A book report by Michele O’Mara, PhD

Kerner, Ian (2004). She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

One of the many ironies of heterosexual sex is that according to Kinsey, 75 percent of men ejaculate within two minutes of vaginal penetration and most women require at least fifteen minutes of partner stimulation to orgasm.   Adding further insult is the fact that the clitoris is 2 to 3 centimeters above the vaginal opening, which typically prevents the penis from stimulating the clitoris all together during intercourse. Quoting Shere Hite, author Ian Kerner shares, “Intercourse was never meant to stimulate women to orgasm” (8). Luckily though, Ian Kerner has found the perfect solution for couples who face this age old dilemma.

In this ode to cunnilingus, Kerner makes a strong and compelling case for oral sex with women. Moreover, he emphasizes the postponement of male orgasm in order to facilitate the maximum enjoyment from sexual activity for both parties involved. The title says it all, “She Comes First.” Kerner starts with some basic facts about female anatomy and statistics on arousal and female orgasms.   Then he points out that in a study of 98 wives in happy marriages, eighty-two percent of them rank cunnilingus as the most satisfying sexual activity. During intercourse only 25 percent of the women reached orgasm whereas 81 percent of the time women reached orgasm with oral sex (9).

Early in the book, the reader is introduced to the clitoris. As the central hub of sexual pleasure for women, Kerner spends adequate time familiarizing the reader with all of her parts, taking special care to provide accuracy and in some cases myth-busting, or news-flashing, information. For example, Kerner points out that the clitoris extends well beyond the eye’s view, and includes three important components with comparable parts to the male penis (head, shaft and base) which makes sense given that both are made from the same embryonic tissue.

“The shaft extends north from the head toward the mons pubis for about three quarters of an inch before forking and dividing like a wishbone into two thin crura (or legs) that flare downward along the path of the inner lips and surround twin bulbs of erectile tissue, known as the clitoral bulbs” (50).

Unique to any other body part, the clitoris serves only one function: pleasure. This is not true for the penis which has very practical functions including fertilization and urination.   “The clitoris is the sexual epicenter, an orgasmic powerhouse in which no sensation goes unnoticed” (26). Highlighting the reality of this, Kerner points out that one in five thousand women are born with vaginal agenesis, which means they are literally born without a vagina. Because the external genitals are in tact, however, these women are able to experience sexual pleasure and orgasm because they also have a fully functional clitoris.

In “She Comes First,” Kerner provides a relevant education about a woman’s female anatomy, with accurate terminology and useful descriptions of each part. He makes a point to draw the distinction between the commonly used term, “vagina,” and the more accurate term “vulva,” to describe the network of lady parts “down there.” He covers the all of the major parts involved in pleasing a woman, and provides an explanation of where each is located. There are helpful pictures that accompany his descriptions too, which makes it easy to learn these parts.

Kerner touches briefly on the topic of female ejaculation and lubrication before moving into the heart of his book where he begins discussion about the “journey through sexual response,” which he refers to as: foreplay, coreplay, and moreplay (61). Starting with foreplay, Kerner offers a succinct breakdown of what happens to a woman’s body during the initial stages of arousal. Then he moves into a description of coreplay where he describes the tension and release that occurs upon stimulation to orgasm. Lastly, he explains the resolution phase, which he calls moreplay.   Kerner suggests that for women “it takes longer for the genitals to return to their normal state, at least five to ten minutes” (65).

By making frequent reference to the ever-popular book, The Elements of Style, Kerner draws subtle, yet persistent attention to the importance of style, accuracy and details when it comes to cunnilingus. While I found these frequent detours into the land of linguistics distracting, his point was not lost. By combining a crash course in female anatomy with a user-friendly guide to the female process of arousal, these early chapters of the book stand alone as an excellent resource for anyone wishing to understand women’s anatomy and arousal.   Admittedly, this information might also serve as useful to high school graduates as The Elements of Style which, by the way, has had a total sales exceeding ten million copies since 1959.

Would a book on oral sex be complete without a Cunnilinguist Manifesto? Apparently not. Kerner encourages that all cunnilinguists offer the Three Assurances:

  1. Going Down on her turns you on; you enjoy it as much as she does.
  2. There’s no rush; she has all the time in the world. You want to savor every moment.
  3. Her scent is provocative, her taste powerful; it all emanates from the same beautiful essence (78).

Unfortunately, however, there is no solution for the reader who is not a fan of oral sex. Kerner is clearly targeting readers who are lovers of cunnilingus (or those eager to become so), and there are no reassurances or alternatives provided for the reader who is not prepared to take an oral trip down yonder. To be fair, Kerner does offer supplements to oral sex that serve as appetizers and condiments to this main course. He includes the importance of sex toys, vibrators, as well as the use of fingers. With statistics on his side (81 percent of women reach orgasm with oral sex), it’s easy to understand, though, why Kerner touts oral sex as the pathway to a woman’s pleasure.

Peppered with interesting research findings, She Comes First offers random insights to women, such as “women tend to fantasize in ways that are more situational and narrative, whereas men’s fantasies tend to focus more on specific physical and graphical elements of sexual encounters” (88). He also offers practical and specific resources, including book references, terms and definitions, tips about various lubricants, and important warnings such as: “Blowing into a woman’s vagina may cause an embolism and lead to death” (111). Who knew?

Kerner is also quick to point out common mistaken beliefs, stating that “there are a few positions better suited to porn films than to prolonged clitoral stimulation” (99). Here he is referencing positions such as 69’ing, SOMF (sit on my face), and up against the wall. In fact, Kerner also offers men the information necessary to know whether or not his partner is actually aroused and orgasmic. Caution to any women who have ever faked an orgasm by arching your back – do not buy this book for your partner if you wish to maintain your cover because Kerner points out: “When a woman is aroused and comfortable, her back will find itself flat, without an arch, and her genitals will be tilted slightly up toward your mouth, rather than driving downward – in short, the opposite of what we see in porn” (102).

By chapter twenty-five, Kerner is ready to provide specific instruction on how to deliver oral sex. Starting with the” First Kiss” unlilke many how-to-guides, Kerner has embedded his with a seemingly authentic passion, as he builds one small chapter on top of the next, leading the reader through the various stages of arousal. He adds important reminders such as savoring the experience and reinforcing the Three Assurances.   Kerner includes a variety of kisses, including the protected kiss (safe sex), the scarlet kiss (on her period), the virgin kiss (first time cunnilinguists) , and the pregnant kiss which cover the unique variables of these respective scenarios. Next he moves into building a rhythm, with a “flat still tongue pressed softly, later firmly, into her vulva” (115), with an adequate interval, to create a rhythm such as “long, slow lick/flat, still tongue; long slow lick/flat still tongue” (116). The instructions are easy to understand, and explicit.

After this, he moves gracefully into the importance of building tension.   Again, providing a step-by-step guide to how this is done, while adding the use of hands, fingers and a “teasing thumb.” Increasing the tension more, Kerner introduces new tongue strokes, including: horizontal strokes, diagonal strokes, cat licks, and more. Next comes the escalation, with the “come hither” description of doing a manual stimulation to the clitoral cluster. Often referred to as the G-Spot, Kerner encourages the reader to think of this a cluster of “unseen ‘roots’ of a flower that wind their way through the ‘soil’ of erectile tissue and the pelvic bone “(131).

Still building tension, Kerner highlights the importance of constant pressure against the area of her clitoral head as “probably the single most important element in helping her reach orgasm” (143). Finally reaching a point where the signs of arousal are visible, Kerner offers eight indicators of as well as helpful suggestions for brining her to a happy ending. Lastly, he shares with the reader what to expect once she has had an orgasm, in great detail. “Her vagina and uterus will contract, on average, ten to fifteen times, with each contraction lasting approximately eight tenths of a second… the average female orgasm lasts anywhere from ten to twenty seconds” (165).

There are plenty of books available that address female orgasm and pleasure, such as: The Elusive Orgasm: A Woman’s Guide to Why She Can’t and How She Can Orgasm by Vivienne Cass Ph.D. Ph.D.; Becoming Orgasmic: A Sexual and Personal Growth Program for Women by Julia Heiman ; and I Love Female Orgasm: An Extraordinary Orgasm Guide by Dorian Solot. However, none that I know of, are as specific and focused on a single strategy, oral sex, with as much depth of knowledge as Kerner offers, or written by a man.

While Kerner indicates this book was written primarily for “those guys of the world who crave the knowledge to become better, more sensitive lovers…” I would propose that this book is also a great read for any woman who wishes to better understand her own body and capacity for sexual arousal, as well as for female lovers of women who wish to perfect the art of oral sex.  It is specific, clever, and educational, with accurate language, accessible descriptions of female anatomy, and enjoyable lessons in oral sex and the female sexual response from arousal to orgasm. All of this is wrapped with a beautiful bow on the top because of way Kerner so passionately delivers this important information with such a palpable reverence for the power of pleasing a woman.

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