“I’m sick of dating,” I whined to my sex therapy supervisor.
“Once I tell men I’m a sex therapist, I feel like a circus sideshow. They all think I’m up for anyone, anything, anytime.”
Not known for being subtle, he peered at me through his wire-framed glasses and quipped, “If you want to do this work, you better get used to it.” We spent the next two hours talking about biases, projections, challenges, and stereotypes that sex therapists face.
While I like to talk about sex, and I do so all frickin’ day, I see a first date as a meet and greet. On first dates, men talk to me about their penis and how it has functioned. Conversations have entailed erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, former wives who didn’t like sex, or I’ve received invitations to swingers events, dungeons, or threesomes. I’ve been asked to analyze their ex’s libido or infidelity. I’ve heard assumptions like, “I can imagine as a sex therapist you’ve had some uh…training. Wink wink.“ Or, “Do you watch your clients having sex, sort of like a football coach?”
I’ve gone out with men thinking they genuinely liked me, only to discover they just wanted sex education.
In processing my experiences in a larger context with Dennis, my supervisor, it allowed me to take the personal and put it into a larger context. Because we live in a culture of sexual shaming, most of us unconsciously absorb unhealthy and unhelpful messages about sex. Sex therapists’ offices are full of individuals and couples who are hurting and suffering as a result of common misconceptions about their sexual and erotic selves.
As humans, we have a vulnerability to making assumptions. We have beliefs about gender, sexual orientation, sex and race, relationship structures, sexual function, and how we should be experiencing sex. Many of these beliefs are acquired and not questioned. Much like we can have with race, we have blind spots and privileges that we are unaware of. Unexamined assumptions can be dangerous and do our fellow humans a large disservice.
Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of the book, The Four Agreements, advises us to not make assumptions. He promises that even if we can’t live by the other three agreements, that just doing this one alone will change our lives.
One of the biggest gifts we can give each other is to see and know one another.
Approaching each other with open-hearted curiosity opens the door for each of us to step into the space of exploring each other’s identities without judgment. Without forecasting. Without predictions. Without assumptions of who they are. When we hear ourselves wanting to say, “I bet you…” or, “I bet they…” Stop. Take a breath. Turn the kaleidoscope in your mind and find places of connection. We all deserve the grace to disclose ourselves as we define ourselves.
What is meaningful to them? What significant events shaped their life? What are their values? What broke their heart, and how did they heal, or have they? Where have they found courage? And later on, what do they prefer, need, and desire sexually?
Giving each other the dignity of defining ourselves, and really listening to each other’s experiences may be one of the most loving things we can do for one another.
And if you do someday date a sex therapist—well, we are just as normal and weird as everyone else.
We are very comfortable talking about sex. Believe me, we’ll let you know when we want to talk about your genitals.