Celebrating the body at the intersection of education and therapy

Celebrating the body at the intersection of education and therapy

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A four-day event packed with diverse presentations and workshops, the 2019 conference of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists offers an impressive lineup.

The convocation, running June 13-16 at the Loews Hotel in Center City, includes forums on the social-media habits of gay men, sex-positive healthcare for women, the intersection of race and sexuality and a number of panel presentations on trans bodies and sexual experiences, to name just a few.

Organized by co-chairs Drs. Juan Camarena and Jane Fleishman, this year’s conference is called “Let the Body Rejoice, the Interplay of Sexuality Education, Sex Counseling and Therapy.” It offers a unique opportunity for presenters and participants alike.

“Being sex therapists and educators, we don’t always do a lot of talking just about the body, how we feel about it and helping our clients and students the best they can to celebrate, own and take charge of their body,” Camarena said. 

Founded in 1967 by sex educator and therapist Patricia Schiller, AASECT is a nonprofit organization comprised of sexuality educators and therapists, social workers, marriage and family counselors, nurses and many other professionals whose work intersects with sexuality education and counseling.

“Years ago we were talking about trans-competent care, and now we’re really looking at how to help trans and nonbinary folks have really exciting, fulfilling sex lives even with gender dysphoria present,” Camarena said.

  In “Trans, Just for the Fun of It: The Compassionate Practice of Gender in Four Dimensions,” author, theorist and trans trailblazer Kate Bornstein, who uses they/them pronouns, will present their research about the existence of gender in four dimensions; they believe that gender identity does not exist just on an X/Y axis.

“Nothing about the body says, ‘As soon as we assign your gender at birth, that’s it, and that’s what you’re going to grow up to be and you’ll never be anything else,’” Bornstein said. 

“As soon as we admit that the mind has as much to do with gender as the body, all of a sudden we’re now in three dimensions. A circle has become a sphere, a blackboard has become virtual reality. And gender becomes a playground,” they added.

The fourth dimension, Bornstein explained, is how gender identity and conversations surrounding it change over time and space, making gender a continuum. The author noted that nothing in nature is strictly binary, so it makes no sense that gender should be subject to a binary as well.

“I’m going to be talking about that: Why do we attach these values and judgments to our bodies? And more importantly, why do we attach it to other people’s bodies and say that’s how they have to behave?”

Philadelphia-based clinical social worker Sonalee Rashatwar is leading a sexuality-attitude reassessment, or SAR, called “Sexing the Fat Body.” Rashatwar identifies as queer and nonbinary, and treats clients who encounter issues of body image, sexual trauma and racial identity. 

In this two-part SAR, which is the first of its kind, participants will be exposed to many kinds of media containing things like fat porn and fantasies around food pleasure, and then reconvene to discuss their phobias about the fat body. 

“The purpose of my SAR is understanding how fatphobia really internalizes the structure and the system that is oppressing us, and corresponds with spaces like white supremacy and anti-blackness and ableism,” Rashatwar said. “And how we internalize this oppressive system: We limit the ability for our bodies to take up not just physical space, but also emotional space within relationships. And pleasure space, within being able to enjoy food pleasure or sexual pleasure.” 

    Rashatwar’s workshop at the last AASECT conference played a role in forming the idea for this year’s theme of celebrating the body. 

“I’m really interested in learning more about what other workshops are interrogating beauty standards, white supremacy, fatphobia, eating disorders and sexuality.”

  At “Stonewall at 50: Queering the Lens on Aging and Sex,” sexuality educator Fleishman will present her research on the sexual satisfaction of people who grew up or came out around the time of the Stonewall riots.

“The Stonewall generation fought for the right to love and the right to have sex with whomever they chose,” she said. “Now they’re aging and we need to protect them so they can continue to be themselves. Many of these people have been forced back into the closet, and it’s our job to prevent that from happening.”

Fleishman looked at four main factors in groups of older adults: internalized homophobia, resilience, sexual communication and relationship satisfaction. She found that within that particular group, internalized homophobia was low and resilience was high, and that relationship satisfaction correlated with sexual satisfaction.

Fleishman said she wants her colleagues to start incorporating her research findings into their teachings as sexuality professionals, “so they can perhaps give a little insight into what is happening for a part of the population that has been so disenfranchised from that generation,” she said.

Megan Crofford-Hotz, a therapist at Mazzoni Center, will delve into her research project, “The Erasure is Real: Experiences of Bisexual Queer Women.” 

She spoke with 15 female-identified people about how they stay connected with their identity and their community as individuals whose queerness doesn’t necessarily present in heterosexual relationships.

  She found that many women who did not experience intrapersonal conflict about their sexual identities nonetheless encountered conflict from others in that regard, which led them to resort to the term “queer” to find more acceptance in LGBTQIA-plus communities.    

“A lot of people discussed the challenges of identifying as bisexual in dating,” Crofford-Hotz said. “And needing to clarify their attraction template to include people who are gender-nonconforming and trans and all of that wonderful stuff.”

Sexuality and health educator Angie-Foster Lawson will aim to dissolve misconceptions about asexual people in her presentation, “What’s the ‘A’ Again? Asexual-Inclusive Sexuality Education and Therapy.”

Foster-Lawson aspires to educate her colleagues about the range of asexual identities that exist within the broader scope. Asexual-identified people — or “ace people,” as they’re commonly referred to — exist on a spectrum just like any other sexual orientation, gender identity or way of being, she noted.

“Within the range of asexual identities, there is a lot of gray area,” Foster-Lawson said. “Some asexual folks don’t want to have sex for themselves, but are fine with others having sex. Some are repulsed by sex in general. Some are actually willing to have sex with partners that they love because they have an allosexual partner and that’s important to them.”

  The members of AASECT have worked for decades to provide proper sexuality resources and therapy to the public. However, sex education is still lacking in many states where LGBTQ-focused sex ed is not readily taught in schools, or in states that don’t require any sex ed beyond the abstinence-only philosophy.

“I saw a social-media post from a colleague, and she was talking about how do we expect folks to legislate if we as sex educators aren’t in the legislature, if we aren’t actually doing sex ed with them?” Camarena posed.

She said it’s important to show legislators that sex ed is medically accurate and inclusive.

“It’s not a big scary thing. It’s about bringing them into the fold of sex ed.” 

For more information on the conference, visit aasect.org.


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