A friend recently told me that he and his girlfriend had been seeing a sex therapist. Their sex life had been sliding, and they were struggling to connect, so they booked in for a few sessions. Fast forward to our conversation, and it had worked wonders for their relationship.
“It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Scott*, with the obvious glow of someone having top-shelf sex again. “But you should’ve seen my dad’s shocked face when I told him.”
For context, Scott is close to his dad and had wanted to share this development with him.
While he hadn’t predicted his dad’s disbelief, I was less surprised. Scott’s father was the kind of man who would say things like, “Come on now, that’s enough” if the conversation drifted towards sex at the dinner table.
But rather than focus on his old man’s failure to appreciate the value of sex therapy – that would be akin to being shocked by the sun rising each morning – I was delighted.
In the last six months, I’d heard many tales of people I knew employing sex coaches, attending seminars, working with sex therapists.
Adding Scott’s story to this pile, I was convinced I had (anecdotal) evidence of a pattern. As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off the mark.
“We certainly notice that people are more comfortable talking about their sex lives and that has been reflected in people using different sexual services,” says Fiona Barrett, a counsellor with Relationships Australia.
“I put it down to a cultural shift, Masters and Johnson did their groundbreaking sexual research in the late 1950s, but it takes a generation or two for people to get comfortable.”
“My parents wouldn’t have gone to a sex therapist,” adds Fiona.
“But today we’re finding middle-aged and young adults seeking out these services because sexuality is in the media, it’s talked about at dinner, people are open about their desires and needs.”
It’s a trend that Lisa Torney, a practising sex therapist with more than twenty years in the field, has witnessed.
“We’ve seen a cultural shift, people are aware that pleasure and intimacy are important aspects of their relationships,” says Lisa.
“And if that’s missing, they don’t want to just get help, they want to get specialised help.”
While some people still hear the words “sex therapy” and picture candles, blindfolds and soft music, the reality couldn’t be further from it.
“Sex therapy typically involves getting history on the couple or individual, to understand what their relationship with sex is like,” explains Lisa.
“We’re looking to decipher what factors are impacting on them – things like lack of confidence, having kids, age, illness, disability, previous negative experiences – and realising how that might affect their intimacy levels and how we can improve and work through that.”
As well as being a sex therapist, Lisa is the national chairperson of the Society of Australian Sexologists, a body that is growing as supply attempts to keep up with demand.
“Our membership keeps increasing, and we now offer two Masters degrees in Australia in sexology,” she says.
Meanwhile, sex education and intimacy coaching is also becoming popular, as couples and individuals look to prioritise pleasure. It differs from sex therapy in that there is less of a focus on counselling and more on coaching, to help people achieve the fulfilling sex lives they want.
Organisations catering to the carnally curious are popping up all around the country offering individual classes, group sessions or weekends away.
“More people than ever are looking for a better connection with their sensual self, they want to get back into their bodies because they have felt out of touch for far too long,” says Georgia Grace, a Sydney-based sex educator and coach.
At the mention of the ‘sensual self’, I can’t help but think of Scott’s disapproving dad frowning his way through a session.
But while he may not find anything useful in being coached, others do.
“Couples need education and training in how to relate, increase pleasure, ask for consent, practice boundaries and understand who they are as sexual individuals,” she says.
Now everyone knows there’s nothing sexier than statistics, so let’s heat things up with a little data.
The Australian Study of Health and Relationships is our most important study of sexual and reproductive health, only carried out once-in-a-decade, it delivers a snapshot of where we’re at sexually.
The most recent study, completed in 2016, found that while Australians are more experimental and open than ever, the frequency of sex in relationships has dropped. Perhaps that explains our desire to seek out help from therapists and coaches.
“We’re more at ease with sex, but there are also more intrusions now, even in the past two years since that study,” explains Georgia.
“People take their devices to bed, we’re living vicariously through our phones and it becomes hard for people, and couples, to switch off, so they can turn on.”
Both Lisa and Georgia admit that – “what’s a normal sex life?” – is one of the most common questions they hear from clients and both also agree, there is no such thing.
But in light of our increasing desire to explore, improve, understand and enjoy sex, it’s clear that
what’s not normal is the reaction of Scott’s father.
Eventually, I asked Scott what he said to his dad and his response was priceless – “come on now Dad, that’s enough.”
You may have joked to friends that you don’t need therapy—you have them. But sometimes working through the hard stuff requires help from a neutral party who happens to be a licensed professional. If your hard stuff is about sex, a sex therapist may be your best option. Here are eight signs a sex therapist could be a great addition to your life, and after that, advice on actually finding one.
1. You’re experiencing pain or physical difficulty when you try to have sex.
If you see a medical doctor and there is no physical issue at the core of your trouble with sex, that doesn’t make what you’re dealing with any less significant. Seeing a sex therapist to discuss any psychological components at play can be helpful, Richmond explains.
For instance, vaginismus, which causes painful vaginal muscle spasms during penetration, can stem from anxiety about having sex, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (That could include anxiety about it being painful even if any condition causing the pain has been treated.) It can also happen due to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder from a sexual assault. Stress is one of many possible psychological causes behind erectile dysfunction, too.
Point is, the mental and physical are often so closely intertwined that painful sex is a very valid reason to see a sex therapist.
Of course, recovering from a sexual assault is a different process for everyone. But for some people, a sex therapist is a better option than a more generalized mental health professional. “Oftentimes therapists will talk about the trauma, but there’s no resolution on how we move forward as our sexual selves,” says Richmond, who treats many survivors. “[Sex therapists] process the trauma and move forward to help you have sex with your partner. We can help you move from survivor to thriver.” That’s not to say a therapist who doesn’t specialize in sex can’t help you heal after an assault. But if you’d like to specifically focus on the sexual aspect, a sex therapist may be ideal.
3. You’re in a partnership with mismatched desires.
This can mean many things, like one person having a higher libido than the other or being interested in exploring a kink such BDSM, sex therapist Liz Powell, Ph.D., who often sees partners with mismatched desires, tells SELF.
While having a kink is generally becoming more accepted, disclosing one can still be scary. This is where a sex therapist can help. For instance, Richmond recalls a couple who came to her because the male partner was struggling with the female partner’s urge to explore her submissive side in a specific way. “She wanted to be called a slut, a whore, and her partner just could not do it. So, we had to figure out other ways for her to work within her fantasy,” Richmond says
If necessary, a sex therapist can also guide you through the realization that the partnership isn’t working due to incompatible desires. “So many people are just petrified of breakups [and] they choose to stay even when they’re not happy,” Powell says. Seeing a therapist together may help you figure out whether to salvage the relationship or bring it to a respectful end.
4. You want to explore opening up your relationship.
This is another scenario Powell, who specializes in LGBTQ+ communities along with kink and polyamory, sees quite often. A sex therapist can help a couple in this situation craft a relationship format that allows both of them to feel safe and fulfilled. That can mean everything from the freedom to have a one-night stand once a year while in another country to dating multiple partners.
Having an impartial, trained person involved can help ensure that no one is simply capitulating to something like an open relationship due to pressure (even the internal kind) and that both partners are respecting each other’s boundaries—even if that means splitting up.
5. You have questions about your gender identity.
The gender revolution is making progress. In one recent win, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a provision that creates room for a third gender, X, on birth certificates.
But there are setbacks, too, as evidenced by the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to define gender as a fixed identity determined by a person’s genitals at birth. (It’s not.)
In light of the continued fight to have everyone’s gender identity respected, figuring out the right words or expression for your gender can be a daunting task. A sex therapist, particularly an LGBTQ+ friendly one, may be able to help you alone or with a partner, Powell says.
6. You’re exploring your sexual orientation.
As with gender, a sex therapist can help you navigate questions about your sexual orientation, reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with you, and aid you in your journey of self-discovery. This can be especially helpful if you’re in a monogamous relationship and experiencing sexual curiosity for people of genders other than your partner’s, Powell says.
A sex therapist could also be useful if you’re wondering whether or not you’re asexual or would like to talk about being asexual. “Some people think it’s a sex therapist’s job to make people have more sex and crazier sex, and [it’s] definitely not,” Richmond says. “You don’t have to have any sex. As long as you’re OK with it, I’m OK with it.”
7. You’re a current or former sex worker or dating someone who is.
Richmond says she frequently sees couples in which one person is or used to be a sex worker. A good sex therapist can help people uncover and eradicate any kind of internalized stigma around the profession. “In many people’s minds, because of our cultural lens, that’s something to be ashamed of,” Richmond says. “That’s not my view
Another important component may be helping the person not in the adult industry separate their partner from their sex work, Richmond says, explaining that people who are dating sex workers sometimes fetishize their partners accidentally. “Helping separate the person’s identity from [the adult industry] can be tricky because of the shame, but at the end of the day, you’re just dating another person,” she says.
8. You want to overcome sexual shame.
You may have noticed a theme here. From gender identity to surviving an assault to sex work and more, a sex therapist can help you deal with something that brings you shame even if that emotion is totally unwarranted. (As it is with everything on the above list.)
Both Powell and Richmond say that, deep down, most people who see them want to know if they’re “normal.” Shame has a funny way of making you feel like you’re not, and it’s the opposite of conducive to enjoying a healthy sex life. But it can also be almost impossible to escape. “Having grown up in a culture with so much shame, I think most of us could benefit from seeing a sex therapist,” Powell says. If anything is keeping you from having the love or sex life you always wanted, a sex therapist might be able to help you work through it.
Wishing you could teleport to a sex therapist’s office right now? Here’s the next best thing: advice on finding a great sex therapist you can afford.
Finding the right therapist can feel like dating. Despite their qualifications, therapists are humans, too. You might run into a therapist with their own sexual hang-ups or old-fashioned views, or just someone you don’t gel with. But when you find “the one,” there’s no feeling like it. Here are a few steps to try 1. If you have insurance, call and ask for help finding a local sex therapist. You can also look through their online directory. Since that may not allow you to filter specifically for sex therapists, you might still need to do some digging on the therapists’ backgrounds.
3. Online services such as ZocDoc and Psychology Today have filters that allow you to get more specific about what you want. For instance, on Psychology Today, you can drill the results down to sex therapists who specialize in gender identity, take your insurance, and participate in online therapy. (Even if it seems like you’ve landed upon your dream therapist, it’s always smart to call the office and verify that all the information you’ve found is up to date.)
4. Try asking your potential therapist’s office if they ever accept payment on a sliding scale and, if they do, which income brackets qualify. Unfortunately, not all therapists take insurance. Even if they do, your insurance may not cover your One True Sex Therapist. If your therapist accepts payment on a sliding scale, that can be a great way to lower your financial burden.
5. If price is still an issue, consider seeing a sex educator or a counselor instead of a therapist. Someone with a degree such as an M.S.W. (masters in social work) may have a lower rate than someone with a degree like a Ph.D., but should still be highly skilled.
6. Google “sex-positive therapist in [insert your city here].” You may find a network such as Manhattan Alternative, which lists sex-positive therapists in New York City who specialize in areas such as kink, ethical non-monogamy, and sexual assault survivorship.
7. If you’re looking for help specifically related to an LGBTQ+ issue, check out SELF’s guide on how to find an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor. Much of it extends to finding a sex therapist as well.
8. Ask about virtual sessions. If the best therapist you find isn’t in your city, remember that many are open to coaching you over the phone or virtually with a service like Skype or FaceTime, Richmond says. For all its potential ills, technology can be a beautiful thing.
So there you are, in bed with your partner, having perfectly pleasant if serviceable sex, when your mind starts to wander: what was it you meant to put on your shopping list? Why didn’t your boss reply to your email? Don’t forget it’s bin day tomorrow.
Many of us feel disconnected during sex some or most of the time. At the more extreme end, sexual dysfunction – erectile problems, vaginal pain, zero libido – can severely hamper our quality of life and our relationships. In many cases, there could be a relatively simple, if not easily achieved, fix: mindfulness.
In essence, mindfulness involves paying attention to what is happening in the present moment and noticing, without judgment, your thoughts and feelings. It can reconnect us with our bodies – stopping us spending so much time in our heads – and reduce stress. It has been used by the NHS as a treatment for recurrent depression and popular books and apps have made it part of many people’s everyday lives. After mindful eating, drinking, parenting and working, mindful lovemaking is starting to be recognised more widely as a way to improve one’s sex life. (Earlier this year, the couples therapist Diana Richardson gave a TEDx talk on mindfulness in sex, which has been viewed 170,000 times on YouTube.)
A survey published in June by Public Health England found that 49% of 25- to 34-year-old women complained of a lack of sexual enjoyment; across all ages, 42% of women were dissatisfied. The most recent National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, published in 2013, found that people in Britain were having less sex than they once did, with low sexual function affecting about 15% of men and 30% of women. Difficulty achieving orgasm was reported by 16% of women, while 15% of men suffered premature ejaculation and 13% experienced erectile dysfunction. Problems with sexual response were common, affecting 42% of men and 51% of women who reported one or more problems in the last year.
“People are worried about their jobs, worried about money. They are not in the mood for sex,” said Cath Mercer from University College London. “But we also think modern technologies are behind the trend, too. People have tablets and smartphones and they are taking them into the bedroom, using Twitter and Facebook, answering emails.”
Mindfulness is one of the tools that can help people focus in a world full of distractions. Kate Moyle, a psychosexual and couples therapist, says mindfulness is a recognised part of therapeutic work, even if it has not always been given that name. “When people have sexual problems, a lot of the time it’s anxiety-related and they’re not really in their bodies, or in the moment. Mindfulness brings them back into the moment. When people say they’ve had the best sex and you ask them what they were thinking about, they can’t tell you, because they weren’t thinking about anything, they were just enjoying the moment. That’s mindfulness.” Moyle says the techniques involve “encouraging people to focus on their sensations, explore their senses, hone in on what is happening in their body and how they’re experiencing it”.
A simple exercise Moyle recommends is “getting in touch with the senses in the shower – listen to the noise, the sensation of the water on your skin, notice any smells, see what the water tastes like, look around you. You’re really encouraging people to try to stay in their bodies, rather than be in their heads. It’s about refocusing their attention on what they can feel right now.”
Ammanda Major, the head of clinical practice at the relationship support organisation Relate, says mindful sex “is about focusing in the moment on what’s going on for you and making sure all the extraneous things get left behind. For example, if you’re being touched by your partner, it’s really focusing on those sensations. People may find themselves very distracted during sex, so this is a way of bringing themselves into their body and being totally aware of themselves in that moment.” It is now part of the standard advice and support Relate offers to clients, she says. “It can feel clunky to start with, but with practice people realise they’re able to engage in mindfulness without realising they’re doing it.” In short, it becomes a way of life. Other than focusing on sensations, people can bring into sex an awareness of “how nice your partner feels, or how nice they smell, or the sound of their voice – something that will bring you right back into the moment. When you have thoughts that distract you, one of the key issues is not to blame yourself, but just to acknowledge it and cast them adrift.”
At the Jane Wadsworth sexual function clinic at St Mary’s hospital in London, mindfulness is used in almost all sexual problems, says David Goldmeier, a clinical lead and consultant in sexual medicine. These approaches have been used in sex therapy since the 50s, but they were not known as mindfulness at the time. The American researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson used a technique called “sensate focus”, emphasising the exploration of physical sensations rather than focusing on the goal of orgasm.
A mindful approach can help men with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. “If you have a man who has an erection problem and is stressed by it, a lot of his mind [during sex] will be worrying: ‘Have I got an erection or not?’” says Goldmeier. It is also used to help men and women who find it hard to orgasm or have low desire, as well as in sexual problems relating to abuse. “In our clinic, we see an awful lot of people with historical sexual abuse and [mindfulness is] a foundation for the trauma therapy they have. It is useful in sexual problems that are based in large part on past sexual abuse,” he says.
Lori Brotto, one of the leading researchers in this area, agrees. In her book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, she wrote of a study she published in 2012, which noted that “teaching sexual abuse survivors to mindfully pay attention to the present moment, to notice their genital sensations and to observe ‘thoughts’ simply as events of the mind, led to marked reductions in their levels of distress during sex”.
Brotto is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute in Canada. Having started sex research during her graduate degree, she began studying mindfulness in 2002. Mindfulness-based treatments had been used effectively for people with suicidal tendencies – these ancient techniques started to be used widely in western medicine in the 70s – and Brotto realised they could also be helpful for addressing the sexual concerns of women who had survived cancer. “What struck me was … how the patients I was seeing with suicidal tendencies, who would talk about feeling disconnected from themselves and having a real lack of awareness of their internal sensations, were very similar to the women with sexual concerns,” she says. “At that time, I thought: ‘If mindfulness could be an effective way of staying in the present and helping them manage these out-of-control behaviours, I wonder if it could also be a tool to help women reconnect with their sexual selves and improve their sexual functioning.’”
Sexual problems can be caused by a huge range of factors. Depression and stress can be triggers, as can the side-effects of antidepressants. Over time, these side-effects can become a psychological factor, as people worry that they are no longer sexually responsive. Problems can also be caused by physical conditions such as vaginal pain, or inhibitions and shame about sexual desire, particularly for some women and people in same-sex relationships. Survivors of sexual abuse, who learned to dissociate during an assault, can also experience distressing sexual problems in a later consensual and otherwise happy relationship. “Mindfulness is such a simple practice, but it really addresses many of the reasons why people have sexual concerns,” says Brotto.
At its most basic, she explains, mindfulness is defined as “present-moment nonjudgmental awareness. Each of those three components are critical for healthy sexual function. For a lot of women who report low desire, lack of response and low arousal in particular, all three of those domains are problematic.” Being “present” is critical. “Then there is the nonjudgmental part – countless studies have shown that people who have sexual difficulties tend also to have very negative and catastrophic thoughts: ‘If I don’t respond, my partner will leave me,’ or: ‘If I don’t have an adequate level of desire, I’m broken.’ Mindfulness and paying attention nonjudgmentally is about evoking compassion for yourself.”
Body image issues come up consistently, she says. “Women will often say they prefer to have the lights off, or they’ll redirect their partner’s hands away from the areas of their body they’re not happy with, or they may be worrying that a partner is perceiving their body in a negative way. All of those things serve to remove them from the present moment.”
As for awareness, Brotto says, “lots of data shows us that women, more so than men, tend to be somewhat disconnected from what’s happening in their bodies”. Her experiments have shown that women can experience physical arousal, such as increased blood flow to their vagina, but it barely registers mentally. “There may be a strong physiological response, [but] there’s no awareness in their mind of that response. We know that healthy sexual response requires the integration of the brain and body, so when the mind is elsewhere – whether it’s distracted or consumed with catastrophic thoughts – all of that serves to interrupt that really important feedback loop.”
It can be the same for some men, she says, but “there tends to be more concordance between the body’s arousal and the mind’s arousal. When men have a physical response, they’re also much more likely to have a mental sexual arousal response.”
While working with a group or a sex therapist can be helpful for people with sexual concerns, others can teach themselves mindfulness techniques using books or any number of apps. In her book, Brotto says mindfulness practice can be as simple as focusing on your breath. An exercise she uses involves focusing on a raisin (this is a well-established practice and there are many tutorials online). First, scrutinise it – its shape, size, smell, feel, its ridges and valleys – then put it to your lips and notice your anticipation and salivary response; finally, bite into it and observe, in detail, the taste and texture. This can teach us to focus on sensations and the moment, rather than mindlessly eating a handful of raisins. The same sort of attention can be applied to sex.
In Brotto’s eight-week group programme, people practice mindfulness techniques for 30 minutes each day, followed by a maintenance plan of between 10 and 15 minutes a day. For someone doing it on their own, she recommends starting with 10 minutes a day and trying to include a few 30-minute sessions. “The benefit of a longer practice is you get to deal with things such as boredom and frustration, and physical discomfort in the body, all of which you want to be able to work through,” she says. “A body scan is one of our favourites within the sexuality realm – that involves closing your eyes and really tuning in to the different sensations in different parts of your body and not trying to change anything, just observing. If people can start to do that in their life generally, on a regular basis, they strengthen that mindfulness ‘muscle’ and start to become more aware generally and they can take that newfound awareness into their sexuality.”
When we have better sex, we tend to want more of it, so it becomes a satisfying circle. “Desire is not a fixed level that each one of us has, but rather is adaptive and responsive to our situation,” says Brotto. “When sex is not satisfying, it makes sense that the brain adjusts itself and creates less [desire].”
Mindful sex does not have to be an intense, time-consuming session. “It can be very everyday; it doesn’t have to be a different type of sex,” says Moyle. “You might have sex the same way, in the same position, but you’re in a different headspace, so you’re experiencing it differently. People can think: ‘I’m not into mindfulness,’ or: ‘It’s a bit spiritual and I’m not,’ but it doesn’t have to be that. It can just be really straightforward – focusing your attention and fully experiencing sensations.”
What makes The Somatica Method different than most other forms of sex therapy is that it exists in a place between counseling and sexual surrogacy. While communication is the bedrock of Celeste and Danielle’s practice — because good sex can’t happen without it — the duo also recognizes the importance of the physical realm during sessions, meaning that an appointment with them may include everything from a frank discussion about your sex life to a hands on lesson on how to bite your partner’s neck (they’ll practice with you) or throw them up against the wall (if that’s what you’re both into).
So who should get hands-on sex therapy? Can all of us achieve our dreams of leaving our partners gasping for more? We spoke to Celeste and Danielle about what being a sex coach is really like, what clients can get out of it, and how they handle even the toughest sexual problems.
Sex coaching isn’t just for the sexless.
Picture the type of person you think might seek out a sex coach. Is that person generally happy and healthy? Are they fulfilled in other areas of their lives? Are they already in a relationship? The cultural narrative (and every rom-com that revolves around professionals who helps clients lead better sex lives) suggests that only the strangest, neediest people will pay someone to coach them to be better lovers. That’s simply not true.
Committed couples come in regularly, Danielle tells us. They may seek out services because they have desires that they may not be able to talk about on their own. Or their levels of sexual desire may be vastly different and they want to find a happy medium. And men (both single and partnered) may come in because they’re realizing that being good at sex isn’t all about intercourse.
“Men come in because they want to figure out women,” Danielle says. “They can’t understand their wives or girlfriends or women they want to date and also to overcome physiological challenges including getting hard and controlling their orgasm. They want to be better lovers.”
Women set appointments for different reasons — often to work on pain during sex, to ask for help achieving orgasm, or to talk about low levels of sexual desire. Regardless of the reason, the first step in the Somatica Method is to make sure that no one feels stigmatized.
“There’s already so much shame in our culture about sex,” Celeste tells us. “Even now, when you’re seeing sex everywhere, we still have this underlying idea that sex is dirty or extraneous or unimportant, but the bottom line is we’re all sexual beings. We are wired that way from the beginning, but people have learned that sex is bad from many places. I do feel that we’re raising consciousness around sex and shame and we can see the people we work with get so more relaxed around their sexuality.”
You’re not showing up to have sex.
“When clients first come in we’ll sit and talk for a while to discover their issue,” Danielle tells us. “Then, depending on what the issue is, we’re going to do something experiential in that first session.”
If the word experiential sounds daunting, you may be relieved (or disappointed) to know that it’s much less scary than you think. No one’s going to demand that you undress. Instead, Danielle says, the practitioner may start with deep breathing exercises to get the client to feel more in their body and connect with themselves in a way that ignites erotic energy. Sometimes, the experiential portion of the session may include learning how to make eye contact (terrifying for many) or working on relaxing in sexual situations.
“It could be just talking about their fantasies or what turns them on,” Danielle says. “That’s an experience that so many people have never had in a safe nonjudgemental environment.”
That place of non-judgment is essential to the practice. Because most of us have grown up thinking of sex as something shameful (or only reserved for the very attractive and well-endowed). We forget that all of us are entitled to have good sex and not be ashamed to explore the things that turn us on, whether that be BDSM or 20 minutes in the missionary position.
“A lot of what we bring to the approach,” Celeste says, “is celebratory, fun, and exciting, and we stay away from shaming people’s desires. We are normalizing what they are experiencing in all different areas of sex and desire, which is very helpful as it gives them a different perspective about how they can embrace themselves and transform in the ways they want to.
Here’s how this works: Imagine you’re a dude coming in to work on the issue of premature ejaculation (common! Normal! Will happen at least once to most of us!). The first thing your sex coach will do is demystify the experience and explain that because masturbation is viewed as something shameful that needs to be hidden, many men condition themselves to orgasm as quickly as possible, not recognizing that this kind of pattern will affect their sex lives, and then, when they do involve themselves in romantic situations, they end up not feeling adequate.
“I had this young guy who really thought he was supposed to be able to stay hard and not ejaculate for like an hour,” Danielle laughs. “No, honey, that’s not going to happen like that. It’s not realistic. We do a reality check around that.”
And then the work really begins. Once Celeste and Danielle (they work with clients individually) pinpoint the problem, they’ll teach a client how to slow his or her body down, how to touch, and how to relax and enjoy sexual experiences.
“We see many couples,” Danielle says, “many times one partner says, ‘You have to teach them how to do that, you have to teach her to respond the way you respond.’”
But the sessions are sex-y.
While traditional sexological bodywork is a one-way street when it comes to touch (the practitioner does touch the client’s naked body, often with a glove on), Somatica is different in that the practitioner and the client touch each other. The clothes stay on, but instead of manual touch (just physical training), the client and the therapist work on both sexual and relationship techniques to prepare the client for the real thing.
“You’re learning everything from emotional connection and communication to erotic connection,” Celeste says. “A client could be learning about passion by practicing with us throwing each other up against the wall, or they could be learning about romance with tender, gentle touch. You’re learning different energies of erotic connection but also seduction and how to be more in your body in an erotic way. There’s a huge set of experiential tools we use to help people be fully realized sexually and emotionally in relationships.”
Wait up, throwing each other against walls?
“If you just think about it,” Danielle says, “we have this idea that we’re supposed to know those things and to do them. Spontaneously. How the heck are we going to get that information?”
Only the movies come to mind.
“You know there’s technique to everything.” Danielle continues. “You can really learn how to bring the right energy, you can learn how to say the right words, and touch in a way that’s going to make someone feel arousal and turn on. We see some of it in the movies, but we don’t get the full picture or the ‘How To’ – they cut out so many of the most important aspects of sexual connection.”
Media representations of sex tell us one of two stories: The first features people who, by some preternatural means, have become master lovers. We don’t know how, we don’t know why. We just know they’re good at what they do. They know how to kiss, to nibble on ears, and, yes, even throw each other up against walls in ways that are sexy and dominating without being creepy.
The second story is more awkward: We either see people go from ugly ducklings into sex monsters in a brief montage or we never see them get there at all. They live in a world where sex is awkward and strange but enjoyable with the right person. Celeste and Danielle, however, are trying to tell a third story — the one in which even the most insecure people learn to feel comfortable and confident within their own bodies.
“People think we’re going to do role-play, so it seems like it’s going to feel phony,” Celeste says, “but we show up really authentically. When I’m practicing with somebody I’m Celeste. I’m not practicing, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m so and so.’ It’s a very real, very beautiful connection that we share with our clients.”
That connection helps smooth over any nerves, even when you’re doing something that sounds silly or challenging.
“When you first throw somebody up against the wall, yeah there’s definitely going to be some awkwardness and some laughter,” Celeste continues, “but we practice. When somebody comes into my office, they’re not going to practice it one time. We’re going to do it eight times, ten times. By the end, it’s like, “Whoa, that was really hot, you are sensual and you’re turning me on and it’s super exciting. I think any learning curve can have some awkwardness and discomfort to it but the outcome is so profound and fun that I think people are willing to go through the awkwardness.”
And the coaches do get turned on…
With all this talk about being authentic, we wanted to know the answer to the age-old question when it comes to any kind of work in which sex is involved: Is the practitioner aroused?
Turns out, that’s not just a hazard of the job; it’s the goal.
“The best feedback that we can give clients is our turn on, and we’re not faking it,” Danielle says seriously. “We’re letting ourselves respond authentically and get aroused. We’re teaching them how to seduce us and turn us on because that’s the best learning that they’re going to get, an authentic and real response. They really appreciate it, because men especially, very rarely they get gentle and real feedback that points them in the right direction.”
“I had a client in my office the other day and I was teaching him how to bite the back of my neck,” Celeste adds. “We were taking turns and it was so arousing. I was like, ‘Yay, this is my job.’”
But there are clear limits. Bites on the neck? Appropriate. Erotic touch? Part of the process. Kissing? Celeste and Danielle don’t do that, because it’s important to set boundaries when you’re doing this work. “Besides,” Celeste says, “there are other ways to learn how to be a good kisser.” (Yes, this can sometimes involve practicing on hands.)
Even couples have to keep it PG: “They’re making out and touching each other,” Danielle says. “They can kiss each and they can put their hands underneath each others clothing, stuff that we can’t do with them in session. But they don’t get naked.”
Hey, just more excitement for when they get home.
Speaking of boundaries, they’re a cornerstone of a sex coach’s work.
Sure, part of Celeste and Danielle’s job is to teach clients how to turn them — and others — on in order to benefit the client, but another huge part of their work is making sure that clients understand that relationships have boundaries.
“We have a relationship with our clients and it can be a very strong and beautiful attachment,” Celeste says seriously, “but it still stays within the confines of our practice and the boundaries of the session. We’re not seeing our clients outside of session, not going to dinner or dates with them. You can have this beautiful authentic connection with someone and then support them, encourage them to really go out and find that in their lives as well.”
But that doesn’t mean that all clients are so receptive to these boundaries. Some may not be ready for the type of healing Celeste and Danielle offer, others may become jealous due to the nature of the coaching.
“I think in any coach or therapist’s history there are times when things come up that are particularly challenging within the relationship,” Celeste says. “We try to keep the boundaries and try to make sure everybody’s okay in those relationships, but sometimes things don’t go well. It’s almost impossible when you’re working at this level of intimacy for that not to happen sometimes. Danielle and I always try to repair, whenever repair is possible.”
In fact, Celeste and Danielle say that the hurt and jealousy that client experience — especially when the work gets intense — is another learning experience. As is the reconnection that the pair attempt with their clients after such a rupture. Not only can it lead to more strengthened relationships, but, as Danielle points out, it can help clients understand that being part of a couple isn’t perfect all the time. It’s not about never fighting, she says, it’s about being able to repair and reconnect after conflict arises.
At the end of the day, though (and they’re long days!), Celeste and Danielle can’t imagine doing anything else. “I think being in such deep and intimate connection with so many wonderful people, seeing them grow and transform and seeing their lives get better, is so fulfilling,” Celeste says.
“I like the realness of it,” Danielle adds. “I don’t need to try and pretend that I’m someone else. I can be real in the relationship. I really love that.”
Since getting sober now almost 8 years ago I am very tense about sex and I feel as though I have lost my mojo. I am unable to relax and be intimate with a man and I am thinking I need an intimacy coach or sex coach, or something. Perhaps someone with tantra training who can help me find a comfort level with my body again and being touched and touching another.
Hey, thanks for your interesting question. Sadly, yours is not an uncommon concern. In fact, I just finished an 8-week group for men in recovery who were dealing with similar intimacy issues. A lot of the work we did together was helping one another reestablish a sense of trust.
So many of us gay men start out our sexual lives with alcohol and/or drugs to help us overcome our inhibitions as well as a means of dulling some of the anti-gay messaging that comes to us from the world around us. Sometimes, the substances take hold of us and instead of we being in control the substances are in control. There was one guy in the group I just mentioned who is in his 5o’s, and he confessed to the group that before he got clean and sober, a couple years ago, he had never had sex sober. And he had been sexually active since his early twenties.
Substance abuse can rob us of more than just our dignity. It often effects our sexual response cycle in ways that diminish our ability to enjoy our sexuality. Men often report erection problems and women report arousal phase problems when they come off booze and or drugs. This, as you suggest, impacts on our comfort level in all intimate situations. If our parts aren’t working like we would want them to, we’d rather avoid intimate contact rather than be embarrassed. So, in other words, when we rid ourselves of the substances that once enabled us, we often need to relearn how to be ourselves, particularly in intimate situations.
Learning to trust others enough to open ourselves to others, even with our “brokenness,” is the key to regaining our sense of sexual self. We need to learn how to overcome our shame, which often gets in the way of reaching out to others. And if some of our shame is unresolved internalized homophobia, well then, we really have some work to do.
I think you’ve hit upon the perfect solution to your pressing problem. Working with a sex coach or intimacy coach is definitely one way to go. For those challenged, as you are, verbal therapy is great. But there is no substitute for actual hands-on therapy.
I know several people who have been helped by a surrogate partner or a sexual healer. I applaud you for thinking so creatively. Of course, finding the right person to work with will be a challenge. And I should mention that other helping professionals, even some sexologists, do not always look upon these kinds of interventions as legitimate. That’s a pity, but what are ya gonna do.
As you know, there are loads of sex workers out there. Unfortunately, very few have the training needed to provide surrogate partner therapy, or understand the delicate issues that a trained sexual healer must deal with. I hope you find what you are looking for.
If you need someone to discuss this with further, give me a shout. You’ll find my contact information on either the ABOUT page or the THERAPY AVAILABLE page in the header above.
That internationally famous sexologist, sex educator, author, relationship expert, advice columnist, and television and radio personality Dr. Yvonne Fulbright is back with us today for Part 2 of her turn on the SEX WISDOM show. And that means I get to ask her all the questions I didn’t get to last week. So yay for that!
But wait, you didn’t miss Part 1 of this show, did you? Well not to worry if ya did, because you can find it and all my podcasts in the Podcast Archive right here on my site. All ya gotta do is use the search function in the header; type in Podcast #389 and Voilà! But don’t forget the #sign when you do your search.
I have a delectable Q&A show in store for you today to close out the month of April. We will be hearing a bunch of very interesting questions from the sexually worrisome, each will surely amaze and entertain. There’s a distinct religious overtone to some of these questions and there’s also more than a hint of desperation. Oh how I feel their pain.
Brian calls in while he’s jerkin’ off.
Nick calls in to tell us about his massive ass toys.
Richie is troubled by what the Church told him about being gay.
Lyn has been around the block a time or ten, her new BF is a virgin.
Hamlet is so stressed out he can’t keep his hardon.
Éric is wasting his money trying to grow himself a bigger dick. I suggest that he take a look at this POSTING.
Dan isn’t even through puberty yet and he’s worried about the size of his willie. I suggest he take a look at this VIDEO.
Holy cow, do I have a fantastic show in store for you today. Despite the numerous remarkable guests that have appeared on this the SEX WISDOM series, there’s no one who can lay a hand on today’s guest. I’m so pleased to welcome my good friend, my trusted colleague and my bosom buddy for nearly 20 years, the amazing Dr Cheryl Cohen Greene. I can’t wait for you to meet her, because I know you will love her as much as I do.
Cheryl is a fellow sexologist, however her career path has been significantly different than mine. She is certified surrogate partner, don’t cha know. And she’s been working as such for 38 years. She is renowned in her field, so much so that she and one of her former clients are the subjects of a major motion picture, staring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, which comes out later this year. You can be certain that I will press Cheryl for all the juicy details.
Of course, there are plenty of individuals—and couples—who haven’t waited until the last minute to seek help. These people want to be proactive about their concerns. Some people simply need some clear, unambiguous information about human sexuality. A surprising number of people are trying to piece together their sexual lives, but are hampered by misconceptions and misinformation.
Sometimes a momentous event motivates a person to address arising sexual or intimacy issues. The birth of a child, a disease process, a death in the family, or an accident can fundamentally alter the power dynamic of a relationship, which will require a rethinking of the entire relationship.
Or perhaps someone comes to a new realization about him or herself: Perhaps they are finally able to acknowledge their bisexuality, or that he’s gay, or she’s a lesbian. Maybe they are finally able to acknowledge a fetish—he’s a crossdresser, or she’s into another kink. Things like this obviously impact the individual, but if that person is in a relationship, the relationship is also affected. People in these self-revelatory situations are often unsure how to talk about their discoveries with a partner, which is another reason they seek counseling.
Some couples don’t fret when the sex vanishes from the relationship; other couples are devastated. What does one do when one partner still has sexual needs, but the other doesn’t? Often, there are unexplored options that can hold the relationship together, but will address the disparity in sexual interest and desire.
In this case, I can help the couple make compromises without losing their moral compass. Some couples navigate this with ease; others not so much. It can be extremely challenging, but there are ways to preserve what’s sacred about a primary relationship, while contemplating opening the relationship to include others. I can help a couple establish guidelines and ground rules for making the necessary adjustments.
Sometimes the relationship is really wonderful and fun. The couple really loves each other, but they’ve noticed their sex life together is pretty boring and stale. I’m often approached to simply help a couple spice things up. In this instance, my work is sheer joy. Mostly, I just give them permission to experiment and have fun.
You’ve probably noticed that a good portion of the work that I do as a sex therapist is merely giving permission. That may not sound like therapy at all, but when you consider that our sex-negative culture is so full of prohibitions; permission giving is often the front line of sexual rehabilitation. Most of the permissions I give are for an individual to educate him or herself about his or her body and his or her sexual response cycle. Personal exploration, such as masturbation, is the very best means to that education. I’m a huge proponent of partners masturbating together.
Happily, our need to reacquaint and reeducate ourselves about our bodies and our sexual response cycle is a life-long process. There is always something new to explore. As we age, our bodies change, and if we don’t keep up with those changes, we can become frustrated and disoriented. Older people, menopausal women and andropausal men, take longer to build up “a head of sexual steam,” so to speak. If they’re not attuned to the changes they’re going through, they can easily miss the important cues their body is sending to slow down and enjoy the sensuality.
Of course, I could go on and on, but now I want to leave you with what is the distillation of years my thinking about the role sexuality plays in our life:
I believe that sex is like food. We can enjoy it alone, or with others. We can be abstemious, or gluttonous. We can nosh or nibble; dine or devour. And we can be certain there will be both times of feast and famine.
Sex is like food. It can nourish and sustain us, or it can make us sick. We can consume all the available bounty, or restrict our diet. It can completely satisfy, or leave us devastatingly empty. We can employ it to express our highest aspirations, or allow it to rob us of our soul. We can give it as a gift, or use it as a weapon. It can be both bacchanal and sacrament.
One thing is for sure, whether purely physical or transcendentally spiritual, no one can live without food…or sex.
My good friend and esteemed colleague, Dr. Ruthie is here again today for more of her signature SEX WISDOM. Gosh, I’m so glad she’s able to join us again, because I had so much fun with her last Wednesday. We were chattin’ up a storm, like it was old home week, when I realized our time together had run out. So I had to beg her to please come back for another round this week. It’s just no fair not gettin my fill of this extraordinary sex educator.
But wait, you didn’t miss Part 1 of this delightful conversation, which appeared here last week at this time did you? Well not to worry if ya did, because you can find it and all my podcasts in the Podcast Archive right here on my site. All ya gotta do is use the search function in the header; type in Podcast #253 and Voilà! But don’t forget the #sign when you do your search.
I have an outlandishly wonderful interview program for you today to launch the 2011 edition of this, the SEX WISDOM podcast series. You’ve come to expect prominent movers and shakers in the field of human sexuality as my guests in this series. And that’s because over the last year we’ve had an opportunity to meet outstanding researchers, educators, clinicians, pundits and philosophers; each one making news and reshaping how we look at our sexual selves.
So let’s start off this new year with at bang, shall we? I have the honor of welcoming a woman of distinction in the world of sex education. She is a Couples and Family therapist, a sought after lecturer and workshop leader, an author, and acclaimed educator and if that weren’t enough, she’s the star of her own line of sex positive videos. I am delighted to have with me the dynamo that is Dr. Ruthie.
And get this; to celebrate her appearance on my show, Dr. Ruthie is offering a FREE 1-hour consultation to a lucky listener. The terms for entering this giveaway are included in today’s show, so listen up. But here’s a tip; it involves tweeting about this podcast.
Get ready for some might fine SEX WISDOM that’s comin’ your way. That’s right; this is the podcast series that is all about chatting with the movers and shakers in the field of human sexuality — researchers, educators, clinicians, pundits and philosophers — all making news and reshaping how we look at our sexual selves. And today I have the honor of welcoming a colleague, my fellow sexologist, the beautiful and oh so saucy Megan Andelloux.
Megan is one of our country’s preeminent a Sexual Health Educators. She is consistently in the forefront of our culture’s discussions on sex; she’s a sought-after sexuality consultant for print media, and an author in the book “We Got Issues” A Feminist Response to Cultural Attitudes On Feminism. She is also the founder of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in beautiful downtown Pawtucket, RI, don’t cha know!
I have a whopper of a show for you today. We return to our usual question and answer format this week, because I have a steamy load of stimulating questions from all overt the freakin’ place. And I respond with an equal number of cheeky, charming and oh so enlightening responses! Hey, it’s what I do.
Joe wants to know about Hepatitis-B and cock sucking.
Donna and her BF wanna start bumpin’ parts. But where to begin?
Gregg thinks he needs a sex coach. I think he does too.
Naf wants to top, but he is a little short of wood!
Anonymous wants some tips on ball stretching.
BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!
Check out The Lick-A-Dee-Split Connection. That’s Dr Dick’s toll free podcast voicemail HOTLINE. Don’t worry people; no one will personally answer the phone. Your message goes directly to voicemail.
Got a question or a comment? Wanna rant or rave? Or maybe you’d just like to talk dirty for a minute or two. 😉 Why not get it off your chest! Give Dr Dick a call at (866) 422-5680.
DON’T BE SHY, LET IT FLY!
Look for my podcasts on iTunes. You’ll find me in the podcast section, obviously. Just search for Dr Dick Sex Advice. And don’t forget to subscribe. I wouldn’t want you to miss even one episode.