Sex & Intimacy & Connection

I am currently working on a paper about why the relationship of counselor and counselee is more susceptible to sexual (mis)conduct than other professional relationships. (There is not a high percentage of people who, for example, “jump” their plumbers no matter how good they may look bending over those pipes.) My own theory going into the research was that the vulnerability and intimacy fostered in the therapeutic relationship more easily leads to sexual feelings. I found this quite ironic since in society sex is so often stripped of any intimacy and becomes merely about physical appearance and lust.

Nineteen sources (and counting) and fifteen single-spaced pages of notes later, I find I have my greatest epiphanies when my nose is not in a book or online journal. Nope, tonight the insight came as I was brushing my teeth… I thought of how we often make ourselves up for certain people or certain situations. Like a new love-interest or someone we admire. We will carefully pick out clothes, do our hair, maybe whiten our teeth or do a few extra sit-ups. We do these things to get attention. To impress.

But what do you have in a counseling relationship? You have a person at often their weakest moments, saying things they may have never expressed to anyone else. (I, for example, started a round of personal counseling back at Prov and was in tears within the first ten minutes of the first session. Must have made the counselor feel like she really knew what she was doing — getting to the heart of the matter!)

So in counseling you have extreme vulnerability on the part of the client. And there is something in that that is very freeing and makes you feel deeply connected. And that connection is a very good thing — I think it is the kind of connection that humans really need (being our true selves without fear of rejection).

The problem? You are paying a professional to bring this kind of relationship into your life. (And, yes, the counselor has been likened to the prostitute on more than one occasion) The other problem? It is a one-sided relationship. (Oh look, another prostitute connection.) What all of the books say is that a power relationshp is in place and any sexual relationship that develops out of that power relationship is abuse by the counselor to the counselee. Always. No matter who instigates it.

What the counseling relationship is at best is a place for people to come and experience trust in the middle of their darkest moments. You do not have to be at your best or look your best or act your best. In fact, if you do, it will be so much more obvious that you are hiding something. But, though the connection of counselor and counselee can get muddled by the deep longings of the heart for intimacy and connection, it is a misunderstanding to see that as a physical/sexual connection.

Frustrating and confusing though the therapeutic relationship may become, I think it indicates something so wonderful about humanity. It’s not sex that we want. Not really. Well, we want that too. But what we really want is for it to come out of who we are, not who we pretend to be. The strongest and deepest connections come out of our weakest places. And that is really quite wonderful.

Posted in Marriage, Psychology, School | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Sex & Intimacy & Connection

  1. Toni says:

    I think it may indicate several things:
    That we are whole people, rather than a separate and disconnected mind, body and spirit.
    That intimacy and openess should be a part of marriage, and that the sexual response to that is in fact a natural and healthy one because such intimacy and sharing should be happening in our marriages.
    From the last point, that counselling in this way is not really part of God’s natural order, but is something that we’ve added to make up for the lack and to help our broken and disfunctional situations. That doesn’t make counselling wrong – only that it is required because people are disfunctional, broken and sinful.

    Feel free to disagree, but I think you nailed it with that last comment “It’s not sex that we want. Not really. Well, we want that too. But what we really want is for it to come out of who we are, not who we pretend to be. The strongest and deepest connections come out of our weakest places. And that is really quite wonderful.” I might go to other men for wise counsel, support, advice (I won’t go to a woman for obvious reasons) but the one person who I will allow to see my in my weakness and fragility, despair and struggle is my wife.

    Interesting to turn it on it’s head for a moment – when there’s no longer openess and intimacy of sharing reality within a marriage then often the sex dies too. Marriages where the only thing left is sex are usually dry, sad places occupied by people with hard and lonely hearts.

    No wonder counselling is fraught with sexual danger.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Toni. I especially like your last point looking at marriage. A lot of the case studies I read talked about counselors being most vulnerable to client sexual relations at times when their personal life/marriages were in low spots or other times of personal vulnerability. Once again, VULNERABILITY and looking for a place to find connection.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that counseling is not a part of God’s natural order. In fact, I would probably say the opposite. That the openness, trust, compassion, and empathy fostered in a therapeutic alliance are EXACTLY what God has always wanted for people. And it is actually a good thing that there is a place for people to go where someone is professionally obligated to provide that — what is NOT part of God’s plan is that people do not find that kind of relationship in the outside world in friends and family.

    Any more thoughts? I think we are agreeing here. And I really like how you made the connection to the flip-side of marriage.

  3. Toni says:

    Chris and I talked about this in the car later. She cited the example of extra-marital counselling as being ‘healthy’ in the case berievment counsellors. Generally she didn’t especially agree, but she can’t always be right, now can she? 😉

    We probably mostly agree Dixie.

  4. Heather says:

    A very good, thought-provoking read. Thanks Dixie!!!

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