British sex researcher makes his bed in Berkeley

A racy British sex survey that made headlines recently got its start not in merry old England but in the East Bay.

Lenny Kristal, a South African-born, Oxford-trained psychologist, conducted the online questionnaire in conjunction with Yahoo! UK and the British tabloid News of the World. But Kristal has been living in Berkeley the last few years, and organized the survey from his East Bay perch.

He’s also an observant Jew and a member of Berkeley’s Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel. What brought him to sunny California? “I have a love interest in Berkeley,” he says, “and I’m attracted to the area, so I think I will be here permanently. I have linked up with professors of psychology [at U.C. Berkeley], and that’s a good reason to be here.”

An author, therapist, consultant and researcher, Kristal says he was somewhat surprised by the results of the 2006 Great British Sex Survey, which polled more than 10,000 Britons about their sex habits.

Among the more fascinating findings: 28 percent of English men and 26 percent of women reported having had sex with someone they met on the Internet, and three out of four English women admit to having faked an orgasm during sex. One in three men say they have done the same.

Kristal ran a similar survey 12 years ago, and found that Britons today, especially English women, are much more assertive and satisfied when it comes to sex. “I think women find it now much more normal to express what they want and desire,” he says.

Having mastered the art and science of sex surveys, Kristal hopes to create a similar poll of American Jews, to run in conjunction with a Jewish dating Web site. He thinks there’s a lot to be learned from such a poll.

“This survey won’t be just about sexual elements, but also personality factors and romantic issues,” he says. “It would be the first of its kind, the first step of a greater aspiration: to look at love and sexuality across America.”

His interest in the psychology of sex and romance goes back to his days as a student at Cambridge, Oxford and Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

“When I grew up, I was part of the Zionist Youth Movement in South Africa,” recalls the Cape Town native. “I went to Israel as a volunteer in the Six-Day War, and after a two-year stint [in college] I got a degree in psychology.”

He went on to found Multimedia Publications, which specialized in books on the sciences. Kristal also authored several books on psychology, as well as consulted for corporations, sports teams and government.

But examining love relationships has given him the most professional satisfaction. He moved to the United States a few years ago to consult for MatchNet, a provider of online personal services.

A father of three and grandfather of two, Kristal says family is important to him. His own father, whom he describes as “not observant but a highly spiritual person,” died 16 years ago.

Shortly before, Kristal flew to South Africa to see him. “My father was on his death bed,” recalls Kristal. “He asked me to put on tefillin. He’d never done this to my knowledge, but he wanted me to put it on as a sign of responsibility to perpetuate this amazing story called the Jews. Since then I have put on tefillin every day as a tribute to my father, and I’m more involved in Jewish observance.”

Kristal’s also hopes to someday establish a Bay Area center, perhaps at U.C. Berkeley, to study that most mysterious of subjects: human love relationships. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but Kristal has learned a few things about the subject.

“When you get into a dating situation, you have a chance to make it work,” he says. “At the heart of relationship issues, is emotional intelligence.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.