· By Team PLEASE
‘Please’ sits down with the wonderful Catriona of sexologywithcatriona to discuss what being a sexologist is like, South Africa’s sex industry and some questions we know you’ll want to ask a professional in this field.
Tell us about the moment you realised you wanted to work in this field?
It was during a 3rd year psychology lecture at university when I first heard terms like vaginismus and anorgasmia. Having heard erectile dysfunction ads on the radio most mornings during my drive to campus, I was confused as to why I had never heard these terms before, particularly relating to (cis)women’s sexual functioning. So I asked around and my friends had no clue either. I did some research and realised that my sexual education had been nothing more than STIs, HIV and how to put on a condom… and nothing about sexual response or sexuality etc. So I found a clinic I could volunteer at in Johannesburg, and worked as a counsellor for women choosing to have an abortion. And it was here that the clinic director, Prof Elna McIntosh, persuaded me to pursue a masters degree in clinical sexology (something I had to do in Australia, as there is no where still one can train and become suitably accredited at tertiary level in South Africa).
What kind of background do you have?
I’ve studied psychology, anthropology and french. Going to varsity I really had no clue what I wanted to study and just chose subjects I was interested in. I was clearly intrigued by human behaviour and the mind without knowing it. Both of these subjects gave me a great grounding to pursue sexology (and should a student ever ask me how they can go about becoming a sexologist, my first suggestion is ‘become a psychologist first’). I was very fortunate to access specialist training, and I am constantly aware of the privilege I had in doing so. My parents are both in the medical field. But I never did well at school (nearly even failed grade 11), as I really didn’t enjoy that type of learning. I only started to put my head down and work hard when I specialised in psychosexual therapy. I realised just how immensely passionate I was about it.
What qualifications does a Sex Therapist need to practise?
So in South Africa, you have to complete a degree that will provide you with a foundational career and registration with the health professions council - such as medicine, social work or psychology/ counselling. Without this, you will unfortunately have a challenging time. Once you’ve got this registration and can practise as that profession, you can complete specialist training in sexology. As mentioned there is nowhere in SA that offers a postgraduate in this field, but there are amazing platforms like the Sexology Training Club (on which I teach) that you can do short courses. I am also co-tutor at the Contemporary Institute of Clinical Sexology (CICS) and they offer a full online course so anyone in the world can complete the 2 year diploma to become an accredited psychosexual therapist.
What really gets you excited when it comes to the work you do?
Teaching. It’s my absolute passion and the thing I am now doing the most of.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to what Sex Therapy is.
2. Most annoying
3.Most false misconception you’ve been confronted with?
- People genuinely think I am going to watch them have sex
- That this job is all about dildos and butt plugs…
- Becoming a sexologist is easy and doesn’t require a lot of studying. Trust me… it does. I’ve been studying since 2006 and I’m not done (not sure I’ll ever be) as you constantly need to be developing professionally
For those who have never experienced Sex Therapy, what is it all about?
So sex therapy is no different to any other therapy, only that we focus on intimacy, gender, sex and relationships, and usually more time is spent focusing on broader topics like stress, lifestyle and mental health. So much like you’d go see a therapist if you were struggling with depression, you’d see a sexologist if you had something happening sexually, relationally or for you with your sexual/ gender identity. We don’t only work with people when things aren’t going well, but also when people simply want more than what they are doing/ need help expanding their experience. We work from a holistic approach - exploring your biology, psychology, relational, social, lifestyle factors and culture. All of these contribute to the experience you’re having sexually. Most sex therapists work pluralistically, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all model and we have many tools in our tool box to assist and support people.
When it comes to choosing the right therapist for you, what questions should clients ask themselves?
So when looking for a sexologist/ psychosexual therapist/ sex therapist (these are commonly interchangeable terms), firstly you want to check someone’s credentials. This career requires a postgraduate degree, and currently you have to obtain that out of South Africa. In South Africa, the registration body for this field is SASHA (in the UK it's an organisation called COSRT, in the US it’s AASECT), and they have strict requirements and membership categories that the public can look up which will help you understand your therapist’s credentials. So once you’ve checked out their degrees and registering bodies, I would also then look at their listed experience - does the therapist indicate they have experience in your concern? Are they a GSRD (gender, sexuality and relationship diversity)-informed therapist?
And then finally speak to them on the phone before you book in (or check out their IG to see what they are like). It’s important you actually feel comfortable and like the person you choose as a therapist because you’re going to be sharing some rather personal things about yourself and having a safe space with a trusted person to do that is non-negotiable.
If you start with a therapist and you feel judged or shamed, or the therapist tells you that you ‘have to’ do something, you can leave. I’ve heard of therapists pushing religious or personal agendas on clients, asking client’s to perform sexual acts for them etc. Pretty horrifying but sadly not unusual. As the client, you can say no to something and you have the right to both not return and to lay a formal complaint with the registering body.
What is the most common reason you find that individuals, (or couples) seek out Sex Therapy?
For individuals, it’s frequently related to sexual functioning concerns (like unwanted pain during sex or orgasm issues) or gender identity. I specialise in treating unwanted sexual pain in women and so predominantly see clients with this concern.
For couples, the number 1 reason is different levels of sexual desire and disconnection in their relationship.
What is the one-sentence that you would say to anyone considering Sex Therapy?
Do it! The more you put it off, the worse things get. Avoiding it only makes things more unbearable, rather than them going away.
If you could recommend one book as required material for anyone and everyone, what would that be?
There are several I want to recommend…
Come as you are by Emily Nagoski (I wish this comprehensive book was syllabus in schools)
Mind the Gap by Dr Karen Gurney (all about understanding sexual desire)
The science of sex by Kate Moyle (honestly the book about sex that answers every question you could ever ask).
What advice would you give to those who feel uncomfortable discussing sex and sexuality?
That this is a conditioned, learnt response and you can unlearn this discomfort by speaking about it! The more we give something airtime, the less our inner critic holds on to the discomfort we find in it.
What aspect of human sexuality fascinates you the most right now?
Honestly, all of it! Human sexuality is so varied, complex and nuanced. I keep learning about it and I’ve been studying it and working in the field for over a decade.
And finally, what is your number one Sexual Self Care tip?
Get curious about everything! This means stop trying to ‘host’ a partner in bed and focus your energy on your own experience of pleasure. Explore what feels the best for you and ask for it. Be curious about what feels good for your partner and why.
We are so grateful to have had this conversation with one of the top therapists in Cape Town and South Africa, and even more happy to be able to share this with all of our Pleasers.
Please go ahead and follow sexologywithcatriona, for the most fascinating and education content, maybe even book yourself an appointment, if you can get one! This Sex Therapist is booked and busy, as she should be!
Instagram : sexologywithcatriona