Yes, and nobody pays attention to these bodies! You know who’s American, because they usually have a bathing suit on. It’s so interesting to see that bodies don’t have to be a sexualised thing. People are just naked; it is uneventful.
You’ve turned 60. What was your preconception of 60, and what’s the reality?
I thought the 60s were kind of old, but now I think that 60 is the new 40. My 40s and 50s have been the best decades, and my 60s – if I am healthy – will be equally thriving. I’ve always had a lot of energy. Sometimes I think, “How long will I be able to continue?” But one of the things that’s really been fun in turning 60 is that I’ve created a whole new set of friendships with young people in their 20s and 30s. That has been an injection of energy. I don’t live a life that is uni-generational.
Well, that would be boring.
Very boring. And I don’t want to talk about social security and retirement!
Oh, this will be easy for you.
Is it sex? [Laughs]
It’s sex. Your work focuses on sex and relationships. Where did the fascination come from?
For the first 20 years of my career, I was primarily interested in intercultural issues, how families and relationships change with large cultural shifts: immigration; mixed marriages. Then I stumbled upon the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and decided to write a piece, and from there …
… it exploded?
It became a new career. Now I am fascinated. My interest was also a challenge to the [psychotherapy] field, which always taught me: “If you fix the relationship, the sex follows.” But I had “fixed” many relationships, so to speak, and the sex did not follow. It’s a false assumption. The opposite does work, though. If you fix the sex, it changes the whole thing.
Nowadays, through your books, podcasts and talks, you educate people. Did you have a good sex education?
No, I grew up with the stork. We had a glass roof in our kitchen and my mother told me the stork drops babies off. At nine years old, I came home one day and said to my mother that what she told me was a bunch of baloney.
What would you tell that younger version of yourself about sex?
In the case of hetero relationships, it’s not men who give you an orgasm; it’s you who brings yourself to an orgasm. Understand: which is the sense with which you make love the most? Is it touch? Is it sound? Is it smell? Every one of us works with multiple senses, but some of us have one we favour more than others. Sharpen it, trust it. All those things I learnt way later.
You’re Jewish. Tell me how you practise Judaism.
In Judaism, you’re not necessarily asked what you believe; you’re asked what you do. So I am rather agnostic. It’s one of the great freedoms in Judaism; it has very little to do with a belief in God. It has to do with a deep sense of belonging and adherence to a history, tradition, philosophy, a code. When I celebrated Passover this year, I invited 40 people from all backgrounds, all religions. We discussed the themes that emanate from the Passover story – enslavement, freedom, exile – as it applies to all human beings.
You veer towards being agnostic. When did you arrive there?
I was about 10 years old when I went home to my parents and said, “There is no god. If there was a god, there would have been no Holocaust.”
Wow. How did that conversation progress from there, given your parents are Holocaust survivors?
My parents had never heard you could not be believers; they both grew up in intensely religious frameworks. My father, for sure, I know he was angry with God. But as he got older, he came back to God; he kind of told me, “I want to be on good terms with the one up there as I get closer.” Whereas for me, I’m very little concerned with that question.
What does Judaism tell us about relationships and love?
One of the interesting things is [under traditional Judaism] the only reason a Jewish woman can ask for divorce is if her husband does not satisfy her sexually. Even though it has many traditional patriarchal pieces to it, Judaism is ultimately a pro-sex religion. Judaism also tells you that you don’t exist as an individual; you exist as part of a community. And you are responsible for what happens to people across time and space, as if you are experiencing it today. I love that contraction of time zones: how your present is influenced by the past and how the future is the dreams of tomorrow. I like it very much.
Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.