Sex Therapy Myths #1

People are often curious about my work. One of the questions I am most frequently asked is ‘do you see mostly couples’? In the beginning this surprised me, I couldn’t understand why people freely associated sexual enquiry primarily with people in relationships. After all, I have spent many years singlish and my enquiry into sexuality is more robust than most people I know. Our social constructs tell us that the frequency and quality of sex is in direct proportion to the duration of a long term relationship. The longer we’re together, the more intimate we must be and so on. And then it dawned on me that there are a whole lot of people who assume that other people in relationships are having sex, probably lots of it, along with lashings of love and good feelings whereas people who aren’t in relationships are probably not. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For many of us we learn about sex in the context of experience and sometimes that means a relationship. But a relationship alone does not good sex make! When I was at school sex was taught as reproduction. It was taught as something that happened exclusively between heterosexuals and it always involved an erect penis and a vagina (its state of arousal was irrelevant, as was the clitoris, but that’s for another post). These days school based sex education in some areas is more progressive, often involves some kind of homo-awareness and hopefully discusses consent and maybe even pleasure. A great step forward- but still not actively helping us understand what drives our sexuality or adequately preparing us for adulthood and realistic sexual relationships.

For some of us, sex occurs in a variety of contexts. For some of us it’s enjoyable. For many of us it lasts for months, for fewer of us it lasts years and for fewer still it lasts a lifetime. The assumption that couples seeking sex therapy in long term relationships is the reason people seek my services is at best a reflection of our social values  and expectations, ( people in relationships {should} have frequent sex – with each other) and at worst an indication of how little we understand ourselves as sexual beings (single people don’t have sex). This slippery logic became evident in other areas of my work where I discovered just how many beliefs people have about what sex is and is not. Many of us live with very structured understandings of what sex should and shouldn’t be like. I am frequently introduced to the ideas that people believe to be “normal’’ that deeply influence their sexual behaviour. The thing is, most of these ideas are just made up.

All of us have a tendency to make stuff up.  Not just about sex, but life. We make up all kinds of stuff to justify all kinds of things. ( I should be having sex three times a week, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, children don’t have sexual feelings etc etc)  Especially things we don’t understand or that challenge our emotions.  And if we make up enough stuff, and share our made up stuff with others, we sometimes get it affirmed or even exaggerated. Making up stuff is fabulous. It soothes us when we’re lonely and fulfills us when we need guidance and connects us to others. But what happens when the stuff we make up is counter-productive, the illusion that distracts us from our true feelings and leaves us feeling inadequate or “abnormal’’? When we make up enough stuff about how we should be living and how we should be feeling about how we’re living, we spend less time actually feeling our feelings and desires, and more time making stuff up to justify or numb the feelings we decide are unacceptable. When it comes to sex, the stuff we have made up is often the most potent (I really should be having more orgasms) and  the inner critic is at its most robust. (I don’t have enough orgasms- there must be something wrong with  me) The thing is – we don’t even realise we have made most of it up.

Being in a long term relationship is no sure fire guarantee for intimacy- or even good  or frequent sex. Singles, couples and beyond are having all kinds of sex from none–to swinger parties every weekend of the year. We don’t know about it- because as a culture we don’t talk about the  extent of sexual diversity.   Being married 20 years does not mean you are more likely nor entitled to see a sex therapist than if you are in a non-monogamous union, engaging the services of sex workers or someone who regularly engages in solo sex as a self-soothing act of love. Are any of these types of people more likely to seek out my services than another? My experience tells me  no. What many of these folks have in common though is a lack of awareness about just how normal they actually are in their diversity.

Sex by its nature is intimate and personal. At its most creative- it’s intimate, it’s complex and it’s a need – just as Maslow pointed out all those years ago. I’d argue however that human sexuality transcends the just the physiological. Sex provides us with the canvas to paint our emotions, negotiate power, articulate our eroticism, come face-to-face with our fears, give and receive pleasure and maybe even heal old wounds. These things are not always explicit in a long term relationship but they are present- just as they are in a one night stand or a casual fling. This dance happens every time we choose to have some kind of sex. These are the things people will seek my services for.  The notion that intimate sex exists only between long term partners is a lie. Sometimes it’s easier to share that kind of eroticism with a virtual stranger than it is to share with a long term partner. Your own moral compass may deem that to be right or wrong- but bear in mind- morals are something else…………….. we have just made up.

I will leave you with this quote from Buddha –

”All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?”