Stripping, Counseling Ethics, and Personal Values

So I had a meeting with one of my professors to discuss the fact that I dance and my anxiety around coming out to my cohort during a class presentation next week. What ensued was a very kind conversation in which I unexpectedly cried, and agreed with a lot of things that she talked to me about- primarily the ethical dilemma I will face if and when I have a client that has seen me perform (and yes, perform naked– the sexuality of it is the key piece here).

I came home and immediately broke down (I had been holding in everything during a three hour class). J didn’t really know what to do with me. He held me and got angry and confused on my behalf. It was helpful.

And basically where I am at right now is this:

What feels more unethical to me is to perpetuate a system that sees sex, sexuality, and female sexual empowerment as sinful, dirty, slutty, and abhorrent. I will not not go to our swingers’ clubs or to nude beaches or to strip clubs or gay bars or poly gatherings or dance because of the possibility that I might run into future clients. I will not not live my life in some tiny little box when I have done so much to live in a vast, fluid, and dynamic world.

There is something quite different to me about having an intimate and loving relationship with someone while simultaneously expecting to fulfill a professional role in the mental health care of that person’s life. Knowing a client in other superficial ways are quite different to me than intentionally creating a confusing and complicated layered relationship with someone.

[The code of ethics for MFTs stipulates that you, as a therapist, must not have sex with a client. Okay. And to refrain from having sex with a previous client for at least two years after termination of the therapist-client relationship. Hm, okay. Seems arbitrary, but okay. And with regards to multiple relationships, the code states:

Marriage and family therapists are aware of their influential positions with respect to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons. Therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid conditions and multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Such relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal relationships with a client or the client’s immediate family. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or multiple roles, therapists document the appropriate precautions taken. 

This is vague, and leaves a lot of gray area to be dealt with, and is in fact the basis for my ethics paper this semester- how to behave as a minority therapist seeking to work within minority communities (queer and poly, specifically). And this also relates to my potential multiple relationship with clients who could also be or were my customers in the strip club.]

My professor’s ethical dilemma example:
What if a couple comes to you for therapy, and one of the partners, let’s say the man, has seen you dance? What if you don’t realize it, but he does, and they continue coming to see you, and then his partner, a woman, finds out after a couple of months? What will that do to her?

My response during our meeting was: Yes, that’s really complicated. I hadn’t thought about that yet. That’s really complicated.

My response now:
If I were to realize when a new client walked in, I would be up-front about it, and offer to refer the person to another therapist. If I didn’t know right away, and the client realized later on and told me, I would refer the client to another therapist.

I am not about to further stigmatize or oppress my various sexual minority communities (queer, poly, sex worker) or myself by not allowing myself to be who I am in order to “protect” a client. This is life, and people deserve to live their lives. Including therapists. Including me.

Any readers out there who have had to navigate this in various ways? Please drop me a line 🙂

Social Justice & Polyamory Update

I used the power of Reddit to address the recent post I wrote on social justice and polyamory (and dancing). Luckily for all of us, there are smart people out there on the interwebs…

Some excellent points made were:

-Polyamory is a Western framing of ethical nonmonogamy. I remember reading Sex at Dawn and being amazed at the descriptions of cultures where people aren’t sexual property of others, where children are raised communally, and where patriarchy doesn’t dictate women’s bodies. Ethical nonmonogamy has and does exist among many different human cultures, although it may go by different names, have different motivations, and have different forms and practices. Polyamory, though, is a relatively new and certainly Western concept, and thus will fail to capture people in the US and around the world who practice something similar and do not call it the same thing.

[An aside: I also think the term “polyamory,” its definition, and its history still try to subvert mainstream meaning by tying “love” to “sex.” “Well yes, we can have multiple sexual relationships but these relationships are also about love.” Inherently, this discourse shows the attempts in Western history of separating body from heart, of separating dirty sex from pure love, and tries to placate the Puritans still alive that we polyamorists do indeed have love in mind in having multiple relationships.]

-Perhaps the reason that the polyamorous culture looks so homogenous in terms of class and race is because the people that can afford to be out are those with the most privilege (white, middle to upper class)- thus, people engaging in multiple, intimate relationships who are also minorities in other ways (race, class, etc) may be far less able to come out to their families, employers/employees/coworkers, neighbors, and broader communities. I think this is an excellent point (and in fact reminds me of some reading I did recently in which it was mentioned that for many LGBTQ individuals with multiple minority identities, it is sometimes a better approach to not come out as LGBTQ, in order to protect the relationships and communities they already have. I think the same could certainly apply to people with open/ethically nonmonogamous/polyamorous relationships. In fact, conversations in the Facebook group I am part of has shown the diversity in opinions on this topic, and depicts how coming out is a very individual decision dependent on many factors, including diverse community identification and cultural ties.)

-I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read this article (The privilege of perversities: race, class and education among polyamorists and kinksters), but it looks pretty delicious. Thank you to the redditor who posted it. I am excited to read it!

Social Justice, Polyamory, and Dancing

As I have been putting together my notes for a project I am presenting on next week, I have had several things rise the surface related to ethical nonmonogamy, stripping, race, and class.

-Something that has been increasingly apparent to me in my explorations, especially academically, around poly issues is the severe lack of discussion on the intersections of race and class with relationship orientation. Being poly is (so far) a distinctly white and upper class experience, although ethically nonmonogamous relationships have been existent in many different cultures around the world. Being poly in such a monoga-normative culture and society means (to me) that you have to (generally) first have your basic needs met and have time to focus on breaking norms before you are able to spend inordinate amounts of time on your relationships (including your relationship with yourself). 

-Interesting, too, has been my discovery that even though disclosing my status as a dancer is nerve-wracking for me depending on my audience, I command a sense of respect and curiosity, typically, and it’s because of my whiteness, my class, and my education level. If I was a woman of color who hadn’t gone to college, I don’t think people would necessarily listen to my story as much. I also think that dancing in Portland is probably one of the most privileged places, geographically, to dance- it is so much more normalized here, and there is a large sex positive community that emphasizes a woman’s right to choose to control her body and feel empowered through her sexuality. Because of my geographic location, race, and socioeconomic status, I feel at least a little comfortable disclosing my experiences dancing. 

I have come across a few different blog posts and articles online about the lack of discussion around race and polyamory, but there is really an overall dearth of discussion. And all I can think of as an explanation is that, so far, ethical nonmonogamy is an experience of wealthy whiteness. If you know of resources related to people of color experience in open relationships, please pass them on!

Prenuptial Agreement & Getting (Legally) Hitched!

School has officially taken over my life… I am hoping that it will slow down to a reasonable pace in a couple of weeks, but until then, I am eternally grateful to J for everything he has been doing: walking the dog, making the bed, making AMAZING meals, watching Games of Thrones, doing the dishes, doing laundry, and more. Sadly, blogging has taken a temporary backseat to all of my other reading and writing, but I am confident it will come back soon.

Anyways, one of the things that J and I did this past weekend was work on our prenup. Why?, you might ask. Because! We are going to get legally married soon!

Legal marriage, to us, is just about a legal financial arrangement. And we don’t agree with the way the state lays out that financial agreement. For instance, I don’t want alimony (spousal support) if J and I were to break up. And neither does he. So it was important to us to have a pre-written agreement prior to getting married.

We are thankful to J’s brother and sister-in-law for allowing us to use their postnup agreement as a starting place for ours. With J’s legal knowledge, it was relatively easy to construct our own, and then for me to send it off to a lawyer who will represent me in making sure I fully understand it and consent to it. J is representing himself (wahoo!!)

There is some weird information out there about prenups- I think there is a stereotype that they are unfair and a symbol of a broken relationship. I think, rather, they are a symbol of a communicative and healthy relationship. 

The current form of legal marriage makes sense to us in the context of a couple in which one person works outside the home and the other within it, raising kids or not. If the marriage agreement is that one person earns money and the other is a homemaker and/or raises children, it makes sense that if that couple were to divorce, the homemaker deserves some sort of spousal support.

Because this situation is not the one that J and I are entering (or plan to have), we wanted something that felt more relevant to us.

In any case, we are both excited to be legally married and reap the societal benefits offered by legal marriage. (Yes, another example of couple privilege.) If you are interested in seeing our prenup, feel free to email us and we would be happy to share this resource 🙂

Recognizing the Third in Monogamous Relationships

My latest DatingAdvice.com post is live: Can You Be Monogamous and Attracted to Other People? (I like my title better, haha) I based this post off of Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, in which she mentions the specter of “the third” (i.e. other people you may be attracted to) and how some couples choose to ignore the third, recognize the third, or invite the third in to their relationship. I wanted to explore some ways that monogamous couples could push the boundaries of their relationship to incorporate sexual explorations, and deepen their sense of honesty and trust.

Here’s my intro:

In Esther Perel’s “Mating in Captivity,” she discusses the “shadow of the third.”
That is the fact that even when in coupled relationships marked by commitment and love, we often (maybe always) find ourselves attracted to other people.
By acknowledging the third, keeping your communication transparent and striving to know and understand your partner and yourself, cheating may be less likely to happen (thus preserving the commitment to monogamy you both have made).
What are ways two people can be sexually monogamous, but widen the door for more honesty and trust around sexual desires, fantasies and exploration?
The foundation for this is solid trust in your partner and relationship as sexually monogamous and a healthy way of managing your jealousy and insecurities.
I also believe it is a privilege to learn new things about someone, not a right. Being in a romantic relationship doesn’t give you the right to know about your partner’s private sexual thoughts.
If they, and you, are able to share this information, you should take it as a sign of the health and resiliency of your relationship.

I go on to offer the following ways that couples can be monogamous but add honesty and new sexual flavors to their lives; make sure to go read the post on DA so you can see my further explanation!:

Having opposite sex/opposite gender friends
Reminisce about the past
Watch porn and read erotica together
Share fantasies and attractions
Is flirting ok?
Visit strip clubs together
Visit a swingers’ club or party to watch and be watched 

I would love to hear from others: what are other ways that you can be monogamous and recognize “the third” in your relationship?

Need Advice or Support?

I just wanted to remind readers that you are welcome to send in questions and experiences around relationships and sexuality, and I will be happy to give you my two cents! I love using your questions and experiences (similar and different) as a springboard for exploring topics around sexuality and relationships, and (hopefully) providing you with support and sense of community. The email address to use is: sellwoodcouple@gmail.com. If you prefer to send in something anonymous, leave an anonymous comment on this post (or any other post); I moderate comments, so comments are not automatically published. 🙂