To me, the term Sex Positive, boils down to the idea that consensual sex is pleasurable, pleasure is ok, our bodies are good, and we need education, not rules, governing sexual behavior. To others, it means that commie pinko sex freaks are going to take over the world and teach your children gay S & M. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
For me, as I embark on almost 50 hours of evidence-based, apolitical, sex-positive training to become a sex educator, I thought it would be useful to explain why I call myself a sex positive psychotherapist, why that matters whether you are a suburban, straight, married person whose idea of racy action is flirting with your grocery bagger, or an urbanite poly genderqueer couple out flogging naked people at the Folsom Street Fair.
As a sex positive psychotherapist, I have or have had clients that identify or exhibit behaviors that reflect the labels Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Queer, Genderqueer, Kinky, Polyamorous, Swingers, In an Open Relationship, and probably several more I’m not remembering.
I also have what some of the folks in the above paragraphs would identify as “Vanilla”-straight, monogamous, married, non-kinky, etc.
And to me the therapist, the two groups aren’t as radically different as you’d think. In fact, I don’t parse lifestyles into groups at all. They are just people, suffering from the same anxiety, depression, work issues, problems with their kids, relationship snafus, and heartbreak that we all struggle with.
And here’s the thing: my clients come to me after they’ve had some pretty negative experiences with other therapists, despite being fairly similar to the rest of the population. they’ve had to spend hours “convincing” their therapist that their S & M wasn’t a danger to themselves, that their open relationships weren’t cheating or coercion, and that they weren’t from abusive backgrounds. (They got to pay the therapist to educate them). So, I’m mixed on this. On the one hand, this has put money in my pocket. On the other, I live just far enough south of San Francisco that I’m in a small handful of licensed therapists who work with sexual minority populations and alternative lifestyles (barring gay and lesbians, whom a majority of therapists work with).
In the almost four years since I’ve started my private practice, I’ve gone from “Hey, I know! I’ll put my name on these lists of kink-friendly and poly-friendly therapists because I understand the subject and it could bring me business” to “Whoa, I’m serving minority population with multiple stories of discrimination from therapists,” pretty much in one fell swoop.
It’s important to serve minority populations, with non-judgmental, client-centered, effective therapy. It’s important to put myself out there as someone who doesn’t judge and doesn’t try to separate people into groups, or separate one kind of behavior as OK and another kind of behavior as NOT OK.
Except for pedophilia. Pedophilia and child porn is never ok. Neither is having sex with your therapist.
Because when we start saying things like “it’s ok for my husband to put me in a blindfold but not to go to a dungeon” then you start Making Rules and Passing Judgment. Then you start labeling “those people” as “wrong” and “these people” as right. When really, the married hetero couple playing at a bit of slap and tickle in their marital bed are no better or worse, and suffer from the same character flaws, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, work stuff, problems with their kids, etc. as the naked couple with floggers at Folsom.
It’s not my job to tell people how to live. It’s my job to help them figure out how they want to live. If that means going from being a naked flogger at Folsom to getting married and having 2.5 kids and moving to Los Altos Hills, so be it. If that means opening your relationship, so be it. If that means changing your gender, so be it. If that means consenting to allowing yourself to be insulted by a guy in a leather mask and tied up in fancy Japanese knots, so be it. Believe me, if I’m your therapist we talk about the impact on your public image, your children, your job, your relationships, and your mental health. Things need to line up for the whole person to be happy. It’s a balancing act, just like it would be if you decided to get divorced, move across the country, or become a vegan.
People hear the word “sex” and they lose their minds (and not always in the good way). They hear me say I work with people in a polyamorous lifestyle and assume that I have seventeen partners at home in my commune and that I am telling them that they now have to do the same thing. (I don’t, by the way, (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just not my scene) and I am not making anyone do anything, except pay me at the end of a session). They hear me say I work with people who enjoy BDSM and they assume everyone who is submissive has suffered at the brutal hands of a cruel and abusive disciplinarian and are trying to re-create that for ya-yas. (Actually, in my non-scientific clinical observations, most submissives I have run across didn’t have enough discipline and are trying to re-create the boundaries they never got).
Being sex-positive and tolerant has taken me to a very live-and-let live place. I don’t think government should be making laws governing human sexuality and behavior (against gay and lesbian behavior, governing reproduction, governing specific sex acts, classifying certain sexual behavior-besides pedophilia-as indication of mental illness, etc). Instead, we need education, education, education. Sex education. Health education. Relationship education. Marriage education. Childbirth education. Parenting education. Education should be evidence-based, apolitical, mandatory and widely available.
One of the reasons I’m passionate about becoming a sex educator is because I will get to purvey this education. The group I am most excited to share with is other therapists. One, because I’m sick and tired of hearing my well-respected-in-their-fields, conscientious, caring, and intelligent clients tell me horror stories of condescending, ignorant therapists. Two, because, I’m getting referrals I have to turn away, and there’s only a few people I trust to refer to these days. Three, because I’m the kind of therapist who believes in working through my own baggage, and I’ve had plenty of baggage come up around people whose lifestyle I can’t readily understand (until I listen, and then do my own work with a trusted consultant). And I’m pretty open minded to begin with. Imagine someone with twice as much baggage being the only therapist available to work with someone in a sexual minority population.
Sex positive therapists and interns of the world: this is a call to action.
We need you.