Because of the considerable attention Dr. Sandra Pertot's review has attracted, and the fact it is offered as a professional opinion, I feel it necessary to offer a different perspective on Intimacy and Desire (I&D) and her comments about it. I am a licensed therapist with 22 years of experience, and have not written any books (although I hope to). I have studied Dr. Schnarch's work for many years, including I&D, and consider myself knowledgeable about his approach. The one thing I have learned from studying Dr. Schnarch is he works tirelessly to pursue the truth in his work as well as his life. I am amazed at how much "The Old Man" continues to grow and evolve, and challenge himself to live within his principles of 4 points of balance. Dr. Schnarch as well as his wife Dr. Ruth Morehouse are serious clinicians as demonstrated in their articles and books. They are not carnival barkers with the newest way to make your relationship of 20 years "get that new car smell". On the contrary, they help you read your relationship's owner manual and learn to drive it better, so you can get more out of it and yourself. My opinion of Dr Sandra Perot's critique grows out of my love for my field and a quest for professional grace, and I hope it is received in the spirit in which it is delivered.
Professional standards require disclosure of commercial and other considerations that might bias statements made by psychologists regarding products and services. Dr. Pertot is the author of what might be considered a competing book in which she clearly aligns with the lower desire partner. (Read reviews of her book "Perfectly Normal: Living and Loving with Low Libido.") Her review of I&D glaringly fails to alert readers of her own biases, and postures as a professional opinion hesitantly given, motivated out of concern for public welfare. Had she clarified her wish to debate Schnarch (see replies to her review), the public would be better served.
Pertot is flat wrong on many points in her critique. Her review criticizes Schnarch's assertion "if you love each other and stay together you can count on sexual problems," and she states "no, research tells us that a great many couples are content with their sex lives even if they meet the criteria for a sexual dysfunction." Pertot mentions research to give her position credibility, but Schnarch's statement about frequency of sexual desire problems has nothing to do with sexual satisfaction research. Moreover his hopeful positive stance in I&D (noted in the Publisher's Weekly review) is completely consistent with this research. Whereas Pertot characterizes I&D as scientifically inaccurate, the reverse is actually true. While this book is written for the general public, it backed up with more than 150 scientific publications referenced in the back of the book.
Pertot takes issue with Schnarch's thesis that "there is always a low desire partner", stating "no, many couples are well matched." I&D makes clear "low desire partner" and "high desire partner" are relative positions in a relationship, on many issues besides sex. Even couples who are initially sexually well-matched usually polarize into one partner having lower or higher desire than the other due to sexual and non-sexual dynamics (which Schnarch describes). Partners often switch desire positions over the course of their relationship, and men are frequently the lower desire partner.
Partot most strongly disagrees with Schnarch's thesis that "the low desire partner always controls sex." She writes "This, in my view, reveals a rather limited understanding of the many different dynamics that can lead to differences in sexual desire." But Schnarch's statement does not concern the dynamics that lead to sexual desire differences, it states a basic fact of human sexual relationships (where rape is not tolerated). I&D offers one of the most complete, and possibly the most advanced, discussion of sexual desire dynamics you'll find anywhere.
Pertot mounts the argument, "It is just as valid to say that the partner who controls what happens during sex is often the cause of the other partner's loss of libido." This does not negate what Schnarch says. I&D considers situations where the higher desire partner dictates styles of sex the other partner finds aversive, noting this may cause the other to be the lower desire partner. However, Schnarch's thesis still holds true that the lower desire partner's agreement or refusal to have sex still controls when sex happens. I&D also notes that the lower desire partner frequently controls how sex happens as well as when it happens.
Pertot's reference to "higher libido partner" and "lower drive partner," underscores her own limited understanding of Schnarch's book and/or desire problems in general. I&D explicitly rejects conventional views of sexual desire as libido or biological desire, and focuses on uniquely human aspects of sexual desire: Our capacity for (1) bringing meaning to sex, (2) consciously chosen freely undertaken desire, and (3) desire for the partner and not just desire for sex. Libido and sex drive are antithetical to all of these.
Pertot offers three examples to bolster her critique of Schnarch's book. The first two involve one partner pressuring the other for styles of sex the other does not like. Pertot says less pressure might increase the lower desire partner's desire (Schnarch says this too). But Partot's examples actually illustrate Schnarch's thesis that the lower desire partner always controls sex--she's just suggesting how the higher desire partner might influence the lower desire partner to exercise control in ways the higher desire partner prefers.
Pertot's ultimate indictment is her example in which "the higher drive partner wants/expects sex at least daily; the lower drive partner's preferred sexual frequency is once a week but is willing to have sex 3-4 times a week. Who is driving the sexual pace here?" Pertot's example again doesn't address what Schnarch is saying but proves his point. Both partners in her example attempt to influence the other's preferred sexual frequency, but ultimately this couple will have sex 3-4 times a week because this is what the lower desire partner decides. The lower desire partner having more sex (or the higher desire partner having less sex) than he or she might want doesn't change the fact that the lower desire partner ultimately decides the couple's sexual frequency.
Pertot disingenuously asks, "so to not be controlling her/himself, should she or he say yes every time?" I&D answers this complex question from many different viewpoints--some of which include the lower desire partner saying "No." Moreover, her question unfairly positions Schnarch as aligning with the higher desire partner against the lower desire partner, and positions herself as being neutral. Actually, Schnarch's position is scientific and sympathetic to both partners, while Pertot adopts a lopsided alliance with the lower desire partner. Many lower desire partners like I&D because it says the lower desire partner controls sex whether he or she knows it, likes it, wants it or not. Schnarch says low desire partners are often dismayed and burdened by the powerful control they have. Often they don't want to be controlling sex or their partner, they just want to have control of themselves. Pertot's question confusingly states the issues backwards. One of this book's great strengths is Schnarch's unique idea that "the urge to develop and maintain a sense of self" is a primary determinant of sexual desire, and issues of self hood and self-determination outweigh horniness, hormones and libido.
Pertot fails to note that I&D offers the first explanation why normal healthy couples have sexual desire problems, and removes the stigma of being the low desire partner. If I&D's thesis is as misguided as Pertot contends, would the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy have selected Dr. Schnarch to receive the 2011 Outstanding Contribution to Marriage and Family Therapy? I suggest you read Intimacy & Desire and decide for yourself.