How to move your practice into the future by becoming sex-positive
With technology and social media used by 3.2 billion people every day, conversations are continually happening about all sorts of things. One thing that people have always loved to talk about (and have also been too embarrassed to talk about) is sex.
It's fairly common to feel overwhelmed at the idea of having to bring up and discuss sexuality. I used to feel that way too until I discovered the easiest way to become comfortable. It's so simple in fact that I'm going to tell you-
Just get started!
Talking about and recognising the importance of sexuality in our lives and work is a skill and just like anything else it requires practice and knowledge. The problem is, it is an unfamiliar skill that we don't get taught.
But don’t worry, I'm here to help you catch up so you can take your work to the next level. Whether you work in healthcare, education, or industry you can improve your professional practice.
Sex-positive practitioners have a few key qualities: they value sexuality as part of wellbeing, the approach sexuality with enquiry and curiosity not judgment and fear, they are trauma-informed and healing centred, and they invite conversations about sexuality to break the silence and shame. So they're curious, comfortable, and informed!
Not everyone needs to be a sexologist but working with one is the easiest way to learn more. Ive put together some information below on a few topics that I think are a good place to start if you are wanting to become a sex-positive practitioner!
Not sure where to get started with your professional development? Download the Practitioner Reflection Activity Sheet for FREE!
Did you know that as a sexologist I don’t really use the word sex anymore?
Sex is a confusing word. You could ask ten different people to define it and everyone would give you a different answer. One person might tell you it’s how babies are made and others will tell you it’s anything from it being something that people can do by themselves (yep masturbation is sex) to the way a person feels inside. Have a look at this list of things I put together of some other things it could mean.
Instead, it's important to know the difference between sexual activity -which is the things we do and sexuality -which is who we are. It's so much a part of who we are in fact that it is tied to our overall wellbeing and relates to everything from our fantasies and relationships to economic and political factors.
You can read more about sexuality and the importance of sexual rights in an excerpt from a letter I wrote on 'NDIS, sexuality and sexual rights' as the Queensland President of the Society of Australian Sexologists.
For healthy sexuality, our human rights need to be respected and protected and one of the most effective ways to make sure that happens is to have open and honest conversations about sexuality.
Sounds simple, right? Well yes and no. Quite often people tell me that they want to start talking however they're worried that they'll say the wrong thing or use incorrect language. This is a reasonable concern especially now we know that even a smpe word like sex can have sooooo many different meanings.
As a sex-positive practitioner you can gain the language, skills, and knowledge to provide quality information, create safer environments for discussions of sexuality, and ask questions that make a difference.
As well as talking about sexuality, a sex-positive practitioner also works through their own biases and attitudes around sexuality. Remember how I said we often don't get quality sexuality education? Well, we still learned something from that and it's usually messages of shame, embarrassment, and taboo.
I offer 1:1 and group mentoring options for sex-positive practitioners including sexologists, health care professionals, social workers, teachers etc). This is a great opportunity to strengthen your approach.
Another great way to challenge your thoughts and feelings around a whole lot of sexuality topics is to undergo a Sexual Attitudes Reassessment and Restructuring. This is a facilitated, experiential process that uses videos, speakers, activities, and reflection to explore yourself. You can read more about it on the Deep Dive SAR page.
Adults who receive sexuality education report experiencing increased intimacy, arousal & desire, a better understanding of their bodies, and improved sexual health. Make sure you check out my interview with Chantal Brodrick from MIND123 talking about good enough sex too
For kids and young people, sexuality education can help them navigate safety, social-emotional issues, and relationships. Young people who get quality relationships & sexuality education are more likely to use condoms, delay having sex, and are more satisfied in their relationships (not sure when to start talking about sexuality with young people? Have a look at the blog post 'Talking to kids about sex!'
Sexuality is who we are and it really is a wonderful thing. The LGBTIQA+ community represents a wide array of sexual identities and expressions. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Asexual and the plus sign indicates that there is still more diversity.
Huh, you're worried about the Alphabet soup?
I get where you're coming from, however the growing acronym is exciting because every time a new letter is added it means another group of people have started to find a voice and be recognised.
This can be really confusing for practitioners who are unfamiliar with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). I recently filmed a chat on ‘Gender Dysphoria in young people’ to talk about the definition of gender and how that’s different from sex.
Not having a voice or being left out of decision making can have real impacts on people’s health and educational outcomes. A sex-positive practitioner stays up to date on changes to language and communication to ensure we don't further silence people who are already experiencing stigma and discrimination. You might want to check out my Masterclass on Gender Inclusion to get more support.
Too often, SOGI is seen as an add-on topic to ensure people understand what it means. This couldn't be further from the reality of what we need to do, especially in schools. A school is a unique organisation and a culture of change is possible when teachers and staff ensure appropriate and positive recognition of LGBTIQA+ in all classrooms and subjects- not just sexuality education! Giving people a voice is about more than a once a day opportunity to speak.
If you are interested in knowing more about how you might also become a sex-positive organisation, I have lots of information on policy and procedural change.
Gender-based violence (GBV)
Another way that people are often silenced in our community is when they don't fit outdated ideas of gender roles and expression. Many people think gender-based violence is simply violence against women and this is an important part. However, it is also any act that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to someone based on gender stereotypes. It occurs because of unequal power associated with gender. In Australia, and many other patriarchal societies the dominant stereotype is "masculine heterosexual cis male".
Which isn't even the majority of the population!
This means a large percentage of people are on the margins, including the LGBTIQA+ community, and cis women and girls. The results are very real impacts on gender equality, and human and sexual rights. The impacts are also seen across many other aspects of life such as educational achievement, chronic illness and health outcomes, life expectancy, and social mobility. This also includes impacts on...
...you guessed it, healthy sexuality!
Gender-based violence shows up as hate crimes, sexual violence, domestic and family violence, female genital mutilation, nonconsensual intersex surgery, childhood sexual abuse, reproductive control, and more. It also intersects with racism, abelism, and many other forms of discrimination. Lots of these topics are covered in the Deep Dive SAR as we explore our own attitudes to difference and power.
That's not part of my role! I hear you say.
Actually, we all have a role to play in ending GBV. Did you know some hairdressers receive specialist training in recognising domestic and family violence? They are at the coal front of so many cis women's lives.
Schools are also fantastic places to begin addressing many of the issues of GBV whether we are modelling or teaching and respectful relationships. Sex-positive practitioners can breakdown gender myths and interrupt cycles of violence.
So is that all you need to know to begin your journey as a sex-positive practitioner?
That would certainly be a fantastic start but like everything, there is always more to learn. The last part that I want to share with you in that unhealthy experiences of sexuality, stigma and discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity, and experiences of powerlessness and violence can all be experienced by people differently For some people the experence is traumatic and can have lasting effects.
Working in a sexual violence centre for the past 6 years, as well as delivering hundreds of protective behaviours and respectful relationship sessions in schools across Queensland has taught me a lot about safety, consent, and the experience of trauma.
Clearly, I am passionate about the way we use language to heal and to harm and how we can better advocate for the people in our care.
Trauma doesn't always come from an experience of physical or sexual violence, it also comes from neglect and being marginalised and silenced. All of the things I have written about in this article are opportunities to create positive change.
The first step is looking at ourselves and our work so that we can provide safety and connection; whether that's in a classroom or a consulting room. The Masterclass on 'Trauma-Informed Practice' is designed to give you a foundation in understanding how to look through a lens that considers trauma as a part of many people's lives.
For lots of practitioners, this can feel like the scariest topic to start making changes around. Many of you reading this will have chosen your current profession because you wanted to help people and so talking about things that might cause further harm is tough. So, I'll share with you one bit of information before I go.
We aren't helping people if we just pretend these things aren't happening- silence is harmful.
Which pretty much links right back to where I started this article- Curious, Comfortable, Informed.
Start talking, get the skills and information you need, and let's create real and lasting change in the lives of ourselves, the people we live and work with, and our communities!!
If you are wanting to join a mentoring group with other sex-positive practitioners to share ideas and receive support, then get in touch to see if we are a good fit.