Then & Now

Way back in the dark ages of the 1960s when no respectable therapist would be seen dead without crushed velvet Loons and Cuban heeled boots, or indeed a floral hippy dress! There came out of the primordial sludge two giants of their age. A couple who transformed outdated ideas about human sexuality. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you William Masters and Virginia Johnson, two pioneers who heralded in a new age, an age when love became Free. No subscription necessary. Just turn up with your bits and bong and you were good to go…or …whatever you fancied really.

Masters & Johnson can’t take all the credit, (or blame depending on which way you view these things) for the sexually permissive avalanche that proceeded to cover Western Culture. There’s no doubt that since their Opus on Human Sexuality they have inspired and helped millions traverse those virgin slopes. (and even more to venture off piste).

This new found age of sexual freedom wasn’t easy. There were now new areas of sexual enjoyment to explore and master which put a different kind of pressure on men and women alike. This new found freedom brought with it excitement, but also a sense of uncertainty. Education and information were the keys to unlock the lack of experience that preceded this liberating time. It wasn’t just enough to turn up with a ‘Pancho Villa’ moustache and expect fireworks. Sexual relationships were hard work and it fell to a chosen few to assist in helping people navigate their way through these complex and often complex or tricky liaisons.

The psychosexual therapist was born. This was someone who fully understood the basic principle that sex was a ‘normal’ biological function. That it wasn’t a perversion, and that it was every human being’s right to have a fulfilling and enjoyable sex life.

During the following years agencies like The Marriage Guidance Council took shape to help with these “taboo” issues. That was okay as far as it went, the problem was in the title, what if you weren’t married? What if you were Gay/Bi? What if you were indifferent? What if you were different? It appeared that the context had to expand to meet developing ideology around sex. (and this is where my involvement starts.)

I entered the arena of sex therapy not through any of the classical presentations related to orgasmic functioning but through the need to work through what now would be called ‘abuse’ issues. This was not something that Marriage Guidance dealt with.

Luckily there were individuals, like Bernd Leygraf and Judi Keshet-Orr, who saw that the medical model of sex therapy at the time didn’t quite fit every body’s needs. A more pluralistic and Holistic approach was required. This inspired me and I signed up for their first intake of students undertaking a Psychosexual training at the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust in North London. Although we trainees still had to utilise the standard medical protocols, it allowed for more flexibility to consider psychological as well as behavioural interventions to classical presentations. Ideas were changing. Sure, we still had to work through a hospital setting but at least there was an alternative to dilators for women who had been on the receiving end of serious traumatic abuse.

Fast forward to today. Although the techniques and interventions are fundamentally the same, the context of the work is very different. Doing same sex couples relationship work where one of the clients is a post op transsexual would have been quite a rare presentation in 1960. Thankfully, ideas of sexual fluidity rather than heteronormativity are more widely accepted in society. Difference and diversity are seen as beneficial and positive. More recent publications mirror the changes. This can only be a good thing. It’s gratifying and gives me a sense of pride to still be involved with an organisation such as The London Diploma, who for decades have been in the vanguard of this diverse, unique and rewarding therapeutic work.

Richard Simpson
Psychosexual Psychotherapist
COSRT Accredited, UKCP (CSRP) Registered
March 2019

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