In an intimate interview with sex therapist Claudia Thompson, Austinites can learn when and how to address common issues that occur between partners.
How long do you tend to take care of your patients? At what age do they stop seeing a pediatrician? How do you know when it’s time to seek professional help?
When you’ve tried to improve a problem on your own—either as an individual or as a couple. Mostly, they’re dealt with more thoroughly as a couple. It’s very common for people to try to improve their situation on their own, whether it’s through Google or approaching their partner about the matter to talk about things. When people aren’t seeing progress or it’s getting worse, I’d say it’s time to see a sex therapist. Also, sometimes couples are referred by a general therapist or couples therapist, because sex therapy is a specialty. It’s very rare for me to solely treat a sexual problem without also looking at psychological or emotional history. Don’t wait to see a sex therapist—I know people who have been in unsatisfactory, sometimes distressing, relationships for thirty years.
What kind of issues do you commonly treat? There’s two categories that are most common.
1. Low-sex/no-sex relationships. Sexual desire discrepancy—one person wants to have sex more than the other partner. If both people were okay with that, they wouldn’t come in.
2. Some kind of sexual acting out, that’s usually been going on without the other partner knowing. There’s secrets, and with the discovery of that there’s a lot of betrayal. This includes infidelity, affairs, having sex with strangers or prostitutes, and Internet sexual interactions.
Do men and women have different levels of desire?
Stereotypically, men are thought to have a higher sexual libido. I’d say in general, that’s true. But, when you start looking at specific people and different relationships, it’s definitely not true. In the patients I see, it’s split half and half. That’s an important thing to speak to because people tend to get stuck in gender stereotypes and societal expectations that put a lot of shame on the individual when they don’t match up to that. For example, a man who isn’t as interested in having sex with his wife might think, ‘Something is wrong with me—men aren’t like this’ and then experiences a feeling of shame as a result.
In the case of a couple working through different levels of desire (low sex/no sex), what kind of homework do you assign?
I will first do a complete assessment. Families of origin, what it was like growing up, what messages did they get from their parents about sex, early messages they got from their communities about sex, sexual development throughout their lifespan, the relationship history, trauma in their life, alcohol or drug abuse, and so on. I will find out things that I think relates to the problem. I make sure not to go too fast because that can cause anxiety. To be clear, in the therapy room, there’s no touching by the therapist nor are clothes taken off. Common assignments include:
• structured communication time with daily check-ins focused on listening and hearing each other
• eye gazing—a tantric technique and a way to connect.
• deliberate physical affection/touching
• other more sexually explicit homework assignments if they are a match for the couple
I also think kissing is very important. Testosterone is transferred through the saliva from the person to has more testosterone to the person who has less.
What exactly is intimacy?
I define intimacy as closeness and connection. In order to be close, you have to reveal things about yourself to the other person. You’re being vulnerable and trusting the other person to hold your heart with care. Dr. Gina Ogden’s four-dimensional wheel of sexuality—it’s a way to think about ourselves and our relationships through body, mind, heart, and spirit. All of those dimensions are part of our sexuality. People will get stuck in one, and I try to help them get out of that place.
Would you consider emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy something of a chicken-and-egg paradox?
That’s really common. Gender-wise (in heterosexual relationships), this is what I hear usually: the man might say, ‘I feel close to her after we have sex,’ while the woman will say, ‘I don’t want to have sex until I feel close to him.’ In those cases, we figure out how to meet in the middle.
What is a healthy sex life?
We are sexual beings all the time. We’ve been taught in the American culture that we have to cut it off, or save it for a certain time. And how we express that has been misguided. We’ve been taught that sexuality has to be expressed in certain ways—which may be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation. Some people have learned that they have to suppress their sexuality, and that can be problematic. In a healthy sex life, there is acceptance of being a sexual being as well as understanding how you or your partner chooses to express sexuality without impeding on other people’s rights. And when they are in a relationship, how can you share it in a way to be satisfied?
You should expect some of your needs to be met by your partner some of the time. Everything else you need to learn how to meet by yourself. That’s why I like to focus on boundaries. Know where your partner ends and you begin and have space between the two of you. That’s important for eroticism to develop; if you’re so connected, you don’t have a chance to miss each other.
Claudia Thompson is a Sex Therapist, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Claudia manages a full private practice in Westlake where she works with couples and individuals who seek help with a variety of sexual concerns. She provides clinical supervision to 6 post grad LPC Interns and LMFT Associates, three of whom work in her practice. She is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and an IITAP Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.