Sex Therapists As Parents (See “Sex Education”)

What kind of individuals become sex therapists?

Sex Education, a new Netflix series, stars Gillian Anderson as Jean, an “extremely forthright” sex therapist who “overshares” with her son Otis (Asa Butterfield), a teenage virgin (Vulture). He tries to turn this to his advantage by “counseling” his classmates regarding sexual matters.

Is Anderson’s character typical of parents who are sex therapists? An unusually high comfort level with sex talk, surely; weird parent-child boundaries, best not to generalize.

One individual who’s commented in the past on having a sex therapist mom is Tom Cutler (The Guardian). “Her straightforwardness on the topics of sex and what can go wrong with the sexual psyche led me as a boy to view the subject first as intellectually interesting and, second, as perfectly normal, in all its incredible variety. As a consequence, my own son has been brought up in an unembarrassed household where sex questions have always been answered in plain words, and often with a laugh, for if sex is not a funny subject then what is?”

Another “survivor” is Lola Maltz, whose one-woman show in New York, “My Mom Is a Sex Therapist,” was derived from her own personal experiences. From a Broadway World description: “…Lola plays multiple characters, including her Mom, a sexually voracious alter ego, and the full cast of a lesbian safe-sex PSA…” Unfortunately, I’ve found no deeper info than that.

What about the actual practice of sex therapy? Clinician Isadora Alman emphasizes, for one thing, that “there is no personal touching in the office” (Psychology Today).

What kind of educational and professional background do sex therapists have? Alman notes that there may be no state licensing, but an advanced degree and training is necessary. In addition, a sex therapist generally belongs to a specialized professional organization such as the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists or the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

One well established—30-plus-years—sex therapist and sex educator is Sallie Foley, who was interviewed by Brad Waters for Psychology Today. Regarding her enjoyment of her work:

What keeps me going every day is that combination of head and heart. Being present to witness people change as they become more empowered to take their journey into their own hands. It’s a commitment to knowing that change requires a presence and a connection.

Sex is different for all of us. One of my favorite writers, Margaret Nichols, who is a sex therapist in New Jersey says, ‘We’re all queer.’ We’re as different in our interests in sex as we are about food and that makes this work very interesting.

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