How did I get into sexuality counseling and education?
I think of this question often, as I recognize how my career choice has alienated me from some potential work spaces and even caused concern from some family members. But clients are curious – how did I get here?
There were many contributing factors that nudged me onto this path, including:
- Being raised in a sex-negative, sex-silent culture and family. The issue wasn’t discussed or if it was, it was in relation to harm (ex men/boys only want one thing, they might hurt you trying to get it, and you better not give it to them or you’ll end up pregnant or diseased)
- Being raised female in a body negative and body shaming culture, where my main asset, as many of us our taught, IS our body, over which we have minor control and boatloads of shame at the irreverence of our body for the culture’s impossible standards
- Being an intactivist and allowing my children body autonomy over their genitals (I have written about intactivism in the past, moving this piece around to my various websites, and finally rehoming it here, comfortably: http://ignitewell-being.com/a-call-to-arms/ )
- Being a yoga practitioner and, later, a yoga instructor, I came to recognize how deliciously important and sacred the body was and how interconnected we are with our minds, bodies, spirits, energy bodies, and with each other.
- Sexuality is a part of this embodiment and manifestation and has been recognized as a spiritual and sacred tool across mystical practices, including yoga.
- This ideology is in direct contrast to religious thought (like Augustine) and philosophical perspectives (like Descartes)
- Being a physical therapist with hour long sessions with my clients, many of whom have chronic disease, pain, and/or a disability. I was (and still am) the safe person they asked about sexuality when no one else in the healthcare field brought it up (studies show that healthcare practitioners often do not bring up sexuality, nor do the patients, so it is the elephant in the room that everyone ignores).
- Early on in my career, I did not know how to answer their questions or even who could, as sexual well-being was not a topic covered in our graduate program. This gap, chasm really, in my own knowledge and care of my clients fueled me to learn more
- Medicine has a long history of pathologizing what they don’t understand, and our collective understanding of sexuality suffered from this as well – the harm of heterosexism, the repression of female and non cis-male sexuality, the linkage of masturbation with disease, the assumption of asexuality following disease/disability/older age, are all perfect examples. Healthcare is waking up to encompassing sexual well-being as a part of holistic wellness.
- Facilitating women’s circles, sexuality comes up often, directly or indirectly, through body image, gender scripts and socialization, parenting, changes in relationship status, right to pleasure, etc. In circle, I do not offer advice, as that is not the intent of circles, but I saw how pervasive and often silenced and shamed the topic of sexuality is as well as the incredible healing potential
- My own personal sexual and relationship history, which I do not owe to the reader. I am a fiercely private and protective person
- The irony in balancing that privacy while being a blogger, a professional with a more public presence, and an advocate for acceptance and diversity for all ways of being is not lost on me. However, I also stand by the right to privacy and boundaries. We don’t owe each other our stories. My stance on privacy also protects my clients and friends from having their information divulged
- The judgement of other professionals I have worked with when I mention my training in sexuality. These organization or individuals want to teach out sexual harassment but go silent, or even get hostile, when I suggest workshops in sexual wellness as a human right (I am refocusing the lens of sexuality from disease and deviance, which is common in sex-negative toned organizations and mentality, to pleasure and well-being and open communication, which are all inherent in the sex-positive movement)
- See my patreon page for a post on sex-positivity
- My lens of sex-positivity is now a filter – professional collaborators and mentors that can’t handle it don’t deserve my time or energy (another irony as they stand to benefit the most from a shift to sex-positivity, but I am not waiting a millennium for them to catch up
- Sexuality is the intersection of EVERYTHING – body image, relationship with partner/s, family history, medical history stress, sleep, nutrition, addiction/addiction history, mental health, movement/movement impairments, religiosity/morality, systems of oppression, communication needs and style, attachment style, history of trauma, etc, etc (see more here: http://ignitewell-being.com/sexual-well-being-main/ ). It is best examined through a biopsychosocial (ie whole person) lens, rather than being a tissue specific issue.
- Because the topic is so complex, it deserves its own devoted time and dissection. These are not 5 minute conversations to be had during the 15 min time slot you get with your primary care provider. These are often hour long conversations that occur once or twice a week over many weeks.
- Want to learn more about how the biopsychosocial model is used to examine sexuality, please sign up for my workshop on that topic set for late June 2021 (see the events tab of my website). Or email me – I can craft this content for you and/or your professional organization
- Gender dynamics and socialization is very real and very limiting. When I offer mixed, all-gender spaces to discuss topics regarding sexuality, many of my women identified participants do not want to attend if men will be there. Let that sink in. How many don’t feel safe in shared spaces and/or don’t want to be called on to hold space for or educated cis-gender men.
- Sexuality is a critical component to well-being, over a person’s entire lifespan (sexual wellness and pleasure are indeed human rights). But we don’t treat sexuality as such – our culture looks at it as deviant or frivolous distraction from the “real” stuff. That mind set is toxic. You can’t take any of this with you and sexuality is a significant tool for personal, collective, and soul growth
- “Soul is to be found in the vicinity of the taboo” –Thomas Moore
- Sexuality is shamed or silenced (as indicated above, repeatedly). People find it incredibly unsettling to discuss openly out of fear that they will be seen as abnormal or deficient, and our cultural fixation on scarcity, with all things, only reinforces this thinking. We use the fear of sexuality and conversation to stay stuck and ignore this facet of wellbeing and healing. I, on the other hand, turn towards my discomfort and get curious (as I did for my clients early on), and I think this is what keeps me in this field so comfortably. I have never been one for small talk and would much rather dissect the hidden than discuss the weather.
- This incapacity for small talk has left me with my foot in my mouth but it is a gift (and another filter).
- My desire for deep, qualitative conversation has also served me as a facilitator for challenging conversations – I am insatiably curious, ask lots of questions, and (do my very best to) check my assumptions during sessions and group offerings.
- I apply this desire for qualitative conversation to discussions around spirituality as well, which allows me to hold emotional and spiritual space for death cafes, another professional offering of mine. Life is short and my conversations tend to follow the motto of go big or go home.
The admixture of impaired and socialized gender dynamics and silencing and stigma of sexuality plus systems of oppression, with the human rights aspect of sexual well-being, we are in a space of incredible potential. I refuse to pass on these inherited patterns of harm and silence, personally and now professionally, by naming, normalizing, and reclaiming sexuality as the vitalizing force it is.
None of these are a justification on my right to “be here”, in the field of sexology. My desire to help and drive to learn is enough, but hopefully the above helps the reader, potential clients, or potential sexology professionals learn a bit more about me and the professional work I do. Thanks for reading.
The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT 500, sexologist and sexuality counselor and educator (in supervision); copyright protected, please cite accordingly. The picture is from Pexels. To work with me or for more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in learning more about other forms of well-being and my current events, such as circles, death café, and pleasure café, please see: http://ignitewell-being.com/events-and-services-summary/
Please consider supporting me and my work on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ignitewellbeing
*Please note that none of the above information is specific medical advice, but is meant as educational information only. If you have concerns about your health, please contact a trusted healthcare professional*