So I helped write a book. It’s a good book. It’s a sex book. It’s a father-daughter, therapist-team sex book. What could be more fun than that?!
The funny thing is, I never imagined that I would become a counselor that focused on or specialized in sex. I’m guessing that my father didn’t either. But just like its cousin, the “therapist vibe” (which emits a signal letting everyone know that they should approach you to discuss deep and personal issues), the “not-afraid-to-talk-about-sex vibe” reaches a wide audience. And when people know that they can talk to you about sex, that you won’t be shocked, won’t flinch or distract, avoid or judge, they do just that. They talk to you about sex. Their current sex. Their lack of current sex. Their hopes for improved current or future sex. And lo and behold, over time, you learn a lot about how people relate to sex: how they feel about it, what they think about it, and of course, what they are doing.
And so it was that people started to come to see me as a counselor specifically to address issues around sex and sexuality. Because of that, I attended some relevant classes and workshops. And as a result of that, I found myself in the surreal position of being a hair away from being cast as a sex-therapy-television-reality-show host. And a contributing writer to a book. A book that my dad wanted to write. A book that came to be called Your Brain on Sex; How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life.
Now, it may seem strange or even a little creepy that my father and I would embark upon such a project together but in order to understand why it isn’t–wasn’t–you have to understand a couple of things first. One is the educational and consultation component that comes along with creating most theories, the collaboration that is usually involved in order to make any project multidimensional; the other is the unique relationship that my father and I have.
Since I believe the first component is relatively self-explanatory, I’ll say a bit more about the second: my dad is gay. And he started living his life as such–that being authentically–when I was around 12. He came out to me directly a year or two later. In many ways, we were both figuring out our sexuality at the same time. And if you think that a 13-14 year- old girl isn’t thinking about sex and how it relates to her, well, I’m just not sure what to tell you. In my early teens I became aware of several things at once– that I was a sexual person, that my dad was apparently a sexual person, and that while my mother was hetero, my dad was homo i.e. different people had different sexualities. It was a lot to take in and I can’t say it was smooth-going at all times. But I’ve never been anything but grateful that this was all blown open when it was. It was absolutely fundamental to my own understanding, not just of sex, but of people. I divided my time between a more traditional home and a home in which a night out may very well have included a drag show. And it was damn good for me.
For some reason, over the years, when I might have withdrawn from my parents and hidden my own curiosities and questions, things remained open. Supportive. I know. Strange, right? But because of the way sex was first introduced to my awareness, it just wasn’t that big a deal so I never learned that it was supposed to be something that you didn’t talk about, something that was awkward or shameful. Fast forward 20 years and here we are still. Talking like colleagues about sex. Hows about that. So as you can probably see, writing together about it really wasn’t much of a stretch.
Back to counseling and writing about sex. My approach to work around sex is positive and accepting and I’d like to think, informed. Some people do come to see me because they just want to understand themselves better as sexual people. But I’m going to be honest here: most people come to see me because sex has become a problem. A big problem. A deal breaker problem. Most couples come to see me, whether they’re there to address sex-specific issues or not, at least in part, because sex has become scarce and tense or has stopped completely. And not only are they not ready to give up on the idea of ever having it again and simply disconnecting from that part of themselves, but this issue (whether discussed or dodged) has poisoned the well and infiltrated all aspects of their relationship: trust, intimacy, communication, respect. As a counselor, more and more so with time, you learn how to set boundaries around the sadness and anger you sit in the room with day after day. But this one still gets to me; in part, because it’s heartbreaking to see people so confused and stuck, and another part, because it’s avoidable.
So essentially, that’s what the book is about: how to understand yourself, sexual desires and all. That your desires and fantasies evolved from a good place, a place of learning and healing. How to honor that as being a legit part of who you are. How to communicate it to a pre-existing partner or to someone new. How to avoid the no-sex impasse. How to fix it if you find yourself there.
It may sound scandalous. But it’s as human and real as it gets. And it’s hard for me to find sensation or scandal in something so utterly commonplace. So obvious.
Sex isn’t everything. Not at all. But it’s something. It’s something that helps define us and helps bring us closer together. It’s something that most of us need a little help figuring out because as much as we love to glorify and objectify sex in this country, we don’t really have much education, information, or guidance around what to actually do or how to actually talk about it. And that gap causes a lot of problems. A lot.
So I hope you read the book. My dad and I both do. And let us know what you think. Cause in case you didn’t know, we like to listen and learn.
Alyssa K. Siegel, MS, LPC, CGAC II, The Dance of Therapy
First published on Alyssa’s counseling blog on January 12, 2012.