Many things may come to mind when one hears the word ‘sexologist,’ but what does someone with this title actually do?
A sexologist is a person who studies human sexuality with many different ways and functions in which they work. (Some possibilities can include working as an educator, counselor, researcher, or sex crime analyst.)
For Dr. Heather Howard, sexologist and founder of The Center for Sexual Health & Rehabilitation, her role as a sexologist is varied and comprehensive: “I’m a sexuality counselor, a clinical sexologist, and an educational sexologist. I’m a professor of human sexuality… and I research.”
Most of her clients come to her San-Francisco based practice in order to meet a specific sexual goal. These goals can include overcoming challenges with differing desires in a partnership (most common), a desire to learn more about their own bodies and how to achieve more pleasure, and/or how to work on challenges regarding arousal. The sexologist also aids those who have a history of sexual trauma and treats people with health conditions or pain.
In fact, it was her own pelvic pain that led her into a career as a sex doctor. After speaking with healthcare practitioners about her pain, how to manage it, and how it affected her sex life, she was asked if she would become a patient advocate for other patients.
She realized then that talking openly about sex was something she had a knack for and decided to make it her calling.
“It started with my own challenge, but it’s been really rewarding to be able to help people and make a difference in their lives,” explains Howard. “I think there’s something about sexuality that is so personal, and I feel so honored.”
With sexual positioning and pelvic and sexual pain serving as her areas of specialty, she has created a library of ergonomic sexual positions called Ergoerotics — dedicated to helping people adjust to sex more comfortably through education, tools, and information exchange.
In it, she lists various movement strategies so that other sexologists will have the tools to help their clients with positioning. Howard strongly believes that having something to refer to is a great way to open a conversation and normalize the situation.
“The first thing to understand is that everybody is different, and what feels good and pleasurable changes all the time,” explains the doctor. “This is based on a variety of things like our hormonal levels, stress levels, and the temperature of the environment.”
According to Howard, the foundation of sex therapy and sex counseling is teaching people to be mindful about their own body’s experiences. “I may give people very specific exercises in savoring pleasure or sensation in all of their senses or I may give them touch or breath exercises to help them bring their focus to what they’re feeling in their body,” she shares.
“The more we can tune into our bodies, the more we can learn what it is we like in the moment. Many of us think about sex as happening in the genitals only, but our largest sex organs are our brain and our skin. Connecting with ourselves facilitates connecting with others.”
Getting our needs met with a partner often starts with actually being able to share what our needs are in the first place, and that can be very hard. “There’s all this modeling in our culture that sex is a natural thing and we should just know what to do,” explains Howard, “when, in fact, sex with ourselves and with another person is a learned behavior.”
The backbone of much of Howard’s work is in normalizing communication (both verbally and non-verbally). People can often feel isolated when they are having a sexual challenge, but according to Dr. Howard, “we can make it a joint exploration.”
Which, frankly, sounds like a lot more fun.
Sable Massingill is a writer, connector, and entrepreneur exploring the intersection of wellness, culture, and travel. You can find her in the window seat on her next flight, online at sablemassingill.com, or on Instagram at @sablemassingill.