01 Mar Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby…
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby…
Are you uncomfortable yet? Just me? Okay. When I embarked on the journey of becoming a therapist, I did not give much thought about having to talk about this intimate topic with clients, but it should not have surprised me that many clients need to talk about issues surrounding sexuality to grow and heal. Regardless of age, gender, background, or beliefs, being able to speak with a therapist openly regarding your thoughts and emotions about sex is essential. Here are a few topics that most therapists deal with frequently when it comes to sex.
In my clinical experience consent has come up mostly with children and adolescent clients. Therapy can be a safe place to start developing knowledge about consent. As therapists, one of our roles is to help children develop a sense of control over their emotions, thoughts, and bodies. With younger children, consent does not begin with learning about sex; it starts with helping them learn things like being aware of body language or knowing about appropriate personal space. We may start helping them practice respecting the word “No,” and attune them to their own physical and emotional ques and how to communicate their feelings. Often therapists meet with young children and their parents together and help the family system understand how to communicate about consent in a way that will be helpful even after a child has finished therapy. Starting the conversation around consent early can help children feel comfortable communicating about the other complexities surrounding sex when they arise.
Interest regarding sex usually starts with puberty and so sexual exploration is something our teen or young adult clients want to discuss in therapy. The discussion around consent in this age group continues but, as Kelly McGuire (a coordinator of Make Your Move! Missoula) says it “isn’t just about avoiding assault, it’s about creating healthy people who have the tools and skills to have healthy and happy romantic relationships.” Therapy is a safe place for young minds to begin asking the needed questions to develop healthy attitudes and identities around sexuality. Therapists can help teens and young adults begin to understand the differences of love and attraction, identify unhealthy and healthy relationship systems, and help them navigate this exploratory period when many feel lost or alone.
Intimacy, Physical Affection, & Sex
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had sex all figured out as adults? I often have couples come to therapy because “the intimacy,” the phrase couples use when they do not want to say “sex,” has gone missing from the relationship. Passion can seem like a “candle in the wind” and the couple feels stuck in perpetual arguments, distancing themselves from one another, and building up their own defenses. When partners participate in therapy it demonstrates a level of commitment and effort to the relationship. As you begin to turn towards one another and learn to truly see your spouse and communicate, this will help to break old habits of distancing yourself from one another emotionally and physically. John Gottman, a leading researcher in the field of couples counseling says,
There are many more topics about sex that come up in therapy, but these are a few of the highlights. Although sexuality can be complex and sometimes awkward to discuss, it is an intrinsic part of who we are, including our beliefs, our feelings, and how we connect to others. Therapy is a place to come as you are and begin to develop a deeper understanding and acceptance around your sexuality.
Laura James, MS LPC