The practice sees sex educators help clients understand their sexual desires, experience pleasure, and alleviate shame, pain, or trauma, sometimes via a physical approach
Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix series, Sex, Love, and Goop, is finally out – and, unsurprisingly, it’s got people talking. One featured therapy in particular has sparked conversation, thanks to one participant’s life-affirming orgasm during it.
In episodes four and six, couple Chandra and Camille undergo a little-known practice called sexological bodywork with Darshana Avila, the show’s resident erotic wholeness coach. Avila describes it as “a service that sits at the intersection of eroticism and trauma-healing modalities”. The therapy can sometimes involve a hands-on approach – whereby the practitioner touches the client’s genitals and may bring them to orgasm – or can simply provide a safe space for education, to help someone overcome shame or pain, or to further understand their sexual desires. It is one tool under the umbrella of somatic sex education, which is about learning way of being in sex to assist with certain challenges or problems.
During Chandra’s session, the pair worked to help alleviate her experience of pain during penetration – Avila slowly touched Chandra, working up towards eventual, gentle penetration – while Camille wanted to identify and communicate what she finds pleasurable during sex. Both sessions involved constant communication between the client and practitioner, helping Chandra and Camille to voice – without embarrassment or judgement – what they found pleasurable.
“It’s an opportunity where you do not have to be thinking about somebody else,” Avila explains in the show, and for a lot of people it’s like, ‘Woah’, because they’ve never had that before.”
According to research and education site Sex Coaching, sexological bodywork was developed by Dr Joseph Kramer as a way of helping HIV-positive men “experience safe touch and healing in the wake of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the 1980s”. While it can involve physical touch, the practice often takes a more spiritual approach; it aims to help clients feel “deeper, more profound pleasurable sensations” in their bodies, release shame and pain, and work on self-connection to aid issues like anorgasmia (the inability to orgasm), premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction.
Although many professionals praise its effectiveness when practiced ethically, sexological bodywork is illegal in 49 states, due to it being regarded as sex work (which, of course, should be decriminalised). The therapy is legal in California, however, where Sex, Love, and Goop was filmed. It is also legal in the UK, where it’s not considered sex work.
As reported by Huffington Post, a sexological bodyworker in the UK will only be certified after seven months of training, involving “in-depth anatomy, extensive hands-on and trauma-informed practice, plus 25 supervised sessions”.
Speaking to GQ last year, sexological bodyworker Ziggy Day described a typical therapy session. “We start with an initial conversation… to come up with an intention for the session,” he explained, adding that the pair then set agreements and boundaries before undertaking the therapy. “After the practice, there’s a period of stillness where the client ‘installs’ what they’ve learned from the body,” Day continued. The client then receives homework to help them integrate the teachings into their regular sex life.
Watch the trailer for Sex, Love, and Goop above.