I booked a 90-minute session with doctor Stephen Snyder M.D, a New York City-based sex therapist and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. Given the love and sex advice that sexperts usually offer up in interviews, I thought that I would walk out with a few tricks to use during foreplay or advice on how to have an amazing orgasm. In preparation for the sesh, I texted my friend, "I’m seeing a sex therapist! We’re going to talk about blow jobs and fun stuff like that." But that's not at all how it went down.
After hanging in the quiet, empty waiting room for 15 minutes, Snyder came out of his office, introduced himself, and invited me inside. He appeared to be a middle-aged man with a soft voice. I took a seat in a chair across from his desk while we made small talk about my job, where I lived, and how old I was.
Snyder asked what he could do for me, and I said, "I’m here to improve my sex life."
I felt a knot in my stomach and wondered what the hell we were going to talk about for an hour and a half.
Then he asked, "What about your sex life is bothering you?" I realized I had to dig deeper if I wanted to make this appointment worthwhile. I thought, "Just say something to get the ball rolling," and I blurted out, "Guilt."
"I’m here to improve my sex life."
"I've always felt a little bad about having sex," I confessed to Snyder. I told him that in the back of my head I always think that if I'm not careful enough I could "get pregnant and die." I'm sure some of this came from years of watching too much Degrassi, attending Catholic school, and old-school parents.
Snyder took a moment and asked, "What you seem to be saying is that sex would feel a lot better if you could just relax about these concerns."
Then he said, "I’m sure you’re doing everything you can to avoid pregnancy: condoms, birth control, Plan B?" I said yes, feeling compeltely unsure about where this was going. "Ok, so you want to get rid of the guilt factor?" he asked again. "Yes and how to improve my sex life," I reminded him. "We’ll get to that, but let’s talk about the guilt first," he said. I realized we probably weren't going to get to the blow job tips for a while.
"Can I ask you about your own sexual background?" said Snyder. "When did you first become aware of your sexual thoughts and feelings?" "And here we go," I thought.
The first thing I could think of was being nine-years-old watching "a very special episode of Degrassi" that talked about sex. Snyder asked questions, like when I first learned about sex and what my sex-ed class was like. As I began sharing details about my seventh grade sex education class, he asked, "Is it ok if I ask, did you masturbate much back then?" I could feel my face get red.
I contemplated lying, but at a sex therapist’s office there's no such thing as TMI. I mumbled, "Yes." But Snyder continued pushing for more. "Did you have orgasms? Did you get excited?" Despite my urge to yell, "Eff off," I answered his questions while staring at the floor.
"When did you first become aware of your sexual thoughts and feelings?"
Snyder said that learning about a patient's sexual history helps him understand when and how their sexual feelings evolved over time. He also said that learning what a person’s childhood was like can clue him in on traumas and other issues that could affect him or her in bed.
The Main Event
I continued to walk him through my sexual past: When I lost my virginity, my first orgasm, etc., all while successfully avoiding eye contact. Snyder took notes as he asked me to elaborate more on my first time, "Did it hurt?" he asked. And then I started sweating.
We dove into past relationships, and his questions reached another level of invasive. "So when you were with this guy, did you two get hot and bothered?" Snyder asked. I’m one of those people who doesn’t openly talk about my sex issues IRL, and definitely not when there’s a relationship involved. However, by this point in our conversation I was ready to elaborate. "I mean, we already talked about my masturbation habits; how much more awkward can this get?" I thought. Along with sharing the details about my favorite sex positions, the frequency of my orgasms, and whether I had any fetishes (sorry, those details are staying between Snyder and me). I told him about my relationship with my recent ex-boyfriend.
"Did it hurt?" he asked. And then I started sweating.
I told him that we dated for two and a half years. Snyder said, "I bet it felt really good to have a boyfriend." I told him that it did.
"So tell me what happened next?" Snyder seemed to be fully invested in my love life. "I was pretty happy," I said, "but a year and a half into our relationship I had a pregnancy scare." It was a miscalculation, but waiting for my monthly cycle drove me to ask my ex a million times if the condom had broken, I said.
My boyfriend at the time got annoyed and told me that if I was pregnant, he wasn’t the father because that’s how sure he was that the condom didn't break. "He wasn’t supportive at all," I said. I told Snyder that I was probably borderline neurotic, but he said, "No, I don’t think so." That was reassuring.
Snyder paused and asked, "Before this happened, did you have much guilt about having sex?" I said no. “It seems that the fundamental thing that caused your guilt feeling was his reaction," he said. Bingo.
Out of all of the things I shared about my sex life, Snyder said it was my ex’s lack of support that made me lose trust and cut the emotional connection that made sex so great between us. "I guess so, yeah," I said.
After the Big Aha!
I told Snyder about other relationship issues with my ex, like how he expected a blow job every time I saw him (seriously). "For what?" asked Snyder. "For no reason at all!" I said. "Sometimes I don’t even like giving them; they feel like work," I said.
"Okay, this is really important, we need to talk about this," said Snyder. "Great, now we’re never getting to the sex tips," I thought.
"A lot of women say that giving a blow job doesn’t turn them on," he said. "A core element of eroticism is that you shouldn’t do things if it doesn't turn you on."
Snyder said that I spent too much time meeting my ex's sexual needs, and less time figuring out what I really liked and what I didn't in bed, which was no bueno for a healthy relationship or sex life. "If it feels like work and it’s not turning you on, it alienates you from your real sexual feelings," he said.
Apparently this was key in figuring out the answer to "How do I improve my sex life?" Challenge accepted.
Though speaking up about my ex's excessive need for BJs would have been a great way to address that problem, Snyder had another more unique suggestion to help me enjoy giving oral. "Sometimes a woman will enjoy a penis in her mouth without ever actually having it in her mouth," he said. "Have you ever done that?" I shook my head no.
"Great, now we’re never getting to the sex tips," I thought.
"It’s like eating corn on the cob," he said. He suggested that a more exciting way to give a guy oral is to cradle the penis with my hands and use my mouth in a motion that’s similar to eating corn on the cob. "Does that sound like it would feel erotic if you were with the right partner?" said Snyder. "Eh," I replied. It was a sex tip, but it wasn't one I was very excited about.
"Any new boyfriends?" said Snyder. "Nope," I said. I told him that while I’ve been dating around and still kept a healthy masturbation life, I haven’t felt ready to be in a relationship.
"It sounds like you’re in need of sexual healing," he said. I gave him a blank stare and waited for him to elaborate. "You should feel like you and your future boyfriend connect and that he doesn’t want you to do anything you don’t enjoy doing," he said. I totally agreed.
"For this sexual healing, you need to find a guy who is trustworthy, is interested in you in a personal way, isn't so needy, and loves you. If you find that guy, do whatever you need to do sexually as training wheels, but you should be able to let go and do whatever turns you on," he said. I just kept nodding. I understood. In my case, being able to relax about sex starts with finding a guy I’m completely comfortable so I can let my freak flag fly.
"It sounds like you’re in need of a sexual healing," he said.
"Also, since this obsession with 'getting pregnant and dying' happened as a result of that traumatic experience with your ex," said Snyder, "you need to tell your future boyfriend about what happened to heal." I’m not so sure how this conversation will play out, but I’ll figure it out later, I guess.
Wrapping it Up
The 90 minutes were winding down, and I was still hoping to learn pointers on getting better in bed. “I’ve always asumed that a sex therapy session would just be endless sex tips, but we focused a lot on past relationships,” I said.
Snyder said a lot of people often forget that there’s an emotional aspect to sex. But the substance behind sex therapy mostly focuses on feelings that one has about getting it on.
"Is there anything else you’d like to know?” said Snyder. We started talking about how to communicate during sex, but then the next patient buzzed in. We said our goodbyes, and I thought, "Phew, I survived."
Though I'd like to, I can't work an ongoing sex therapy appointment into my budget. But after just one session, I feel more comfortable about my sexuality and less terrified about the potentially negative consequences of sex (as in getting knocked up). It's good to know that a great sex life starts with feeling happy and comfortable with myself and my relationship. Also, I learned the best BJ tip of all is that you don't have to give one. *Mic drop*