• Podsoc #73
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Talking about sex:

In conversation with Rosalyn Dischiavo

[The transcript of this podcast is found in the reference tab below].

Talking about sex. The question is - do we? Rosalyn Dischiavo throws some light on the subject in this podcast.

Rosalyn Dischiavo is the founder of the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment (ISEE), a holistic sex education school in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. She is a professor, marriage and family therapist, and sexuality educator with a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and a Doctor of Education in Human Sexuality. Roz has been presenting webinars, retreats, workshops and lectures on topics related to wellness, spirituality, sex and gender issues for over 25 years. Her style is engaging. A former radio personality, she uses humour and insight to dynamically engage participants in a meaningful and unique dialog about sexuality and other wellness-related topics.

Roz can be found at www.instituteforsexuality.com.

Recommended citation – APA6th

Fronek, P. (Host). (2014, November 19). Talking about sex: In conversation with Rosalyn Dischiavo [Episode 73]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/talking-about-sex/.

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Transcription Podsocs 73: Talking About Sex: In Conversation with Rosalyn Dischiavo

Thank you to Susannah Holmes for this transcription

[musical intro to 00.10]

_Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcast for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia. _
_I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch, and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening. _
_Today on Podsocs we’re talking about sex and I’m pleased to introduce Rosalyn Dischiavo. Rosalyn, welcome to Podsocs. _

Rosalyn: Thank you it’s really delightful to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Tricia: Now your topic is about sex, so maybe you could start by telling us a bit about your work?

Rosalyn: Okay thanks. My work, ah, I started out as a counsellor and so I was doing a lot of therapeutic work and side-by-side with that I was always doing education, so I was doing psycho-educational groups with my clients and then I got into health education in the school systems and as you know, you know sexuality is a big part of what we are supposed to be teaching in the schools when we do the health education, so that was you know part of what I was doing along with everything else, and over the years I just noticed that as both my therapeutic career developed and my educational career developed, this was the area that people were the least comfortable talking about and the least trained in. And so when you’re willing to talk about sex and you know what you’re talking about and you’re comfortable talking about sex, you can certainly you know move into this area very easily because there are so many people who want to hear about it, but not many people who know how to talk about it.

Tricia: And is that because of our discomfort?

Rosalyn: Yeah, yeah it really is. It’s cultural. The western world has a very strange relationship with sexuality. You know we…there are a lot of people who sort of you know yell and shout that, “Sex is everywhere, sex is everywhere!”, but it isn’t sex. It’s commercialised images of sexual looking people (laughs). Which is not the same at all, you know because when you’re looking at a commercial image you’re really looking at a sales job and people feel manipulated by that and they confuse that with sexuality and that’s exactly what we’re meant to do. We are meant to look at the sex and not the ad. So that’s part of it, is that people feel sort of overwhelmed with these images and they get frustrated by that and they don’t realise that they’re not looking at sex at all, they’re just looking, they’re just looking at a sales job.

Tricia: And are we assuming that people have the knowledge as well?

Rosalyn: Yeah, you know I think that we do and in fact it’s funny because when you are a sex educator as I am, one of the humorous things that happens to you is you know you’ll be somewhere and you’ll meet someone who doesn’t know anything about you and they’ll say, “Oh what do you do?” and you tell then and they often will either go blank (laughs), walk away, or make some kind of a joke and usually the joke is, “Well I don’t need much of that!” you know. And people really don’t think. They do think they know much of what they need to know which often they don’t and unfortunately where they learn it is often either bad information sources on the internet, or even porn (laughs). You know and they think, ‘I know what I’m doing, I’ve watched some movies”, and they really, it’s not a good place to get your sex education. So…

Tricia: And joking’s an interesting thing isn’t it, because it not only masks discomfort, but it can also be how our clients sometimes broach a subject that they’re concerned about.

Rosalyn: Yeah, it’s a really good point because clients will not bring up sexuality if a therapist does not – they won’t and you will never know for a lot of people. Now there are some people who are bold and they’ll come in and they’ll say, “I have this sexual problem”, but most them will never ask and if the therapist doesn’t say in the very first session, “Do you have any sexual concerns?”, or something like and doesn’t do any kind of assessment of their sex life, or their happiness with their sexuality, then they are not going to bring it up and they’re not going to know that it’s something that’s okay to talk to you about. So…

Tricia: So how do you ask that? How do you raise that as a practitioner?

Rosalyn: Right, so there are many different ways to do it, but one of the simplest is simply in the evaluation, in the intake that people do, you ask, you know in the intake, “Do you have any sexual concerns, or questions about sex because this is something we can address in here”, and it’s amazing how often people do. And they’ve never had anyone to talk to about it and they’ve certainly haven’t had anyone who’s trained and again, if you’re not trained very well you can at least you can start looking for resources. Getting trained of course would be the ideal thing, which is one of the things that we do, but even if you’re not trained, just to gather some resources for people and then to ask on a fairly regular basis, “How’s your sex life, are there any concerns there?”. If people ae very uncomfortable you can simply say, “I just want you to know that this isn’t something we have to talk about, but a lot of people don’t know that it’s okay to talk about it until I bring it up”.

Tricia: And it’s so important, I mean so many people we deal with have health issues, there’s disability, there is stress, social conditions. All of those things can impact on a sexual life which is part of the whole person.

Rosalyn: Absolutely and aging is the big one now.

Tricia: Oh aging, yes of course, I forgot about that one.

Rosalyn: Right, right… I mean because as we get older our bodies change and our issues in bed change and people aren’t always expecting that and we think that our bodies are supposed to act the same way that they always had forever, and it doesn’t work in any area of our health, and it certainly doesn’t work in sex and there are lots and lots of things we can do to help with that and lots of work around and solutions, but people are unaware of them and so it’s good to know that that’s something also that we can deal with and educate about.

Tricia: How much do people’s personal beliefs become a barrier to talking about sex? Whether that’s religion, whether that’s just the way we’ve been brought up. How does that impact? It seems to impact differently on this issue. We can often separate ourselves from our personal beliefs in other ways but sometimes this issue is more difficult.

Rosalyn: Yeah, well of course religion is one, uh you know if your church or your religion is telling you that sex is a very specific thing done in very specific circumstances for very specific reasons then of course that’s going to raise issues for people, but in and if it’s not a religious thing I think the greatest issue for most people is simply shame. There’s a lot of shame about talking about sex and most people have not been trained out of that and believe me you do need to be trained out of it because even sexologists have things that they are uncomfortable talking about. And one of the first things that we do in our training is something called a SAR, so when you’re trained to be either a sex therapist, which is a psycho-therapist who deals with sexual issues, or a sex educator, one of the things that they do is have you go through this sexual attitude reassessment class and what it does is it’s three days of sort of introducing you to different identities, orientations and behaviours sexually so that you can kind of look at ‘what are my hot buttons?’ you know ‘what are the things that you know I’m uncomfortable with’ and where should I work with that? So imagine that’s you know that’s part of our training and yet that is something that’s an ongoing process all of the time for people who work in my field. Now imagine people who aren’t in my field. Right (laughs). I mean you know unless you are thinking about it you’re not really reprogramming that part of your brain and a lot of other things in our societies tell us that we should be ashamed of this, we should hide this, this is private. And you know private is fine, but private is often sort of a code word for shameful. So that’s one of the big issues is how ashamed people can be to talk about it and then the other piece, it’s funny cause it works on both ends. It’s not even just, you should be ashamed if you’re having sex, it’s also you should be ashamed if you’re not having good sex. Right (laughs) so… A lot of women for instance don’t know the very first thing about their bodies or their sexuality – way more than you would think. And so we get, I get so many women of all ages who say to me, “Well, I… I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t have an orgasm during sex”. And I say well you know, “Are we talking about intercourse?” And they say, “Well yeah”. And I say, “Well most women don’t unless they’re directly stimulating themselves elsewhere”. And they’re kind of, “What!?” Yeah that’s right. You know, and they don’t understand that. That’s something that was never taught to them and where are they getting that information? Well from Cos… you know Cosmo, from the magazines, from, from porn too. That’s the other thing is that a lot of people are watching sexually explicit media and it’s very commercialised and you know I mean if you watch porn you’d think everyone has an orgasm every single time that they have sex and that’s just not the case.

Tricia: So we don’t really know what’s, or understand what’s normal and the expectations?

Rosalyn: That’s right and you know one of the, one of the greatest conversations to have with people is how there is no such thing as normal when it comes to sexual behaviour. And people really think, oh you know, that’s sort of you know, isn’t that an interesting sort of clichéd thing for a sex educator to say, but I am telling you (laughs) this is not just something that we say. This is really, really true. Not only statistically and scientifically... If you take people who are at the extreme ends of sexual behaviour on either side, they represent fifty percent of the population. So fifty percent are on sort of the extreme ends of what they do, I’m sorry, twenty-five percent. Twenty-five percent are on the extreme end of what they don’t do, so you’re not even talking about a majority in the middle. And what that really means is statistically there is literally no normal and people have to understand that you know your sexuality is unique. It’s something that has to do with you, it develops over your lifetime, it will change over your lifetime and as long as everything’s consensual there’s nothing wrong with it.

Tricia: Perhaps practitioners sometimes are concerned about the answers they might get when they are. So what’s some of the common issues that do come up?

Rosalyn: Right, so if we’re talking about you know, therapists, or counsellors, or practitioners of that kind, the most common issues that come up for people when they come into couples counselling are cheating and discrepancy of desire. So one partner wants it more than the other – you know, one partner wants it, one partner doesn’t. Or one partner wants it far more frequently. So those are the two biggest issues that will come up in couples counselling. In one-on-one counselling you often have things like erectile dysfunction, men have concerns about erectile dysfunction. Women will have orgasm and pleasure issues, as I said before. Those are some of the most common. They’re certainly not, by far not the only ones. Most of the people who come in and have questions really just need to know that what they’re feeling or what they’re wanting is okay (laughs). You know. They might say, “I have this strange attraction to blah, blah, blah…” You know like maybe they have a fetish. Most of those things are completely harmless. You know, we’re not talking about you know interactions with unwilling people, or children, or something like that. We’re talking about, you know, ‘I like pantihose’. Well, okay. So you like pantihose. So what’s the big deal, you know. And partners if they are open to that and aren’t you know, really, too afraid of it, can really be helped to see, you know, this is… this is really not a big deal. This is, there’s nothing weird about this. It’s not going to escalate. Cause that’s one of the big things that I remember reading which is a huge myth. You know when I was younger they would put out, you know an advice columnist, you know, somebody would say, “My husband is wearing, you know, women’s underwear, and you know, the advice columnist would always say, ‘Well you have to be careful, because this behaviour will escalate and eventually he’s going to want to do it in public’, and that’s simply not true.

Tricia: Not true.

Rosalyn: No. Yep.

Tricia: So, how close is there, how close a relationship is there between communication in a couple’s relationship and sex in that relationship?

Rosalyn: Well, you know, this is such a wonderful thing to ask, because if you start with communication in a relationship, I often, when I’m teaching a class, I will say to people, “What, what’s the…” you know, what “How closely are communication and relationship linked”? And they’ll say, “Well communication is really important for a relationship”. But the more you go into this, you know, talking about that question, the more you realise that communication and relationship are basically synonymous. It’s not even that good communication is necessary for relationship, relationship ‘is’ communication. That’s what it is. And so when you talk about sexuality, we’re talking about putting that into the mix, that your sexuality is an offspring of the rest of your relationship, you know. And a lot of people don’t understand that, so they’ll say “What’s wrong with my sex life”? Well gee I wonder what’s wrong with your sex life? Let’s look at what’s happening in the rest of your communication in your relationship – you haven’t talked in six months about anything but the kids. You know, let’s see, you know… This one’s got pressure at work. This one might be laid off. You know… it’s a holistic model. So we have a holistic model of sex education at my school and what that means is that when we teach people how to deal with clients and how to deal with students that they might be working with we’re saying look you’ve got to look at the whole person and they’re environment. It’s not enough to say, ‘How is this couple doing?’ What else is happening in their lives? You know was there just a tragedy in the town next door and everyone’s upset about it? Is there something going on with the weather and it’s snowing all the time and no-one can get out? And I know that sounds global, and it may even sound overwhelming, but the thing is if we don’t look at ourselves as whole people and start there, we’re not going to sort of solve the mysteries of what’s wrong with our sex lives. So we need to look at…hmmm, what’s happening in the world, how do I feel about that? What happening in my community, how do I feel about that? Now what’s happening in my relationship? What’s happening with myself? How do I feel with myself? And when we start to ask those questions we get a much deeper picture and a much better picture about what’s going on in our sex lives. And then we can begin to talk to our partners and say you know I’m just so tired all the time, and I wonder why, and what can we do about this? And then we can perhaps improve what’s happening in bed.
The nice thing about this is that it also goes the other way. So if we have a really good sex life we usually feel better about the rest of our lives. You know, so you can start on either end. You can say hmm… how can I feel better about myself so I can have a good sex life, or you could say you know, I think I’m going to focus on really communicating really well with my partner. Maybe exploring some new things, maybe opening up to what they you know, might have in mind. And that, you know… having this richer sex live can enrich our entire lives and people don’t even realise how much that’s the case.

Tricia: And how much has socialisation got to do with that in terms of what men think a man is? What women think a woman is, because I’ve seen that a lot in acquired disability when where everything is then turned upside down, say after an accident and it really changes how… people’s long-held beliefs about how they should be?

Rosalyn: And that's huge, that's huge Patricia. It, it has... it, it goes from every, every aspect of sex from what you're willing to do right. So a lot of guys think oh I'm not willing to do that, that's something only women do. Even if they'd like to do that. And that can be anything from you know a very specific behaviour like being penetrated or penetrating someone, to just very simply you know, what position are you in?

Tricia: Yeah.

Rosalyn: You know some people are unwilling to have sex in certain positions and of course that can be really difficult on a woman, because as you know there are certain positions that are not conducive to orgasm or pleasure when women are in them. And so yes this can really impact people and opening up that sort of gender box and the idea that a man only does this in bed and a woman only does that is extremely freeing for people. People find tremendous liberation and tremendous pleasure and tremendous richness and depth in their sex lives when they do begin to let go of those ideas. It's really, it's really delightful to watch that happen you know when people are willing to do so.

Tricia: So Ros what about children and sex education all the way up to teens, because there's such mixed views, personal views from people and certainly we do know that the less kids and adolescents know the more trouble they can get into basically?

Rosalyn: The less that they know, yes. Correct.

Tricia: Yes, the less that they know, sorry what did I say? The more that.. yeah.

Rosalyn: No, no you said the less. You are correct, but unfortunately a lot of people think it's the other around. So yeah I mean we have study, after study, after study, after study that shows that comprehensive sex education from a very young age, at age appropriate level, so we're talking about Kindergarten right? We're not talking to Kindergarteners about, you know interc.. We're not talking to them in a way that they can't understand about things that they're not ready for. But we can talk them about anatomy, we can talk to them about bodies, we can talk to them about pregnancy in age appropriate ways. And so we move them sort of up the ladder and also understanding that children have very different levels of interest in sex depending on the kid. So some kids are really very sexual from young ages and of course you know, kids have their own levels of sexual development and they are very interested in the topic, and other kids are really not interested until they're, you know, in puberty or even later, but we must teach them whether they seem interested or not and it's, unfortunately it's always amazing to me how people are willing to let this extremely vital part of their child's development just go to other people. You know, well he knows more than I do. No, he doesn't. Well you know, what he knows he learned from his friends and from the internet and that is not where you want your kid to learn. Well you know don't they teach them that in school? You don't know what they're teaching them in school. You know, I had a friend of mine call me yesterday and said you know, her child came home from school and said to her, "Mum, they told us that you know, no birth control really works. Is that true?"

Tricia: Oh gosh.

Rosalyn: And she said no, you know, and she's, now she's trying to change this in her school system, because this is what they're teaching them. So yeah, very important for us to teach kids and for parents to get comfortable you know. There's a wonderful book called, 'Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask)'. And I always recommend this book to parents. It was written by two doctors and they have a wonderful sense of humour and they talk about what's normal in a child's sexual development, what kinds of things you can see kids do as they grow up, and what, what you should say to them at what ages. And I think we really have a very strong responsibility for teaching our kids at home and not just in the school systems and for knowing something and if we don't know something say you know, I just really, really want you to know that it's okay to talk to me about this and I may not know the answer to what you ask me right away, but I'll find out. You know, you don't have to know how to answer them. You could say to them, "You know kid, let me get back to ya" (laughter). You know, let me… let me think about that for a little while and I'll get back to you. And then consult the experts, consult you know consult your books, you know your good books and very, very important that people have this idea they're going to talk to their children at some age, like puberty. No. Bad idea.

Tricia: They already know stuff by then.

Rosalyn: Yeah and that you've already taught them that it's not okay to talk about.

Tricia: They'll pick up your shame and your fear around that topic.

Rosalyn: Yes. Your silence says more to them than anything else. So you know even if you're not comfortable it's very important to start when they’re very young, answer questions directly and if you don't know say I don't know let me find out you know and then find out from a really good credible source and then come back to them and answer the question.

Tricia: And that's also a good lesson for, for practitioners.

Rosalyn: Yes.

Tricia: You know if you don't know the answer it's okay to say well I don't know but I'll find out rather than not ask the questions.

Rosalyn: Yeah and you know this is one of the things that ah, my students have thanked me for over and over again, because you know I have a doctorate in human sexuality and I have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and I have all of this education behind me and the bottom line is, and I sta... I study about sex every single day. I don't know everything. This topic is enormous! And so I always say to them you know, oh, geez I don't know. Let me look that up, or maybe I learnt something about it six years ago and I don't remember. You know it absolutely no shame in saying hmm.. I really don't know, but I do know someone who does. Let me get back to you.

Tricia: So Ros, what do practitioners need in their tool kits? What would you recommend? What do we need to do?

Rosalyn: Ah you need a very good sexual history tool. So anytime there's a sexual problem it of any magnitude you want to take a sex history. And that can take a session or two, which is one of the reasons why people are afraid to do it, but the thing is you get so much wonderful information from that and the client learns so much about themselves. So you want a good sex history tool. You want to be trained in how to take a sex history. There are books on that, there, we do webinars on that for that matter. There are webinars, there are things you can read. You can train yourself to do that. So that's one of them. The next is to look at your evaluation tools and make sure that there are questions about sexuality in them. The next one is to look at your marketing information and see if there's anything in there saying that you're open to talking about issues of sexuality. Now do, you know I of course, no-one should set themselves up as a trained sexuality professional if they’re not.

Tricia: Without the training, yeah.

Rosalyn: Right. And if you're interested, and what I, what I always say is look even if you don't want to be a therapist who specialises in sexual issues, get more training on sexuality, because you will run into it. Or you will run into, what happens is you get these clients right, and you have somebody and they're, you're sitting in your office and you've been you know, talking to them for weeks and weeks and you're not getting anywhere and you don't know why. And guess what? It's because they have a secret they don't want to tell you. They don't know that it's okay to talk about it and you will never know so this is one of the areas where once we do open up and talk about it it's so important. So just to have some regular training on the issues of dealing with sexuality especially now days, cause people really do have far more than you think they do.

Tricia: So it's how to ask, it's how to respond. It's, it's how to know this part of the problem or the person and have a holistic picture to be able to actually be truly effective and do the best for the people that we work with.

Rosalyn: Yes. Yes, that's very well put (laughter).

Tricia: Ros we're just about out of time. We've got a couple of minutes to go.

Rosalyn: Right.

Tricia: Important issues.

Rosalyn: Important issues.

Tricia: That we haven't covered.

Rosalyn: Porn (laughter).

Tricia: Yes.

Rosalyn: So I am not negative about pornography, however I think it's very important to understand that internet pornography is a different kind of pornography than we've ever seen before and were seeing some very interesting and, and very um, very concerning things come out of people who watch it compulsively, or watch it a lot. There seems to be some kind of um, there's a subset of people who are developing really big issues with this. And the other thing is to note that many, many people are being educated about what normal is based on watching pornography and that has never been true in the history of the world and it's causing a lot of sexual problems. People thinking that you know, this is how they're supposed to have sex and of course a lot of that is generally speaking watching pornography is not a good way to learn to how to do it in pleasurable way. So from everything from that and which is a little bit less extreme, to people who are compulsively using it, this is something that we really have to look at in our societies and figure out how to deal with it at the educational level and how to deal with as therapists.

Tricia: And Ros we're also seeing things like sexting.

Rosalyn: Right.

Tricia: And... You know pictures on mobile phones and all that sort of thing that, that is new as well.

Rosalyn: Right and again I don't think that... I mean that kind of thing wh.. people worry very much about teenagers putting it out there. The worry about their, their sort of pictures getting out there. I'm not very concerned about sexting. I'm really not. You know, I'm concerned about people's safety. I'm concerned about teenagers safety. But I'm, I'm far more concerned with people sort of programming their brains if you will. Um, yeah just a desensitization process.

Tricia: Yes.

Rosalyn: And again, that's not everyone. I'm not porn negative, but there it we need to recognise that there are certain people that that's becoming a big problem for. Yeah, yeah.

The other, the other piece I think is just having a sex positive outlook on things and a sex positive view as a therapist that, you know. Learning about what healthy sexuality is and not just what unhealthy sexuality might be is extremely, extremely important. Learning the wide range of things that can be healthy you know, including... you know, things like power play, things like that. People often pathologize that. There's nothing wrong with that you know (laughs). As long as everybody's happy with it, nothing wrong with that whatsoever. So that's another thing is just learning the range of, of human sexual behaviour and that it's all okay.

Tricia: Ros, we've scraped the surface only (laughter).

Rosalyn: Yes, yes.

Tricia: So, thank you so much for being on Podsocs.

Rosalyn: Thank you so much Patricia. It was my pleasure.

[Musical outro 28.25 to END]
Interview ENDS: 28.50