When you talk about sex with your clients, you may find yourself in a situation in which it will be helpful to discuss self-pleasure. And yet most therapists, in my experience, tend to find that raising the topic of self-pleasure particularly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Why is this? And how can we make things easier for ourselves and our clients?
First off, I’d like to explain why I think it’s sometimes necessary to discuss self-pleasure in a therapeutic context. Self-pleasure is a much easier way of exploring what feels good for your body than being touched by a partner, for a number of reasons:
- It’s immediate. There’s no need to say, “no, go back to what you were doing before,” or “that’s too rough, go more gently” or anything of the kind, because you can tell what feels right to you and make small adjustments instantly without the need for formulating or filtering words.
- It’s safe. There’s no risk of pregnancy or disease transmission, which means that you may feel less anxious and more able to open up to your own sensation.
- It’s lower-stakes. Self-pleasure doesn’t come with the same pressure that partnered sex does, such as the pressure to engage in activities your partner wants even if they’re not exactly what you want, or to put on a performance of enjoyment for your partner so that they feel reassured.
- It’s private. Nobody needs to know about it, so you can explore things you might not be ready to explore with a partner yet.
For all these reasons and more, exploring self-pleasure can be a useful tool for your clients. I might recommend it if, for instance, your client has difficulty reaching orgasm and isn’t sure what kinds of touch they find pleasurable, or your client has developed an aversion to sex as a result of painful, coercive, or simply unfulfilling encounters, but wants to regain an experience of pleasure.
If you’ve identified a case in which recommending self-pleasure might help, how can you raise the topic without making your client (or yourself) uncomfortable? Here are some strategies that help me:
- Choose your words thoughtfully. You may have noticed that I’ve used the term “self-pleasure” throughout this post. Personally, I think the term “masturbation” has negative and shameful connotations, so I rarely use it. The term “self-pleasure” emphasizes the positive, and isn’t part of the negative cultural narrative. You can read more about how to choose the right terms when talking about sex here.
- Project a non-judgemental attitude. Your clients will respond to your level of comfort with the topic. If you project the idea that self-pleasure is normal and potentially helpful, that will help to put your clients at ease. If, conversely, you seem embarrassed to even bring up the topic, your clients will feel embarrassed too.
- Let them opt out. There are plenty of people who have moral or religious objections to self-pleasure, or who just feel grossed out by the concept. For that reason, when you recommend self-pleasure, you should always give your clients the opportunity to say no. Self-pleasure is the easiest way to explore your body’s experience of pleasure, but it’s not the only option. Exploration with a partner is very possible, it’s just more of a challenge. Make sure your clients know that if they don’t want to try self-pleasure, partner exploration is a perfectly viable option, and you will continue to help and support them if they choose that path.