A chat with Sexual Therapist Paula Kirsch
I recently read an article on the The Atlantic detailing the results of a 10 year survey from OKCupid regarding member’s thoughts on sex, love and gender. Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people were more sexually conservative in 2015 than they were in 2005. For example, fewer people said they would have sex on a first date and dating just for sex seems less appealing in 2015 than it was in 2005. One point that struck me as particularly positive is that survey respondents were 15 percent less critical about women talking openly about their sex lives. OKCupid explains “Thanks to the plight of outspoken organizations and feminists, people are realizing that it is something that’s perfectly okay (and really important) to talk about, even if they’re not discussing it correctly.”
To that end, I thought a conversation with Paula Kirsch, a sex therapist and my friend, might further the cause.
Paula graduated from Wayne State University School of Social Work, and holds a post graduate certificate in sex therapy and sexuality education from the University of Michigan. She is an adjunct professor at the Wayne State University School of Social Work, teaching Human Sexuality to graduate students. She also has a private practice in Detroit. When she’s not at her private practice or teaching she can be found at Eastwood Clinic-Southfield, where she sees a wide variety of clients. She also serves on the Board of Directors at Affirmations LGBT Community Center.
Tell us about the type of therapy you provide.
I specialize in a working with clients around sexual concerns, particularly in working with women who are having problems with low desire and or pain during sex. I also specialize in working in the LGBTQ community, whether it is couples work, individual orientation or gender issues.
What drew you to this type of work?
Remember when Dr. Ruth had a late night time slot on TV? (Yes, I do!) I used to laugh and say I wanted to be just like her when I grew up! I had no idea how that would ever happen at the time. When I went to school for my MSW though, I interned at Affirmations LGBT Community Center, and from there doors opened for me to be involved with internationally known sex therapist Dr. Joe Kort, at his Center for Relationship and Sexual Heath, and to attend the Sexual Health Certificate Program at the University of Michigan.
What surprised you most about your work?
What most surprised me about working with clients who have sexual problems is that the work often involves dealing with grief and loss, in addition to the more obvious issues of attachment.
I'm sure for many people seeking the help of a sexual therapist might be intimidating, what would you want them to know?
When clients come to me they can leave shame and embarrassment at the door. I am comfortable talking with them about sex and their sexual difficulties, or questions. Our sessions are confidential and my goal is for them to find success and sexual pleasure as a result of therapy and to move on.
When working with couples, I often say in the first session or two that my goal is to put myself out of business as their therapist. I encourage dyadic conversations and we work on communication skills to foster greater understanding between partners and build on the positive aspects of the relationship
Why might someone seek your services?
Couples often seek me out when they are experiencing desire discrepancy in their intimate relationships. I also work with individuals who have a history of physical, verbal and /or sexual abuse and trauma who seek me out, and others who are dealing with “coming out” themselves or who are in a relationship with someone who is coming out as having a same sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
Many couples experience desire discrepancy at some point in their relationship. What general advice can you offer a couple struggling with this?
When you find that one partner wants sex more/or less than the other it could be from multiple causes. There could be underlying anger issues, or stress could be getting to the partner who is losing interest. Has there been a change in responsibilities for that partner? A new job? A new baby? Or even menopause or other health issues? Dealing with these issues can help restore balance. And sometimes it is none of those things.
In an otherwise “good and happy” marriage we sometimes see the relationship become so safe and “comfortable” that the sex loses it’s erotic charge. Ester Perel addresses this in her book, “Mating in Captivity,” A shift in the way we think and act with our partner is the answer. Partners are entitled to their own erotic imagination and they make (as in schedule) time for sex. Also realizing that a spirit of “playfulness, adventure, and/or naughtiness” is part of eroticism. The key is learning how to find balance between the need for connection and safety and also the need for separateness and adventure.
What one thing do you wish women knew about sex?
I come from a non-judgmental, sex positive approach. I believe everyone, especially women, should have the ability and right, to feel good about their bodies and to embrace sexual pleasure and to know what turns them on. I view the right to accurate information about how our bodies work and about how to enjoy sexual intimacy as a human rights and social justice issue.
Thank you Paula for taking the time to chat! If you are interested in learning more about sex therapy you can reach Paula here.