Facts About Anatomy That Your Clients Need

Last week, I shared my case for why it’s important to talk about sexual anatomy with your clients. I was delighted to find that the post resonated with many of my readers.

This week, I’m building on last week’s post by sharing some facts and psychoeducation about anatomy. Not enough people know this information, and I’m willing to bet you have at least one client who could benefit from learning it.

  • Fewer than 30% of people with vaginas reach orgasm from penetration alone. If you have a client who is experiencing distress because they or their partner cannot reach orgasm solely from penetration, they should know that is completely normal and to be expected. They are in a solid majority.
  • People with a clitoris take on average 25-30 minutes of direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. Many people have a mistaken idea that clitoral stimulation is not necessary, or that just a few minutes should be sufficient. Again, if this mistaken idea is causing distress to your client, they should know that the way their body functions is perfectly normal and to be expected.
  • Most people with a penis can reach orgasm without being fully hard. A certain degree of hardness is necessary for penetration, but not usually for orgasm.
  • Everyone’s sex parts and bodies are different. Sexual function, preference, desire, and every other aspect of sexuality is individual to the point that comparison is meaningless. All different, all normal.

Too many people are ashamed of their sexual anatomy, the way their bodies look or function, and the ways they experience pleasure. By sharing some simple (but weirdly hard-to-find) facts, you can take away that shame, and ultimately make a huge difference in your clients’ lives and relationships. I’m going to be sharing part two of this post next week, so check back then for more anatomy-related facts.

This topic is near and dear to my heart. One of the biggest motivations for designing my online course, Assessing and Treating Sex Issues in Psychotherapy, was to make sure that therapists have access not only to the techniques and interventions they need to work effectively with sex issues, but also a solid grounding in anatomy, physiology, and sexual health.  This makes it possible to identify pressing issues, normalize human diversity, and be true advocates for clients’ health. I love to help therapists learn how to sort out the physical and emotional aspects of simple and complicated combinations of sex and relational issues. If you’re interested in learning more about the course, which opens for enrollment this February, click here.

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!

How to Build a Long-Term Relationship With Courage and Compassion

This part three of a three-part series on sex and differentiation of self in relationships. If you missed the previous part, about symbiosis in the early stages of a relationship, you can check it out here.

At some point in a relationship things start to change. Partners begin to notice that all is not completely rosy, and there have been some disappointments and disillusionments. They shake off the super bonded and immersed-in-other mindset,  look around, and realize they are two unique individuals, with very different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, perceptions, and preferences. How annoying! As the fog clears, you realize you’re not all that happy they cook and eat meat in what used to be your pristine vegan kitchen. Or you feel a little cranky about how you actually never DO have an orgasm, you just fake them. How could your partner not know that? This step from the first stage, symbiosis (rose colored glasses), to the second stage, differentiation (showing up more completely and uniquely), is where many relationships get stuck.

Depending in part in how lost we got in the symbiotic stage, and how secure and grounded we are generally, this new awareness of self can be challenging and messy. Probably your clients have had a very difficult time with this transition, or are still stuck in it, maybe for many years. Some couples never get through this. Some fight, some shut down, but if you look closely, at the root of things is discomfort with our differences of opinions, preferences, and beliefs. How clean is clean? Who decides when sex is finished? Is porn ok? These are real differences. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get my way multiple times EVERY DAY. Becoming able to come to terms with the idea that the differences are interesting and healthy sure makes life easier.

Why is this so hard? Because here’s the thing about differentiation: it’s scary as hell. If you figure out what you think, feel, believe, and prefer and then share it with your partner, they might not agree with you. They might be offended or angry, or collapse in hurt. If your tentative first foray into vulnerable disclosure was met with an extreme or distressing reaction, how can you steel yourself to try again, and again, and again? If you aren’t willing to risk the relationship, it is mighty hard to say something uncomfortable, however true it may be.

That’s when you have the Big Choice: differentiate or assimilate. Rock the boat, or capitulate and stabilize. Just to clarify: rocking the boat, or differentiating, is NOT the same thing as stonewalling, digging in, having a debate, or proving you’re right. What if you were to choose to get curious about your partner’s perspective, and why they see it differently than you do, rather than hammering your point in an effort to change your partner’s mind? What if you remained calm as you explained why you believe what you believe, and allowed your partner to ask questions about that in order to better understand you, with neither of you getting defensive, shutting down, or going on the attack?

Let’s make this less abstract and more specific to sex:

Do you know what you want sexually? Can you tell your partner? Under what circumstances? How about right in the middle of sex? How about if you think your partner won’t like what you want to say–for instance, that you would prefer to go back to snuggling on the couch watching Netflix? What if you lose your erection? Can both of you stay connected, sexy, and loving? Or do you make a lot of problematic meaning of the situation and pull away? Think of an opinion you have about sex–for instance, what is your opinion about crossdressing? Or polyamory? Or how about condom use? Can you share that with someone you love who might have a strongly-held opinion that doesn’t agree with yours?

A healthy sexual relationship requires differentiation–or else sex becomes an empty, anxiety-ridden performance, in which each partner plays the part they imagine their partner wants from them. The strong foundation you built in the symbiotic stage ideally should create safety for you to take some risks now.

It takes courage to ease through the vulnerability of self-disclosure and the fear of losing a relationship in order to reveal your true feelings and desires to your partner. It takes compassion to open your heart to your partner’s true feelings and desires, even if you are afraid of what they might mean. A strong relationship calls for both courage and compassion, and a therapist’s role is to help each partner discover those resources within themselves.