Guest Blog: Maz Michael

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Talk for Pink Therapy Sex Works conference on 23rd March 2018

Welcome, my name is Maz Michael, I work as a freelance therapist in Brighton and I’m trained in Person Centred, CBT approach and EMDR modalities. It is my belief that, since the subject of embodiment (and by embodiment I mean who we are in a bodily context, particularly in relation to our sexual and gendered selves), since embodiment is typically lacking from most talking therapist training courses, this leaves talking therapists largely unprepared to engage in certain discussions with our clients for whom dialogues about embodiment could be therapeutically important.

In relation to this theme, the usefulness and relevance of embodiment training for talking therapists and clients, I occupy a number of spaces: I’m an accredited therapist, an Urban Tantra staff team member, a facilitator of bodily based breathwork practices and I identify as a non-binary trans person.

I hadn’t reflected too much on these various identities before because they feel like they naturally coexist, in the same way that the mind and the body co-exist. Yet I know that the idea of a talking therapist also being a sex positive, body positive training course member and a facilitator is somewhat contentious. Because of my own experiences of embodiment and my professional interest in this area, I have focussed this talk primarily on why I think courses like Urban Tantra (and I will explain in a minute what Urban Tantra is) why such courses could be useful for gender non-conforming people and for the therapists who work with them, although I do think that such training can be useful for many other people too.

So, this is where I’m drawing from, I work therapeutically with people in different ways, and in addition to my talking therapy trainings, I am trained as a rebirthing breathwork practitioner (rebirthing breathwork is a type of breathing that uses breath to release distress and trauma). I am also trained in facilitating an erotic breathwork practice, sometimes known as the Firebreath, as taught on the Urban Tantra program. Neither of these breathwork practices involves any touch or nudity and, as such, I do not work hands on with any clients but I have taught these breathwork practices to individuals and groups. I do not, however, offer breathwork experiences to talking therapy clients or vice versa.

In deciding how to approach this talk, I’ve drawn from my own attempts to find safe and supportive embodiment courses in which I can explore my own, sexual, spiritual self. Frustratingly, on this journey,  I’ve often been met with conventional ideas about gender, such as the assumption that genitals equal gender, i.e. that a person with a penis must be a man and a person with a vagina must a female and that there are only two genders i.e. that gender is a binary of male and female. I have sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious on some embodiment courses because of these simplistic assumptions about gender and my uncomfortableness and anger has motivated me to remain in that world but with the hope that my presence on some Urban Tantra training can help other gender non-conforming people to feel that they may find a place of belonging there too.

In the same way that most tantra type training fails to understand and accommodate the needs of gender diverse people, so too out in the world this is often the case. Gender non-conforming people are regularly under attack for self-defining our gender and I feel that there is something especially harsh about the fact that the very places that we might find sanctuary from the discriminatory world and experience pleasure in our bodies are too often places that further alienate. As Canadian Sexological Bodywork trainer, Caffyn Jesse, states: ‘’The massage studio can be a safe haven where a gender pioneer can relax into embodied exploration. Or it can be another piece of oppression.’’ (Erotic Massage for Healing and Pleasure.p137)

So, I believe that most talking therapist training and most embodiment training have something in common, they invariably fail to understand and to accommodate the needs of gender non-conforming people. One of the few embodiment training spaces where I have found that this is not the case is Urban Tantra.

So what is Urban Tantra?

The term was coined by American Sex Educator, Barbara Carrellas. In her workshops, professional training and books, Barbara does not especially privilege genital touch or sensation but instead looks at the capacity that the whole body possesses to experience erotic pleasure. Barbara also makes links between tantra and consensual BDSM practices as both she says utilise ‘’a powerful dynamic for erotic or spiritual purposes’’ (Urban Tantra.p 202). Barbara also teaches erotic breathwork practices that do not require genital stimulation. The focus on the breath and the whole body, as distinct from the genitals alone, as a potential source of pleasure, has obvious advantages for anyone who does not want or cannot have genitally based sex. Like with the professional therapy code of ethics, Urban Tantra similarly has a set of values that participants and graduates are expected to adhere to which include: Consent between people as an ongoing agreement which can be modified or withdrawn at any point, a strict Safer Sex protocol and the welcoming of people of all genders, sexual orientations, sexual preferences. Barbara’s interest in breathing and in the whole body, as distinct from the genitals alone, as a potential source of pleasure emerged during the 80’s when the AIDS epidemic exploded in America and, as a result, the need for a safer form of sexuality was vital; so, UT has queer roots.

So why might training like Urban Tantra be useful for gender diverse people?

Gender diverse people inhabit bodies that are marginalised by society and more so, of course, if that gender diverse body is differently abled or a person of colour’s body or, indeed, a working-class person’s body. Trans bodies are strangely both de-sexualised and hyper-sexualised. De-sexualisation of our bodies occurs I believe when the body is framed exclusively medical terms i.e. the body as the recipient of hormones and/or surgery. Hyper-sexualisation of certain trans bodies is obvious, for example, as in porn that features ‘’chicks with dicks’’. Trans author and activist, Kate Bornstein states that the trans body is viewed with both revulsion and desire (Gender Outlaw page 93).

So, gender diverse people are both off limits and on limits, we can be asked about our bodies anytime; I once read some assessment notes in which an assessor had asked a trans person ‘what stage of transition are you at?’ when, in fact, the prospective client, who was transmasculine and had a full beard, was not wanting therapy for anything to do with them being trans. Can you imagine for one minute in a therapy assessment a cis-gendered client (that is a client whose gender identity corresponds to their birth sex), can you image them being asked out of the blue and totally irrelevant to their presenting issue: ‘What does your naked body look like, especially your chest/breasts and genitals?’

Given the societal ambivalence about trans bodies, I believe that the very decision to announce ones trans identity is a profound act of self-actualisation as is the courage to challenge normative notions of embodiment (and I will talk a little bit about that in a minute).  Typically, self-actualisation is regarded as a psychological process that is facilitated by psychological means exclusively and yet bodywork courses can help all people to self-actualise just like good psychological therapists can. I think in some ways that good embodiment trainings are good because they have the capacity and willingness to offer the Core Conditions especially that of Unconditional Positive Regard i.e. they do not judge the participant nor impose reality from the outside but rather they adopt an open, excited and inquisitive stance towards each participant and are ready to be led by them. In Urban Tantra training, Barbara Carrellas delivers an Erotic Awakening massage for gender non-conforming people. This massage is totally guided by the recipient, the recipient is asked what names if any they may have for their body parts, what body parts are off limits if any. This is an erotic touch that led by the subjective experiencing of the recipient. This approach fosters the idea that each person will be the best expert on their body and their capacity to generate and experience erotic pleasure.

Trans people are sometimes wonderfully creative beings and often we have had to be in order to find ways to navigate this societal ambivalence towards our bodies. Sometimes we challenge the very notion of the body:  we may rename our genitals not as penis and vagina but as something else completely. What we mean by genitals may not even be the physical flesh at all; for example, genitals may mean the use of prosthetics, dildoes and I have worked with a number gender non-conforming clients who have spoken about of the importance of clothing as it relates to their sense of body. For some trans people, the body may be experienced more as an energetic phenomenon than as the physical flesh.

In her 2016 survey entitled: How Trans Women, Trans Men and People of Nonbinary Gender Experience their Genitals, Barbara Carrellas found that the majority of respondents experienced ‘’energy genitals’’, that is, the sensation of having genitals in a different size, shape or configuration than the ones grown by one’s own body.

And in their book, Trans like me, academic, musician and activist, C.N. Lester, who is non-binary, trans-identified mentions the term the ‘’proprioceptive body’’ proprioception means the ‘perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body in space’’, it is a sort of ‘’sensory map’’. In other words, it refers to a body that is not physical flesh and in this regards it could be seen as a similar to the idea of energy genitals; for some trans people, the sensed body is more real than what is there in a physical form. On the subject of the body, queer author, Sassafras Lowry, states: ‘’I’ve gazed on as dysphoria dissipated under the realisation that body need not be flesh I was born with, that body need not be made of skin at all’’. In Urban Tantra training the clothed body might be understood as more congruent than the naked body for some people. So, clothing/costume/prosthetics/breathwork/energy work is welcomed and encouraged as they can all be ways of experiencing the erotic body. Within this framework, clothing becomes expression rather than concealment. This is contrary to most embodiment training that tend to privilege full or partial nudity and tactile contact over energetic arousal.

I want to talk a bit about self-pleasure, masturbation…

I have worked with gender non-conforming clients who have talked about how self-pleasure, is hugely therapeutic for them. Sometimes clients talk about depression and anxiety lifting as a result of self-pleasuring and that they feel more human, less dysphoric, I need to be able to dialogue with such clients there in their expression; masturbation can be an act that promotes personal well-being and I as a therapist should not stand in the way of this client’s exploration by avoiding such conversations. As Latinx activist and artist, Ignacio Rivera states: ‘’Positive or radical sexuality begins from within…it is the sexual place that allows you to feel comfort, have agency..this is radical because it is reclaiming one’s body that has been probed by society and the state. It is power and that transcends into supporting mental health, healthy relationships and self-esteem.’’.

A unique feature of UT is that it encourages participants to create from the material of their own lives, to develop erotic spaces and practices based on our own needs and own imaginations rather than to follow a prescribed formula. After I got frustrated at the narrowness and exclusivity of embodied workshops and trainings I didn’t want to keep feeling excluded and self-conscious but also wanted to experience some kind of sharing of erotic space with my fellow queers. As such, I had the idea of starting a non-binary trans self-pleasure group with a number of friends of mine because I couldn’t find what I wanted out in the world of embodiment courses because of the assumptions made about my gender. One of the many realisations from this group is that how we experience self -pleasure is as varied as the number of us in the group. What has happened in this group is that we have learned to trust our expression of our sexuality in the company of each other. I think such groups, which are not really new, (Betty Dodson started masturbation workshops for women back in the 1960s) such groups can help people, particularly people from marginalised intersections, to let go of what we carry in the world at least for a time. Such groups can act as a stepping stone for erotic intimacy with another or just be complete in themselves. Urban Tantra courses typically create for a short time a similar space a queer-affirming space and the support for participants to then go forward and to birth into the world what we envision based on our own knowledge and experience.

I wonder how we can talk about depression or anxiety, as it may manifest for anyone, without also considering that person’s embodied reality and their relationship to their sexuality or asexuality? As for talking therapists, if we are not willing to explore embodiment with our clients, I believe we are severely limiting our therapeutic usefulness to many clients, especially many trans clients. I am not saying that all trans clients will always have a problematic relationship with our bodies, but I am saying that whilst the body is present for everyone and will inform everyone’s narratives about who we are to a greater or lesser extent, it is more a point of reference for trans clients because of the creative inter-relationship between the mind and the body that is a defining feature of trans experience. Embodiment is a hugely significant factor in trans experience and, as such, this calls for us as psychological therapists to move beyond the notion of only allowing themes of sex and embodiment into the therapy room if it’s about sexual abuse, sex addiction or sexual dysfunction or indeed if we are trained specifically as psychosexual therapist. At the time of writing this, I glanced at the latest copy of Therapy Today (the BACP monthly journal) to see if there were any references to sex. This is what I found: one ad. for ‘Sex and Porn Addiction training’, one ad. for ‘Workshop for survivors of sexual abuse..’, and two ads for training in Psychosexual therapy. What I think is missing is an atmosphere in the psychological therapy world in which pleasure in our embodiment and pleasure in our erotic arousal is regarded as a key therapeutic feature for many people.

I want to talk now a bit about why courses like UT could potentially be useful for psychological therapists. I’ve already identified the bias that I see within the therapy world, that of sex and embodiment as typically discussed only in relation to abuse or addiction. I know from my own experience and from what I’ve heard from others that most counselling training courses do not even teach about sexuality or embodiment unless they are specifically psychosexual trainings. I think that attending an Urban Tantra course could be personally and professionally very useful to a practising therapist. Last year I staffed at the UT professional training program in Sweden. The group comprised of approximately a 50/50 split of cis-gendered and gender non-conforming/nb/trans participants. Virtually all of the cis-gendered participants expressed their awareness of ways in which their sense of their own gender and embodiment had been informed by societal normativity and that when, as a result of the Urban Tantra training, they had had an experience of imagining other gender possibilities for themselves they found a profound sense of freedom. Barbara teaches what she calls the Gender Walk (it was invented by Barbara and her life partner Kate Bornstein). It involves taking a slow, very conscious walk from one side of a line over to the other side and into imagining a different gender experience. The gender walk plus spending 6 days with gender non-conforming people thinking about and experiencing embodiment exercises changed people’s assumptions about what gender is and can be. Gender is not, of course, only a theme for trans people, an exploration of our gendered selves (as well as other identities we claim) can be hugely beneficial for most people I feel. I also think that an exploration of our own sexual/erotic selves in a safe, supportive space can help us both personally and professionally as therapists.

In preparing this talk, I’ve been aware of my own working-class based anxieties throughout the process. My first thought, which has endured throughout this process, was fear that I’m not an academic, I can’t face a crowd of people and deliver something with academic soundness; but then I realised that I wasn’t being asked to deliver an academic paper but to speak at a conference called Sex Works and about the relationship between embodiment therapies and psychological therapies. Then another fear emerged, how would my therapy colleagues see me? Would I tell my work colleagues that I was doing this? How would they react? With embarrassment? Ridicule? Humour? Contempt? Then I realised that this was also related to being trans and of feeling other. Would I be viewed as a therapy freak for agreeing to do it? As I have said, I think we can’t really separate tension and anxiety from inhabiting bodies that are subject to oppression. As the queer photographer, writer and body image activist, Vivian McMaster, states of queer people ‘’We live tensely’’ as a result of our marginalised identities.

At the end of the day we are all trying to understand each other so being open to moving beyond the mind versus body binary is a step in that direction. Kate Bornstein states:

I think its time for us to use our status as Third (by which she means not simplistically male or female) to bring some harmony in the world. Like other border outlaws, trans people are here to open some doorway that has been closed off for a long time. (p127 gender outlaw).

The distinction between psychological therapy on the one side and

the embodied therapy on the other side is another false binary. I’ll end with two quotes from the excellent Queer Body Love interview series (and if you haven’t checked out QBL please do, it’s the creation of Elizabeth Cooper): the first quote is from that series and is from author, artist and activist: Sonia Renee Taylor: ‘’radical self-love is the unencumbered understanding of my worth, health and divinity, the thoughts that counter that are not mine and I am not obligated to keep them’’.

The second quote is also from the Queer Body Love interview series and is a self-defined Somatic Teacher of Erotic Possibilities and social justice warrior, M’kali-Hashiki, on challenging the theme of self-care as simply indulgence:

once society tells you that it is not safe to be in your body then what’s the benefit to being in the body? I don’t want to be a target. Maybe I get some relief from enjoying this targeted body

I believe we all have the right to enjoy our bodies and that embodiment training and workshops can be equally therapeutic to most people. I hope that this talk has been useful.

Copyright, 2018. Maz Michael

 

The obligatory 50 Shades post

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Many people within the Kink community quite rightly objected to the portrayal of the relationship as abusive and challenging deeply held norms within the Kink community around play being ‘Safe, Sane and Consensual’.

However, the book, has resulted in more people learning about Kink, attending munches (social meetings in regular pubs) and going to kink-oriented clubs and buying more fetish gear and toys.  They’re has been an enormous explosion of interest in BDSM and Kink.

In my view this has been very helpful, it’s helped to reduce the shame that many people have held about their fantasies and desires for power exchange based sex (Dominance and submission) and for certain levels of restriction and restraint (bondage) or certain kinds of pain based play which increases endorphins and can be intensely pleasurable for some (masochism).  These are all entirely normal and very common fantasies and desires and now many people are feeling empowered to legitimately incorporate them into their sexual relationships.  These then get added to their repertoire of existing preferred sexual behaviours and can lead to enhanced communication with their partners and deeper intimacy and connection.

But what about the consent issue?  Christian Grey is clearly abusive and engaging in intimate partner violence and this is being presented as BDSM.  However, whilst we’ve seen a huge increase in interest in BDSM, I haven’t heard of a similar increase in presentations at Domestic Violence charities or to the Police where people are stating the abuse occurred in their relationship because of the 50 Shades phenomenon.  I think the readership of what are, by all accounts really poorly written books are intelligent enough to see that Grey is abusive and to separate out the hot exchange of power and sensation (the two core elements of BDSM) from the non consensual side of things.

Having said this, Consent IS a big issue for those of us in kink community and a large scale research project by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is underway and lots of conversations about non consensual experiences are being had within the community.  An education campaign is being undertaken by many activists in the community to try and address these issues.  But these consent issues predated the 50 Shades phenomena and has been an issue in our community with people often being afraid to speak out or worried they won’t be taken seriously.

I think the Kink community IS attending to this issue and the newcomers to the community need education about what IS and isn’t safe and good practice in incorporating these powerful techniques into their lives.  I’d like to encourage readers to check out and follow the blog of one of our Clinical Associates Dr Meg John Barker, author of the excellent book Rewriting the Rules who has been been blogging about BDSM in the run up to the movie being released.

Dominic Davies
CEO Pink Therapy
Psychotherapist and Clinical Sexologist

Sober Sex – some ideas for moving forwards

Dominic Davies speaking at Gay Sex & Drugs

Dominic Davies speaking at Gay Sex & Drugs

I want to talk about Sober Sex which is I know from my clients is a huge challenge for many guys who are trying to stop or recover from Chemsex.

I come to this topic as a clinical sexologist – which means I’ve studied a wide range of sexualities and worked with a lot of people over my 30+ year career as a therapist, helping them with a range of sexual problems. I’m also coming to this topic as someone who has been a sexual adventurer exploring alternative sexual practices and lifestyles from the inside.

It was quite shocking to read this morning that Crystal Meth gives someone 1250 units of dopamine compared to the 200 units released during sex. It got me thinking…. how do they measure this? I’ve had plenty of mind blowing sex and it’s really hard for me to imagine the high that Meth would give me that could beat that.

I’ve also occasionally had some very mediocre sex. I wonder if the 200 unit measure was from the kind of very ordinary mundane sex, the kind that you want over and done with so you can get to sleep as you have an early start in the morning.

But the point of the article was more about the down-regulation of the dopamine receptors as a result of having been overloaded with Meth and how it’s hard to feel normal happiness and pleasure again.

I’m quite an optimist and I am wondering if that’s actually true and permanent or if that can be fixed?  I’m wondering whether nutritional therapies like Tyrosine which is an amino acid and works as a precursor to dopamine could increase Dopamine and restimulate the neurochemistry?  So perhaps it’s worth consulting a Clinical Nutritionist for advice.

I’m also wondering if some of the forms of sexual intimacy and sexual healing that exist out there might help people discover sexual intimacy sober. I’m thinking of some of the work done by  Gay Tantra masseurs or Kundalini yoga teachers, by the practitioners at Authentic Eros and Gay Love Spirit or the upcoming Quintessential Queer Hearted festival or in October the Love Spirit festival happening later this year and people skilled with playing with sexual energy at Queer Conscious Sex.  There is also playing with power and sensation through consensual BDSM. You might also want to consider erotic hypnosis which can create altered states of consciousness and mindfulness meditation too. All of these I’ve found to be able to change the experience of sex and one’s relationship to one’s body.

I’d encourage those of you struggling to have sex sober to explore these kinds of things. I’d also urge queer practitioners of any of these different disciplines to offer their services to build a body of knowledge and experience of what works.  I’d really love to hear more about this from anyone on the journey.

Intense, intimate and passionate sober sex IS, I believe entirely possible.  It may not have the intensity of being super high masturbating to porn at a Sex Party with four guys on Grindr, one obsessively polishing the bathroom mirror and another passed out in a G-hole, but I am hopeful there could be some amazing experiences ahead if you want to explore what sober intimacy and sexual energy can do.

I’ve no direct connection to the groups I’ve linked to here, other than knowing they exist and having met some of the people involved as well as some of the people who’ve benefitted from the experience.

Dominic Davies
Director

This is a version of the open mic contribution I made at the Facebook event Let’s Talk about Gay Sex and Drugs on 9 June

Dermod Moore interviews Dominic Davies in Dublin

This is an interview Dominic gave Dermod Moore when in Dublin earlier in the year where they discussed sex, sexuality and psychotherapy in the social context of Ireland. 

Dermod Moore: Thinking back to the time the Pink Therapy books were first published – a lot has changed since then!

Dominic Davies: Yes, Pink Therapy as an organisation has been around 14 years. It feels like it’s gone in the blink of an eye.

DM Do you have a sense that what you are doing is more mainstream, now?

DD I think that’s true. It’s now becoming a legitimate source of study and to work in. It’s being recognized by the professional associations too, which is really good. They’re not doing very public or explicit things regarding GSD issues, but I have a sense now that my voice will be heard, that, for example, my letters tend to be published in full. It’s quite a nice degree of power to have.

For example, the European Association for Psychotherapy has a draft document which is proposing the necessary professional core competencies for psychotherapists – it managed to avoid mentioning awareness of sexuality in its requirements.

I mean, how did you miss that out in the first place, people? What is going on? You list all these other “-isms” but you don’t list sexuality? Is that heteronormativity? Or is that homophobia? Because it should be ingrained in people’s awareness by now. When this was pointed out to me, I sent off a few emails to various people saying how appalling it was, and then someone in UKCP drafted a correction,* which was submitted to the EAP competency committee. It makes me think – it’s not benign for that to be missed out. The situation for European queers is pretty appalling, especially for some Central and Eastern Europeans – and for therapists practicing there, if it’s not enshrined in the competency codes that they need to account for sexuality, they could easily not do so, or pathologise, or institute reparative therapy. Given how Russia is treating gays at the moment, the fact that the EAP is meeting in Moscow is important.

One of the things that was coming out of today’s workshop was a sense that it was the first time that such a workshop was held in Ireland. Why did the professional associations not do this sort of thing?

DM Actually, Stephen Vaughan has presented workshops for IAHIP (Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy) and IACP (Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) over the years, with others doing work for the HSE/GMHP.

I know, Dominic, that you’ve been working recently on emotional and psychological safety for sex workers in London, can you say a bit more about this aspect of your work?

DD Clearly, there are people who are exploited and trafficked, and that needs to be stopped, that goes without saying. For people who want to make a conscious choice to go into it as a profession, or as a part-time occupation, or as a way to pay their way through college, earning good money, and if they’re comfortable doing that, then I don’t think the state should be intervening in that. I think it’s their body and it’s their right to do with it as they want to. I also think there are also issues around access to sex, – for example, people with disabilities who might want to have sex. Sex workers often play a really vital role in the psychological and mental wellbeing of disabled people. Whether that’s just company, or self-esteem, or sexual touch, it seems to me that they are providing a compassionate service – and to criminalise it is appalling. I was lucky enough to meet sex workers in Australia and helped inspire an organisation that is largely staffed by sex workers to work with disabled people; training them how to safely lift people, how to deal with catheters etc; how to work with people with cerebral palsy, or speech impediments, or those who might spasm. How to help them practice their kissing skills, learn to flirt – sex workers are fantastic at flirting! They are very proficient teachers of the art of lovemaking. That was a really exciting project to be involved in.

A lot of the people using sex workers are very big into power play and degrading and using, and they may be nervous, difficult, trying to get it on the cheap, or try to exploit in other ways – and if you’re on the receiving end of that you may end up feeling quite contaminated with all this baggage. I was teaching them – both practicing and aspiring sex workers – Thought Field Therapy, an energy psychology, which is one of the most effective psychological treatments I’ve ever come across.

DM – I can hear, listening to you, how you are always de-problematising sex – always asking, “what’s wrong with sex?” In the Irish context, there’s often a long journey to leave behind a lot of shame about matters sexual, there’s such a strong message of “you’ve got to be careful, protect yourself”.

DD Of course I want people to protect themselves, while they are having incredible sex! I want them to be emotionally healthy! I’d want them to feel that what they are doing is liberating and exciting and a healthy and positive way of expressing themselves. And if they manage to remember the name of the person that they’re having sex with, and leave them both with a smile on their face, that counts as healthy sex!

DM There are regular radio ads in Ireland for a clinic offering treatments for all sorts of addiction, including sex addiction.

DD I don’t buy it, sex addiction. I don’t believe sex, which is a natural biological drive and urge, can be classified as an addiction. I think it’s dangerous and foolish to do so. I think Dr David J. Ley’s new book, The Myth of Sex Addiction spells out the case very eloquently, and if there is anyone who thinks there is such a thing they really ought to read his book. Yes, there are some people who have a problem with sex, who use it in a compulsive way, whose sexual activity masks other, more serious psychopathologies, such as bipolar depression, or borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder. But if you are diagnosed as a sex addict, the treatment is perhaps to go on a chastity contract, or work The Steps; it focuses entirely on sex and your sexual history, that fits you in to a paradigm that says you were abused, or traumatised in some way. Who has not had a childhood that could not be seen as traumatic, through a particular lens? The sexual acting out is likely to be a symptom of something else that’s going on. It’s just a symptom, like a tic; and that will go away if you deal with the other stuff. In over 30 years of practice, I’ve never yet met a “sex addict.” I don’t think other people diagnosing you is ethical. The APA, doesn’t accept sex addiction exists; the DSM-V committee refused to include hypersexuality as a disorder. There’s no agreement that the diagnosis exists.

It is, basically, shame. And I have a paper in mind, that I want to write. It’s framed in DSM language: a diagnostic criteria for a new sexual disorder. And it’s called Sexual Shame Disorder. It would mean that these clinics could continue to charge money to treat people for something – but they might have to change the framework they’re using!

People who are presenting with sexual shame need treatment for it. And if they are calling themselves sex addicts, then, as long as we screen out the disorders I’ve mentioned, then what’s left is sexual shame. And that is treatable! I treat that all the time!

DM Someone from that clinic was on the radio recently with a client talking of how he had become addicted to porn, and broke his wife’s heart.

DD I’ve not fully formed my ideas on porn. The impact of porn on young people, particularly on young men, can be quite damaging. Clinically, there are more reports of erectile dysfunction, young men who have been masturbating to porn all the time, and then they find that real sex, when they finally get laid, doesn’t match up. It’s not as fast, it’s not as intense, they can’t find the fast-forward button on their partner to get to the exciting bits! So, their erection diminishes, and they feel shame, and they feel bad. It can all be undone and relearned. But it takes time. The neurochemistry of the brain is that they’re harnessing all the dopamine and the adrenaline, but what they’re not accessing is the oxytocin. And if they withdraw from 2-4 weeks, from all of that intensity, and understand more about the process, psycho-education, and then are given some opportunities to do other horny activities, the body and the brain reprogramme, and you can have a more balanced sex life. But I think porn has its place, it’s a great way for people to get sex education, you can become more creative in your imagination, with things that you find hot.

DM But isn’t (heterosexual) porn all about viewing, from a feminist point of view, women as objects, there for the pleasure of men?

DD There are plenty of women who like porn. Plenty of women who like sex, the carnality of it, who like sex without any connection, or romance, who just want a good hard orgasm and plenty of them. And they want someone with the stamina and the skill to give it to them. And let’s celebrate those women too, and not marginalise them and play into a stereotype that women don’t like sex and it’s men’s sexual desires that give them some sort of exclusive biological privilege that they should do whatever they like. They shouldn’t do what they like! It’s too convenient for a man to say “I couldn’t help myself because I’m a sex addict” – that’s the ultimate cop out. It’s much better to say “I did it because I wanted to.” “I did it because I’m horny.” Or, “I did it because you haven’t wanted to have sex with me for the last three months.” Whatever the reason, men are responsible for their sexuality and women are responsible for their sexuality. We need to take responsibility. Sex itself is not a bad thing. It’s how it’s used, what people do with it. That’s where the conversation needs to begin.

Dermod Moore is a psychotherapist in Dublin and  teaches the ‘Sexuality and Gender’ modules at the Psychosynthesis Education and Trust http://dermod.tel

Dominic Davies, a fellow of the BACP, lecturer, supervisor, psychotherapist, sex therapist, co-editor of the Pink Therapy series of books (with Charles Neal, 1996-2000), writer and activist, spoke to Dermod Moore on his recent visit to Dublin. He was co-training a workshop “Working with Gender and Sexual Diversity” for  Oakleaf Counselling, for 26 counsellors and psychotherapists working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender clients or anyone who would like to improve their understanding of working with Gender and Sexual Diversity. (GSD).

PS:   Amanda Middleton and Dominic Davies will be off to Dublin in February 2014 with their Introduction to Psychosexual Therapy. Check out the link for the syllabus

Again, Anita Furlong is producing the event and dealing with admin. Places are limited and it’s booking up fast! http://www.oakleafcounselling.com/workshops-and-seminars.html