The Lack of Human Sexuality Education in Profession of Psychology

With cultural exposure to new and wide-ranging forms of sexual content there is a dire need for a renewed understanding of human sexuality.

Dr. Omar Minwalla
June 2014

ONE WOULD EXPECT PSYCHOTHERAPISTS, psychologists and mental health professionals to be relatively informed about the spectrum of human sexuality and how to help people discuss and integrate sexuality in a healthy manner.
The harsh reality here, and one the public needs to understand, is that there is almost no education in human sexuality in graduate programs in psychology, and if there is, it will be basic education on the most traditional outdated sex therapy models. This is still the norm. If there is a course, it will likely be a single “diversity course” about LGBT concerns. Which is important. However, there is a lot more to human sexuality and being a therapist then just being “gay-friendly.”

FEAR OF SEXUALITY

The profession of psychology has a long history of being a few steps behind societal norms when it comes to understanding and being comfortable with human sexuality. Sadly, a field based on understanding human beings, behavior and motivation, lacks professionals who are educated or trained in even the basics in human sexuality. For the most part, professional training programs perpetuate avoidance and fear of sexuality, rendering it as unimportant and negligible, rather then primary and central.

Furthermore, the field of psychology also has a long history of persecution of sexual and gender minorities. Homosexuality was a well-established mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders with no scientific basis for it’s inclusion, or it’s removal in 1973, for that matter. Transgender people have been and are still persecuted by the field, many therapists still making children play with gendered toys as “therapy” for “gender disorders.”

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION

People with arousal templates, sexualities, gender experiences or who have sex with others that do not fit the notion of “traditional and normal in the most outdated Pollyanna sense” have always and still are routinely stigmatized and misunderstood by mental health professionals. The norm in the profession is “vanilla is sexual health and kinky is unhealthy and a disease.” This mistaken assumption, along with the profound lack of any serious education given to psychology students on human sexuality, leaves a serious void of educated professionals who can meet criteria of being competent to treat people. Most mental health professionals are like deer in the headlights when it comes to human sexuality, particularly when confronted with kinky sexuality, BDSM, fetishes, orientation variance, transgender dynamics or even contemporary dynamics such as sexual subcultures, online sexuality, the new norms regarding pornography, or the profound differentiation in heterosexuality and pre- cyber sexual-social norms and assumptions, etc.

A SERIOUS CRISIS

The profession and field of psychology and mental health professionals have been significant perpetrators of human sexuality and have demonstrated a lack of internal consistency with the ethics and ideals of the profession itself. The field’s tradition of not teaching students rigorously about human sexuality and not standing up for our sexuality as a legitimate part of being human, worthy of academic attention, has been allowed to pass and go unchallenged for decades. However, with the advent of the Internet and the profound cultural exposure to new and wide-ranging forms of sexual content, arousal and expression, there is a dire need for a renewed understanding of human sexuality and how to clinically treat and help people understand their sexuality and relationships today. The reality is that the field’s stance towards sexuality is now a serious crisis in the field. We are now faced with a society in the midst of a cyber-sexual evolution, and we have a squeamish, moralistic, and uneducated profession of psychology.

CONTEMPORARY CHANGES

Most psychologists-to-be receive no clinical training in graduate school in even how to speak about sex with a client or patient. Most psychologists-to-be will never learn about arousal templates, differentiated sexual orientation, human sexuality as a spectrum, four gendered systems as our history, or anything about the psychology and actual experiences of kinky people, BDSM, alternate lifestyles, sexual subcultures, or transgender people. Most educational programming has little to offer in addressing the rapid and profound contemporary changes to heterosexuality and current trends in sexual behavior and newly emerging relational complexities in heterosexual relationships. Therapists have no training about the actual realities of pornography today, and will learn absolutely nothing about the enormous impact that patterns of infidelity are having on spouses, children and families, or how the realities of sex addiction is causing sex addiction-induced trauma (SAIT) on human beings who are hemorrhaging in startling numbers.  Psychologists-to-be today are not being educated about human rights and how that relates to human sexuality and gender pathology on a global and inter-national level of consciousness and activism, and thus psychologists are NOT even close to being leaders here.

Most therapists know little about leather spaces, or how to help the teenager who is cyber-dating and exploring his sexuality in an online “second life”, or the 15 year old who gets arrested by the FBI for child pornography and his parent’s experience their souls crush. The psychological, emotional or relational worlds of sex workers, adult industry people, HIV positive communities, sexualities of color, sexualities of religious and faith-based communities, expansive spectrum-heterosexuality, people in poly-dynamics, racial-ethnic-cultural intersections with sexuality and intimacy, fetish groups and subcultures, and all adolescent and youth sexual and gender developmental concerns, will have an absolutely difficult time being understood by most therapists in the United States and in the professions. Many of today’s adolescents are finding sexual and intimacy expression in gender fluidity, orientation deconstructions, and huge emerging subcultures including erotic characters born out of online gaming, a new cyber- eroticism currently impacting profoundly the sexual-romantic-relational development of our youth.  Students are not being educated rigorously about gender development, despite disturbing new global trends of yet unseen gender-based violence (GBV) and gender-based trauma (GBT), which will continue be assured without intervention.  People today in our clinical offices need help metabolizing these contemporary changes and dynamics and the profession is seriously ill prepared.

This means that people in pain or who seek to deepen their understanding of their lives and turn to psychologists and therapists for help -are at a loss and being prevented from quality psychological care. This perpetuates the idea that sex is not important and that these human beings and their experiences are not important either. It is human neglect. We devalue our sexuality and render it worthy of silence and fear versus professional attention, academic curiosity and clinical development. Instead of empowering our students, we cripple them.

ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

The omission of sex education in psychology training programs is an out-dated, unhealthy and unethical collusion with the tradition of stigmatization and marginalization of erotic minorities—which actually had always violated and still violates the ethical principles in the profession of psychology. The reality is that all people deserve both their human worth validated and respected, and their clinical needs met by the profession, including their human sexuality. The profession needs to re-evaluate its stance towards human sexuality and permit students the education and clinical training they desperately require in order to meet the needs of our ever changing sexual and relational world.

Dr. Omar Minwalla is a Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Sexologist and Clinical Director of The Institute for Sexual Health (ISH) in Beverly Hills.