It’s February, and it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. Thus our minds turn languidly to thoughts of love—and sex.
Ah, sex. What a concept. One of the more fundamental and pleasurable features of the human experience, it’s also riddled with hangups, repression, pain and insecurities. Between fervent, knuckle-slapping nuns to tense, abstinence-based sex-ed classes, society has struggled to have a healthy sexual relationship, and sex has been considered dirty, dangerous and even sinful. These circumstances don’t lend themselves overly much to strong sexual identity and a sense of ease-ful sex-ploration.
But things are trending in an ever-more-postive direction, and every Valentine’s Day marks a bit more progress on the calendar of sexual understanding and freedom.
To that end—sexology.
Perhaps a new term to some—indeed it only came into use in the early 20th century—sexology, defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is the scientific study of human sexuality, including human sexual interests, behaviors and functions. Once considered a form of research and therapy geared primarily towards those struggling with serious sexual issues, sexology is now understood more commonly. In the latest iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the DSM 5—the definition of sexology has been updated to reflect that sexual therapy, the kind provided by a sexologist, is not unique to people with sexual disorders or anything otherwise “wrong” with their sexual impulses or drive. Sexology—and sexologists, also known as clinical sexologists or sex therapists—provide support to those looking to improve their overall sexual health, confidence and understanding, for reasons other than an acute issue.
In other words, working with a sexologist does not mean that something is wrong sexually, and further, going to a sexologist can be an exciting and viable option for anyone looking to improve their sex life. After all, as Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind, / And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” In other words, it is the state of mind that makes sexuality a stimulating, playful and empowering experience. Without that state of mind, sex can be anything from boring to heartbreaking.
Considering sexology from the perspective of the DSM 5 is important when considering how great of a need there is to reframe the value of paying attention to one’s sex life. Though a great deal of progress has been made in the realm of sexuality, talking about sex can feel taboo, embaressing or shameful, especially if it isn’t in an immediately positive way. Bragging about great sex might feel safe, but if there’s an issue in the bedroom—even a minor one—sometimes the first instinct is to clam up. In an article published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2020, writers Arielle Pardes and Mara Santilli quote noted sexologist and social worker Shamyra Howard as saying “a huge part of my work takes place outside the office. It’s my goal to remove the stigma and shame associated with sex, and motivate people to have conversations about sexuality in any setting. I know that sexuality education can and does save lives, and I’m out here performing CPR.” (“15 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Sexologist,” Cosmopolitan, 2020)
The thing is that sex, when all is well, is absolutely wonderful, and furthermore, sexual mishaps and hangups are not just normal, but often an important part of deepening intimacy and self-understanding. Moving through a sexual challenge can open up greater confidence, pleasure and intimacy, both with a sexual partner and in life in general. This is the kind of change that can show up outside, as well as inside, the bedroom.
If any of this is sounding like a good move to make this Valentine’s Day season, there is a great sexologist in the area. With an office in downtown San Rafael, the nationally-recognized and French-born sexologist Dr. Claudia Six provides sexology services to both Marin and Sonoma county residents, and has practiced clinical psychology for more than 25 years. Six holds a doctorate in clinical sexology, a master’s in counseling psychology, is certified by the American College of Sexologists and is a Board Certified Clinical Sexologist by the American Board of Sexology—suffice to say, Six knows her sex.
Counseling sessions with Six are available to those looking for one-on-one or couples treatment, but they can be expensive, and sexology treatment isn’t often covered by health insurance. For those looking to explore and develop themselves sexually without paying out of pocket, Six has a book, titled Erotic Integrity, that offers a self-conducted journey of sexual exploration. Originally published in 2016, Erotic Integrity is a chance, for a much more reasonable fee, to develop a healthier, more robust sex life through really investigating one’s sexual identity—a thing seldom openly investigated.
Six coined the term “erotic integrity,” from erotic—as in, all things pertaining to erotic love—and integrity—as in, adehering to a code of values. Six describes this erotic integrity as something latent within every human being, which only needs attention to become a fortified and guiding characteristic. The more one understands their erotic integrity, the better one can recognize, communicate and fulfill their sexual desires.
The book includes 10 different types of sexual themes—including performance anxiety, sexual boredom, coming out and more—and then takes the reader through three steps to live a more manifest sexual life: knowing one’s sexual identity, fully accepting it and living fully into it. With her 30-plus years of experience, Six cites real cases of sexual challenge and repression with real resolutions that afford great insight and instill a sense of how common sexual confusion and challenges are.
Six, in an interview on The Quick & The Dirty podcast with Hilary and Sandra, says that the key thing in this process is learning to pay attention. “You need to pay attention to your body,” she says, “if there’s a level of ickiness or anxiety. I use anxiety as an umbrella term for discomfort, and often people experience a kind of anxiousness because they’re not being honest with themselves. It can take someone asking you the right questions to figure it out. But tune in—are you blissfully happy? How is your sex life? What makes it good? Sometimes people can’t answer.”
The idea behind erotic integrity is to create and cultivate a sexual identity such that questions about one’s sex life aren’t answered generically for lack of information, but lead to a well-excavated space of desire and self-knowledge.
If this sparks interest, Erotic Integrity is available online at Six’s website or as an ebook. A free quiz is also available for those looking to get a snapshot of their sexual health before they begin working.
There are also some locally available products that can help bring sexual identity and sensuality more into the forefront this season of love. Sensuous Beauty, a product line from Sebastopol, specializes in sensual body products made small-batch, from scratch and entirely from natural ingredients, many of which have been used for their healing properties throughout the centuries.
This line of pleasure products includes vulva balm—made with wildcrafted cocoa butter, vitamin E and beeswax—and a rose-and-violet breast-balm sampler infused with wildcrafted Lady’s Mantle flowers and sweet almond oil, perfect for rejuvenation and great on sensitive skin. Also available are massage lotions and oils, which are ideal for romantic evenings of sensual discovery with an intimate partner.
Sensuous Beauty products can be found at Milk and Honey, in downtown Sebastopol; at the Petaluma Wellness Arts Center, which also offers treatments using Sensuous Beauty Products; and at Oliver’s Market on Stony Point Road.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, take the opportunity to further develop a healthy sexual self. I leave you with these words, spoken by Beatrice to Bennet in Much Ado About Nothing: “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!