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traditional sex therapy v’s somatic sexology (ME) – the differences & nomenclature

SFW//  10 min read / written by Kai

There are two schools or divides in the sex therapy and sexology world today. Many people are not aware of these, and they can often seem confusing when looking for the right person to work with your sexual concerns. I would like to take some time out and explain the differences in my work and what sets my work apart from others.

There are traditional practitioners such as a Sexologist, Clinical Sexologist, Sex Therapist and Psychosexual Therapist. These professionals just like me have set professional standards and conduct to adhere to and qualifications. They generally focus on a medical model of care such as function, dysfunction and pathologize many sexual concerns and conditions. They also believe that touching clients in the capacity of their work is not safe and not ethical. They don’t necessarily agree with the approaches of Somatic Sexologists.

Then there is the other side of the professional divide that acknowledges they are different from the traditional pathological approach to sexual concerns. These are Somatic Sexologists, Psychosexual Somatic® Therapists, Somatic Sex Therapists, Somatic Sex Coaches and Somatic Sex Educators, Sexological Bodyworkers. They are very much body driven and focussed. Work encompasses the nervous system, and sexual concerns are approached as often having an emotional or physical component that results in mind and body symptoms. Such symptoms might be a result of emotional trauma, physical and surgical trauma, or sexual-developmental trauma, and everything else you can think of. Either way, practitioners use foundations of neuroplasticity, bodywork (touch), mindfulness, breathwork, embodiment and movement to help clients work through their concerns and influence change within themselves.

Touch is a safe and ethical modality in the set boundaries of their work. The use of touch is introduced when the client feels ready to work with it. Touch is never mandatory and doesn’t have to be used. Touch also requires interpersonal consent for example the practitioner must consent to touch the client as well. Consent in all its forms sets the basis for all client interactions – this is deliberate as Somatic Sexologists embrace sex-positive behaviours.  A Somatic Sexologist also supports clients to be curious about all modalities and is never in the view that one modality is better than another. This ensures clients are getting a holistic approach to their concerns.

A Somatic Sexologist is defined by The Association of Somatic & Integrative Sexologists (ASIS) as “a practitioner that aims to support client’s individual personal growth, empowerment and integration, and their emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and sexual wellbeing”. I am a Somatic Sexologist, Sex Educator and Coach with a background in health science and clinical practice.  I often use the terms (Somatic Sexologist, Sex Therapist, Somatic Sex Educator, Sex Educator, Sex Coach, Somatic Sex Practitioner, Sexologist) interchangeable in my work. This is because people have a typical notion of what a Sex Therapist is, and it’s easier to use these terms regardless of nomenclature. Gillian Anderson in the TV series Sex Education is a great example of this. Feel free to check out the Netflix trailer here. Just like Gillian’s character I too will likely ask about the relationship with your genitals. It’s a great conversation starter :-).

A Somatic Sexologist’s work “broadly encompasses talking (example, coaching, counselling, education, psychotherapy) and/or somatic modalities (example, body coaching, pelvic floor work, breathwork, bodywork using touch or massage ‘which can also be for genital pain, body-genital scar tissue, body-genital amnesia, vibration for genital numbness, genital weights to strengthen genital and pelvic muscles, genital dilators’, surrogacy, trauma release) and/or energy work”. ASIS.

The word somatic originates from Greek πολύ,  sôma body, ‘the body as perceived within’. Basically what it’s like to live in our body and experience it – or  ’embodiment’. So a Somatic Sexologist works with the living processes, such as somatosensation (light touch, deep touch, pressure, vibration, temperature and movement), sensations (internal/external), emotions and thoughts from experience. Somatic enquiry is a process by which a Somatic Sexologist guides a client to enquire into their living body and explore this through somatic practice via movement, sensation, use of all their senses, social and consensual feelings within the body, language identification and the use of language to define the felt lived experience. This is just a small snippet of the somatic work I do.

I also specialise in sexological bodywork. You can think of sexological bodywork in its simplistic form as physical therapy for your genitals, pelvis, anus and other body areas with additional components such as breathwork and relaxation.  Sexological bodywork allows for hands-on approaches by a practitioner to the client, or a client learns by touching themselves guided by the practitioner. For example, genital mapping (internal or external) is a modality used that can allow a client to feel genital responses such as numbness or pain, tension, altered sensations, emotions or feelings. Clients can identify areas and learn how to differentiate the responses to touch and make this change within themselves.

I could expand more on all of this but for now, I won’t as I could end up writing a thesis. Suffice to say I hope this has helped explain the differences surrounding my work with similar professionals out there. Every practitioner is unique and it’s important to find the right one for you. Just remember what works for one person may not work for someone else. Your journey is also unique and might require many facets of work. Finding someone who understands your needs and will work with you patiently is going to be meaningful. From personal and professional experience, somatic work is not a pill. It’s not a quick solution. It often takes time and slowing things down. If your curious and have questions about my work please hit “Let’s Talk” and schedule some time to see me.

Peace and love.