Discussing Pleasure And Sexual Lifestyles With Clients

This is a discussion question that is about two paragraphs.

This week, you got to hear from guest speakers Christie Jenkins, Mary Kate Reese, and Danielle Walsh. The guest speakers discuss various pleasure and sexual lifestyles, including kink, fetishes, BDSM, leather, and other types of pleasure and sexual play. In this Discussion, you will reflect on how the guest speakers challenged or changed your knowledge about these topics.

To prepare:

  • Identify in which areas you have the most knowledge and least knowledge based on the three diagrams (amorous expression, power expression, and spectrum of play) in the pleasure and sexual lifestyle section of the Sexological Assessment.
  • Consider how the Learning Resources this week challenged or changed your previous knowledge about these topics.

By Day 3

Choose one guest speaker to focus on for your main post. In your post, respond to the following questions:

  • Describe what you learned from the guest speaker.
  • Explain how the guest speaker challenged or changed your knowledge or perspective.
  • Explain how this might impact your comfort level when working with clients engaged in, or considering, various pleasure and sexual lifestyles.


Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware

Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware Program Transcript


MARY KATE REESE: Hello, I am Dr. Mary Kate Reese. I am a core faculty member in the School of Counseling, and I’m going to talk with you today about a topic that is very relevant to the course that you’re taking. So the title of this particular presentation is “Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware– BDSM, Kink, and Ethical/Consensual Non- Monogamy as Forms of Diversity.” That’s a lot of words, but we’re going to break them down. We’re going to talk about some terminology and definitions of these activities and concepts. We’re going to talk about some sexual variations, such as kink and BDSM, and then we’re going to talk about some relationship variations, including two forms of consensual non-monogamy, swinging and polyamory, and then we’re going to talk a little bit about how counselors can best work with anyone who is involved in these sort of alternative lifestyles in a way that is non-discriminatory.

So some background. Just to know that research has shown, unfortunately, that people that were involved in BDSM, consensual BDSM practices, they’re consenting adults, in other words, who had received treatment from mental health professionals, a large percentage of them reported that they had biased, inadequate, or inappropriate care in their psychotherapy. A lot of this was tied directly to lack of knowledge, lack of understanding by the mental health professional.

There is a huge social stigma, obviously, and prejudice that is faced by individuals who are involved in any type of consensual non-monogamy. We’ll define that more specifically in a couple of minutes. And what’s interesting is that people have done research on both consensual BDSM practices and individuals that are involved in consensual non-monogamy, and they found that the involvement in these practices is not correlated with psychological problems. So in other words, if someone comes to see you, and they are involved in any of these types of alternative lifestyles, that may not have anything to do with the presenting problem that they’re dealing with, and they are not more likely to have a psychological problem than anyone else in the general population.

So as counselors and counselors in training, we need to expand our knowledge and understand these variations, so that you can know what some of the myths may be surrounding these areas and so that when someone comes to you as a client, they will know that they are safe, share who they are fully with you, and not risk being judged or pathologized. We do know that in 2013, there were some disorders that were removed from the DSM 5. Sadism, masochism, cross-dressing and fetishes were de- pathologized in the DSM 5, which is helping to change to some extent the way society perceives individuals involved in this kink community.

Kink is really just a definition for something outside of the mainstream. It can include many different types of activities. As I said, often, these people are very happy and

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Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware

functional in their lives, and they do not necessarily experience significant distress in their sexual or relational choices, except for the discrimination that they experience, of course.

So the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is a really important organization to know about because they have done a lot of work to advocate for these different populations that are often misunderstood, and they actually have created a web-based list that’s called Kink-Aware Professionals, and I’m going to bounce over there briefly. This is a list of people who have volunteered to have their listings put on the list that they are some sort of professional. They may be a psychotherapist, they may be a medical doctor, they may be legal services, but they have basically said, yes, I am knowledgeable about and sensitive to diverse expressions of sexuality, and then you can actually search the directory geographically or by type of professional, et cetera, et cetera. But that is a really good resource to know about if you have someone looking for a professional who is going to be sensitive to their own particular lifestyles. And

Then some authors have written articles that are specifically intended for mental health professionals to help increase our awareness on how to work with these individuals who have these alternative styles. Obviously, as counselors in training, and in someone taking this course, we’re working to help you understand more about the distinctions between something that is a non-pathological activity between consenting adults versus actual dysfunction and that we need to be advocates for all of these different groups that often remain in the closet, and they often are very invisible in terms of what they let the rest of the world know.

A few movies and books, this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but just to think about how some of these topics started to come into the mainstream. 9 1/2 Weeks is a movie that came out in 1986, and it was probably one of the first non-porn, but mainstream movies that talked about a BDSM relationship. Now, again, not a great depiction of a BDSM relationship. There was not consent. There was not understanding on the woman’s part from the beginning, but point being, it was a very– I’m not going to say controversial– but it was a very vivid depiction of a relationship that was between a man and a woman that incorporated aspects of BDSM, and it was very popular. So people were interested and curious about these things, even though this was obviously a fiction movie.

Bandits, I include in this list because even though it is really just a comedy that’s about two bank robbers who take a hostage in a bank, and she then decides that she wants to stay with them, and eventually falls in love with both of them, becomes sexually involved with both of them, that is kind of the premise of the movie. But what happens is as they get later on in the relationship and the three of them are traveling together and she’s spending some time with each one of them separately, because she has different kind of relationship style with each of them, and there’s this big crisis scene on a beach where they say, hey, that’s it. We can’t handle this anymore. You’re going to have to pick one or the other of us. It’s me or it’s him.

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Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware

And she says why? Why do I have to pick? No, I don’t want to pick. I pick both. I don’t think I should have to pick one of you. And it’s sort of that paradigm shift where you have that aha moment of, oh, well, I mean, maybe she doesn’t have to pick. It had been working fine until they decided that, oh, well, society says you have to pick, so we need to make it go that way. So that’s sort of like a little segment of a movie where it shows that kind of alternative relationship form and how it looks.

The Secretary is another kind of almost cult classic that came out in 2002 and very much a BDSM focused movie, kind of a dark comedy, but includes a lot of aspects of BDSM. And of course, we’re all familiar whether you’ve read them or seen the movies, the Fifty Shades trilogy. In 2011, those books had been– all three of the books had been released, and then of course, later, they made movies. This is not a great example of what real BDSM looks like either in terms of how they depicted it, but it does show that mainstream society is really curious about these things and really wants to know more about it. And if you did read the books, they’re not that well written. So it’s obviously the topic versus the fabulous literary skills that lead people to be intrigued by them.

And then a more recent movie, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, is actually based on a true story of a professor. He did a lot of work with the lie detector. He actually invented some of the first lie detectors that were used later in forensic psychology, but doing his research, he was married, and then he had a student that worked with him, and she became involved with he and his wife, and they developed this polyamorous relationship where the three of them were involved.

He had children with both of them, and when it was discovered publicly by someone in their neighborhood, of course, it was quite a big scandal and quite a trauma for them. But within their own relationship, they were good. They were comfortable. They had sort of figured out what worked for them, and then unfortunately, it was the discrimination that they faced when others found out about it that caused the significant problems.

Two documentaries that are also relevant to these topics. When Two Won’t Do is a documentary. It’s old. It’s 2002. But it is about a woman who is a documentary maker and who decides to go on this kind of journey to learn more about the different kinds of consensual non-monogamy. And so she talks about her own journey as a non- monogamous person, and her boyfriend goes along with her, and then she has a couple of other guys she’s involved with, and they explore polyamory, swinging, et cetera, all the different ways that can look, and it’s a very good documentary, even though it is dated.

More recently, Monogamish is a documentary in 2017 that came out that has Dan Savage in it and talks about how in today’s society we claim that we are a monogamous society, but there are so many ways in which many couples are– even if not actively practicing consensual non-monogamy, are not totally monogamous in ways they’re navigating this longer lifespan and the fact that we live for many more years than we

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Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware

used to and can relationships survive for long, long periods of time and still stay vital and happy.

Some definitions. So we’ve been talking all along about non-traditional or alternative expressions of sexuality or relationships, and that’s more of an umbrella term. The consensual non-monogamy is also sometimes known as ethical non-monogamy, and basically, the point to that is, it is not cheating. It is not doing something behind your significant other’s back. It is consensual, as in parties are involved, and the key aspect is honesty.

So whatever the agreement is– and this can also include open relationships, where the forms and the way it plays out can look very different for different people, but could also be polyamory or swinging, these are all forms under the consensual non-monogamy, and there is not– it’s not secret. It’s not hidden. It’s not deception. It is actual honesty.

And what’s interesting is when you talk to therapists sometimes about this, they’re more comfortable working with a couple where there’s an ongoing affair sometimes than they are a couple where something like this is going on, which you think that seems a little off, because if you’ve got honesty, then isn’t that a core foundation of a relationship or marriage? We’re going to talk also about BDSM, kink, the term monogamish.

So BDSM is bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. Or DS can be dominance and submission, but it’s a term used to encompass various activities, bondage and discipline. Sorry. Bondage and discipline or DS, dominance and submission, SM, sadism and masochism. There. Got it right that time.

These are different activities that usually involve the exchange of some kind of power or pain, often in the sexual context, but not always, and certainly not exclusively. And some people consider BDSM an integral part of their whole sexual identity, while others use it as more of an activity they practice. Within the BDSM community, one thing that’s interesting is there are so many checks and balances in place, including a philosophy that has existed for a long time called safe, sane, and consensual, that anything you engage in should follow that philosophy, and in more recent years, that’s changed to the philosophy of risk aware consensual king. So in other words, this is what the goal should be if you’re going to be involved in anything that involves any kind of pain, any kind of dominance or submission that people need to be aware, and it needs to be consensual, and they need to be aware of the risks.

So I said a little bit already. So consensual non-monogamy, so that is as opposed to nonconsensual non-monogamy, which is cheating, when an individual commits infidelity or cheats on a partner with whom they have agreed to be monogamous. So consensually non-monogamous relationships are those in which all of the partners involved agree that having sexual and/or romantic relationships with other persons is acceptable. So CNM relationships can take various forms.

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Teaching Counselors to be Kink-Aware

Polyamory, for example, that comes from the Greek poly, meaning many or several, and Latin, amor, meaning love, is the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, again, with the consent of all involved. Swingers, on the other hand, are similar, but have their differences. These are either single individuals or people in committed relationships who do involve in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity, but if they are in a primary relationship, that relationship remains primary, and the others are simply sexual or recreational types of activity.

Monogamish is simply a term that was coined to mean a relationship that is not always sexually fidelitous, but that it’s not like poly, in that the outside relationships are seen as maybe an occasional sexual activity, but no expectation of continuity, and they are still viewed as enhancing the primary couple.

Kink, I believe I said already, is used to describe any kind of unconventional sexual practices or concepts. Kinksters is also a term used to refer to people involved in any non-normative sexual expressions and relationships that may also involve BDSM or fetish activities.

Some stats from the US. 22% report that they have engaged in consensual non- monogamy at some point in their life and 4.5% currently in a recent study. A 2005 study conducted by the Kinsey Institute said that 2% to 4% of married couples in North America– that’s about four million people– are swingers. As of 2012, some people believe that as many as 15 million Americans engage in swinging on a regular basis. And then BDSM, 14% of US males and 11% of US females report current involvement.

I’m not going to read through the therapy experiences to you for the purposes of time, but you can go back and look through. This is basically research where the therapy experiences of individuals either who were in consensually non-monogamous relationships or BDSM relationships were interviewed, and some of the sad findings about what constituted bad therapy for them. There were also a list of some helpful practices, so that’s good, too.

I’m going to skip past that, and I’m going to talk about some of the suggestions for counselors working with polyamorous clients. First of all, it may not be non-monogamy that is the cause of any problems in the relationship. When you ask questions, do it with courtesy, but you’re not expected to know everything. So you can ask questions if you don’t know something, and if you can, you should do some reading, watch some films, figure out what this lifestyle might look like, so that you have a little less prejudice toward the activities.

Now, we know, and you probably are talking about this in your class that, unless you’re trained specifically in sex therapy, most counselors and psychotherapists are just not good at discussing sexuality with clients. They might say, hey, how’s your sex life? Oh, it’s good. It’s good? OK, good. Let’s move on. But it really is important because sexuality is a major dimension of the human experience. It’s really important that we learn how to

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talk about this important thing with our clients, regardless of whether they’re involved in alternative forms.

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