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06/25/2019 16:55 EDT

What Does A Sexologist Do, Anyway? Here's What You Need To Know

“People sometimes think that as a clinical sexologist I do ‘hands-on’ work. Not at all," one professional said.

Being a sexologist isn’t as scandalous as the job title might suggest. 

Sexology is the general term for the scientific study of human sexuality and sexual behavior, and the people who study it are referred to as sexologists.

Some people think sexologists and sex therapists are one and the same. While a number of sexologists choose to pursue a career as a sex therapist (in other words, working directly with patients in a clinical setting), others explore careers like sex researcher, sex educator or public policy activist.

Isiah McKimmie, a Melbourne, Australia-based sexologist, told HuffPost that based on her job title, people often have the wrong idea about what her life inside and outside of the office actually looks like.  

“People often ask me what the ‘craziest’ thing I’ve seen in my work is, with the idea that people see sexologists for crazy reasons. But honestly, I see really regular people with really common challenges in my work, like low sexual desire, feelings of disconnection or lack of orgasm,” said McKimmie, who is also a sex therapist and couples therapist. “Or they think I’m totally sex-crazed! I’m not. I’m just a regular person, who really enjoys vanilla sex, too.”  

To find out more about what a sexologist does and how to become one, we talked to several people in the field. 

There’s more than one path to becoming a sexologist.

A small number of universities offer degrees in sexology or human sexuality at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But often people who go on to be sexologists have educational backgrounds in disciplines such as sociology, psychology, biology, public health or anthropology, among others, depending on their specific interests. 

“Sexologists generally have master’s or doctoral degree, or some other type of advanced professional degree,” Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and Kinsey Institute research fellow, said in a blog post. “While there are some training and certification programs available in sexology specifically, these are not absolutely essential to becoming a sexologist.”

Though a board certification is not required to call yourself a sexologist, many seek credentials from professional organizations such as the American Board of Sexology or the American College of Sexologists International. To be certified, you typically need to show a relevant advanced academic degree, work experience in the field and completion of a certain number of training hours, though requirements may vary based on the particular certification.

Sebastian Jauregui / EyeEm via Getty Images
Some sexologists go on to pursue careers as sex therapists. Others choose non-clinical work like sexuality research, sex education or public health advocacy. 

Clinical sexologist Claudia Six, who is based in San Rafael, California, said the field has changed a lot since she entered it nearly 30 years ago.

“Back then, there weren’t many school [programs] and you had to blaze your own trail. What I did was get a master’s in counseling psychology, in order to learn about therapy,” she said. “Then I got a Ph.D. in clinical sexology to study the psychological aspects of sexuality. I was certified by the American Board of Sexology, and also for many years got clinical consultations with some of the best in the field to hone my craft.” 

Sexologists can use their knowledge in a number of ways. 

“There are many ways to be a sexologist. I have chosen to do research,
teach and do workshops, as well as give advice — not therapy — based
on inter-disciplinary data,” said sexologist Pepper Schwartz, who is also an author and a sociology professor at the University of Washington.

Sexologists who are also sex therapists work with clients, either individually or as a couple, to improve and address problems in their sex lives — everything from mismatched libidos to difficulties orgasming to sexless relationships. Sex therapists should have certain qualifications, such as an advanced degree in either psychology, therapy or counseling, specific sex therapy training and clinical experience. But that isn’t always the case, McKimmie said. (Florida is the only state in the U.S. that requires a therapist to be certified in order to practice sex therapy). 

“Unfortunately these terms aren’t currently regulated, so anyone can call themselves a sexologist or sex therapist,” she said. “If you are looking for someone to help you in this area, it’s a really good idea to check their qualifications first.”

If you’re looking for a certified sex therapist, you can visit the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists’ online directory to find one in your area

Don’t expect any physical contact during a session with a clinical sexologist. 

“People sometimes think that as a clinical sexologist I do ‘hands-on’ work,” Six said. “Not at all. ‘All talk, no action’ is how I describe what I do. I am not a sex surrogate, which is a different profession involving actual sexual contact with clients.” 

McKimmie said her clients often have similar questions and concerns about what a session with her actually looks like. She assures them neither nudity nor sexual activity will ever be involved. 

“Sessions look like a regular therapy session, with sex education included,” she said. “If I need to explain something more graphic, I’ll use the vulva puppet I have in my office or a diagram from a textbook. My clients are given more ‘practical’ and sometimes sexual ‘homework’ when the time is right for them.”

Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.

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