Doula Canada in partnership with Tynan Rhea is offering our Sex and Birth Support Person Training again starting October 1st. Below, Tynan discusses the importance of this training and why discussing sex with clients is a vital part of pregnancy and postpartum support .
When I give talks to professionals on Sex & Birth, or when I go to talks about integrating sexual health questions into any health profession, there’s one phrase I hear all too often:
“If my client has any questions, I trust that they will ask me.”
But here’s the thing… no they won’t! Okay, maybe sometimes, but more often than not people will not come forward with their sexual health questions.
Why won’t people ask? Because they’re ashamed. Or embarrassed. Or they’re scared they’re not normal, that their care provider will treat them differently, or ignore their question, or make them feel like they did something wrong. Many of us find the topic of sexual health emotionally charged. I teach about it for a living and I still get a little anxious bringing up a sexual health concern with a new doctor. Not because I am ashamed or don’t feel I have a right to healthy sexuality, but because I don’t know what my care providers politics are if they don’t bring it up. I don’t know if this person is comfortable, knowledgable, or even indifferent. I do know that sex is a huge stigma for some folks still, and because of that stigma they may directly or indirectly shame me because of their own discomfort. Meaning, their response to my question could psychologically harm me. That’s a big deal!
That’s why as front-line birth professionals we have an obligation to directly ask our clients if they have an sexual health concerns or questions. That also means, we need to educate ourselves on what kinds of sexual health needs folks might have during conception, pregnancy, labour, or the postpartum period. That doesn’t mean we have to know everything, you are definitely allowed to say, “that’s a great question! I’m not sure what the answer is, I’ll look into that for you and in the meantime, here is a great referral.” It does mean we have to take initiative, though, and be open to listening to our client’s needs.
What’s as important as knowledge, is also self-reflection. Has someone ever told you about a food they love to eat that made you want to gag? More than one of my family members hates chocolate, like, really hates it. Luckily, because most people I know love chocolate at least half as much as I do, I don’t feel ashamed for my love of chocolate when so-and-so closes their eyes and makes a gag sound. Sex is similar and in a very important way also different. Because sex is so taboo, and most of us have felt some kind of judgement or shame for some aspect of our sexuality over the course of our lifetime, it’s all the more important to check-ourselves.
Catch that micro expression of disgust before it happens! Be open to different forms of sexual expression and needs. This doesn’t mean you have to do it! It does mean you have to think about it, reflect on it, and maybe even challenge yourself: where did this assumption come from? What disgusts me about this? What excites me? Why do I think this is okay/wrong/neutral?
Self-reflection also means not trying to inflict our politics or sexual preferences onto our clients, either. If someone just isn’t into sex before marriage or hitting up swingers clubs, that’s their business and their choice. It doesn’t matter if swinging was your gateway into a personal sexual revolution- that’s your story and it’s valid! But it doesn’t mean it’s theirs. It can be difficult to know the difference sometimes (I’m guilty of it, oh goodness), but that’s why self-reflection is so vital!
The Sex & Birth Personal Support Worker course is designed to help you gain the knowledge and skills you need to ask the right questions and find the right answers, as well as reflect on your own experiences as a sexual being so you can hold space for your clients. You don’t have to know everything, and you don’t have to love everything, but you do have to provide reproductive health support and part of that support is about sex!
So, instead of “if my client has any questions, I trust that they will ask me,” let’s start acting from a place of, “if my client has any questions, I’ll know because I asked.”.
Tynan Rhea is a settler with German and Czechoslovakian ancestry. Tynan has a private practice online and in Toronto as a counselor, aromatherapist, and doula specializing in sex, intimacy, and relationships throughout the reproductive years and founder of PostpartumSex.com. Tynan graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Joint Honours Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sexuality, Marriage, & Family. They received their doula training from the Revolutionary Doula Training program and their aromatherapy training with Anarres Apothecary Apprenticeship program. Tynan is currently enrolled at Yorkville University doing their Masters of Arts Counselling Psychology degree. Tynan approaches their practice from sex-positive, trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and feminist frameworks. Find Tynan on Facebook, Instagram @TynanRhea or TynanRhea.com