Guest blogger: Amy Steinhauer, LCSW, CST, Evanston Relational Psychotherapy
A late 60s heterosexual couple enters my office. They have turned away from each other sexually since his surgery for prostate cancer several years ago. He has tried the doctor’s recommendations: oral medication, injected medication, a pump. But all of those things he found cumbersome, not very effective, and disheartening. She doesn’t want to upset him by asking for more closeness, for seeking an erotic connection together, even if it looks different now.
An early-30s lesbian couple enters my office. They love each other, but things have changed since the birth of their children two and four years ago. They have little time together when they’re not exhausted, and sex, well, that just doesn’t happen these days.
A late 20s woman enters my office. She has a medical problem that leads to pain during penetration, and it’s not expected to go away. She has been furious at her husband’s sexual advances. Her husband has become more withdrawn, or occasionally provocative.
Life strikes. And sex changes. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it changes for the better. But people who land in my office have found that it has changed in ways they find problematic.
As a sex therapist, I am trained in the behavioral techniques. I can talk to men about start-stop exercises to help rapid ejaculation, talk to women about strategies to reduce painful sex, teach wax-wane and non-demand pleasuring exercises for erectile dysfunction, and encourage people to explore pleasure in ways that support orgasm. That’s often what people are coming to my office looking for. But it won’t surprise us as EFT therapists that those techniques are just part of the story.
s an EFT therapist, I want to know the impact of the sexual concerns. What does it mean to this couple if he loses his erection? If she withdraws in the face of pain or flashbacks? If orgasm becomes more difficult? If medical problems sap libido? How do they reach to each other, protect their connection, help one another feel secure? What role does the sexual difficulty play in their negative cycle?
Some of my favorite research in the field of sex therapy is done by Peggy Kleinplatz at the University of Ottawa on “Optimal Sexuality.” Kleinplatz studied people from several diverse populations who reported having had great sex in their lifetimes. None of her conclusions were about performance, fancy techniques, or erotic gymnastics. Among the top components of optimal sexuality? Being present, focused, and embodied. Connection, alignment, being in sync. Extraordinary communication and heightened empathy. Authenticity, being genuine, uninhibited, and transparent. Vulnerability and surrender. Do those sound an awful lot like EFT goals to you?
Much of our professional training has little to say about sex, unless we specifically seek that out, and sex ends up an ignored topic in the therapy office. While it’s true that a specific sex therapy skill set is sometimes needed, it’s clear to me that EFT therapists have a great deal to offer couples experiencing sexual problems. This potentially great pairing has inspired us, as a trio of certified sex therapists who also practice EFT, to develop a training tailored for our EFT community on working with sexual issues.