Sexual Ethics: A Woman's Guide to Keeping it Safe with a Hands on Touch Practitioner

It's been several decades since the groundbreaking sex researchers Masters and Johnson suggested that working with patients physically rather than just through talk therapy could have therapeutic benefits. Hands on sexual healing has an ancient tradition.  It's just that we keep re-discovering it again.

Sexological Bodywork offers a more holistic methodological approach to supporting women who are seeking to connect in a deeper level to their bodies as well as even unravel blockages caused by trauma, abuse and hormonal issues.

I talk to literally hundreds of women that are exploring cutting edge world of humanistic sex therapy, somatic sex education, working with Sexological Bodywokers or more simply stated - hands on sexual healing and exploration. Recently, a well known mental health professional told me that I have become known as The Sommelier of Hands on Practitioners” and "the best guide for women who are considering doing this work". Nice praise, and with it comes a responsibility and the ability to answer the number one question that women bring to me:

“Will I be safe?”.

Going deeper into your body and mind can be really challenging. Sometimes, it can  feel intensely uncomfortable because you are touching all kinds of new and old feelings. So, no, you will not be safe from any of that. Sometimes, you may feel like you want to run away.

That is a challenge any time that we want more in our lives. It's about digging in, and getting terribly real with ourselves. That's what hands on therapy provides. And it can get tricky. Sexual and relationship boundaries are paramount in the safety of client in Sexological Bodywork and doing this work with heart/gential connected women needs tremendous attention to boundaries, both for the client and the Sexological bodyworker.

According to Sex Educator, Caffyn Jesse in her new textbook for Sex Educators; she has this to say:

"The relationship between erotic massage practitioner and client is characterized by a power dynamic. The client is the student and the practitioner is the teacher. Clients present erotic wounds and the practitioner applies a balm. Clients share secrets about sexual desires practices and injuries and the practitioner guides them on their journey to sexual wholeness. Clients look to the practitioner for learning healing guidance understanding and acknowledgement. Within this unequal power dynamic, there is an exceptional degree of vulnerability and trust.

When clients and therapists become involved in relationships that exceed established boundaries  there is a great potential for harm.  
The potential for harm is clear in research investigating sexual relationships within other therapeutic modalities. “Therapist/patient sex syndrome” is one name for a host of issues that arise in people who become involved in sexual relationships with treating therapists. Symptoms include feelings of guilt, ambivalence, isolation and emptiness difficulty trusting cognitive dysfunction, suppressed rage, sexual confusion, increased suicidal risk and emotional liability. Pope and Vetter found that 90% of patients is their study were harmed by sex with a therapist; and that of those harmed  only 17% ever recovered fully.  
Masters and Johnson early researchers of sexual relationships between therapists and their clients  found the harmful consequences so striking they advocated that the therapist involved should face criminal charges of rape  “regardless of whether the seduction was initiated by the patient or the therapist.”  
Harm to the client usually unfolds in secret, unshared with the therapist who often imagines that the sexual intimacy is “helping” their client.
Clients of erotic massage practitioners are in danger of projecting their erotic well-being onto the practitioner  and depleting their sense of self worth and personal agency in this process. The process of projection and transference can be a powerful aspect of healing and growth as the client works with practitioner support on “taking back” their projections. When this process is interrupted by a sexual relationship, no matter how much mutual enjoyment each person seems to be having at the time  there is a grave potential for harm."  

This is why personal and romantic relationships between clients and practitioners are outside of Sexological Bodywork Guidelines.

Psychiatrists, doctors, sex coaches, and therapists are obligated by medical ethics not to have sex with their patients, but Certified Sexological Bodyworkers are supposed to provide a space for their clients to experience their body in various erotic states. So, it's important to understand the profession and who you are working with.

Getting a clear understanding of what a Sexological Bodyworker is as stated by the professional association can also be helpful. We have so many different ideas of what this profession is all about.

Sexological Bodyworkers are somatic, erotic educators, assisting individuals, couples and groups to deepen their experience of embodiment.

We are trained sexologists whose certification is approved by the State of California. We offer experiential learning opportunities that consciously access profound ecstatic and erotic states.

Our teaching involves a variety of instructive modalities, including breathwork, touch, erotic massage, pelvic release bodywork, scar tissue remediation, and Orgasmic Yoga coaching.

One of the somatic realms that Sexological Bodyworkers introduce to our students is a state of arousal that is free of fantasy, unfinished emotional business, religious dogma, cultural caveats and habitual sexual behaviors. In this meditative state, an individual becomes aware of the body as a source of wisdom and freedom. One of the ways to access this fecund state is by actively receiving a Taoist Erotic Massage. Helping others access and make use of a variety of erotic states is foundational to the education we offer.

Sexological Bodyworkers believe that sexual health and erotic education are basic human rights.

A crucial part of the education Sexological Bodyworkers offer students is the value of intentions and boundaries. While we acknowledge the human longing for connection, we recognize the value of professional distance. We are conscious and make our students conscious that while we share authentic intimacy, sexological bodywork sessions will not fulfill their desires for sexual connection.

The focus of individual sessions is on the student’s experience within his or her own body. Sexological Bodyworkers do not act as surrogate partners. We are clothed and the touching in our sessions is uni-directional. We request students bring their partners when they wish to learn interpersonal erotic skills.”

The Association of Certified Sexological Bodyworkers also has a Code of Professional Conduct.

Let's take a look at a few excerpts from that as well. The full body is available on their website.

The ethical standards set forth enforceable rules of conduct for the California state-approved profession of Certified Sexological Bodyworker (CSB). These ethical standards are not exhaustive. The fact that a given conduct is not specifically addressed by the Code does not mean that it is necessarily either ethical or unethical.

Although we are all certified as a Sexological Bodyworkers, membership in the Association of Certified Sexological Bodyworkers (ACSB), and/or working in an official capacity as a CSB trainer, teacher, assistant, or organizer commits said individuals to adhere to the ACSB Ethics Code and the rules and procedures used to implement it. This Ethics Code applies to all CSBs’ work-related professional activities including somatic sex education, individual or group work, teaching, training, assisting, supervision, consulting, and organizing. These work-related activities can be distinguished from the CSBs’ private conduct, which is not within the scope of this Code. The Ethics Code is intended to provide standards of professional conduct that can be applied by the ACSB.

Sexological Bodywork is a unique form of somatic sex education utilizing a set of principles and the integration of body, mind, and spirit in its application. CSBs may perform in various roles such as teacher, trainer, coach, assistant, organizer, consultant, and supervisor. They work with a common goal of providing education and improving the quality of life for an individual and the world. The Sexological Bodyworker Ethics Code provides a common set of values upon which CSBs continually build their professional work.

This code is intended to provide both the general principles and the rules covering most situations encountered by CSBs. It has as its primary goal the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom CSBs work. It is the individual responsibility of each Sexological Bodyworker to aspire to the highest possible standards of conduct. CSBs respect and protect human, civil and sexual rights, and do not knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.

The development of a dynamic set of ethical standards for CSBs work-related conduct requires a personal commitment to a lifelong effort to act ethically; to encourage ethical behavior by students, supervises, employees, and colleagues, as appropriate; and to consult with others as needed concerning ethical problems. Each Sexological Bodyworker supplements, but does not violate, the Ethics Code’s values and rules on the basis of guidance drawn from personal values, culture, context, and experience.

Duties and Obligations Towards Our Students
1. CSBs will be professional in attitude and conduct, responsible in relations with clients and students, reliable in agreements and timely in appointment schedules.

2. CSBs will introduce prospective students to the techniques of somatic sex education, including the use of touch so potential students can make informed decisions about entering into educational sessions. CSBs agree to maintain appropriate documentation of consent.

3. CSBs recognize the importance of consent and choice in all somatic sex education with groups and individuals. CSBs will strive to provide a range of options from which the student can actively elect that which will serve their own education. At no time shall a student be required or coerced to participate in any activity, event or exercise. CSBs include education about consent and choice and actively create learning environments where students are empowered to exercise these skills.

4. CSBs may use physical touch in an educational context. If they do so, they touch consciously and with the attitude to do no harm. CSBs agree to obtain students’ consent and to act with concern for their safety, growth, and awareness of boundaries.

5. Regarding Sexual Contact and/or Conduct with Students
a. We acknowledge the importance of maintaining appropriate boundaries, including asking permission to touch and stopping touch when our students request it.
b. We are conscious and make our students conscious that while we share authentic intimacy, Sexological Bodywork sessions will neither fulfill CSBs, nor their students desire for sexual connection.
c. In group or individual sessions we remain clothed when touching our students and touching is unidirectional. We request that our students bring their partners when they wish to learn interpersonal erotic skills or invite them to share and learn with other students when appropriate.
d. CSBs understand the inherent power we hold in our role of teacher and will not use this power for sexual exploitation of our students.

6. CSBs acknowledge the importance of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. To protect the health of both student and professional, CSBs recognize the need for risk-reduction and professional protocol in all individual and group somatic sex education. CSBs take steps to minimize any physical or emotional harm, in active collaboration with all students. Professional protocol includes the use of medical-grade examination gloves and quality water-based lubricants. All group classes shall include education about group hygeine protocol, with sufficient facilities/supplies provided to students to maintain appropriate hygiene.

7. CSBs will refrain from providing bodywork, training sessions and/or presenting any instructional material while either the Sexological Bodyworker or the client/student is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

8. A CSB will consider the limits of their skills and experience before accepting requests for or providing educational or instructional services to potential students. Further, a CSB will refuse professional work for which they are insufficiently prepared.

9. CSBs will seek the advice of colleagues or supervisors as a routine part of their practice or training. In consultations, confidential information that reasonably could lead to the identification of the student is not shared without prior written consent of the student.

10. CSBs will terminate professional services to and relationships with students when such services are no longer required or no longer serve the needs and interests of the students.

11. CSBs may unilaterally terminate services, on just and reasonable grounds after careful consideration of all situational factors and any possible adverse effects. CSBs are responsible to make appropriate referrals and to provide support to students during this transition.

12. CSBs will refrain from the exploitation of professional relationships with our students for personal gain, whether financial, professional, or for research purposes.

It's important also to note that some CSBs may offer other types of hands on practices. CSB's may not represent other modalities as Sexological Bodywork, and must distinguish between Sexological Bodywork and other professional services they may offer.

Taking the time to understand this relatively new professional and the code of ethics that CSB's have agreed to abide by can help each woman who is experiencing or considering this work, stay as safe as possible.

Sexological Bodywork provides an opportunity to explore your sexuality, desires, and body image in a way that is all about you and not about the practitioner. The biggest challenge that remains in working with women and hands on work are issues of attachment and social boundaries. This is where it can get murky, and this is where women have experienced heart ache. Read again the above writing from According to Sex Educator, Caffyn Jesse.

Working with a practitioner who has a reputation for clear boundaries is paramount, and why working with a practitioner who encourages you to also work with a therapist or sex coach can be vital.

There is no room for secrecy in Sexological Bodywork. If your practitioner is resistant to bringing in a mental health professional or sex coach – or asks you not to discuss your sessions with your friends – that is a red flag.

Attending a Back to The Body Retreat can be a great way to get started and familiar with hands on work. In the retreat environment, women are in a small group of six other women all sharing an experience of going deeper into their bodies. While there is privacy for each woman; the work that is going on is transparent.

Each woman works with one Sexological Bodywork the entire time and a sex coach.

Sexological Bodywork professional ethics are observed.

I am a passionate advocate of the power of hands on erotic work to shift the lives of women. Working with a professional can jump start a stalled engine or help a woman who is already embodied go even deeper. Sexual energy is the powerhouse motor that propels every aspect of a woman’s life--sexual pleasure, relationships (from mother-daughter to lover to her own body), education and even success in business.

It all starts with you. Your body. Your humble vagina and your precious pelvis. Every woman’s got one. The problem is it’s only the rare woman who knows how to access and use its magic powers for self-transformation.

That's what hands on, somatic practice is offering.  Understand the extraordinary opportunities for for self growth. The goal is to power up, rediscover or perhaps to find for the first time that hotbed of energy and to unleash the best of yourself.