Episode 95

Published on:

11th Nov 2022

95 — How We Think About Sex: Leonore Tiefer

Dr. Leonore Tiefer is a native New Yorker, and an author, educator, feminist, researcher, psychologist, and activist whose work focuses on sexuality. She was a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine from 1981‒2018. She has been elected to office and received honors from major U.S. and international sexology and feminist psychology organizations such as the International Academy of Sex Research and the Association for Women in Psychology.

Today, Leonore tells us about getting her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1969. As a sexologist, she was studying hormones and sexual behavior in rats. When she got wind of the women’s revolution taking place outside her laboratory, she began a deep dive into feminist readings. Thinking about the cultural and social aspects of sexuality completely changed her paradigm. She came to believe that observing rat behavior in a lab could never help us understand how humans think about their own sexual experiences. She changed the direction of her work completely and eventually directed The Campaign for a New View of Women’s Sexual Problems to challenge sexual medicalization and Big Pharma trends. That was between 2000 and 2016. New View was a grassroots campaign focused on so-called “female sexual dysfunction” and the growing industry of cosmetogynecology. In 2011 the award-winning documentary on the subject, called “Orgasm Inc.'' featured Dr. Tiefer’s work and tracked one drug company’s race to develop the first female Viagra.

Leonore is also the author of hundreds of research and theoretical papers and book reviews and several books, including Sex Is Not a Natural Act. She’s recently taken a keen interest in pediatric gender medicine, which has some familiar elements for Dr. Teifer. Namely, the financial interests of drug companies, over-zealous physicians, well-meaning social justice elements, and eager patients themselves, can create the perfect storm for ethically questionable medicine.


You may notice that we had a hard time with Dr. Tiefer’s connection, and our editing team did the best they could with the audio. Things do clear up toward the middle of the interview, though. We hope this doesn’t become too distracting and we thank you in advance for bearing with us. Dr. Tiefer’s insights are so valuable; she is a wealth of knowledge and brings a very human yet analytical lens to the field of sexology.

We hope to have her back since there was so much to discuss. Some good bits had to get cut out because of sound quality when we’d just barely scratched the surface. Hopefully, this will be accompanied by another interview in the future. For now, here’s our first discussion with Dr. Leonore Tiefer.




Extended Notes

  • Leonore received her Ph.D. before the women’s movement in 1969.
  • She underwent a personal paradigm shift to study the social, cultural, and historical sexuality of women.
  • Being a feminist and sexual therapist offered Leonore a unique perspective on the larger social systems at work.
  • Leonore created A New View of Women’s Sexuality to criticize the medicalization of sexual dysfunction.
  • Most women don’t have vaginal orgasms.
  • Orgasm Inc. is a film that featured Leonore’s work.
  • Drug companies marketed a daily central nervous system drug to increase a female’s sexual desire.
  • It is difficult to find subjects for sexual research.
  • There is nothing natural about kissing. It is a learned activity.
  • Sexuality is closely related to culture.
  • While working at the International Academy of Sex Research, Leonore co-directed a clinic for the study of sex and gender.
  • Leonore sees medicalization as a social trend with many implications.
  • Big Pharma and politics have too big a hand in medicalization and the commercialization of medicine.
  • Leonore says newspapers and magazines are manic about portraying something other than heteronormativity.
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About the Podcast

Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast
Two therapists explore the expanding concept of "gender" from a psychological depth perspective.
Gender dysphoria has become a minefield for public discussion, with many afraid to express their views or question the narrative. Our mission is to examine this important and complex topic from a range of perspectives, but always through a psychological lens. By openly considering and examining gender identity, transition, and the transgender umbrella, we hope to give all interested parties permission to engage these fascinating topics with less fear and more honesty. Interviews and discussions will involve clinicians, medical professionals, academics, transgender people, parents, detransitioners and other interesting individuals whose lives have been touched by the concept of gender.

Conversations between two practicing therapists give listeners an opportunity to contemplate gender from a depth perspective not currently taken up in most of today’s accessible debates. As a result of their work with gender dysphoric therapy clients as well as their personal divergent experiences with gender, Stella and Sasha hold a refreshing and informed perspective.

Is gender identity a facilitation of development and expression of creativity, or can it be a defense against painful existential realities of living in a human body? What can we discover about masculinity, femininity, identity, gender performance, and sexuality when we peer beneath the surface and dive into a deeper psychological exploration? What is the relationship between body, mind, identity, culture, and psyche?

This podcast engages listeners in an intimate and fascinating behind-the-scenes inquiry about a topic as taboo as it is salient today.

* We are sponsored by ReIME and Genspect.
Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics (ReIME) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving long term care for gender variant individuals. To learn more, visit https://rethinkime.org/

Genspect is an international alliance of parent and professional groups whose aim is to advocate for parents of gender-questioning children and young people. Parents are concerned that their kids are not receiving appropriate treatment and support; many do not feel free to speak out about their concerns.
To learn more, visit https://genspect.org/
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About your hosts

Stella O'Malley

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Stella O’Malley is a psychotherapist and author who works in private practice in Ireland. Her work focuses on parenting, family dynamics and working with teenagers.

Much of Stella’s counselling and writing focuses on mental health and the importance of well-being and she is a regular contributor to the media. She is also the resident psychotherapist for the current TV series, Raised by the Village, a family programme that helps troubled teenagers reconnect with themselves and their families.

Stella's first book, Cotton Wool Kids, was released in 2015 while Bully-Proof Kids: Practical tools to help kids grow up confident, resilient and strong was released in 2017. Stella’s latest book Fragile, was released in 2019 and focuses on overcoming anxiety and stress.

Stella was the presenter of the documentary Trans - Kids: It’s Time To Talk broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2018 and she contributed a chapter to the 2019 book, Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.

The Jungian analyst, Lisa Marchiano, and Stella launched Secrets of the Motherworld in September 2019, offering thoughtful exploration of the most intimate aspects of motherhood in a bid to help mothers feel less alone.

Stella is a Clinical Advisor for the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners. She is also the lead facilitator for the Gender Dysphoria Support Network.

Stella holds a B.A. in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a M.A. in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Sasha Ayad

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Sasha Ayad is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works in private practice, and has treated adolescents for over 10 years. Her work focuses on teens and young adults struggling with issues of gender dysphoria and gender identity.

She became interested in the sharp rise in teenagers who declare a trans identity for the first time during adolescence. She discovered, through working with hundreds of families, that many teens were developing gender dysphoria only after adopting a transgender identity. She questions the practice of medical transition for children and teenagers, and her clinical work focuses on developmentally appropriate, least-invasive-first talk therapy.

Sasha is also a founding member and Clinical Advisor in the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners.

Sasha’s previous work experience includes:
- School counselor for middle and high school students at a charter school for underserved communities

- Behavioral therapy with children on the autism spectrum

- Individual and group counseling for women and children impacted by domestic abuse and sexual violence

- Developed and ran the first counseling program at a large state supported living facility for adults with intellectual disability

Sasha holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology.