A sex manual that places the female orgasm centre-stage is making waves in the US. However, not all men will like what they read, the author tells Catherine Townsend

These days, Ian Kerner seems to have it all: he's a successful, happily married author and self-proclaimed "evangelist of the female orgasm", whose new book, She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, is getting rave reviews in the US, and has got the whole country talking.

These days, Ian Kerner seems to have it all: he's a successful, happily married author and self-proclaimed "evangelist of the female orgasm", whose new book, She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, is getting rave reviews in the US, and has got the whole country talking.

Since the book's release last month, the 37-year-old dot-com businessman- turned-clinical sexologist has done the rounds to promote his female-centric model of sexual pleasure with the tagline, "the tongue is mightier than the sword"- racking up plaudits from the New York Post, Time magazine and Playgirl, among others, along the way. He's won praise from commentators and medical experts alike on his unwavering frankness and forensic detail - and the book is set to hit British bookshops later this year.

But it wasn't always this way: in his American high school, Kerner was just an average teenager who read porn, struggled with premature ejaculation, and got frustrated. "I had no idea what I was doing," he says. "Like most guys, masturbation was taboo in my house so I learnt that I had to be quick, and it's very hard to unlearn early behaviour once the neuropath is created," he says. So he spent his college years avoiding sex and taking trips "downtown" on dates. "I got really skilled at turning oral sex from an arbitrary aspect of foreplay into something I codified. I became deeply aware of how to satisfy a woman," he explains.

Billed as the definitive cunnilingus manifesto, the exhaustively detailed 228-page guide has step-by-step instructions on going down - with moves including the Elvis Presley snarl and Jackson Pollock lick - and a section on anatomy. But the focus is simple: oral sex makes women come, intercourse (for the most part) does not.

"As a sex therapist, it's amazing to me that, post- Sex and the City, there are so many women in their mid- to late twenties who have only had an orgasm through masturbation, never with a man," he says, adding, "If men were having problems on this scale, it would be all over the health pages."

And, according to Kerner, the vast majority of women complain about guys who don't like to do it, don't know how or simply don't do it often enough. "I had one patient who compares her boyfriend's oral technique to the running of the bulls in Pamplona: 'It's like a stampede to the clitoris and I just want to get out of the way'."

On a serious note, Kerner points out that sexual dissatisfaction is a leading cause of divorce. "A better sex life can lead to a breakthrough in relationships," he says. To that end, Kerner focuses on intimacy-building rather than drugs such as Viagra, which he says are the worst thing that could have happened to women because men no longer have to be creative. "Just because a man can get an erection doesn't mean he knows what to do with it," he points out.

One problem is that men often spend the same amount of time going down on a partner as they do at a McDonald's counter. But while the average man can maintain genital thrusting for two and a half minutes before ejaculation, the average woman requires around 15 to 18 minutes of clitoral stimulation to have her first orgasm. Men complain about long sessions, Kerner says, because they are too aggressive and have bad technique. Rather than treating oral sex as foreplay, he would like to see it incorporated into the entire experience - or, as he calls it, "coreplay".

Yet Kerner says that the idea that genital penetration might be overhyped is a "bitter pill to swallow, especially for those men who base much their sexual self-esteem on the value of their penis for stimulating female pleasure." He goes further, writing that we live in a culture of "clitoral denial", a way of thinking so deeply embedded into our collective consciousness that a woman is more likely to repress her natural instincts - or fake her way through them, like Meg Ryan in the notorious When Harry Met Sally diner scene - than risk bruising the male ego.

He has a point: many of my girl friends - even the most sexually savvy - worry about taking too long, and a friend of mine actually told her boyfriend for two years that she was "ticklish" rather than admit that his oral technique was lacking.

Kerner blames the phallocentric trend on Sigmund Freud, who favoured "mature" vaginal orgasms over babyish clitoral ones, for scarring generations of women. Seventies feminists such as Shere Hite refuted much of this, but in recent years, the vagina has been back in vogue, with articles about G-spot vibrators and female ejaculation.

Kerner remains sceptical, and believes that the G-spot is part of the clitoris. And the simultaneous orgasm portrayed so often by Hollywood? "That happens about as often as winning the lottery," he says. "Women should not have to worry about having the 'right' kind of orgasm, just experiencing pleasure."

But women are also to blame, since they have to speak up to get results. "If couples don't communicate, resentment and anger can build up, and by the time the woman brings the problem up, it can be in a critical way," Kerner says. "Men want, and need, guidance."

For those who can't bring themselves to initiate a show-and-tell session, Kerner recommends taking turns in the role of giver and receiver. "This allows the woman to give in the way that she wants to receive, then, when it's her turn, they have set a precedent for discussion."

As Kerner says, there is no right or wrong way to have an orgasm: "What is wrong is to assume that women need or value orgasms any less than men do."

So, although Kerner advocates a female-centric approach, he is trying to liberate men, too. "I'm pro-penis, but guys tend to put themselves under so much pressure - 'Can I get it up? Will I last long enough?'. I'm just telling them that they can make love with their mouths, tongues, fingers and imaginations, too."


* 1948

'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male', by Alfred Kinsey

This book caused shockwaves by reporting on the frequency of certain sexual practices, such as masturbation. Kinsey, a professor of zoology, gathered his data by interviewing any men who were willing to talk about their intimate lives. He followed up with a book on women, and at the time it was feared he would undermine the very fabric of American society.

Shock revelations: many people are gay; women actually like sex

* 1966

'Human Sexual Response', by William Masters and Virginia Johnson

This pair, a gynaecologist and a psychologist, found 700 subjects willing to have their sexual responses analysed in the lab. They then defined the stages of arousal: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. The two, who later married, are credited with the birth of the sex therapy.

Shock revelation: sex is nothing to be ashamed of

* 1972

'The Joy of Sex', by Alex Comfort

The first significant "how-to" guide to sexual technique, a positive hymn to the pleasures of sex. Graphically illustrated, the book was a huge best seller, but also inadvertently introduced the idea of sexual inadequacy.

Shock revelation: sexual technique can be learnt

* 1976

'The Hite Report', by Shere Hite

The glamorous American feminist used written surveys to ask women forensically detailed questions. When it was revealed that the vast majority of women never reached orgasm through penetration - and many never did at all - critics claimed that her methods were unscientific. But her work endures.

Shock revelation: the clitoris is there for a reason

* 2002

'Satisfaction: the Art of the Female Orgasm', by Kim Cattrall and Mark Levinson

Those expecting the rumpy-pumpy breeziness of Cattrall's Sex and the City alter ego, Samantha, may be disappointed by the earnestness of this one, a guide to pleasuring women.

Shock revelation: sex is all about lurve

* 2004

'She Comes First', by Ian Kerner

Kerner believes that women hold the male member in much less regard than most men realise, and what women really want is "tipping the velvet".

Shock revelation: cunnilingus is the key to a woman's heart