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How to Include Sexuality Into Your Wellness Practice

Nurture yourself into sexual wellness.

Key points

  • We must make sexual wellness a priority.
  • Affirm your sexuality regularly as a vital and important part of your humanity that is worthy of the same respect as any other part.
  • Knowing your sexual needs allows you to begin dreaming and thinking about how to get those needs met legally and honorably.
  • Find safe people to talk to and get to know the vast territory of your sexuality.

Like most professionals, all of us mental health workers are required to attend training courses known as "continuing education units" or CEUs. These courses are intended to improve the knowledge and skills of working professionals.

This Is Good, Right?

One of the courses I recently attended was based on an article published in a respected peer-reviewed journal in 2022 and written by four authors with all the right credentials. Their subject: Wellness. Specifically, wellness for professional counselors, such as myself, trying to help their clients who needed help with self-care.

lograstudio / pixabay
lograstudio / pixabay

32 Years of Thinking

The presenters' notion of wellness was drawn from a review of prominent wellness models as theorized in eight different models designed by an array of cited authors whose works dated from 1980 to 2012. This was 32 years of thinking and theorizing on wellness—pretty comprehensive, right? And it should be comprehensive because, after all, we are training the counselors America needs now and in the future!

What About Sexuality?

Well, the "dimensions of wellness" in all eight theoretical models mentioned nothing about sexuality. Along with the usual dimensions (emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, physical), professionals counseling their clients into wellness were said to benefit from addressing nutrition, friendship, a sense of humor, a sense of worth, cultural identity, and a lot of other stuff, but nothing about sexuality.

This Is Odd, Right?

As the training continued, I couldn't help but see the absurdity of it. How does a group of professionals specializing in the treatment of marriage and family issues learn how to help clients take better care of themselves without mentioning sexuality or sexual wellness?

Why Can’t We Talk About Sex?

If you're reading this, you can probably assume that your marriage and family therapist is as uncomfortable as everyone else when it comes to helping with sexual wellness. In other words, you're on your own. Yes, there is a small subset of counselors who self-identify as "sex therapists." They are educated in the mechanics of “doing it” and possess a strong knowledge on anatomy and physiology and how to help struggling couples get back to “doing it.” But that's not what we're talking about.

What Are We Talking About?

We're talking about wellness and self-care and doing what you can to prevent future problems and to help maintain robust mental and physical health. Waiting to address sexual wellness until you need the services of a sex therapist is like waiting to address physical and nutritional needs until you get type 2 diabetes! This is why we must make sexual wellness a priority.

Sexual Wellness: Step 1

Your first step is to include your sexuality alongside all of the other dimensions of human experience. Yes, you are an intellectual being with intellectual needs. Yes, you are an emotional being with emotional needs. And yes, in the same way, you are a sexual being with sexual needs. This first step is the hardest because, apparently, many mental health therapists (and those who train them) don't see us as sexual beings. We must affirm our sexuality regularly as a vital and important part of our humanity that is worthy of the same respect and honor as any other part of our being. If you forget to do this, nothing else you learn about sexuality matters.

Sexual Wellness: Step 2

The second step to sexual self-care is to realize that sexuality is much more than intercourse. Human sexuality is as vast as the worlds of human thought and feeling. Sure, it includes intercourse, but in the Venn diagram of your sexuality, intercourse is only one member of a near infinite set of sexual constructs.

Sexual Wellness: Step 3

Step three is to give yourself permission to consider your sexual needs. You can cheat here by obtaining a copy of We're All Like This, written by yours truly. It's a friendly little book used at the university level. This short read will take you through your sexual needs, one by one, starting with the need for sexual safety. Sexual safety is finding safe ways to learn about sexuality, to learn about your sexuality, and to safely talk to people who won't abuse you or disrespect you in any way for wanting to have an intelligent conversation about sexuality.

A Client’s Story

A client once shared a story with me that illustrates both how to get your needs for sexual wellness met and how not to. We'll start with how not to: a priest called seven 12-year-old boys, one of them my client, into his office after they had helped out as altar boys. His arm extended and his finger pointed to each face in turn. "I know what you're all going to do when you get home,” he hissed. “You're going to masturbate! Well, know this, you will burn in hell for that behavior.” My client went home and told his parents what had happened. His father said, "If you don't feel comfortable with that you never have to go back." His son was incredulous, "You mean it?" His father responded, "Yeah, we were only going there for you so you could learn something about religion. You don't have to go back." The boy never did. Who was safe for him? Who honored his need for sexual safety?

Nurture Yourself into Sexual Wellness

I wish we all had fathers like the one in the example, but in the absence of such parents, we have to become our own parent and nurture ourselves into sexual wellness. Knowing our sexual needs allows us to begin dreaming and thinking about how to get those needs met legally and honorably. Not knowing them means we're flying blind. So, take your time, find safe people to talk to, and get to know the vast territory of your sexuality. Hopefully, you'll never need one of those therapists who's likely never done this for themselves.

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