Friday, January 15, 2010

Humble Beginnings as a Sex Therapist

Many have asked me how I got started as a sex therapist especially when they discover that my doctorate was received in clinical psychology. It always reminds me of a friend of mine who once casually mentioned that there are defining times in our lives that we are completely unaware of and points us in the direction we will ultimately head. For me, that came in my tenth grade English class. I volunteered to do a book report with an accompanying class presentation on sex education. Fortunate for me at the time, my oldest sister had just returned home from college and loaded up the family bookshelves with her stash of texts and paperbacks. To prepare for my class project, I decided to read David Rueben’s classic: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask. My approach was to educate my classmates on the seemingly purposeful lack of information that we received in school, particularly in health class. I began my infamous presentation by posting the following words on the chalkboard: Cunnilingus / Clitoris / Fellatio. My classmates including the substitute teacher [a female] remained motionless and made no comment and had no reaction even when I asked if anyone knew what two of the words meant? In order to facilitate the teachings, I suggested that the girls in the classroom write down these words, take them home to mother and ask her to explain, since one was their body part. [I can only humorously imagine what that conversation would have been like that night for some if they had acted on my suggestion.] I continued on without interruption until I came to my summation point, when I decided it was time to let them know what I really thought about the public school system and its way of preparing us for the “sexual world”. So I stated “You are all going to find out very soon that there is a lot more to sexual intercourse than a man sticking his penis into a woman’s vagina.” Needless to say, this declaration forced the ending of my presentation, everyone in the room was familiar with those words as the class erupted with an explosion of laughter and the teacher finally came to life ordering me to cease and desist and take my seat. Fearful of being suspended from school, I informed my parents that evening of the day’s events and my father while doing his best to stifle the laughter, assured me that it would be “fine” with him as he said, “at least you told them the truth!”

While that event happened over 30 years ago, I personally have not seen much progress in our ability to become more comfortable with educational matters regarding our sexuality. This realization came at a very high price to me while completing my doctoral studies. One may call it déjà vu but 32 years later I was making a presentation to my classmates involving gender representations of masculinity and femininity when I was almost terminally expelled from the program after one of the students had a visceral reaction to a particular way a research participant chose to display his masculinity. The school thought it would be “in my best interest” to receive ethics consultation from a licensed psychologist of their choice at my expense and that failure to act on this “recommendation” would most assuredly result in my expulsion. I had been advised to “lay low” and let it blow over and not make an issue of it. It comes then as no surprise that many people continue to feel “threatened” by their own sexuality or the discussion thereof. What I think is interesting to note and contrast is that in Esther Perel’s – Mating in Captivity – she reveals that the research has indicated that the United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy of any developed country and scores lowest when it comes to sex education. One of my attempts then with this text is to support my fellow educators and help debunk a lot of the common myths and misunderstandings in the field of human sexuality.

1 comment:

  1. As a former high school English teacher, I wish you had given that presentation in my class! Great story!

    "a particular way a research participant chose to display his masculinity" -- several images come to mind!

    Joan Price

    Author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty

    Join us -- we're talking about ageless sexuality at
    http://www.betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com

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