Considering that sex plays a primal and major part in our lives, too few of us – including therapists – are well-informed about the depth, breadth and range of sexual expression. Until recently, and because as a society we’ve been skittish about discussing or teaching sex, our sexual education has been woefully inadequate to help our clients, even though we know that sexual satisfaction contributes to a major part of what we call “quality of life.”
As Bob Dylan once sang, “the times they are a-changin.” Today more and more people are open to talking about their sexuality and are coming to us for help with sexual questions and problems. If we don’t want to be caught flat-footed, we’d better get some real training. Otherwise, we risk either not being able to address these things, or worse, offering outdated or wrong guidance.
Let’s face it. As counselors and therapists, we come into the practice with our own baggage. We may have grown up in an environment where anything beyond cisgender, heterosexual relationships rarely was discussed or was met with hostility. Or dealing with clients’ sexual difficulties may feel uncomfortable to us. Or we may have an subconscious bias against some forms of sexual expression; thus, we are vulnerable to steering a client in a direction that could be harmful or of no use at all.
Nearly none of us escape childhood without some misconceptions or bias about sex that we received from our parents or our culture. As therapists, it’s crucial that we gently guide our clients into conversations around sexuality and eroticism, something that can be difficult for them to talk about and for us to know what questions to ask if we have no real training in sexual health. Even though as a culture we have a history of talking about sex in movies, books, and even in music (eg “Sexual Healing” in the 1980s by Marvin Gaye, and “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael in the 1990s), these offer only short glimpses or discussions about sexuality, and then we stop.
Fortunately, in the last decade. a burgeoning movement of sex-positive therapists is now serving clients around the nation. Widener University and the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, for example, offer training programs specific to sexuality and sex therapy.My advice: Don’t get left behind. The demand for sexually informed psychotherapy is growing rapidly.Why training mattersIf we haven’t adequately assessed our own quietly held beliefs and prejudices surrounding sex, we can’t really offer unbiased guidance, which is essential when we’re confronted with the myriad sexual nuances our clients express. Often these biases are subconscious and will show up in ways that are not helpful to our clients. For example:Leading a client to sexual health that fits the therapist’s erotic code or the client’s partner’s erotic code rather than their own.