, engaging in often explicit sexual conversation . . . Let's just say that a guy might not mind going to therapy. "Most people are anxious talking about stuff they've never talked about before," Needle says. "With Bob, I started using humor and then he used humor and the whole experience was nice and light."
Sexual dysfunction may not be the stuff of dinner conversation, but it's hardly a taboo subject any longer. A steady barrage of Viagra and Cialis advertising has seen to that. And when a celebrity like David Duchovny admits to sexual addiction and agrees to enter treatment, as he did in late August, it encourages others to open up about their bedroom nightmares. But don't discount the contribution of a bold generation of young female counselors who have succeeded in lifting the veil of shame, making it easier for young couples to seek help for their damaged love lives.
Equal parts sex kitten and sex therapist, Dr. Joy Davidson is the poster babe for this new breed of professional. Based in New York, she has become the go-to sexpert for cable news; her website, joydavidson.com, is a virtual candy store for self-help, offering clips such as "New Tricks for Better Sex: Cowgirl."