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by Jesse Kahn

Nov 21, 2023

Beyond Boundaries: Understanding and Celebrating Diverse Sexualities with a Sex Therapist

QueerPsych spoke with Jesse Kahn to discuss his experiences as a sex therapist.

1. Can you tell us about your background and what led you to become a sex therapist with a particular focus on the LGBTQ+ community?

I have always been curious and interested in people’s inner worlds, how they relate to their emotions, thoughts, genders, sexualities, relationships, and sex. So, once I learned that I could make an entire career around working with others, encouraging curiosity and engaging with people’s inner worlds, I jumped right in!

2. What unique challenges do individuals often face in their sexual and intimate lives, and how do you address these challenges in your therapy practice?

There are a range of unique challenges that bring people to sex therapy such as past traumas, communication difficulties, differences within relationships, performance anxiety, body image concerns, and cultural beliefs tied to purity culture.

As a therapist, I address these challenges by exploring how clients’ thoughts, emotions, and histories impact their experiences, thoughts, behaviors, responses, desires, and fears.
Within our thoughts and feelings, we often have different parts that hold their own beliefs, fears, thoughts, and roles in our lives, and are often in conflict with others. The goal is to get to know and befriend these parts with the ultimate goal to understand, heal, support, and create inner harmony and authentic connections to ourselves and others.

3. Could you share some insights into the various aspects of sexual identity and orientation that you commonly explore with your clients?

It completely depends on the person. I try to balance finding overall themes with respecting people’s individuality as well as holding nuance.
A few overarching themes include:

  1. Working with individuals to understand, accept and embrace their sexual orientation, relationship orientation, and desires, and the impact this may have on their lives
  2. Working with individuals to understand the dynamics between and conflicts with their sexuality, gender, and societal norms, familial narratives, religious narratives, political narratives, and purity culture, and what that means for how they’ve lived vs how they want to live
  3. Concerns about coming out in different spaces, including self, family, friends, workplaces, etc.

Lastly, a lot of times people come to therapy at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center to have a therapist who will not overly focus on gender and sexuality unnecessarily, and who can still understand experiences and see life, culture, sex, and relationships through a queer lens.

4. How do you approach the topic of gender identity and its intersection with sexual expression when working with transgender and non-binary clients?

I approach the topic of gender identity and its intersection with sexual expression with nuance, openness, sensitivity, respect, and a lack of assumptions. I work with clients to co-create a space to openly explore their feelings and experiences related to their gender identity and how it interacts with their sexual expression focusing on curiosity and understanding the role our parts, such as self criticism, judgment, or fear, may be coming up.
Some topics that may or may not come up include dysphoria, self-discovery, coming out, self-judgment, societal expectations, cis-normativity, internalized transphobia or homophobia, microaggressions, and discrimination.

The process is guided by the client’s unique experiences and needs, and focuses on self-acceptance, self-empowerment, and creating a deeper understanding of and connection to our authentic self. And in this journey, I remind them that exploration is okay. Changes in identity, expression and desire are common and change throughout someone’s lifetime, and there are no right answers or ways to be.

5. How do you approach the unique challenges that individuals may encounter when navigating polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships, considering both their sexual orientation and relationship structure?

I approach nonmonogamous folks’ unique challenges through listening, open and clear communication, understanding how their different parts relate to their non-monogamy and sometimes providing education.

This may include exploring client’s motivations, boundaries, emotional needs within the context of their sexual orientation and relationship orientation, jealousy, boundaries, self-awareness, internalized stigmas, communication styles, fears, and beliefs about them or their partner(s) having multiple emotional connections.

A large part of our work is also bringing to light what assumptions the person is unknowingly making and getting curious about those assumptions, where they come from, if they resonate, when they come up, why they come up, their purpose and if they are aligned with the person’s overarching values and beliefs.

6. How do you support individuals who may be exploring polyamory or non-monogamy for the first time, considering the potential overlap of discovering both their sexual orientation and relationship preferences?

Exploring polyamory or non-monogamy for the first time heavily involves exploring internalized stigma, judgements, fears and motivations. Through discussions about communication, setting boundaries, and managing emotions, I work with clients to make informed choices that align with the kinds of relationships they want to have and work with them to build the tools to navigate new relationship dynamics while also embracing their sexual and relationship orientations.

Additionally, informed decisions require education, so part of working with individuals exploring non-monogamy for the first time is providing education in session, or via blogs, articles, books and seeking like minded communities. A goal here is to foster self-discovery and empower clients to navigate these aspects of their identity or relationship orientations with resilience.

7. With regards to parenthood, what are some common emotions and challenges that parents typically experience when their children come out as LGBTQ+ or begin to question their gender/sexuality, and how do you help them navigate these feelings?

When kids question their gender or sexuality, parents often experience a range of emotions including surprise, confusion, fear, grief, and concern for their child’s well-being. I think some parents feel grief in the sense that they feel they’ve lost their child, but I also think they experience the loss of their vision for their child’s future.

Some common challenges include integrating new information in their worldview and view of their child, struggling with societal and internalized biases, feelings of protectiveness, and reconciling their personal beliefs, including any cis-normativity, homophobia, and transphobia.

However, the biggest protective factor for LGBTQ+ children is the love, support, acceptance and celebration from their parents, so I also highlight the importance of continuing to love, respect and support their child even when they don’t fully understand (yet!).
When I work with parents who have LGBTQ+ or questioning children, I focus on providing a supportive space for parents to express their feelings and concerns without judgment. I think it’s crucial that they have a space to speak honestly about their feelings and fears, and specifically a space that doesn’t involve their child. I work with them to unlearn some of their homophobia and transphobia, shift the frame of some of their fears, provide education on LGBTQ+ topics and language, and normalize the struggles they and their child are experiencing.

The goal is to support them in resolving their internal struggles so that they can be the type of parents they want to be and build a more inclusive and supportive family dynamic and structure.

8. How do you approach the process of educating and supporting parents in understanding the terminology, concepts, and experiences related to LGBTQ+ identities and gender diversity?

Slowly – I want parents to know and experience support from me and I don’t want them to feel like I’m just trying to change them.
At the same time, they’re coming to me for support and often specifically support around understanding what their child is going through, so it’s ultimately a balance between providing education around terminology, concepts, and experiences related to sexual and gender expansiveness and making sure they have the space to process what is coming up for them.
Lastly, it’s also important for parents to connect with a community of other parents that are supporting, advocating for and struggling with being parents of LGBTQ+ children.

Lastly, here’s a list of blogs we’ve written at G&STC that I think discussed and explored a lot of what we’ve spoken about:

Navigating Non-Monogamy When Conflicting Desires Arise

Relationships, Mental Health

by Jesse Kahn

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