Conversations About Sex, Pleasure and Respectful Relationships

Now we will dip our toes into dynamic narrative conversations and their dilemmas and possibilities in the realms of sex, pleasure and respectful relationships. As you embark on this next chapter, we invite you to consider which bodies, sexual practices, orientations and forms of relationship are privileged and which are marginalised in the context in which you work, and what might be at stake if we do not intentionally invite themes of sex, pleasure and respectful relationships into narrative conversations. What do you imagine might make these conversations more or less possible in your work? We’ll look forward to hearing from you at the end of the chapter.

Introducing Manja Visschedijk (pronouns undecided): Manja is a member of the Dulwich Centre faculty and is currently in the ‘ethic of care liaison’ role for the Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work offered by Dulwich Centre and The University of Melbourne. Manja has worked with feminist and community organisations since 1977, and for the last five years has worked independently as a counsellor and consultant. Manja has been engaging with narrative ideas since 1994. Manja likes to mull over things from a lot of different angles, which is why the pronouns are marked as undecided.


Let’s kick off with Mary Heath, who provokes us to think about what might be at stake in not discussing sex, sexuality and pleasure in therapeutic contexts. Mary argues that this is essential to the project of addressing sexual violence and coercion and in resisting complicity with the marginalisation of folks with non-normative sexualities, relationship preferences, sexual practices and genders.

Enabling conversations about sex and sexuality by Mary Heath (she/her)


Sex therapist Cyndi Darnell brings conversations about sex and pleasure into the realm of collective narrative practice with an innovative adaptation of the Tree of Life: sex trees, externalising and outsider witness practices.

Exploring sex and pleasure in a narrative group therapy context by Cyndi Darnell (she/her) [26:57]


Working with survivors of sexual assault in Australia, Linnette Harriot was interested in exploring ‘the links for some women between experiences of sexual assault and subsequent prolific sexual activity’ while also exposing dominant narratives that police women’s sexuality, especially through stigmatising labels around promiscuity.

Town bikes unite by Linette Harriott (she/her)


Barbara Baumgartner exposes the training in monogamy that many of us experience and ways of resisting that in practice to foster and clarify choice for the people we work with.

Considering polyamory and narrative therapy by Barbara Baumgartner (she/her) [18:00]


Our host Manja takes us to the 2015 Nonmonogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference in Portugal for a kaleidoscopic intersectional view of lived experiences of those exploring sex and relationships beyond coupled romantic and sexual monogamy. You may end up wishing you were there!

Review of the Nonmonogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference (NMCI) held in Portugal, 25th–27th September 2015 by Manja Visschedijk (undecided pronouns)

You may also be interested to know about this new children’s book related to polyamory

Reflection questions

  • Did this chapter remind you of stories from your own life and work?
  • Which aspects of sex, pleasure and relationships commonly come into your narrative conversations?
  • Which aspects show up less frequently or not at all and why do you think that would be?
  • What impact do you think these conversational choices, and especially the gaps and silences, might be having? Are they transforming or reinforcing dominant power relations?

Optional further activity

This quiz is provided for your further learning and enjoyment in relation to narrative conversations about sex, pleasure and respectful relationships. Feel free to post your answers (any or all of them, as you wish) in the comments section below if you would like to continue the discussion with other online course participants!

  1. What is the Darlington statement? Why do you think it is relevant for narrative practitioners to know about this?
  2. Who wrote the ‘short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy’? What do you think of it?
  3. Can you name three resources for young queer and trans people in your country?
  4. Have a look at the Kimchi cuddles comic strip. Would a comic strip like this one ever be useful/appropriate to refer to during narrative conversations? How, when and why?
  5. Can you name the key sex worker advocacy organisations in your country?
  6. Who is the ‘Kindness dinosaur’? What relevance might they have to your practice?

This Post Has One Comment

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    Michelle Tamara Wylie

    I enjoyed listening to Barbara’s presentation on “considering polyamory and narrative therapy”. I appreciated thinking outside the binary in terms of relationship structure. “Monogamy has become the only language for people – and also by default, by counsellors as well.” I appreciated the idea of deconstructing ideas of monogamy. I think this question is particularly useful – “What are some of the values that you hold dear in your relationship and what are some of the origins of those values?”
    Concepts of polyamory and relationship anarchy have been important in my own life and relationships. I have also found that starting to understand the influence of colonisation on concepts of monogamy and non-monogamy to be very important in these conversations. Dr. Kim TallBear speaks about this a lot (website – http://www.criticalpolyamorist.com).
    I resonated with the idea from Barbara, that as counsellors we have a responsibility to help people clarify choice and deconstruct dominant ideas. In my work, I occasionally have conversations with people about these topics, however this chapter has prompted me to further consider the ways that monogamous thinking impacts my own assumptions about the people I work with and my work as a counsellor.

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