• Lounette Els

Master of Sex

Hello Mindful Connectors! It has been a while since I had the chance to write a new blog post. This time I wanted to write something a bit more educational that may help others with a similar passion for my field of interest, or perhaps to lend a hand to someone out there struggling with bedroom related issues (not my hand though) :p

I wanted to pursue Sexology when I started my journey in Psychology. I never saw myself as a Psychologist or Counselor that would end up discussing topics around everyday life struggles, anxiety, depression etc. Please don't get me wrong, mental health is a very important part of being a well balanced human being- to nurture and take care of. Seeking help when you need it is a basic necessity and I think the act of seeking therapy and counseling are still very stigmatized. But sooooo important! Working in Psychology, we often get called quacks/head doctors and I was surprised at how many people- which I barely just met- assumed that I could "analyze" them or "read their minds". When really all we do is LISTEN. Pretty simple right? Well... then we also go through grueling training, education and heaps of money to become qualified and skilled to effectively listen and guide you through this stressful and anxiety provoking thing called life. Think of us as your enlightened and insightful GPS. When shit hits the fan, "make a U turn, now."

But coming back to my personal journey, I was always excited to delve into the nitty gritty parts of people. I wanted to talk about SEX. The good stuff, the bad stuff and even the ugly stuff. I wanted to talk about the subjects that no one wanted to. The kind of topics that might seem "unladylike". The stuff that makes you cover your eyes, but also encourages you to peak through your fingers. Because I was curious, and I knew my friends were curious... and so others would also be curious! So I started doing my research on becoming a sexologist and I introduced myself to Professor Elna McIntosh ( you can read more about Elna in my previous blog). I also binged watched the series called Masters of Sex. Here is to the bravelings who started it all- William Masters and Virginia Johnson. I really recommend this series, but please do not confuse sexologists with professionals watching others having intercourse or practicing masturbation. Instead, I have kindly asked Prof McIntosh to provide me with credible information on all you need to know about sexology, how to become a sexologist in South Africa, as well as what sexologists treat and who we recommend.

What is a sexologist?

A sexologist is engaged in the scientific study of sex and is interested in understanding what people do sexually and how they feel about what they do. A sexologist learns about the broad spectrum of human sexual behaviour and the many factors that influence people's behaviour and feelings about their sexuality.

What is a clinical sexologist?

A clinical sexologist is a sexologist who offers sex counselling to help people understand and accept themselves as sexual beings and meet their sexual goals. Sexologists are sex-positive and maintain a broad perspective by taking factors such as biological, psychological, sociological, anthropological and historical into consideration when addressing sexual issues. They use an educational approach to help clients meet their goals and are nonjudgmental, which means that they do not have any preconceptions of what a client’s sexuality “should” look like.

How does a clinical sexologist work?

Clinical sexologists facilitate clients’ sexual growth by helping them to identify their sexual goals and by offering education, resources, tools and techniques to help them meet those goals and ultimately manage their own sexual growth.

The process entails the following steps:

  1. Helping clients to identify where they are when they arrive and where they want to be when they finish their work with a sex specialist.

  2. Helping clients to identify the factors that allow them to feel safe and those that prevent them from meeting their sexual goals

  3. Helping clients to identify the factors that allow them to feel safe and those that prevent them from meeting their sexual goals.

  4. Designing and suggesting exercises to help clients to progressively expand their sexual comfort zones until they reach their goals.

This is considered “brief therapy,” which is a goal-oriented counselling. If sexual difficulties appear to be rooted in deeper issues that require intensive therapy, a practitioner will refer clients to a therapist. If he or she feels that a client requires medical attention before or during work with a clinical sexologist, the practitioner will do his or her best to provide a referral.

What types of sexual concerns can a clinical sexologist help with?

The following are common concerns that a clinical sexologist helps individuals and couples address:

  • Feeling abnormal (in terms of sexual behaviour, fantasy, capability, physique, etc.)

  • Feeling uninformed or misinformed about sex

  • Feeling inexperienced

  • Feeling unskilled

  • Feeling ashamed of sexuality or sexual desires

  • Feeling negative about one's body

  • Discrepant desires between/ among partners

  • Sexual orientation identity (straight, gay, bisexual, etc.)

  • Sexual relationship structure (monogamous, polyamorous, polysexual, open, swinging, etc.)

  • Infidelity

  • Negotiating kinky relationships

  • Gender identity

  • Lack of or reduced desire or arousal

  • Difficulty maintaining arousal

  • Erectile difficulty

  • Difficulty reaching orgasm

  • Ejaculatory control difficulties

  • Fear of or aversion to touch, intimacy, penetration or pain

  • Unconsummated marriages or relationships

  • Difficulty identifying satisfying activities for both partners

  • Difficulty communicating sexual needs and desires

  • Intimacy

  • Finding satisfying sexual activities after surgery, a health crisis, ongoing health challenges or limited mobility

  • Sexual compulsion

  • Seeking resources (including finding like-minded people)

Sexologists help clients to address all of the above issues, and have coordinated care with medical and mental health practitioners in offering support. Sexologists offer sex education and sexual enrichment programs for individuals and couples who want to improve or enhance their sexual relationships. Some common goals include recapturing lost sensuality; adjusting sexually to life changes such as health challenges, menopause, change in relationship status, or motherhood; and becoming comfortable with one's own or a partner's sexuality.

What kind of training do you have?

Sexology is currently an unregulated field in South Africa, which means that people can call themselves sexologists without earning credentials in the field. When searching for a sex counselor/therapist, it is important to ask what kind of training a practitioner has in the area of human sexuality. Board certification by the American College of Sexologists or the American Board of Sexologists is one indication that a practitioner has completed a course of study in human sexuality that includes an experiential component.

Most Sexologists have a PhD in Human Sexuality and certificates in sex education and clinical sexology from an accredited Institute and board certified by the American College of Sexologists (ACS). Training consisted of studying the many facets of human sexual behaviour and participating in experiential courses to learn about beliefs and feelings about those behaviours. This training has prepared the practitioner to work with a broad range of sexual issues and the awareness gained by experiential courses enables one to confront your personal biases in order to maintain a nonjudgmental space for clients. This formal training is offered overseas- mostly in the US and Australia.

How does clinical sexology differ from sex therapy? How do I choose a practitioner?

Like sexology, the sex therapy field is unregulated in South Africa, which means that people who are registered to practice therapy can call themselves sex therapists without additional training in the area of human sexuality. Those who have substantial training in the field often seek certification by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), or ASSERT in Australia.

A sex therapist is trained in Psychology and may have taken few or many courses in human sexuality; a qualified sexologist has taken many accredited courses in human sexuality and views sexual behaviour from a biological, psychological and sociological perspective. Sexological training alone does not qualify someone to practice intensive therapy and psychological training alone does not qualify someone to practice sex counselling.

Techniques used by clinical sexologists and sex therapists can be similar, but sex therapists are therapists first, which means their approach to addressing sexual issues can be very different. To determine if someone is qualified to help you with your sexual concerns, ask about their training and approach to treating sexual concerns and ensure it is empowering, non-judgmental and sex-positive.

Need help?

Clinical Sexologists in South Africa:

What I have learned in my time reading and researching in this field, is that communication between partners is always crucial, as well as your internal dialect- inside and outside of the bedroom. Your sexual health is just as important as looking after your physical well being and mental health. So let us open the line of honest communication. If you feel you need help, if you feel you are peaking through your fingers in curiosity, then reach out to us! Let us assist you in your need to connect.

"When things don't work well in the bedroom,

they don't work well in the living room either."

-William Masters

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