When you’re living with a chronic illness there’s a lot in your life you have no control over. You’ll probably never be able to predict when you’ll feel good, or what medical problem will arise next. That said, there are some ways you can take back control and have the best sex life possible, and that’s what inspired me to create my Spoonies Can Have Great Sex Too series.
What is a sex-positive doctor or therapist?
Sex-positive doctors and therapists are medical professionals who make it a point to be well-educated about sexual health and aim to provide their patients with accurate, helpful, and non-judgmental information. They consider sex to be a healthy part of life that should be enjoyed, and they’ll be able to discuss it with you without awkwardness or being judgmental about your lifestyle, sexual practices, or preferences.
I’m not into anything kinky… why do I need a doctor/therapist who is sex-positive?
Dr. Keely Kolmes, Psy. D. said it perfectly—”Everyone deserves to have access to sex-positive health care. It is not only needed by those who identify as LGBT, poly, or kinky. Heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla people also deserve sex-positive doctors and a safe place to bring their whole selves, including their sexual concerns.” Regardless of their lifestyles, most people want to have a good sex life. Part of that is making sure you are doing the right things to take care of your body. Medications and medical issues can often affect your sex life and having a medical professional you can talk openly with can help.
Are there other benefits to finding a sex-positive doctor or therapist?
Talking about sex or sexual health issues can be a challenge, whether they’re related to a chronic illness or not. I (obviously) spend a lot of my time writing and talking about sex, and I even get awkward discussing sex with my doctors. That awkwardness gets infinitely worse when your doctor is even more uncomfortable discussing sex than you are. Studies have shown (and I’ve read and experienced this to be the case) that most medical students aren’t receiving the enough training to feel comfortable addressing and discussing sexual concerns with their patients. This survey of 141 medical schools in North America showed that 54.1% of medical students only received between 3-10 hours of sexual health training, which is pretty ridiculous.
Doctors not being properly educated on sexual health or how to talk about it deserves it’s own article (and I have many, many thoughts on that issue, so I’ll probably get around to writing that at some point). I think we can all agree that the last thing anyone needs, in addition to the problems you’re already having, is a doctor who’s going to be awkward when you’re asking for help about a very real issue. While the medical education system isn’t going to evolve overnight (sadly), sex-positive doctors/therapists are generally better educated on sexual health topics than most because they go out of their way to learn more about it.
Okay, so how do I find one?
I’ll admit, it can be tricky—not everyone’s insurance will allow them to pick any doctor they want, and just being a sex-positive doctor or therapist guarantee they’ll be the right medical professional for you. However, if your insurance does allow you to choose, The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has a Kink-Aware Professionals database that serves as a great starting point, regardless of whether kink is your thing or not (FYI, this database also includes other professions as well, including accountants, lawyers, web designers, etc. —just in case you’re in the market.)
I think seeing a therapist is one of the best things you can do for yourself, but you need to find the right therapist to talk to. It’s basically like dating, and it’s easier to find a bad “relationship” than a good one. If what you’re searching for is a sex-positive therapist, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) has a directory you can easily search.
While the AASECT directory is a wonderful tool to start with, the therapists in the directory are specifically sex therapists. If you’re looking for more of a general mental health professional who would just be comfortable discussing sexuality/sexual health issues, there are plenty of non-sex therapists out there who are sex-positive. It’s not exclusive to sex-positive professionals, but Psychology Today has a great database of mental health professionals that I’ve found to be really helpful. Most people listed have a brief description of their beliefs and a list of what they specialize in treating, as well as a link to their website where you can learn more about them.
If your insurance doesn’t give you quite as much freedom in choosing a doctor, or you want to be sure you picked the right doctor prior to your visit, try to leave a message or question for the doctor when you call to make an appointment. Hopefully, their answer will help in determining if a particular doctor is a good fit for you, and if not you can always ask more questions at the appointment. I have a rare disease that few doctors are well-educated about, so I’ve often left a message for the doctor to find out if what I have is a disease they’re comfortable treating or willing to learn about (ideally before I take off from work and trek out to their offices).
Yikes! I’m nervous about finding a sex-positive doctor (or therapist). Any tips?
If you’re not sure a certain doctor would be comfortable addressing your sexual health concerns, ask. It’s okay to be straight forward and ask questions like:
“I’ve been having an issue with ________. Is that something you feel comfortable discussing and treating?”
“Do you treat a lot of patients who have similar concerns/problems?”
The worst thing they can say is no, and then you can continue your search and find a doctor who can and wants to help.
Therapists make it a bit easier to get to know them, as most require a short phone call before your first appointment to make sure they’re capable of helping you. This call is the PERFECT time to ask any questions you have and to make sure they’re someone you’re comfortable talking to. This short phone call usually is usually free too, so you really have nothing to lose. Keep in mind, not all therapists accept insurance and some only accept certain types of insurance, so be sure to ask if they accept yours.
Any other thoughts?
It’s always important to remember no one has to live in your body except you, and while you shouldn’t have to justify your decisions about your body to anyone it’s still something that tends to happen when your medical professionals don’t understand your priorities or concerns. It’s a bit easier when your doctors understand and respects your priorities, and most importantly that your doctor is knowledgeable about the problems you’re experiencing.
I’m not saying only sex-positive doctors or therapists will be able to fulfill these requirements, but generally, they’re likely to be better educated regarding sexual health issues and if they’re comfortable discussing sexual issues hopefully you’ll be more comfortable asking for help.
• I recently came across Openlist.net, which looks like it could be another great resource for sex-positive professionals! Check it out.
• I came across a great twitter thread from Tiffany Howard with of mental health resources for those who cannot afford therapy and wanted to include them on this list. Caveat: I don’t know much about these resources, and I have no idea how sex-positive these professionals are. The resources listed are:
– Open Path Collective — Lower-cost ($30-80) therapy appointments (with a one-time $49 membership fee)
– Recovery International — Online, phone, and chat-based group meetings
– Better Help — $35 to $70 USD per week for unlimited access to a counselor
– Samaritans — You can email Samaritan’s volunteers if you need someone to talk to