Why I Teach Anatomy to My Clients

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I think discussing sex in therapy is crucial. Sex issues have emotional ramifications, and I hope I’ve convinced you that the ability to communicate openly and honestly about sexual desires, preferences, and boundaries is an important relationship skill, and that therapists have a role to play in helping clients develop that skill.

In addition to working with the emotional aspects of sex issues, I also very often spend time in the therapy room educating my clients on topics like sexual health and anatomy. Sex is a stigmatized subject, and many people don’t have access to trusted, reliable, and accurate information on sexuality. Many people have had only abstinence-focused sex-ed in school, or no sex-ed at all. Many people have gotten most of their information about sex from porn and peers.

Lack of access to information about sexuality can end up having all kinds of negative effects on mental health and relationships. For instance, many people feel embarrassed by the appearance of their sexual anatomy. This is the result of a lack of accurate and non-judgemental information about sex, and it can do a lot of harm to self-esteem. Sharing accurate information about anatomy can do a world of good. Even something as simple as asserting that  everyone’s body is different, and wide variation is completely normal, can make a huge different in people’s lives.

There are also cases of sexual problems that can be resolved with just a little bit of anatomical info. For instance, many people don’t realize that it takes a person with a clitoris an average of twenty-five minutes of direct clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm. Lots of people think there’s something wrong with them or their partner if they can’t orgasm just from penetration, or if they can’t orgasm in just a few minutes. In a situation like that, you can provide a lot of relief by supplying a few facts about orgasm and anatomy.

I believe in the importance of providing accurate, non-judgemental information about topics your clients struggle with. I’m always surprised at how many people express astonishment and relief when I provide simple psychoeducation about anatomy, and debunk a myth or two. As I see it, alleviating distress in this way falls well within the bounds of a therapist’s role.

Does this leave you wondering where you can get accurate information about anatomy, and learn how to share it with your clients skillfully? You might want to consider joining my 2019 course, Assessing and Treating Sex Issues in Psychotherapy. Sign up for the waiting list now, and you’ll be the first to know when sign-ups open this February!

Links on Body Positivity

We all imbibe harmful messages from our culture about our bodies. Too short, too tall, too fat, too thin–everyone has felt that they don’t measure up in one way or another, and body hatred has real and harmful consequences for our health and happiness.

Body shame can also hurt our relationships. Among other things, it makes it difficult to feel comfortable being naked in front of another person. That discomfort often inhibits people from relaxing, connecting, and experiencing pleasure as fully as they would like to.

If you have a client who struggles with negative body image, or if you’ve struggled with it yourself, I hope that you find something helpful in these links.

Resolution: Start Loving Your Body, Today

How To Set Loving Goals for Lifestyle Change

Body Positivity and Health Consciousness

How You Can Help a Client With Negative Body Image

How You Can Help A Client With Negative Body Image

People come in all shapes and sizes, but our culture tends to only value bodies that fit a very limited mold. Almost everyone has had the painful experience of feeling like their body doesn’t measure up. Almost everyone is somewhere along a journey of coming to terms with the unique way their body looks and works. As a therapist, you can play an important role in helping your clients on this journey.

Healing body image is often a part of my work as a sex therapist and a couples therapist. There are all sorts of ways that negative body image can hurt a relationship. If you don’t love your body, it will be hard to be comfortable being naked in front of another person, or being touched in certain places, or being in certain positions. If you’re always worrying that your appearance is turning your partner off, how can you relax into an experience of pleasure? The self-consciousness and negative self-talk might block your arousal or make it difficult to experience an orgasm. Body shame can get in the way of having a conversation with your partner about it. In this way, building body love and body acceptance is often the first step to more satisfying sexual experiences with a partner.

The way you feel about your body will naturally shape your way of experiencing the world in a fundamental way, in all spheres, not just sex. For that reason, I believe that helping your clients build a better relationship with their body is one of the most meaningful projects you can take on as a therapist.

If healing negative body image is a part of your treatment plan, where can you start? Often, I ask people to talk with me about what they love about their body. It’s quite revealing how often I hear that they can’t think of anything. When that happens, I shift the focus to function, not aesthetics.

From the perspective of function, it’s hard not to see how incredible your body is. Think of the zillions of magical and automatic functions it does every single second! If your client can take a moment to appreciate the wonder of all the work their body does every moment, that can be a seed that sprouts into a more nurturing, grateful, appreciative relationship with their body.

When a client expresses hatred for their body, I might say:

  • “Your body is absolutely beautiful just exactly as it is. You don’t have to change it in order to love it or find it beautiful.”
  • “This is a belief system, you know. Other cultures view this differently than ours”.
  • “I’ve never known anyone to change anything about themselves by hating themselves into it.”

That last one is important if you have a client who is trying to motivate a lifestyle change while also struggling with negative body image–a difficult balancing act, and one that they will likely benefit from your support. In that vein, I advise you to be very cautious about body compliments that might come across as judgments. The urge to compliment a client who has been struggling with body hatred is understandable, but it is important to choose compliments carefully, in order to avoid falling into the same body-negative tropes that are hurting your client and us all. For instance, if a client said to me, “Do you notice I lost weight? I think I’m looking a little better,” I would respond with “I’ve always thought you are beautiful, and you know, I’m the wrong person to ask about weight loss because I just don’t see people that way.”

If you want to learn more about body positivity, or are searching for something on the topic for your client to watch, I recommend the film “Embrace.” It’s an excellent recent documentary and a real education in body acceptance and body politics.