What Your Therapist Doesn't Know About Sex
When Sex Gets Complicated: Porn, Kink, Cybersex, and other Clinical Challenges is a workshop taught by Dr. Marty Klein, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist. Although this workshop is aimed at licensed therapists and clinicians (since their respective fields don’t spend enough time on the subject of human sexuality), I got permission from Klein to write about this workshop for the purpose of exposing what I see as an alarming fact: Many therapists and most clinicians are not trained to deal with matters of sexuality. I know it’s disturbing, since it’s the year 2009 and all, but it’s frighteningly true. Unfortunately, professionals learn about sex the same way that lay people do; their opinions are structured by the influence of the dominant culture’s narratives of fear, danger, and vanilla orientations about sexuality. Klein teaches his professional cohorts about sexuality because he knows that unless people are trained to reframe how they see sex, they will likely continue perpetuating ignorance, shame, and anxiety when working with patients.
One of the most important reminders I received during the workshop, and have not stopped repeating since, is the simple concept of separating fact from opinion. Klein knows how heated the politics of sexuality can become, and reiterates the key difference between opinions and facts by saying, "in America, each person is entitled to their own opinion, but each person is NOT entitled to their own facts." Hearing this quote, and seeing Klein model its essence at the beginning of a workshop about sticky topics such as sex and pornography, eased any worries of possibly getting caught in the middle of a four-hour emotional debate by therapists over what is considered healthy and what isn’t!
Of course, Klein would never allow that to happen; his teaching style is practical, based in science but very entertaining, which helps ease any uncomfortable feelings one might have with the controversial subject matter of sexuality. More importantly, he garners his audience’s attention and engages them in the learning. After all, it’s hard not to pay close attention to a man who is passionately reciting the phrase “Sex does not require an erection!” Watching the looks on some workshop participants' faces as Klein restated this fact over and over reminded me that this is a mind-bogglingly radical concept for some people, and takes some time to sink in. This is the exact point Klein is trying to make: if therapists and clinicians don't take the time to relearn how they see sexuality, becoming comfortable with both the language and the experience of sex for themselves, how can they possibly be competent at helping clients? For example, the concept that, “intercourse is the most intimate sexual act” places all the importance of sex on penis-vagina sex and makes the assumption that this type of sex is what “real” or “normal” sex is all about. It completely disregards the endless variety of other ways people have sex. Klein especially emphasizes, “There’s nothing inherently special about intercourse, unless you want to conceive, which some people sometimes do.”
In addition to reframing the sexual experience, Klein encourages therapists and clinicians to re-imagine their concept of what constitutes a relationship by dispelling a common clinical belief that “monogamy is the gold standard of sexuality.” Klein says that, although there is no data to support this, this idea reinforces the stereotype that non-monogamists have issues with trust, trauma, or fear of intimacy. You’ve heard it before: “Well, of course their marriage failed; after all, they were both sleeping with someone else!” Klein is giving us a reality check here: there are absolutely no facts that support the idea that monogamous relationships are more successful than non-monogamous ones, but still these uneducated generalizations remain the model of normalcy and health. You never hear someone say, “Well, of course their marriage didn’t work; after all they're only sleeping with each other!”
Since I've been in a loving polyamorous relationship for over three years now, this felt really good to hear, and it's even better to know that this fact is finally being taught to therapists and clinicians. I don’t think having more than one partner or lover is the best choice for every person to make, but I do think it's a great choice for some people, so I was especially pleased when Klein debunked the common belief that “alternative sexualities do not have intimate relationships.” This idea implies that any form of love, relationship, or sex that steps outside the previously stated boundaries of what’s “normal" isn’t as intimate as monogamous vanilla relationships. Klein urged that it's absolutely necessary to develop tolerance and awareness for people who live their lives differently.