Interview: Sex Therapist Korey McWilliams
Interview: Sex Therapist Korey McWilliams
Interview Conducted by William Grant
1. How did you get into sex therapy and teaching? Where did that interest come from?
My interest in being a sex therapist came about after a decade of teaching human sexuality to undergraduates. I have been a licensed psychotherapist since 1998 but decided to focus my practice on sex and relationship therapy out of sheer enjoyment of the discussing these topics! I could talk about sex and relationships everyday. On the flip side, while that’s great for me that I get to discuss topics I enjoy everyday, this only means that there are too many individuals and couples out there in need of sexual and relational healing.
As far as teaching is concerned, I think I’ve been a teacher (and a student) all my life. Every non-teaching job I’ve had, I somehow find a way to fill that role. It just kinda naturally shows up in how I perceive and interact with the world and others. And, I like to perform in front of people. So, teaching in the classroom provides an opportunity to integrate humor, entertainment, AND learning.
2. What do you like about your work? What keeps it interesting?
I enjoy the impact it has on people and myself. I’m not one for a lot of conversation about sports and weather but I’m honored and rewarded by the willingness of my fellow humans to share their personal suffering with me. I believe that being generous and compassionate are their own rewards. The more I can offer others in a therapeutic or teaching relationship, the more I benefit. I’m just intrinsically value this type of work.
What keeps it interesting is the variety of students and clients that I work with in regards to nationality, ethnicity, gender and sexual identities. We all have such unique personal histories yet our suffering is so universal. I’ve learned to not try and predict what will come out of a client's or student’s mouth because I’ve been surprised too many times. That lack of predictability and diversity really keeps things new and interesting.
3. What are the biggest sexual hang-ups you see in our current society? Do you think there's an easy fix to help people work through them?
The biggest sexual hang up that I see is simply the shame people carry that inhibits talking about sex with a partner. We all get raised in a sexually dysfunctional culture (as well as gender and racially dysfunctional) and one would have to be a miracle to be raised in this culture and NOT have dysfunctional ideas about sexuality. The lack of sex education, the lack of conversation in public spaces, and the perpetuation of sexual myths and stereotypes in our personal relationships all conspire to maintain both the personal shame as well as the cultural dysfunction.
The solution is simple but the implementation is political and therefore not easy at all. When it comes to sex education, despite overwhelming majority support for comprehensive sexuality education, we don’t seem to be too motivated to change anything systemically. And I would conjecture that a big reason for our collective silence reflects the impact of our shared socialization in a sexually dysfunctional culture.
4. How do you think parents could better handle the "birds and the bees" talk with their kids?
Educate themselves first. Understand that teaching your child what you learn doesn’t make them want to have sex more, it just makes them less likely to get pregnant, get an STD, or feel pressured and uncomfortable when the day inevitably comes that someone approaches them sexually. Do your research using science based sources. There are some really good programs for secular and faith based communities that provide research based, comprehensive sexuality education. Coordinate with your school to see what information they will be providing to your kids. Then you’ll know what your kids might have further questions about as well as areas where you may need to fill in the gaps. In some cases, you may need to counter some of the false and harmful misinformation being spread by many abstinence only sex education programs.
5. How has your sexual history influenced how you tackle your work?
I remember how little I used to know about my sexuality and how poorly my decisions were based on this lack of information. Hopefully I now know more and make better decisions! If you’re going to be an effective sex therapist you need to have a history or lifestyle that includes robust sexual experiences. Sex can be complicated. Just talking and reading about it really isn’t enough. My students have expressed a strong desire to hear about my own sexual experiences and find that it adds validity and authority to the perspectives I discuss. It can be a similar process in sex therapy although I don’t share personal information nearly as much as I do with students.
6. In what ways has your work influenced your own sexuality?
The biggest thing that has changed over the course of working as a sex therapist and educator is the deepening of my understanding and respect for just how diverse we are as sexual beings. This has allowed me to overcome some of my own shame, opened me to the idea that there is no “normal” when it comes to sexual interests and behaviors, and to be able to enjoy broader and more relaxed pleasure based experiences.
7. What conversations should we be having about sex that you feel like are still taboo for most people?
Not sure if it reaches the level of taboo but actually just telling a partner what you’re interested in doing sexually AT THE BEGINNING of a relationship. You might be surprised how few conversations couples have about masturbation BEFORE they get married. It’s perfectly healthy for individuals in a relationship to want to have their own private sexy time. Just like we have other interests and hobbies that our partner may not participate in, solo sex is just one more activity. Let’s start with embracing conversations about masturbation. There’s a lot of differences in how people like to receive pleasure. Getting comfortable with yourself is a prerequisite to communicating those desires to a partner.
8. What's the easiest step people can take towards their own sexual freedom?
Take an inventory of all the influences that have shaped your sexuality and the associated messages you received from those influences and talk about them with a partner, close friend or sex therapist. Don’t assume that because you heard a message around sexuality that it’s true. There’s a lot of people who are uncomfortable with sex and it’s a lot easier to just regurgitate those messages without first examining them. Imagine if we could undermine one of the biggest and most damaging messages that we get bombarded with from all corners of our culture: that men want sex all the time whereas women, not so much. This myth runs deep and does a lot of damage by limiting our expectations to a narrow, stereotype that’s rooted in oppression, not science. There is no inborn gender difference that predetermines how interested people are about sex, only differences in what we’re conditioned to believe about people’s interests.