Sex & Relationships

What It's Like to Be a Sex Therapist: "Trust Me, I've Heard It All"

In our 9–5 series, we ask our favourite boss babes what a day in the office entails. In honour of Valentine's Day, we spoke with Vancouver-based sex therapist Dr. Teesha Morgan to get a glimpse into her v. sexy daily grind

Sex therapist Dr. Teesha Morgan

(Photo: Courtesy of Teesha Morgan)

Age: 35

Education: Bachelors of science in psychology from University of Calgary, masters in counselling from Adler University, doctorate in human sexuality from The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.

Length of time as a sex therapist: 8 years

Growing up, did you always have an interest in sexuality or is that something that came later?
I always had an interest. I used to watch Sue Johanson’s Sex With Sue religiously and tried to answer the questions before she could—but I didn’t really think that was a viable career option. Then when I got into my master’s program, I started to do a lot of my presentations around topics like fetishism. One of my profs pointed out that I seemed interested in this, and suggested I should specialize in it. I didn’t even know that was a thing I could do! It was a light bulb moment for me and it kind of just flowed from there.

There is already a stigma associated with therapy, but sex therapy arguably faces even more stigma. How do you make people feel comfortable when they come into that first session?
I always say that it takes balls, for lack of a better term, to walk into my office. It really is difficult to be that vulnerable and talk about sex and sexuality, and if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have a job. I try and normalize when clients come into my office and make them aware that it’s a non-judgemental space. Whatever they’re saying, I’ve probably heard it before—or a 10-times-more intense version. I try and create an environment of non-judgement, that’s a really important part of sex therapy.

What’s your average day like?
Usually I see about five or six clients in a day, some for couples counselling and others for individual sessions. They range anywhere from 50 to 80 minutes a session. Hopefully I give myself enough time to have lunch somewhere in there. I do a couple evenings a week because obviously it’s tough to get away during the workday, especially for couples counselling. So a typical day is in the office, doing therapy for between 9 and 12 hours, but I don’t work in the office five days straight. Personal self-care is extremely important in this industry because it’s rare that someone walks into your office and says that their life is wonderful and they’re so incredibly happy. That’s not why people are coming to see you. So to talk to people about things that are devastating to them, or traumatic—especially when we talk about things like rape, abuse and trauma—to listen to that for hours everyday can definitely wear on a person.

What does that self-care look like for you?
I think every therapist should have a therapist, so I go to my therapist. As people unburden onto you, you hold that space of things that they said, or sadness or trauma that they endured. Then I go to my therapist and I unburden all of those things onto her, and around and around the cycle goes. And then, also, I don’t work five days a week in the office. I take Wednesdays as a “me” day and on Fridays I do side projects with other therapists or things that I want to work on that are different than the regular therapeutic dynamic. That allows me to balance and self-care.

When hearing the stories of trauma, do you find it challenging to stay composed?
As much as I don’t want to have this shocked look of horror on my face, I need to be authentic. The difference between sympathy and empathy is important here. Sympathy is hearing these things and responding saying, “Oh that really sucks, do you want a sandwich? What can I give you to put a smile on your face?” Empathy is really going down to that level with that person and meeting them with that emotion and feeling that with them. Maybe for them it’s not traumatic, but maybe it’s shameful, so saying, “I feel why that would have shame around it, I understand that.” With that, I don’t think comes shock, because you’re being in their skin, and it’s not shocking to them because they live that life, it is their truth. Being able to do that is an art form in and of itself.

What are some of the most common sexual challenges you hear from women?
Women typically come into my office with one of two concerns. One is low libido, so they either have a lack of wanting to have sex, masturbate, or even wanting to be intimate with their partner and they think that something might be wrong with them or it’s causing problems in their relationship. The second most common is painful intercourse.

What about men?
With men it often has to do with erectile dysfunction. That’s not to say that men don’t suffer from things like low libido, it’s just that erectile dysfunction is the most common concern I see.

What is the most common misconceptions men seem to have about women in the bedroom?
It’s probably around female sexual desire. We used to think that arousal for men and women was on a graph, where horniness was at the bottom and then as you progress upwards the body responds physiologically—so a man will get an erection, a woman will get wet—and then up at the top you have an orgasm and then a plateau. Recently, Vancouver’s Dr. Lori Brotto and Dr. Rosemary Basson have found that for a large percentage of women in long-term relationships, the first bit of the graph can actually be reversed, meaning that sometimes women don’t walk around feeling super horny and ready to rip their partner’s clothes off. But if they go home, and their partner initiates and they agree to have sex, even though that horniness is not present, then after foreplay or sex has begun, maybe that desire kicks it. It’s becoming clear that the reasons that women give for initiating or agreeing to have sex are not just simply because they are horny.

What about some of the misconceptions that women feel about men?
I think women often get frustrated and feel that their partners don’t understand, because their partners are horny or need that release and women sometimes don’t relate to that.

With same-sex couples do you see a completely different range of sexual challenges or are there some issues that all couples seem to deal with?
I often feel that how people communicate around sexuality can be a big piece of the misconception puzzle, regardless of if you’re gay or straight. There’s common patterns for all couples. It all comes down to looking at how we communicate about sex. How would you like me to touch you for your pleasure versus how would you like to touch me for your pleasure? These are questions that all couple can have.

How do you as a sex therapist provide guidance even for clients you may not be able to relate to?
With therapy, it’s not necessarily about providing guidance because that puts me in a position where I know what the truth or the right path is—and I would probably be a pretentious asshole if I thought I knew what the right decision was for every human being that came into my office, because I haven’t walked in their shoes. I think it’s more about helping them discover their truth. It’s about being an inquirer, being curious about each person who sees me. I explore where they came from, where they have shame or guilt, what their anxiety looks like and all aspects of whatever issue they’re coming into. With that curiosity, understanding, normalizing and empathy, they will find the path that is right for them.

We talked about stigma in the office, but when you’re out, say at a party, do you encounter stigma when you tell people what you do?
Yes. You can tell a lot about someone often by how they respond. Some people say, “Oh, that’s interesting” and kind of turn away, and other people get really excited and immediately start firing off questions. I don’t know if either one is the best option, because sometimes you want work to stay at work and not be part of your full identity outside of the office, but by no means do I shy away from answering questions. If someone has a question and they feel comfortable enough to ask it, that’s a pretty honoured position for me to be in.

How did your job impact your love life—were people intimidated by your work if you were dating?
I have a partner and we live together. When I was dating, I think often for men, I could come across as intimidating. I didn’t know at the time, but years later, I found out that some of the men who liked me didn’t pursue me because they were nervous or had performance anxiety. At the time, I thought they just didn’t follow up and they just weren’t that into me.

When you’re with your partner now, do you find it hard to shut off your sex therapist side and just be in the moment?
Yes, sometimes it’s hard to shut off work, although I do feel like I’m getting better at it. Plus, my partner knows me well enough now that he can see when the wheels are spinning and he tries to bring me back to the present. Overanalyzing is probably a thing for all therapists, but yes, definitely for me. 

What attributes does someone need to not only be a therapist, but specifically a sex therapist?
Self-awareness is important. Getting your own therapy before you go into this field is highly recommended, because if you don’t know where your hot-button issues are and what made you into the person you are today, you’re not going to be a very effective therapist. The second is the ability to not be embarrassed by talking about anything from ejaculation to ABDL (adult baby diaper lovers). [Note: Dr. Morgan recently started The Westland Academy of Clinical Sex Therapy, a training program for those looking to become sex therapists.]

How do you unwind at the end of the day?
Sometimes I literally just come home, pour myself a glass of wine and just stare at the wall. I have zero empathy and time to speak to someone about their day, which I’m sure can be tough for my partner. When you’ve talked to people and been curious for 10-plus hours, and then you get home and are expected to do the same thing with  your partner, asking about their day and how they’re doing, it’s too much. Having quiet time, whether it’s staring at the wall or having a bath or whatever is good. I just need to shut my brain off.

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