opinion

Getting Help: When Sexuality Professionals Face Sexual Challenges

Charlie Glickman

A few months ago, I wrote an article about how working in the sex retail and education worlds can affect your sex life. Now, it’s time to look the other side of the coin: how does your sex life affect your job?

This isn’t something that we usually talk about, but there’s nothing that guarantees that being a sexuality professional means that you’ll have an amazing sex life. Sure, we have more access to information and products than most civilians (I’m never sure what word to use to talk about people outside the industry. Muggles, maybe?) While that can give us some advantages, it can also make it more difficult to talk about our challenges and difficulties. There’s a lot of peer pressure to always seem like we’ve figured out our sex lives.

That makes it even harder to get support because we can get stuck in ‘impostor syndrome.’

I’ve had quite a few coaching clients from different parts of the industry and I can promise you that we face the same issues as anyone else. We have medical concerns that impact sex. We have relationship ups and downs. We have fantasies that we’re afraid to share with our partners. We have guilt, fear and shame around sex. We have experiences of sexual assault or trauma. We have all the same hurdles that our customers and clients do.

But on top of all of that, we also work in an industry where talking about pleasure and sex is part of our jobs. That makes it even harder to get support because we can get stuck in “impostor syndrome.” That’s the feeling of, “I hope nobody notices that I’m a fraud” and many of us who work in this field experience it when our sex lives aren’t going as well as we’d like. We worry that if our customers knew about what’s really happening in our lives, we’d lose all of our credibility. And we worry that if our coworkers and colleagues see what we’re facing, we’ll be seen as less qualified to do our jobs.

There are lots of different ways I’ve seen this play out. I’ve talked with store staff who have lost their enthusiasm for work because every day is a reminder of where they feel stuck in their personal lives. I’ve talked with sales reps who can tell you all about the benefits of their products, but they’re careful to keep it from getting personal, even with people they consider friends in the industry, because they aren’t getting what they want in bed. I’ve talked with bloggers and writers who can share hundreds of words about how to enjoy sex, and who feel hollow inside because they can’t put their own advice into practice. These kinds of situations will lead to burnout faster than anything else because the energy that goes into maintaining the façade and keeping your emotions bottled up is energy that can’t go into your job, your relationship, or anything else. It’s a drain, and as long as we keep pretending that we have our sex lives figured out, we’ll never change that.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you tell your customers about your recent breakup or the pain you experience during sex. There’s a time and a place to open up about our lives, and it isn’t when you’re talking with a client. What I am suggesting is that we need to stop pretending to ourselves that we always have amazing sex lives. We need to offer each other the same care and compassion that we give our clients. There aren’t many people who know as much about sex as we do, so when we need help, we need it to be expert-level.

That can look a lot of different ways. Maybe it means talking with a co-worker over a drink at the end of the day. Maybe it means reading some of the books you’d recommend to a customer. Maybe it means finding a coach or a therapist, though you’ll want to make sure they’re skilled around sexuality issues.

I think it’s pretty clear that these are the same paths I’d suggest to anyone. But there are a couple of differences. First, you need to accept the fact that working in this field doesn’t guarantee sexual happiness. That’s not something most lawyers or restaurant servers face. And second, you still need to find a way to get your work done when it reminds you of what you’re dealing with. Folks in other professions can use their jobs to distract themselves. For us, that might not work.

It isn’t easy to acknowledge that being a sexuality professional doesn’t make you immune to sexual difficulties. But you’re surrounded by compassionate, trained folks who understand these issues, and that gives you lots of opportunities to find the support you need. So when impostor syndrome is holding you back, that’s the sign that you need to move through it and reach out for help. Just like you’d suggest to a customer.

Coping with the ways in which your work reminds you that your personal life is feeling rocky is going to depend a lot on what work you do. Store staff and others who deal with customer questions might find it especially triggering, which makes it even more important to get outside help. But whatever work you do, pay attention when you’re starting to feel burnt out. If you’re facing burn out at the same time that you’re dealing with your own sexual challenges, there’s probably a connection there. Even if you’re limited in the ways you can change your job to give you some cushion, just noticing what’s going on can help. Talk with a co-worker or a friend, or ask your manager if you can change things up a bit. There might be some ways you can give yourself some breathing room while you figure things out.

It’s hard to enjoy your work when you’re facing sexual or relationship hurdles. It’s even harder when your work is about sexuality. Trust me - you aren’t alone in that. It’s something that almost all of us face, sooner or later. I think it’s time for us to find some better ways of dealing with that than pretending it isn’t happening.

Charlie Glickman PhD is a sexuality speaker, trainer, writer, blogger and coach. He’s a certified somatic sex educator and has been working in this field for more than 20 years. Glickman is the co-author of “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners.” Find out more about him at www.charlieglickman.com.

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