Supporting healthy male practitioners working with sexuality
Trigger warning – this article deals with challenging content around non-consensual sexual behaviour and will be uncomfortable for many people to read. Please check in with yourself and consider whether you want to continue…
I have a burning desire to work with men. It has always been there and each day it gets stronger and stronger.
In this patriarchal society, I recognise the challenge to be an open, ethical, aware, vulnerable and honest man today, let alone be a man who wants to work with sexuality.
One by one some of the men we knew, or at least suspected, were using their power to torment, manipulate, and in some cases abuse people, often women, were being called out.
Publicly denounced in an article as having raped or committed another form of non-consensual sexual touch is what is expected when the word is out.
And then what?
What happens then?
Without a criminal case, they seem to disappear.
Without hard facts, a judge or jury, no-one really knows the truth. Speculation on past abuses becomes a talking point. People keep quiet, people defend their position, people are left hurting, fearful and isolated.
I rarely see those who have worked with the named abuser make statements on how they will no longer be associated with, nor work with the abuser again. I get that it is tricky without a judicial ruling. There comes a point where there must be sufficient noise to say a pause is needed. Some time out to investigate is warranted before we move forward.
Those that have made statements, thank you. It matters.
Silence erodes trust
The problem is when any brand, organisation or community who have worked with a perceived abuser says nothing, there is a credibility issue in my mind. How do I trust you when you have been their advocate and then go silent? That silence makes me feel uneasy. Over time that silence erodes my trust.
There is a school of thought for some men wanting to work in this field of connection, intimacy and sexuality that they will wait until the storm passes. They will put their profession aside for a period and hope that everything calms down. They can try again when there is less fear of being targeted.
I am almost certain that this strategy wont work. We need healthy, skilled, ethical male practitioners in the world of sexuality now. There are going to be more and more people who have been put up on a pedestal by many, that will be unveiled by some brave souls as being perpetrators. On some level we know this don’t we?
I understand why men are staying out of the spotlight
There are huge barriers to male practitioners continuing to work in sexuality, let alone those wanting to enter the community as practitioners for the first time.
There are people out there who have been hurt by men and are fearful of men as a result. They want someone to pay for what has happened. Many men believe they are good, healthy and ethical. Hannah Gatsby did a brilliant short speech about this which you can watch here.
I know that there are men who have done some awful things. I do not expect all men to apologise on behalf of all men. I wish they would acknowledge that many other men have behaved in an unacceptable way and as a man you represent those people as well as yourself.
All practitioners, consciously or unconsciously, are being sized up by others in the community. I wonder how many people would be comfortable asking some direct questions to any practitioner about their ethics, boundaries, and consent? Are people more fearful of the answer or asking the question in the first place?
I want to be clear here that I am not in any way saying that this is only a male practitioner abuse problem.
This is about people. People who are offering services, running events and creating workshops. People who may have good intentions and lack the necessary awareness, ethics, support, education and motives for working in this delicate field of intimacy.
I know that some male practitioners are collaborating with women to run workshops and events to feel safer. It feels less risky. I also know men who are changing their offering to work with couples, again to not have to be alone with women, or being the sole person in charge. They are on high alert. They are also unsupported in this largely unregulated industry.
Regardless of what we do as practitioners there is always a power dynamic at play when we are holding space. It is part of the role. Being clear on the boundaries and creating a healthy ethical container for that dynamic is an ongoing practice. I’ve witnessed first-hand and heard countless stories of messy boundaries, poorly held containers, and an urgent approach to sexual touch with little time for the brains, bodies and nervous systems of all involved to feel safe, seen and respected.
As humans we will make mistakes. To say we will never get it wrong or cross a line is naive. That attitude and mindset sets us all up to fail. We need to understand and be trained in how to recover from accidental human error which can support both the client and the practitioner. There are occasions where boundaries get crossed by mistake. Finding ways all parties can be empowered and grow from the experience is essential.
I would like to see support networks for the healthy ethical practitioners and neutral spaces for practitioners to voice fears and doubts. That includes tailored support networks for healthy male presenting practitioners.
Recognition of abuse by men in this field is needed
The slate can’t simply be wiped clean. There is an ancestral gender debt.
That needs to be acknowledged and followed up with direct action to be better, to know more and to do the increased awareness work. Otherwise, those impacted by the abuse are soaking up the pain yet again for those wanting to learn about the misuse of power and privilege.
More men need to take responsibility for increasing their awareness. This means working on themselves, owning their part of this situation and not waiting for others to come to their rescue. There is an inherent irrevocable entitlement and privilege that most men are born with in our society.
Far too often at sexuality and intimacy type events I see men waiting and expecting to be paired with a female. They don’t even consider that they could take the opportunity to work with each other.
We can’t turn our backs and say it is not our problem either.
For those able and willing, for those who feel safe enough, there must be a collaborative effort. There needs to be a way for men who want to offer high quality work and are committed to continual professional development to have help. Support is needed to increase their awareness of the impact the past is having on the present.
Part of the reason I want to be involved with men’s groups is that having men only groups can only go so far. If men are working with clients and workshop participants who are not men, surely, they need to have a representation and perspective from those parts of the community. Only then can they gain knowledge and awareness of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a power dynamic with a male practitioner.
I was in a small working group of men talking about the subject of supporting men who want to work in sexuality. As the only person presenting as a woman in this group I asked if they recognised that a significant majority of women would be uncomfortable and potentially avoid talking about this subject with a group of men the way I was. They all acknowledged that there was some awareness of it in the background. By simply saying it out loud brought it to a front and centre awareness again.
What collective awareness could be harvested from working groups including women, LGBTQ, non-binary, gender fluid, with a range of ethnic and generational backgrounds on this topic?
Imagine what we could all learn if we stepped into this highly emotive and deeply uncomfortable area with a mindset of broadening our awareness and really hearing each other?
We are healers on the edge
How do we safeguard our clients and ourselves to ensure we are not the next scandal 3 or 4 years down the line? Can we adapt to recognise what is on its way so we are not the next example of abuse? Can we call out other practitioners on their shadow behaviour?
Having a diverse group to gain an educational understanding of trauma with continued professional development, confidential sharing, a space to own what has happened, to be vulnerable in and, most importantly, comfortable in the uncomfortable could make a significant difference.
It would also help combat the loneliness of being in this profession. The loneliness that men often feel. The isolation of working with sexuality and trying to get it right. I feel that too.
Personal fear and anxiety
I am also aware that I have had this article circling in my head for months and months. There is a resistance to putting it out. I finally got it written over a week ago and here I am reading it again.
Have I said enough? Have I said too much? Does anyone even care?
There is a part of me that has been scared to even write this down never mind publish. A fear of the backlash. It is a really challenging subject and I want to see quality practitioners covering the whole spectrum of being human, and that includes men.
If you want to help support ethical healthy male practitioners or are a male practitioner wanting this kind of support and supervision, please contact me and let’s start talking.