Pink Therapy is the UK’s leading therapy organisation working with Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity (GSRD) clients. As a sex coach, I attended their annual conference in London, where the theme was: Sex Works: The Intersection of Mental Health and Sexuality Professionals.
Sexuality Professionals cover people who work with sexuality outside of traditional therapy. We are somatic sex educators, Tantric practitioners, sex coaches (like me!), Surrogate Partner Therapists, Pro-Dom’s and of course, sex workers. This conference was designed to build a bridge between these two worlds, start a conversation and move forward together.
There were representatives from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) , the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) , the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) . Also attending was a representative for the Association of Somatic and Integrative Sexologists (ASIS) , who certify and represent sex coaches, sexological bodyworkers, psychosexual somatics therapists and surrogates (of which I am a member).
We learned about sexual services for people with disabilities, the issues facing sex workers who seek mental health treatment, somatic sexology and sexological bodywork, surrogate therapy, conscious kink/kink as a healing tool, Urban Tantra and sex coaching for sex therapists. There were panel discussions on ethical frameworks, and, most importantly, discussions led by sex workers telling their experiences first hand.
We can’t build bridges between the world of sex work and traditional psychotherapy without debunking the myths that are associated with sex work. Most statistics that you see quoted by anti-trafficking organisations, and pushed around the mainstream media, are not only completely inaccurate, but based on questionable data. The stigma that sex workers face puts them in more danger, not less, because they are not given a voice.
“I am a white, middle class sex worker, yet nobody listens to me. I need someone “respectable” to speak up for me.”
“If you’re a sex worker with a foreign name, they will automatically assume you’ve been trafficked”.
In one study it was found that when many sex workers have tried to access therapy, they instead faced being judged for the work they do, and having their profession put on file. This means that if they have any contact with medical services, social services or the law in the future, their profession will be on record and will almost certainly be used against them.
Did you know that the number one mental health concern that sex workers experience isn’t, in fact, the nature of the work itself, but the stigma they face as a sex worker and the need to live a double life? For me - a white, middle class, cis-gendered and well-spoken sex coach who works using talk-only -I know that I have privilege. I am treated better and respected by the professional community, compared to a practitioner who works with touch or eroticism, who most definitely is not.
Many sex workers are working dual roles as therapists. The issue of therapists who are dual trained in any capacity, is supposed to be a legal and ethical bind for many therapeutic organisations. For instance, if they are also a massage therapist, a reiki healer, or a naturopath.
So why does this only present a problem when the therapist is also a sexuality professional?
In the talk around surrogacy, the speaker made a point that she is also a trained psychotherapist. She described how many people have benefitted from a hands on approach because, “the learning must take place within the body”. Yet she has to keep her two practices completely separate and cannot cross over, otherwise she risks being struck off from her membership organisation.
Traditional therapy, especially sex therapy, runs on outdated models of dysfunction, pathology and perversion. Most therapy training programs do not adequately address sexual diversity or sexual minorities. If it is addressed at all, it is often not from a sex-positive model.
Therapy organisations aren’t listening to sex workers
It was clear that the representatives from the BACP, UKCP and COSRT understood that sex workers are a marginalised and an oppressed community, and that changes needed to be made. However, none of them would make any definitive statements about changes that would happen in their ethical codes. None of them would agree to make a categorical statement in favour of sex work, and allow their members to refer out if needed.
Shockingly, despite this conference being a platform to talk with real sex workers and the nature of their work, the representatives still chose to unconsciously correlate sex work with trafficking and sexual abuse. A member tried to compare the issues that sex workers face with sexual offenders, which is completely inappropriate. The message that they are giving to their members, who are respected therapists working with vulnerable clients, is that their organisation still thinks that sex work is deviant.
Many questions were still left unanswered
I doubt we will see real change by the main therapeutic organisations, because they are accountable to their members. They will be reluctant to make real changes in their policies without the consent of the majority of their members.
By the end of the conference, we still didn’t know:
Will a sex worker be protected by their organisation if a complaint is made against them?
Is a therapist allowed to be dual trained and refer out to a bodyworker/surrogate?
Sex Work is legal, so why would a therapist who was working as a sex worker be bringing their organisation into disrepute?
If these organisations are really concerned about working with vulnerable people, why aren’t they running specialist trainings on issues like sex work, being transgender, LGBT concerns and sexual identity?
So, what’s next?
Being a sex positive professional is not something to take lightly. It’s our role to keep informing the wider community, be allies to sexual minorities and continuing to fight for sexual freedoms.
So, as with most revolutions, change must happen from the bottom up.
Lucy Rowett is a Certified Sex Coach, sex educator, writer and speaker. She helps her clients to re-claim pleasure to transform their relationships- both with themselves and their partners. She's a firm believer in pleasure as a healing tool and an advocate for sexual rights and sexual freedoms for all. As a coach she works with women, men and the gender non-conforming, as well as delivering workshops to organizations, colleges and schools. She works in Eastbourne and Brighton, and internationally via Skype.