To my knowledge no one has uttered the phrase, “I really enjoyed grad-school.” At least no one I have ever encountered. I certainly never imagined returning to school myself to earn an MA, let alone a PhD, which is my eventual goal. Most people contemplate this decision long and hard. I did not. It hit me suddenly, and once the idea took root in my brain, it sent delicate shoots around my heart, and I could see no other way forward. For many years my life has been one of purpose - helping individuals and couples find more pleasure and connection in erotic and emotional intimacy. As fulfilling as my purpose is, I often feel as if the impact I am making is not enough. I could do more. I want to do more. There is so much to do. Perhaps I have hidden these feelings too well from those closest to me, for each time I shared my intention to attend grad school, my confession was met with a blank stare and a long pause; followed by the inevitable, “Why?” Why, indeed.
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine. Fine begins her book with a concise evisceration of the iconic 1948 bot fly experiment by Bateman. In her conclusion of this take-down, I was struck by this quote: “sexual behavior viewed through the lens of the Bateman worldview filters out our humanity.” Reading this statement was the impetus I needed to apply for the Sexuality Masters program at SFSU. For seventy years the “Bateman worldview” has supported the biased assumption of a gender binary as a scientific fact. Sadly, this bias is not the only misinformation routinely included in contemporary studies of human sexuality. Everyday, I address erroneous beliefs my clients have about sexuality that they learned from their peers, the media, and middle school sex-ed.
In addition to the perpetuation of bias and obsolete research in the cultural paradigm of normative sexuality, the medicalization and pathologization of human sexuality has removed context, thus stripping sex of its humanity. In a clinical setting, physiological and neurochemical responses can be measured to study arousal. This has lead to greater understanding of sexual health and brain chemistry, which in turn has lead to new forms of treatment for sexual dysfunctions. Enter the little blue pill. There is also pink version on the market now! Although current studies of arousal and the human sexual response cycle are laudable and necessary, they leave a key piece of the human sexual experience untouched - context. Desire is all about context. And we can not make a pill for context. As we are discovering with long-overdue developments in pharmaceuticals targeting female desire, even when a pill is designed to stoke physiological arousal, there is negligible effect on desire and pleasure. Despite it being unlikely that we can design a pill for context, desire is worthy of study and understanding.
The people I work with are an assortment of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, cultures, ages, and socio-economic classes. Despite their diversity, there are a few questions that nearly everyone asks: “Is this normal?”, “What is normal?”, and “Am I normal?” Longing for normalcy is a common source of pain for my clients. I see two reasons for this struggle to be normal. First, the dominant cultural paradigm of normative sexuality is harshly narrow, making us ashamed of our desires. Faced with this paradigm, most people hope to shape their sexuality into something they believe is more acceptable. Secondly, when we try to shape our sexuality into what we believe it should be, based on external standards, we miss out on understanding and enjoying our true desires. A great deal of my work is focused on deshamifying, normalizing, and eventually celebrating people’s desires. My hope is that further research of human desires and turn-ons will redefine what is generally accepted to be normal. This, in turn, will create an inclusive paradigm that will provide more acceptance and safety for marginalized communities. By studying and understanding desire, marginalized populations can be embraced, feel more empowered and self-accepting, and be less likely to experience the negative health consequences of being in the margins.
For these reasons, I believe this grad school is the next logical step for me to deepen my study of human sexual desire and develop the necessary skills that will enable me to conduct research. I am interested in exploring human sexual desires, in a psychological, sociological, and relational context, which makes SFSU program’s emphasis on current methodologies, research, and application particularly interesting to me. The program’s focus on social policy, and activism will also give me new insights into how to combat the dominant paradigm around what constitutes “acceptable” desires. After graduation, my intent is to continue my education in a PhD. My hope is that I will be able to take some part in creating a new lens for understanding and appreciating sexuality.
One of my mentors recently told me that I don’t need an MA or a PhD unless I want to be an expert or create great change. Well, I do. I want both of those things. I am formally outing myself as a person with great ambition and purpose. Thankfully, my ambition directly serves my purpose: The creation of an inclusive lens from which to view sexuality that focuses on compassion, acceptance, and pleasure and one that is free from judgment and shame. Although I do not anticipate experiencing a great deal of pleasure while earning my MA, the endeavor is worthy of my time. I am also heartened by the fact that every single one of my clients asked if I would continue to schedule sessions while in school. I’m even smiling while typing this out. To me, this question is evidence that the impact I am already making is positive. My work and time with people has value. I am on the right track. And I plan to go all the damn way.