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 6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    abbytimmy13@gmail.com

    I found this chapter very interesting and found I was reflecting on myself and how I practice.

    I also found that whilst I had heard many of the terms, I hadn’t spent time reflecting on my views and if my value system impacts how I see these relationship choices. I also wondered how I would manage working with someone who had these relationship choices if my value system was significantly different to them.

    I think its ok to hold on to my own values and thoughts, as long as I am conscious of these and them not becoming judgements. I think its important that I remain true to my values whilst still being able to respect the choices made by others and their values,

  2. Avatar

    sylphillipsayre@yahoo.com.au

    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.)?

    I have thought/ reflected and after taking in the what is being discussed in the resources particularly the videos by Barbara Baumgartner and Tiffany Sostar, I didn’t realise how much shame, stigma people in polyamorous relationships feel. These resources have opened me up consciously and made me aware that this is not reflected / visible in tv series, movies, music in general society. I started wondering why society deems this to be not socially acceptable. There are all sorts of sexualities, genders and relationships in nature that it almost seems bizarre to not be accepting of all the varieties within people who are of legal age and whom also give free consent without being coerced into anything. I am aware of some of the groups mentioned in this questions, although I have to admit my education in these area’s are limited. I feel this is mostly due to the beliefs, values that construct society and how some of these beliefs and values deem anything out of binary in terms of genders, sexualities and relationships is deemed as wrong/ shameful etc. My eyes and mind have been opened to understand that for some people societal constraints don’t actually allow / support all people’s freedom to be who they are and how harmful this.

    Do I have a personal preference regarding these different sexual practices, sexualities or forms of relationships?
    I do in terms of age, consent, safety and feel I have a duty of care to respond and advocate for people who may mention stories of harm with the person’s consent and this would be guided by work safe check when working with young people. If it was between legally consenting people whom I was providing therapeutic services to, how people / a person identify as / connected to/ associated with, I feel this is not up to me to judge.

    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?
    My limited education of BDSM, might interfere, with understanding the fine line between consensual play to where it might cross over to abuse. I would need more education to further develop my knowledge, understanding and education. I am aware of events that happen but have never been educated in this area. To whether people engage in BDSM play, relationships, play is up to the individual.

    Which opportunities/challenges arise from that?
    I feel I have mentioned this above.
    Is it okay to hold onto my personal ideas, or will these ideas limit my potential as a therapist?
    In terms of age, consent, safety I feel I do have a responsibility to support people from being harmed. In some cases this might strengthen the therapeutic relationship, for some people it might hinder / breakdown the therapeutic relationship. In my professional background I’ve had to provide care to the people who have been involved with doing things against my beliefs and values as a “professional” which I managed to do, though I will admit this was challenging. I had to mentally put aside the behaviour, actions of individual people and focus on providing services to the person that still met their health needs without compromising their dignity, privacy and confidentiality.

    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?
    Sittingin the the mindset of societal construction as to what much of society accept or deem as acceptable. I would like to to learn more about foundations and rules of BDSM and Kink, so I can deconstruct the barriers / conformity of society so that I can provide best possible therapeutic services I can. In terms of people in polyamory relationships I don’t think I have anything to to change at this stage, but though more education something might pop up and I would reflect on this and work on whatever this happened to be.

    Would I like to acquire new ideas? If so, which ones?
    Yes, I’ve already mentioned these above.

  3. Avatar

    sylphillipsayre@yahoo.com.au

    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.)?

    I have thought/ reflected and after taking in the what is being discussed in the resources particularly the videos by Barbara Baumgartner and Tiffany Sostar, I didn’t realise how much shame, stigma people in polyamorous relationships feel. These resources have opened me up consciously and made me aware that this is not reflected / visible in tv series, movies, music in general society. I started wondering why society deems this to be not socially acceptable. There are all sorts of sexualities, genders and relationships in nature that it almost seems bizarre to not be accepting of all the varieties within people who are of legal age and whom also give free consent without being coerced into anything. I am aware of some of the groups mentioned in this questions, although I have to admit my education in these area’s are limited. I feel this is mostly due to the beliefs, values that construct society and how some of these beliefs and values deem anything out of binary in terms of genders, sexualities and relationships is deemed as wrong/ shameful etc. My eyes and mind have been opened to understand that for some people societal constraints don’t actually allow / support all people’s freedom to be who they are and how harmful this.

    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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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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