ESSAY: What is a sexologist?

The over-arching mission of sexologists is to protect and promote sexual health and happiness through research and scientific understanding. For some of us, this means working as therapists with individuals on sex problems; for others, it means providing sex education, sex coaching, and some sexologists work primarily in labs or organizational settings.

Sexologists look both at the hard science (medical data) and the soft science (surveys and studies) to form complete understandings of types of sexual behaviors or specific sexual subjects. This two-pronged approach combines the cold scientific data about sex with the warm human face of sex.

Medical research into sexuality looks at the underlying biochemistry and organic function behind sexual responses. Some of the biggest advances in sex medicine in the past decade has emerged from fields like Endocrinology (which studies sex hormones), Urology (for penile and testicular health), Gynecology/Obstetrics (for vaginal health and reproductive medicine), Genetics (to decode our sexual DNA), and Neurology (to understand how the brain transmits sex signals). Medical sex research goes under the skin to learn things about you that you may not know or admit on a conscious level.

Sexologists use the medical research to form fact-based assessments of individual sexual health and performance. Knowing the mechanics of male impotence from a medical point of view, for one example, helps me in my therapy practice to quickly discern if the problem is medical or psychological, and to deliver the right treatment right away. Knowing how some prescription meds alter libido and performance helps me help my patients.

Sometimes, though, as in the touchy subject of the G-spot, science conflicts with anecdotal information. Lab tests have not yet proven that a G-spot even exists. Since there is so much reliable anecdotal information to support an extra-tender spot inside the vagina, I tend to believe women who say they have one, and wonder if we just don’t have a good medical tool to measure what goes on yet Still, if the data isn’t there, I can’t state it as a medical fact.

This is why personal testimony is the second key to sex research. Compare a psychology survey asking people what turns them on and a medical experiment to investigate what turns them on. The first asks people to describe how they feel about sex or particular sex acts or partners. A medical experiment doesn’t solicit the subject’s feelings: it monitors biological reactions to stimuli. But just because your heart-rate jumps or your penis gets hard in response to a sexual image does not mean that you actually want to have that kind of sex. In the real world, people are more than their chemical and organic processes. Their sex choices are also governed by morals, preferences, attitudes, belief systems, and — most importantly — how they feel, about themselves and others. Biological responses alone are an incomplete picture because emotions dictate most sexual choices.

Soft sciences offer vital information on personal attitudes and experiences, social factors and socio-sexual history. Sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, social workers, sexologists and others in the soft sciences contribute a critical part of the picture of human sexual experience through surveys, studies, and clinical cases. We need anecdotal information to tell us how people think about, feel about and react to sexual situations. Poor or uninformed choices can destroys a person’s sexual health and well-being. Worse, their problems often ripple out, and may cause harm to those around them, and to the general public, even driving up public health costs in the case of preventable diseases.

Sexologists may be trained psychologists, MDs, Ph.D’s or social workers. Thus specialties vary widely, from child sexuality to geriatric sexuality, and everything hormonal, reproductive or sex-related that happens in between. Every professional sexologist is board-certified by a reputable sexological organization like AASECT or the American College of Sexologists. Beyond that, similarities in endeavors and specialties end yet, together, we make up a powerful force for positive change in national attitudes towards human sexuality and the importance of sexual health.

The more we understand about the intricacies of adult sexual behavior, the more we can guide people to make safer, saner, and healthier choices. Helping people lead the happiest, most loving lives possible, is a goal every sexologist shares.

Looking for a professional sexologist in your area? Check out the geographically organized membership directories at AASECT and the American College of Sexologists.

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