Sex in Full Spectrum

Professional training with sex-positive spin comes to Southwestern College

Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

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.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Sept. 2nd 2014.