Seeing Barbara Streisand play a fictional sex therapist in the 2004 movie “Meet the Fockers” resonated with then 16-year-old Rosara Torrisi. “If I could be her, I would be so happy,” she recalled years later after founding the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy in Plainview.
Her clients have recently been self-diagnosing themselves with sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior, according to Torrisi. A growing body of research suggests that compulsive sexual behavior affects between 3 to 6 percent of the U.S. population.
“People are thinking that the fact they watch porn at all means they’re addicted to porn and that porn in and of itself is bad, so we have a lot of re-educating to do,” Torrisi said.
Leading sexual health author, trainer and psychotherapist, Douglas Braun-Harvey, changed the “contentious debate” around men who have struggled with sex addiction.
Braun-Harvey guides clinicians on how to approach talking to men who want to build and define a personal vision of sexual health.
Changes in stigmatized approaches to sexual health will not change in the United States without more sexual educators, according to American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) Diplomate in Sex Therapy and Ph.D. Russell J. Stambaugh. He said that, “the U.S. lags [behind] all of western Europe and significant portions of the developing world in sexuality education programs and social indicators of sexual health and well-being.”
Founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) Susan Wright also believes that there is not enough of a push for sex education in America.
“The only sex education that’s being provided are by adult volunteer groups and from professionals who are sex therapists,” Wright said. “These therapists can help guide people one on one to discuss what they want, what they’re interested in and how to go about doing it in a safe and skilled manner.”
Becoming a qualified sex therapist is no easy feat. Unlike psychology or social work, sexuality educators and therapists lack state agencies to license their professionalism. AASECT was created in 1985 to train sex professionals.
“AASECT requires mental health licensure for sexuality counselors and sex therapists as a precondition for training,” Stambaugh said. “No such equivalent exists for educators, so certification is the only mechanism for establishing personal professionalism in that field.”
The Institute’s staff, comprised of six clinical sex therapists, are equipped to help individuals who experience changes with their sexual abilities as they age, erectile dysfunction, pelvic pain disorder and couples experiencing sexual intimacy issues.
They specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness work. A study conducted by Lori Brotto, a professor of gynecology at the University of British Columbia, found that mindfulness — a Buddhist practice bringing awareness of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations to an individual through meditation — can aid women who suffer from sexual dysfunction—characterized by low sexual arousal, vaginal atrophy or dryness, painful intercourse, or lack of orgasm. The study found that mindfulness can help women become more attuned to their body’s sexual responses and that they can learn to accept their body’s physical limitations through this awareness.
The staff is also trained in queer and transgender affirmation treatment, which Torrisi regards as “helping trans/queer young adults who are navigating their transition or a trans/queer person who is comfortable with their transition, but has other issues going on and needs to speak to a therapist who is knowledgeable about being trans without us hyperfocusing on them being trans.”
Torrisi was eventually certified as a kink-aware therapist or a therapist who is knowledgeable about polyamory, transgender, and/or BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism) by NCSF to strengthen her knowledge about the complexity of sex.
“Kink is a broad designation,” Wright said. “It can encompass behaviors like power exchange, [physical] role play or verbal role playing. There are things like spanking. Some people do them for sexual reasons while others don’t. Then, there’s cross-dressing. Some people are transgender while others crossdress for sexual reasons, not as their gender identity.”
Wright explained that kink subculture is still heavily stigmatized, but NCSF believes that by certifying kink-aware therapists, they are dismantling stereotypes that drive people away from trying these sexual techniques.
As a kink-aware therapist, Dr. Torrisi identifies as someone who understands enough about kink subculture and polyamory–being romantically involved with more than one person at the same time–to talk to people about those issues and assist them with their problems, whether or not their issues have anything to do with kinks.
“There have always been people who’ve done this,” Wright said. “They don’t call it ‘kink’ or ‘BDSM.’ People just call it their sex life.”
PC: Women’s Therapy Institute © 2018