A shame-free approach to ending relationships
Sex and breaking up have more in common than you might think.
Both take a certain level of self-awareness, acceptance and communication to get your needs met.
Unfortunately, we do a sub-par job of teaching people how to develop these skills. So most of us awkwardly stumble through both, often feeling hurt and unsatisfied.
About a month ago, I ended a relationship I had been in for six years. It was a messy, painful process to end a partnership that was mostly positive and transformative.
The best advice, for me, came from my mom. She passed along something she had heard a while ago in a workshop. The thing about breaking up, she says, is that it cracks your heart wide open to give and receive love in new ways.
Hearing this advice was exactly what I needed in that moment. But here’s the other thing about breaking up: Everyone needs to hear something different or go through a different mourning/growth process.
Most examples of breaking up that we see show people at their worst. And while that is the experience for lots of folks, I wish we had a wider variety of breakup models available.
We’re changing and growing throughout our lifetimes, and I think it’s more of a shame to deny happiness to yourself and your partners because ending the relationship is challenging.
As I was trying to figure out the best way to disentangle my life from someone who was very deeply integrated, I looked for resources about how to manage a breakup as gracefully and ethically as possible.
Most “mainstream” breakup advice offered ideas like, “Don’t talk about it too much because you don’t want to bring your friends down too,” or “Keep it in your pants otherwise you’ll do something you’ll regret.”
We don’t give people the skills to deal with a breakup without shaming themselves or acting out toward their ex. And then there are threats like revenge porn, which is when people non-consensually post/distribute naked photos of their exes. It’s actually a big enough problem that a state legislator is talking about trying to pass a law about it next year. All this made me think that we need more and better information on breaking up without breaking down.
I reached out to people on social media about how they do breakups, and I received profound advice on how to take care of myself.
People suggested I pay attention to my feelings and needs and figure out what I wanted for healing and moving on. For example, I felt guilty for wanting to go out with friends and on dates. I felt that what I “should” be doing is moping and mourning. Societal norms and media have lead me to believe that if I’m not suffering, it means I don’t care.
Another fantastic, empowering resource was Zoë Femmetastica’s breakup survival guide on QueerFatFemme.com.
While breaking up might seem like (and actually be) one of the most painful things you’ve ever done, it provides ample opportunities for growth and self-examination.
The beauty of the situation is that you get the opportunity to honestly look at what you want, who you are and what you want to be.
This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Dec. 2nd 2014.
Here’s music to my ears! Santa Fe will be home to a new certificate program for therapists and counselors to get more training in sex and sexuality starting later this month.
We give health care workers (and people in general) the most basic information about sex, and that’s it. Without proper education, therapists and counselors don’t feel confident talking about the spectrum of sex and sexuality in a way that’s inclusive to everyone, especially LGBT, kinky and non-monogamous folks.
Ginna Clark, director of the human sexuality certificate program at Southwestern College, says students are requesting more comprehensive information on the topic, which was the inspiration for the program.
“They’ve made an effort to work it into the curriculum, but since there are so many things that licensing boards demand, sexuality often gets cut,” says Clark, a professional counselor and clinical sexologist. “This program is really designed to give people a little more than they get in traditional programs.”
Imagine you have a challenge or issue come up around sex or sexuality, and you want to talk to your therapist about it, but they have no idea that what gets you going is pretty normal. It’s easy for clients to feel uneasy about their choices and desires if a therapist has no idea how to talk to them about it.
“We don’t want therapists to be unleashed on the public and shame people by their lack of knowledge,” Clark says.
For example, even if counselors don’t practice BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) in their personal lives, such training could help them feel comfortable talking to clients about it without automatically categorizing consensual BDSM play as abuse.
If we can’t talk to our therapists, friends or family about sex, then whom can we talk to? Hopefully this program will better prepare therapists and counselors to meet people where they’re at sexually, without shaming them and causing additional harm.
There are a few sexuality-focused programs for people who work in mental health fields, but we need more. Plus, it’s common that the information covered isn’t inclusive to the many flavors of sex and sexuality that exist.
“My bias is that not only do they need more education in LGBT issues, but they also need more education in thinking about sexuality beyond this pathologizing, dysfunction-based way,” Clark says. “We need a little more sex-positive psychology and less of the, ‘Let’s treat sex as bad behavior.’”
The certificate program has three required courses, which include SAR (sexual attitude reassessment) training, sexual development and clinical skills.
“The core courses are really designed to get people conversant in sex-positive language, anatomy and physiology and being comfortable with sexual language,” Clark says.
The school is also offering nine new elective courses. Over the next few months, those classes will cover pornography and the question of sex addiction with David Ley, using Gina Ogden’s ISIS Wheel in sex therapy and counseling, and Laura Rademacher’s pleasure literacy and erotic intelligence.
“Right now, predominantly in the field there is an interest and emphasis on sex addiction, which is just one corner or tiny sliver within the range of possibilities in the field of sexology, and it’s just a sliver of what clients might be struggling with,” Clark says. “One of the things I really want to have happen in this program is to be able to think psychologically about sex without falling into the trap of making it bad, or identifying a sexual behavior as automatically bad and working to change it.