Sex therapy has been around a long time in many different shapes and forms, and each therapist has their own style and focus that works for them and their clients. As I was having some reflection time this week, I began to think about what concepts and ideas I find most helpful as a compass in my work.
Whilst I belief many different theories and strategies are helpful, these five main ideas are what guide my practice:
1. Mindful Sexuality
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our attention to the present moment, and it is an ancient form of meditation. Some other ways to describe mindfulness practice include: Tuning into the here and now; being centred or grounded; making space for current experiences; being attentive.
For many people, mindlessness has a big impact on their sex life. Mindlessness during sex can mean that you are distracted by thoughts and worries, or caught up in what should or could be happening, rather than what is actually happening. Mindlessness during sex can also mean feeling disengaged or disconnected from a partner, or bored throughout the experience.
Being less in-tune with how your body is responding sexually is also a common side effect, or getting caught up in negative anticipations of what sex will be like.
So, one of my main priorities is to help people to become more mindful, more present during sexual experiences. And this just happens to have the side effect of being very helpful for general stress and anxiety too.
2. Broadening the Definition of Sex
Due to poor sex-education, societal messages about sex, media portrayals of intimacy and a general lack of good information, many people have a very rigid definition of sex. This definition can basically be summed up as “the ol’ in-out-in-out”, perhaps with a bit of foreplay thrown in beforehand.
Well, unlike popular belief would have you think, sex can actually mean a variety of things to different people, and really it can mean anything you want it to mean – not just penetration or intercourse.
Variety is a wonderful thing when it comes to our sex lives, and I encourage all my clients to focus on a broader definition of sex. If we broaden our definition of sex to include a range of pleasurable activities and experiences, then we can make space for different needs and preferences, as well as changes in these needs and preferences over time.
Heterosexual couples can really learn a lot from the LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) community here, who are know for being more creative with their definition of sex and intimacy.
3. Awareness of Helpful and Unhelpful Influences
People who struggle in their sexual relationships often harbor a lot of self-blame, embarrassment and shame.
I believe it is very important to help individuals and couples come to a comprehensive place of understanding of how they got to where they are – and this often involves looking at various different factors (biological, psychological, cultural, relational, contextual) and how these factors interact.
But we don’t have to just focus on the unhelpful factors, we can also look at the known “protective” factors in sexual relationships, namely, the things that help to promote sustainable sexual enjoyment and fulfillment, and how these can be cultivated.
4. Helpful, Nourishing, Empowering Information
There are so many sexual myths out there, so much misinformation, so much negative sexual folklore. To counteract this, I put a big focus on dispelling sexual myths, offering evidence-based information, and emphasising the individual nature of sexuality and relationships – we don’t all have to be the same, there is no Sexual Ten Commandments, we can all have our own preferences and needs and desires.
5. Emotional Safety and Non-judgement
Lastly, I believe it is so so so important for people to have a space where they can talk about sex and not be judged. For some people, this occurs in there intimate relationship/s, others may be lucky enough to have this with their friends or family, but for the majority of people, working with a sexual counselling is the first time they really get to open up about sexual difficulties. This makes it a very vulnerable experience.
So whether it’s in my written work, with my face-to-face clients, or over the internet, I am always thinking about how to talk, write and listen in a way that makes people feel comfortable, accepted and appreciated.
So there you have it. Very interested to hear your thoughts on this, or any other compass points you think should be involved.
Dr. Alice Hucker
Clinical Psychologist & Sex Therapist