Thursday, December 18, 2014

SEX DOC Receives A Nod (& a Wink) in the Wall Street Journal

SEX DOC was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this Wednesday (Dec 17, 1014). Right there in the lower right corner sits an artist rendering of the personalized license plate that I spent a year and half fighting for with the state of Missouri. This nod was a part of the reporter's larger story on policing vanity plates. I even got a photo of me victoriously holding my plate last summer in the WSJ online link.

The accolades from family, friends and colleagues have been flooding in, followed by warms smiles for my 15 minutes of fame. However, the social worker in me has more to say than this little blurb allowed. The message of social (in)justice around sexuality is too vitally important to be lost in a slick sound bite.

For starters my quote in the WSJ, “I have enough patients who are dealing with shame around sexuality,” makes more sense in its entirety which was,  "... and I don't think the state of Missouri should be contributing to or promoting sexual shaming". Countering sexual shame is at the heart of my social justice work. It also plays a part in much of my work as a social worker both from a clinical and research perspective. The people that I see one on one in psychotherapy have issues that are exacerbated by a life exposed to toxic levels of sexual shame.

This is not unique to my clients. Society has dysfunctional relationship with sexuality - 'a don't ask don't tell' public policy steeped in our puritanical roots. Rather than seeing sexuality as a natural healthy part of human life, we banish it to the shadows. If people have an interest in sex we question their intent, we judge their morality or we mock it with jokes. Even the WSJ article's sub title makes a not so subtle connection that one must have a "dirty mind" to understand license plates referring to sex. Uhhhhh... NO you don't! Sex is NOT dirty!!!

But this goes to my point, the collective societal "wink" around sexuality is dangerous. Its dangerous because its not balanced. It keeps discussion around sexuality on the sidelines as if they don't merit a seat at the table. I believe that this secretive whispering of sexuality perpetuates an environment of sexual shame.

When working with clients, part of that work is reframing these dangerous societal messages that bombard us on a daily basis. As a certified sex therapist, I not only work with major sexual challenges but these insidious communal beliefs that sabotage a healthy sexual life. I help people along a journey to acknowledge and embrace sexuality as an inherent, natural part of the human experience. It is healthy and yes "NORMAL" to want connectivity, passion, physical closeness. Sexual desire, curiosity, fantasy and behavior are a part of being alive. Our sexuality is a human right. We are sexual from our first to our last breath.

From a social justice stand point, these seemingly innocuous "winks" --- such as referencing our sexuality as "dirty"  are really micro aggressions to keep us hostage. It creates a schism that surgically separates sexuality from the mainstream typical experience, casting it out to the netherworld of "other"... people who are immature, bad, naughty, dirty, immoral, sick, perverted, mentally ill. The list goes on. And even if we don't outright label a person guilty for committed the heinous crime of being sexual or thinking of sexuality, we hint at it. It can be difficult to reconcile an image of ourselves as good, just, moral and sexual. Where are the images of a person that is both?

This subtle attack on sexuality is as reprehensible as the malicious public attacks we endure through policies such as 'abstinence  only sexuality education', and 'don't-ask-don't-tell'. We begin to participate in our our own social control. We abandoned our rights to sexual knowledge and pleasure forsaking them over a misguided idea of purity.  We become prisoners of sexuality fear and guilt. Participating in keeping sexuality as a secret or something worthy of shame or the butt of jokes manufactures sex negativity. It helps to craft a society that does not have access to sexual health. It contributes to limiting quality sexual health knowledge. It supports a rape culture. It oppress groups and maintains sexuality for only a privileged few: men, able-bodied, heterosexual, white, married, fit, and young. Where does that leave the rest of us?

Sexual health is vital. It is legitimate. It is our right. We should embrace our sexuality and all the positive and pleasurable aspects of sexual health.  I propose that we must bring sexuality from marginalized conversations into acceptance as a legitimate human experience. My work continues and I hope it becomes yours too!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Teachable Moment: Myths and Making Out

My 8 year old son burst into the house after a skate party one evening. He was up in arms about his friend who kept ignoring him at the skate rink. “All he did was play with the girls. I just wanted to race him and he kept ignoring me and just continued making out with a girl!” My husband and I locked eyes and snickered while my son continued on and on about this big make out session. Before reacting, I decided to clarify and asked my son “what did the making out look like?” His response, “I don’t know it was soooo weird. I don’t understand it. It was like he wasn’t himself. He kept saying silly things and doing silly things.” My husband immediately asked if there were parents watching. “There were parents there, but they didn’t pay attention.” As we continued to dissect the “making out” session we realized that what he was describing was flirting. His buddy was teasing and playing with another girl because he has a crush on her. My oldest daughter pipes in with all of her 11 years of infinite wisdom and says, “Making out and flirting are two very different things! You better be careful not to start a rumor!” We took a few minutes to talk about flirting in terms he would understand. We shared with him that sometimes people find another person pretty, handsome, or fun to be with so we often start to act a little funny, do things to be closer to them, or get that person’s attention. If we see our friends chasing after other girls and boys and teasing other girls; this might mean that they like this person in a romantic way. Being jealous or getting upset with our friends when they pay more attention to someone else is really hard, but this is natural. When this happens try to understand what your friend might be feeling, and encourage your friend to show their feelings to this person with respect.

Lesson Learned: Our kids hear language that they don’t know, see things they don’t understand, and even say things not even knowing the meaning. Don’t ignore those moments and explain the concept to their development level. Take a breath and ask for more information. That way you can check your child’s comprehension level, and provide solid and accurate information in a manner he or she can understand. You may not want to tell your child making out involves kissing, hugging, rubbing, or touching, but allow them to understand the behavior in terms they can relate or find a new word to fit the meaning of the situation. This situation was simple in that making out was replaced with flirting. Flirting is a concept an 8 year old can understand because, let’s face it, we are all sexual beings and we see, hear, and feel things in response to our sexuality at every age.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Teachable Moment: Consensual Intimacy

I have always been affectionate toward others. I like a firm handshake, and a hug that envelopes around me like a warm blanket. When my husband and I started dating he always commented on how close I would sit to him and tuck my cold feet under his legs to keep them warm. We kiss openly in front of our kids and show lots of affection. When I became a mom I became obsessed with kissing my kids feet, bellies, hands, and lips. I couldn’t get enough! My son has grown especially affectionate and loves to be close to others. He is learning when and when not to share a kiss with just anyone. He even lingers a while when he kisses! He was probably about age 6 when he came in for a kiss wide mouth open and head cocked. I looked at him in amusement, almost laughing asking him “what kind of kiss is that?” he said, “I see dad open his mouth when he is kissing you, why can’t I?” The awkward pause sets in… a teachable moment in intimacy…right?! I shared that when two people really love each other sometimes they share really nice, long kisses. It’s a special way of showing them you love them. This kiss is usually with two adults, not an adult and a child. He quickly referenced the scene in the movie, The Sandlot when Squints kissed Wendy Peppercorn, the lifeguard, “long and good” and asked if it was ok for him to kiss girls his age like that. We talked about how Squints, the boy in the movie, tricked the lifeguard and kissed her when she was performing CPR on him, therefore making the kiss one sided.

Lesson(s) Learned: Our media is sexually charged, but our culture and society tend not to talk about it. Maybe letting my 6 year old watch The Sandlot was not a good judgment call except for the fact I was willing to address the conversation about kissing and intimacy.  Modeling healthy intimacy and also respect for the person you are engaging with is very important. Teachable moment…do not treat a kiss or the person you are kissing with disrespect. Whether your values are to save kissing for dating, engagement, or marriage is a value your family must establish. More so, kissing is mutual act between to people who care about each other. Always treat the person you love and that you want to kiss with respect, and seek their consent before engaging in any sexual act.