There’s this cliché that psychologists are obsessed with sex. Maybe it started with Freud, and now we’re saddled with the assumption that sex is all we talk about. But in my experience, it can feel quite awkward bringing up the topic, especially when clients originally sought help for some unrelated reason. It’s one thing to talk about a sexual dysfunction, or sexual trauma, solving the problem people bring to us (because that’s what psychologists really want to be, right? Effective problem solvers.). It’s another thing to just start asking questions about the most intimate aspects of people’s lives. I don’t think we need to live up to the stereotype, but sexual health is important, so during a month of romantic clichés lets try destigmatizing sexuality a little.
Given the foundational role sexuality has in our lives, it isn’t surprising that many physical and mental disorders can often have a sexual component. Loss of pleasure is common to depression, for example, but how often do we consider sexual pleasure when asking about symptoms? Sexual pleasure is about as universal a human experience as possible, but how often do you think about your own sexual pleasure? Becoming more comfortable with an uncomfortable topic can begin inside your own mind long before talking about it with someone else, so consider: when was the last time you had a truly pleasurable sexual experience? Do you have a good idea of what sexual activities you enjoy? Really think about this for a minute, how well do you know your own body?
Again, we’re surrounded by romantic clichés at the moment, so if you aren’t happy with your answer then take the time to explore yourself. This is, of course, that most ultimate of conversational taboos: masturbation. Asking about masturbation as a therapist can feel SO awkward, I can’t even imagine how awkward it might feel to be asked about it as a client, and yet everyone does it! Everybody masturbates! We have this convenient source of pleasure quite literally at hand, it comes with almost none of the risks of intercourse, it just makes sense, but somehow we’re all supposed to be ashamed of it. I haven’t even touched on the double standards governing how men’s and women’s sexual pleasure is understood, or the similarly unfair attitudes concerning any sexual activity other than penis-in-vagina sex, but in a way this kind of makes my point. There is a vast world of pleasurable things out there, stuff we aren’t supposed to like and things we aren’t supposed to do, maybe things you have never even considered or heard of before, and you can explore any of it in seconds with the internet. Consider your own sexual pleasure, and if it's important to your life then I urge you to make an active decision to seek it out, by yourself or with a consenting partner. I’m a big fan of the “Treat Yo Self” bit from the TV show Parks & Recreation, so for Valentine’s Day consider treating yourself. Decide to enjoy your body. For my part, I’ll keep working to normalize those uncomfortable conversations a little more.
Tony Crisanti, M.A.