We thought we would ask our CEO and Resident Sexologist a few questions about what she does as a sexologist, why she became one, and a few more interesting little bits. Read on to read her answers.
What is a sexologist?
Just like a biologist studies biology, a sexologist studies sexuality. A sexologist is someone who has studied all areas of sex including anatomy, physiology, sexual development, sexual orientation, the dynamics of sexual relationships, as well as the mechanics of sexual contact/acts. Sexology is the scientific study of sexuality.
A sexologist uses counseling methods to identify dysfunctional myths and beliefs surrounding sexuality, sex education and couple’s counseling to empower clients to experience sexuality in a different way. A way that allows more confidence and understanding of their own sexuality, freeing them from sexual misinformation and increasing pleasure, intimacy and connection.
I work primarily with women and couples, however I have worked with some men as the primary client. Usually these are standard one to one consultations. Occasionally it’s a one-off session – if someone has a specific question they need answering – usually something like “it takes me a long time to get aroused or to have an orgasm. Is this normal?” But for other people, it is for a longer period. It is very much client-driven. Sex is complicated and it affects all parts of a relationship.
What is the most common issue you deal with?
In women, it’s low desire for and little enjoyment of sex, which with the clients I work with is linked to health challenges that they have faced. Often, they experience pain, problems with lubrication and arousal, or find it hard to experience pleasure or orgasm during partnered or solo sex.
For men, it has been around conflicts in what they desire or have fantasies about and what they see would be acceptable in their relationship or social environment. It has also included performance issues such as rapid ejaculation.
For couples it is that they are best friends but not lovers. Or that they have different levels of desire – one wanting sex more than the other. Again a major influence for couples I have worked with has been the impact of a health challenge that one partner has faced.
How does a therapy session work?
When people start working with me, we start by going through a comprehensive questionnaire that not only gives me a clear picture of the person’s values, beliefs and history with sex but also any health concerns that may have had an impact. It is also a great way to start to talk about sex. Even just voicing what they have never had the chance to talk about before is very healing. Often when people start to feel comfortable about talking to me about sex, they are then able to talk about it with their partner.
So first it’s just talk. Then we look at what the sources of the problem could be. Normally that’s many factors – health challenges, past experiences, a belief system, etc. Then we look at how to reframe those beliefs and look for ways to redefine and achieve pleasure. In between the sessions there are homework. Then we talk about that in the next consultation – what did or didn’t work? Yes, homework is given to individuals and couples. It is not as daunting as may you think.
How did you become a sexologist?
This work is inspired by my own health challenges and witnessing the strength of others living with chronic conditions and the struggles they have with sexuality as a result of treatments and illness.
I have lived with endometriosis since I was a teenager, it was a reason behind miscarriages and infertility treatments. It is also the reason my life stopped in 2012. The impact of endometriosis changed the course of my career and my life. I ended up having a hysterectomy and bowel resection that included post-op complications. It led to cofounding Endometriosis Australia that has gone on to make a marked positive change in awareness and government policy for the 1 in 10 women that live with endometriosis.
That period was hard and came with consequences. One of which sparked my interest in changing from working internationally in HR to returning to University to study Sexology. That consequence Ii am referring to was no one told me and I didn’t ask, what if any consequences things would have on my much-loved sex life. Then one night after sex I was in an enormous amount of pain. The kind of pain that makes you throw up and pass out. The kind that makes you want to crawl out of your own body to escape it but you can’t, it lasted for hours and I ended up in the emergency department. This happened a couple of times and it was heartbreaking for my partner and I.
I went into premature menopause as the ovary I had left after my hysterectomy had gone to sleep. It was battle to reach that diagnosis too and at that time I thought I was going insane. I questioned what partner would ever want me, was I a real woman, if I can’t have sex again why would anyone want me, why me, I miss sex, …….. that list goes on. Even after the diagnosis information and help about the impact on my sex life and my relationship was limited. Which at the age of 36 meant that I was not ready to give up on my sex life and I was not going to go quietly.
I went looking for help. Someone to talk to about sex with, about my chronic conditions, treatments, and sex, how I could redefine pleasure, how I could find peace, how I can redefine my sexuality, how do I have this conversation with my partner, you get the point. Doctors answered some of my questions albeit uncomfortably in many cases, others kept it brief or just gave me something to read. I tried psychologists but they weren’t much more comfortable or didn’t seem to get it in the context of a chronic condition. Self-proclaimed sex experts and coaches didn’t sit right with me, I don’t know about you but the idea of rose quartz dildos and jade eggs just didn’t do it for me (just as a side note on those things, small or micro-cracks in the natural surface can harbor germs and if you have an immune system like mine, hidden nasties are not welcome).
Since all of that I have also been diagnosed with Lupus and Fibromyalgia. It was during this time that I started to study sexology and I found my tribe. Academically qualified people in various caring professions all passionate about learning more about sexuality.
How do people respond at dinner parties when you say what you do?
It is usually a look of surprise and then questions. Women are usually interested to talk more – “we need to meet for coffee, I have some questions for you”. Men fall into one of two camps, either they are interested and want to know what sorts of topics I cover or they seem to be unsettled and revert to what I can only describe as teenage behavior and make comment like “your husband must really enjoy what you do”. I have not idea why they think he has anything to do with what I do on a daily basis because he doesn’t, we actually don’t talk about my work, it is not ethical.
What does your partner/family think about your job?
My husband is very supportive. He thinks I am doing great work as I am empowering people to take their lives in a positive direction after a difficult period in their life. He has stood by me through my health challenges. My daughter thinks it is great and living in a sex-positive household she is comfortable in her sexuality, understands that it is part of us as a whole person and enjoys being confident enough to use the anatomically correct language in science and PE, even correcting some teachers who still use vagina when referring to the vulva. My parents think the work I do is important and Mum will chat about it but Dad often does not want details, that is OK.