Chapter 4: Discourses of sex, sexuality and relationships

In this chapter we will traverse various landscapes of sex, sexuality and relationships. We will be reminded of the importance of making possible therapeutic conversations about sex, sexuality and pleasure as much as conversations of sexual trauma. We learn more about the effects that homophobia can have on men’s lives and narrative practices for reducing its influence. Finally we will grapple with norms of compulsory monogamy which are part of some cultures and explore ways we might open up spaces for alternative options of living, loving and family-ing. 

 


What might be the effects of not discussing sex, sexuality and pleasure in therapeutic contexts? Mary Heath (she/her) argues that this is the responsibility of narrative practitioners and essential to the project of addressing sexual violence and coercion.

Enabling conversations about sex and sexuality — Mary Heath


Bill Logan (he/him) writes about queer listening and other practices that make it possible to bring forward stories that do not fit with compulsory heterosexuality in a call service supporting gay men.

Weaving new stories over the phone: A narrative approach to a gay switchboard — By Bill Logan in Queer Counselling and Narrative Practice.


This short reflection, written by Patrick O’Leary (he/him) in response to Bill Logan’s article, brings forward some of the tricky interactions between sexual identity, homophobia and sexual abuse of men by other men. 

A reflection from Patrick O’Leary in Queer Counselling and Narrative Practice.


This short article by Marion Herbert (she/her) and Erik Zika (he/him) introduces us to some of the questions and considerations for therapeutic practice that embraces instead of marginalises those who love and relationship with more than one person. 

Why (not) simply loving? Polyamorous reflections— Marion Herbert and Erik Zika


Barbara Baumgartner (she/her) 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.

 


For a further exploration of Narrative therapy and Polyamory, watch this presentation by non-binary therapist Tiffany Sostar (they/them). Tiffany explores: what narrative therapists need to know about polyamory; how these knowledges can inform narrative practice; and which polyamory-informed narrative practices will be most influential in therapeutic relationships.

 

Reflection Questions (adapted from Marion Herbert and Erik Zika’s questions):

  • Have I consciously reflected on my beliefs and assumptions about different sexual practices (eg non-procreative sex, kink practices, BDSM, sex work), sexualities (eg. heterosexuality, heteroflexibility, same-sex attraction, bisexuality, asexuality) or different forms of relationships (e.g. polyamory, romantic monogamous couple relationship, open partnership, deliberate living single, living in an as-if-monogamy but one or more of the partners having sexual contact outside of this, living in a loveless marriage for another purpose, etc.)?
  • Do I have a personal preference regarding these different sexual practices, sexualities or forms of relationships?  
  • Which of my personal ideas could interfere with the therapeutic process at hand if I am counselling someone with similar or different sexuality or with similar or different sexual or relationship beliefs and practices?
  • Which opportunities/challenges arise from that?
  • Is it okay to hold onto my personal ideas, or will these ideas limit my potential as a therapist?
  • Which of my ideas do I want to stick with, and why?
  • Are there ideas I personally would like to say goodbye to? If so, in which way would this increase my therapeutic options?
  • Would I like to acquire new ideas? If so, which ones? 

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Megan M. Matthews

    Hi, I’m Megan (say it: “MEE-gan”) Matthews (she/her), writing from greater Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

    Mary Heath’s article reminded me of a client of mine who had worked as a prostitute not because she was trying to trade sex for drugs, food, etc. (even though she stated frankly that she had done these things) but because, according to what she told me, she genuinely liked and enjoyed sex; and she genuinely believed that if it was something she enjoyed doing, she might as well make money at it. My response to her, in contrast with the response of the other therapists she had worked with, was not to try to talk her out of her lifestyle or convince her of its supposed immorality but rather to begin to talk with her about harm reduction: safety from sexually transmitted infections; from dependency on abusive customers or “managers”; and most importantly, from situations that might lead to her being forced or coerced into doing anything with anyone without her own consent.

    Also, I am extraordinarily pleased that “unpolyamorable” is now a word that someone has actually said.

  2. Avatar

    Bruna

    I found Mary Heath Enabling conversations about sex and sexuality a vital paper to many practitioner to be aware of . Its very necessary to critically reflect about our individual knowledge, perception and values about sexuality while supporting people. The taboos around sex and sexuality can for for sure be a barrier while providing counselling. I love how she brings a positive sex approach and it is very necessary.

  3. Avatar
    Jake Peterson

    re: Considering polyamory and narrative therapy

    Bi and poly erasure is an issue, including within LGBTIQA+ spaces. I think this is still an underexplored area, including within queer orgs … so I appreciate that particular resources are included for polyamory. This got me thinking of parenting in this space as well … I came across this paper and I wonder if this has been explored in narrative literature?
    journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1360780418806902

    re: explore ways we might open up spaces for alternative options of living, loving and family-ing.
    I really appreciate this being explicitly named in the course – I see this frequently in my work with LGBTIQ+ communities who are continuing to be influenced by very pervasive and powerful discourses of what love and a family means (e.g. family or origin, nuclear families, monogamy etc are all still very influential) and I like this call to explore ways to deconstruct those and make room for alternative options that might be more meaningful for people.

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