Simon, an experienced psychosexual and couples therapist whose training was through the work of Freud but who has since incorporated other theories into his practice, invited us to explore what is often an unspoken and possibly embarrassing subject with knowledge, sensitivity and a healthy smattering of humour. Simon explained the first part of the evening would be a sharing of his knowledge and experience of working in this area and of helping people to communicate with each other and so begin to overcome their difficulties. The second part would be an informal discussion and question/answer session and included a break out discussion in pairs about our sex lives. Simon pointed out that years ago teenagers, he remembers, would gradually learn about sex and relationships in a natural way over time, not so now.

Burnap & Golden, 2017, found in a study of health professionals that ‘those who raised sexual wellbeing discovered twice as many individuals and couples with sexual difficulties’. For trainee psychiatrists, only a quarter, asked about this aspect of life and it seems Midwifery training rarely mentioned the impact on a couple’s sex life of pregnancy, childbirth or rearing a young baby. Oncology treatment also seemed to rarely consider this aspect of a patient’s recovery.

In introducing the Conceptual Approach to Sexual Problem Solving, Simon stressed that both the client, or individual, and their partner are part of the journey towards resolving the causes of concern. The context shows that both parties, through the intertwining of the psychological, physical and relational elements of their intimate relationship with themselves and each other, impact on their wellbeing in either a helpful or unhelpful way.  Common issues raised were erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation in men or vaginismus in women. Loss of libido can affect either partner or both and is often caused by illness, relationship worries, addictions, physical or mental, stress, injuries, worries, bereavement, pregnancy, post natal depression, house moves, job loss, pandemics, money worries or cultural differences – an endless list.

There are various scripts or myths around this subject too that do not necessarily help either such as: sex should be Natural and spontaneous; affection always leads to sex when sometimes one partner just wanted a cuddle; male pleasure is crucial and for men performance always counts; men must have an erection to have sex; good sex always ends in orgasm or too much interest in sex is unfeminine. But what seems to be so important to a healthy sex life for both partners is that it is offered with mutual responsibility, respect and with a generosity of spirit for the other’s wellbeing.

At one point, Simon used the allegory of a garden that needed help to grow. We would aerate the earth so that it can breathe, water and feed the plants and nurture it in all ways possible to help the whole of it reach its peak. The same process is definitely true with people.

In mentioning the work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1960s Simon explored a little of their work with ‘Sensate Focusing’, the format of which involves the psychosexual counsellor helping couples, in a commonsense and sensitive manner to establish a: ‘more mutual responsibility between partners to improve communication around their sexual wellbeing; providing education and information regarding this topic including homework tasks; to encourage them to become willing to change their preconceived attitudes; getting rid of performance anxiety; improving communication around sex and its techniques; reducing unhelpful behaviours and preconceived roles encouraging a change things for the better’.

People do suffer from sex addiction involving hardcore pornography, prostitution etc. which can completely consume for them. It may well wreck relationships, employment and financial security. It also can seriously affect the person’s health in both a neurological and physical way. Often it is men who engage with it, but some women do also. The watching of a constant flow of hardcore porn in particular with the compulsive masturbation that occurs desensitises from normal healthy sex often leading to erectile dysfunction problems. Simon said the only way to begin to recover is to stop watching the pornography and to completely stop masturbation for at least three months. He did say he was not anti-porn itself.

This area of work led to the discussion about when was it appropriate for the client to be with a counsellor or with a specially trained sexual counsellor. Often within couple counselling clients just need a safe space in which to learn to communicate openly and more kindly with each other, learning acceptance of the other’s experience and a willingness to do what is needed to begin to resolve the issues raised. During this process, the therapist will recommend clients also speak with their GPs to gain more support.

Sometimes the issues or circumstances are not so easily resolved then a referral to the GP and Psychosexual Counsellors or Services would be recommended. Others that may be of help are Rape Crisis and Life Centres, Sex Addiction and Love Addiction – Live Well – NHS Choices.

This was a very popular talk which Simon made interesting and easy to follow. As one person said, ‘your relaxed yet confident and knowledgeable delivery’ helped to make it so.

A worthwhile evening, thank you.

Jacqueline Holloway

 Further reading:

 Bancroft J. ‘Human Sexuality and it’s problems’. Churchill Livingstone, 1989.

Halford S. ‘Intelligent Sex.Keith News Publishing’, 2006.

Hawton K. ‘Sex Therapy’. Oxford Medical Publishers. 1993.

Heiman J. and LoPiccolo J. ‘Becoming Orgasmic’. Piatkus 1999

Hudson-Allez. Glyn. ‘Infant Losses, Adult Searches’. London: Karnac, 2011.

Master W & Johnson V ‘Sex and Human Loving’ Little, Brown & Co (Canada) Ltd 1988

Zilbergeld Bernie The New Male Sexuality. Bantam Books, 1999