How to Practice Openness, Even When It’s Challenging
To get sex coaching clients to open up, you need to convey acceptance of whatever they reveal.
One of the requirements for becoming an effective sex coach is learning how to create a non-judgmental atmosphere during your sessions. Talking about sex is often taboo and can be laced with shame, especially if the issue someone is dealing with makes them feel different or weird.
Being able to convey acceptance is vital to the process of establishing rapport with your clients. They must feel safe and comfortable in your presence before they can open up and share deeply personal, intimate details of themselves.
Most of the time, as caring professionals, this can feel relatively easy to do. After all, the whole reason we’ve embarked on this path to becoming sex coaches is because of how much we care about and want to help people.
But what happens when someone walks through your door with a problem or a fetish or an appearance that causes a negative reaction in you?
Remember the first rule of sex coaching: it’s about your client, not you.
In our personal lives, it’s totally fine to have certain sexual preferences and to be open about what you’re not into. But in our professional role as sex coaches, we need to practice staying open, conveying curiosity instead of judgment, and conveying acceptance no matter what your client may reveal.
Even if you ultimately wind up referring them out to another professional (because you’re unwilling or unable to work with them for whatever reason), it’s critical that you don’t wound them further through your words or facial expressions.
Practice this on your own time, rather than on the spot with your clients. A great way to start is to look up a list of extreme fetishes. If you can, do this exercise with a study buddy — otherwise, sit in front of a mirror.
Read or have your buddy read about some of these fetishes and watch your face in the mirror. You can also ask your partner how your reactions would have made them feel if they were your client. No matter what comes up for you inside, see if you can maintain your external expression of acceptance, positivity, curiosity. Then take some time to reflect internally on what came up for you.
Observe yourself the way you strive to observe your clients: with open-minded interest and without critical judgment.
See if there’s anything you need to work through (did hearing about some of these fetishes bring up a painful or traumatic memory?) If not, then simply practice feeling open and curious in your mind. Cultivate an attitude of genuine acceptance.
Allow yourself to let go of whatever societal or cultural reactions have been programmed into your psyche. At the same time, take care to avoid criticizing yourself for whatever beliefs you may have. The goal here is to train your brain to have a more neutral reaction to challenging or disconcerting information, and that’s just as important for you as it is for your client.
These exercises will help you both externally convey and internally feel a deep, genuine openness to understanding your clients. This will go a long way in helping them feel safe enough to open up and work with you.
Being open doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your professional boundaries.
Even if you practice the techniques mentioned above, you still might find yourself having real trouble working with certain clients. This happens to nearly every sex coach, so don’t feel guilty or ashamed if it happens to you. Luckily, there’s a way to minimize the problems that could arise from this situation: setting firm, professional boundaries.
As a sex coach, it’s your responsibility to not only set clear boundaries, but also to consistently maintain them. Boundaries are crucial to the health of any client-coach relationship. When you know ahead of time what you are or are not willing to work with as a clinician, making decisions about the care that you will (or won’t) provide becomes much easier.
Your set of boundaries will be as unique as your coaching style. Perhaps you are not willing to work with certain fetishes at all. Maybe there are some cases that you are willing to work with, but only in tandem with a licensed therapist. Make it a point to know in advance which situations allow for compromise and negotiation. This stops you from pouring time and energy into difficult internal debates.
Have a solid supply of resources on hand for the clients you can’t work with.
One of the most important aids in a sex coach’s toolkit is a referral list. Pay attention when your clients have needs that you’re not prepared to meet, and make the effort to find other professionals who are. Keep an organized list on hand so you can recommend other resources for your client in the most timely manner possible.
If you’re not sure where to find other providers specializing in working with sexuality, start with the World Association of Sex Coaches (WASC) provider directory. Being part of a supportive, professional community is absolutely invaluable, especially for those of us working in a relatively small (but growing!) field. Take some time to introduce yourself to a few of your peers — it will contribute to your professional growth in more ways than you can imagine.
Even the most open among us can stand to examine our thoughts, beliefs, and social programming around sexuality. That’s why it is so crucial for human sexuality specialists to attend at least one SAR training experience in their career. SAR pushes you to assess your values, attitudes and beliefs, know your boundaries and expand as a container for what a client may bring to your work together. SCU offers at least one SAR per year, and attendees are stunned by the level of insight and transformation they achieve. Take a look at upcoming SAR and other training events offered by the Mother of Sex Coaching, Dr. Patti Britton.