How do people like myself work with clients who have sexual issues?
It’s an important point, because until it’s clarified, many people who would benefit from working with a sexuality professional are unlikely to seriously consider it.
My guess is that most people can’t imagine the ways of working with a sex therapist like me: is it talking? Are they naked? Will I be touching their genitals? Am I teaching them how to touch their own, or their partner’s genitals? Will it be safe?
All of these things may happen, but apart from the first (and the last – safety is my number one concern), they aren’t a major part of my work. To understand why that is so, I need to explain my perspective.
The more I work with clients, the more I am confirmed in my belief that most people are in a state of chronic tension, which is a major obstacle to them feeling the moment to moment, pleasurable aliveness of their bodies.
This chronic tension leaves them, unsurprisingly, with a limited, tension based view of sexuality: it’s about the genitals, it’s about performance and it’s about release. Somehow being able to temporarily ignore the chronic and general habitual tension through tension-based sexual activity, later discharged through orgasm, leading to an all too fleeting sense of relaxation and release.
In contrast, I believe that sexuality is all about relaxation, not tension. It’s not about fixing anything. It’s coming to understand how we block our own aliveness. When we relax, we can feel the pleasurable, responsive aliveness of the body, and when we can feel that, then more identifiably sexual feelings arise naturally.
So for me, the critical question with a client is: how can I help them relax?
Well firstly, through agency and choice. When I do Bodywork with a client, I ask them where they want to be touched. I tell them they can wear as much or as little clothing as they wish. I explain I am happy to touch them over their clothes, or over a blanket, or under a blanket. If the client is sensitive about their body being seen, I am happy to work with my eyes closed, or the lights off, or wearing an eye mask. The point is: they choose. That’s vitally important. Unless the client is empowered, we can’t go anywhere.
Second, I make it clear that I am in responsive service to the client. They decide where the touch is to go, and how that touch should be. We maintain a dialogue. We’re connected.
Here’s the thing: when clients feel relaxed and embodied and connected, very often, to their surprise, sexual feelings arise. They are both relaxed and aroused, which feels unusual at first, but which, after a while, is wonderful.
Sometimes, the client will have experienced trauma, which makes touch quite problematic, or it may be problematic for other reasons. In those cases, I encourage the client to freely experiment with me to find a way forward. One client found being touched while she was lying down quite triggering, so we experimented with other forms of touch: embracing at her request, dancing, and other relationally focused forms which proved empowering and enlivening for her.
And with the bulk of clients, there isn’t genital touch at all. It’s true that some clients wish to explore genital sensation, but most don’t feel it’s necessary, because they understand that what was really necessary was getting back in touch with their bodies. And once they did, the problems disappeared.
I have a very specific perspective on bodywork. I don’t touch the body. I touch the person, through the body. Each part is the whole. And, I don’t believe the body to be passive. I believe that wherever the body is touched, that part enters into a sort of unfolding dialogue with the touch, gradually uncovering layers: layers of tension and relaxation, layers of emotion, layers of memory. And because I believe this, I expect this. And so, it can happen.
So, working with me isn’t about me fixing you, but about you changing your perspective, and becoming more embodied.
Embodiment, Agency, Connection: it changes everything.