Find Her On The Dial: Dr. Laurie Betito

In our fast-paced, technology-driven world where we are constantly finding newer, quicker ways to convey information, one of the oldest mass communication devices still holds a special place, particularly in the world of sex. While television may be king, with the Internet attempting a coup d'etat, radio has remained a darling. Simply transmitting words and music to eager ears should, by rights, have gone away when these other media formats came along.

Instead, we still embrace simple listening. Talk shows still flourish, with avid listeners ready to call in to discuss a wide variety of topics. In many markets, sex is staple conversation heard over the airways, and noone does sex talk and advice better than Montreal's Dr. Laurie Betito. For 12 years she has been dishing out fantastic information to every weeknight on Passion, bringing in other professionals and listening to the needs of callers.

Sexlife Canada talked the talk with Dr. Laurie about how she got into sex therapy and media, what listeners want and the enduring appeal of sex over the airwaves.

SLC: What led you into Sex Therapy?
LB: I have always been curious about sexuality (isn't everyone?), and in highschool for some reason, my friends would ask me all kinds of questions they had about sex. I would find them the information (as I also owned books on the subject), and answer their questions. In university, I took my first human sexuality class which I absolutely found fascinating. I asked my professor, who was a sex therapist herself, how she got her training. I contacted the psychiatrist who had trained her (who happened to be in the same hospital where I was doing my social work internship) and asked him if he would train me too. I was 23. He told me that it was a post graduate training program only. I begged him to take me on and promised to complete my Masters degree at the same time. Lucky me, he agreed. And so began my 2 year training in sex therapy. I went on to do a Masters and PhD in Psychology as well, which would better prepare me as a general therapist.

SLC: And then, how did you get involved in radio work?
LB: By being at the right place at the right time. Once I had completed my training, I stayed on at the hospital to work at the Sex clinic doing evaluations. A talk show host from Mix96 (now Virgin radio) came to us looking for sex experts as they wanted to do a weekly 2 hour show about sex and answering questions from callers. I volunteered. I did that gig for 9 years. Our sister station, CJAD 800am, a talk radio format station, decided they wanted to put in a weekly show as well about sex, and they approached me. For a time I was running from one station to the other on the same night. Very soon after I started, it was decided to extend the show to a nightly one. That was 12 years ago (they also decided to stop doing talk on the music station at the same time). From radio, I also went to TV, hosting my own sex talk show for 4 seasons.

SLC: Why do you think sex talk works so well on the radio?
LB: People want/need information. Most people are embarassed to ask their physicians, their friends, their parents about sexual issues. Most people who are going through something often feel they are "not normal", and don't know where to turn to find the answers. I think people appreciate the openness, and the casualness with which the subject is approached on my show. I also like the anonymity of radio. People feel less afraid to broach the subject this way, or they can use a pseudonym, or talk about their "friends'" problems. People need information from a qualified, valid resource. That is what I offer.

SLC: What makes Passion different than other shows that are on the radio
LB: I think it works because I am a professional in this field. It's not about sensationalism, or ratings. I offer honest, straightforward advice. I invite other professionals who share their expertise with the listeners (a urologist, OB/GYN are regulars on my program, as are BDSM and alternative sex experts). It's also different because our callers share the most intimate details of their lives with us. The guests we have on are also quite colorful. We have had prostitutes, porn stars, strippers, and anyone involved in the sex industry on the show. We also have authors and other types of guests on who research or have written about sex, love or relationships.

SLC: What types of advice are people most seeking when it comes to sex?
LB: The most common question I get is "am I normal?". Usually preceded by some sexual issue. The most common issues are not just about sex, but about relationships too. I hear about erectile difficulties, problems with orgasm, libido issues, safe sex issues and premature ejaculation. But there are many, many more types of questions that get asked. People also like to discuss troubles they are having in their relationships and want some guidance.

SLC: Do you hear from men or women more, or is it balanced?
LB: Interestingly, our numbers show that we have more female listeners, yet we definitely have more male callers. Women tend to email me instead, often reflecting that they are just too shy to call in. Men are less shy about sex it seems.

SLC: Are there any topics you won't explore on your show?
LB: There is nothing I won't address on the show. Every night, besides answering listener questions, we cover 2 topics. Anything from anal sex to dating. We have often done controversial topics, and topics that definitely no one else on air (at least at our station) would touch with a ten foot pole! We use frank language and never shy away from using appropriate language to describe sex acts and sexual parts. We are allowed to say Penis, vagina, and even blow job on the air. We do have a disclaimer at the beginning of the program.

SLC: Is there any one common factor to sex-related issues that you think people frequently encounter?
LB: I think that would have to do with lack of knowledge/information. Many people think they are the only ones on earth to experience what they are experiencing and thus feel very alone. Oftentimes, what they think is a problem, is really nothing but a lack of basic information. People also find it difficult to talk to their partners about sex, so often, the problems get worse with time.

SLC: What are your plans for the future of the show and your own plans in general?
LB: Well, I will stay on with CJAD for as long as they'll have me. It's been a great ride with this station so far. We are always looking to freshen the show up with new ideas for features or guests. I am in the process of writing 2 books, on is for men about male sexuality, and the other is a compilation of questions and answers about sex that I have received over the years. I also hope to do more television which I absolutely enjoyed.