I frequently get asked, “What inspired you to get into sex therapy?” For years, I had a customary canned answer: Well, my dad was a medical doctor and taught everything about the world as a clinical subject. The benefit was that I learned about sexuality early, and not as taboo. Eventually, I was a resource for my friends who received no messages at all; and by high school, I was coined the “Dr. Ruth” of my friends. Fast forward to college, and I was in a school production of The Vagina Monologues where I had the opportunity to perform an original piece I wrote about female self-pleasure. I soon realized that my passion, interest and aptitude had something to do with the world of sexuality.
After college, I perused my academic training in Counseling Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, Sex Therapy, and Clinical Sexology. I had an outstanding post-doctoral experience at Morehouse School of Medicine with the 16th Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher; and then returned to my new home in Boulder to launch The Intimacy Institute for Sex and Relationship Therapy.
Now married, to a man who also became a brilliant sex therapist, and a mother to two young sons, I’m realizing that my answer is actually more involved and evolved. Being older and hopefully wiser, I’m willing to offer more pertinent self-disclosure. I’m willing to say that I also pursued sex therapy because of my mother. This is my shadow side, the dark motivation that pushes us to do what we need to do to heal ourselves, and hopefully also help heal the world.
My mother was addicted to cocaine for 20 years, and then alcohol for a subsequent 15. She abandoned my father and I to chase her addiction when I was barely two-years-old. Dad raised me, and allowed supervised visits with mom, and eventually unsupervised visits when I was older. Little did he know that mom was always high during these visits. Little did he know that she would enter drug-trances and talk about the pain of her own childhood. Little did he know that she abandoned us to drugs because she ultimately could not deal with her own dark secret of her father-daughter incest.
While sexuality at home with dad was a subject matter that was permissible to discuss, ask questions, and explore freely when I was old enough; sexuality when with mom was filled with stories of body violations, parent betrayal, pleasure stolen and lost forever. I quietly vowed to try and help mom, and all other women like her—to reclaim their stolen, frozen, and disassociated sexuality.
I took that vow to my graduation and even thought about being a hands-on coach for women. I realized that I would risk my counseling license, forsaking years of important training. Thus, I continued on my psychological route where I talk to my clients rather than place hands on them. I also opened up to the idea of treating men and couples, not just women. I found that helping more people in the family system accelerated healing for all involved.
Almost a decade later into my private practice, my mom is still alive, and her sexuality still lies dormant in a dark closet of pain. My grief is that I know I can’t ever help her heal because it’s not something she is interested in for herself. I can’t push people who are not ready. And so, I defer to offering motivation where and when I can. I speak, lecture, write, and offer myself and my words as permission for pleasure. I hope to inspire anyone who is willing to listen. I hope that my message rings loud and clear: We are born with an inherent birthright to access, express, and explore our sexuality (our sexual orientation, our gender, our fantasies and our feelings). Our birthright is not just freedom from pain, coercion, and violence; but permission to feel our pleasure—to feel all the sensations and nerve endings with which we were born, and embrace the full magnitude of their potential. No one should be allowed to steal this from us, physically, verbally, or with covert messages. And if stolen, it’s important to know that it’s not gone forever. We need to reclaim and rebuild our sexuality. As long as we inhabit a body, we have the potential to access our sexuality and pleasure. It’s right there. We just need to give ourselves permission, and pay attention to that inner landscape of sensation. And always remember, this is our Birthright.