I’m currently in the process of pursuing an AASECT certification in Sex Therapy. To fulfill all of my continuing education requirements, for said certification, I’m enrolled in University of Michigan’s Certificate Program in Sexual Health. I’ve been really impressed with the program so far, and even more impressed with my cohort, which consists of some truly amazing educators, therapists, doctors, nurses, and counselors. I’m kind of honored to be a part of such an amazing group of professionals.
Anyway, one of the requirements of AASECT certification is something called a SAR, which is short for Sexual Attitude Reassessment. The idea behind the SAR is to expose would be sexuality professionals to various aspects of human sexuality. As I understand it, the goal is to help people understand their own reactions, biases, and comfort level across the spectrum of sexuality and sexual expression. I decided to share part of my writeup of my SAR experience, as I feel it directly connects to the issues I hope to tackle on this blog.
Philosophy and Goals
Looking back, I realize that my drive to work with sexuality and sexual health was sparked at a relatively early age. I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my classmates while riding home from school. I was a high school sophomore at the time, and she was a grade below me. She told me that she had been gang raped by some men in her neighborhood when she was in eighth grade. This story remained with me, if only subconsciously, as I set out on my path to become a sex therapist. I could think of no higher calling than to help others, maybe even others like her, to transform unhealthy and negative experiences with sexuality into opportunities for healing, empowerment, and growth.
Thus far, the bulk of my work has been with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I’ve seen clients as young as seven and as old as 65. My short term goal is to shift my clinical focus from children to older adolescents, adults, and couples/poly relationship configurations. My overarching goal is to create a safe and nurturing space where my clients can process and heal.
My SAR Experience
To be completely honest, I was initially leery of the SAR. I had heard some horror stories about people who had taken SARs consisting of nothing but porn, or that included experiential elements where consent was violated. I also fancied myself a fairly sex aware and non-judgmental person, and didn’t really see the necessity of the exercise. After completing the SAR through U of M’s Sexual Health Certificate program, I was glad to have gone through the experience.
The SAR consisted of a number of thought provoking videos about different aspects of relationships, sexual identity, and sexuality across the lifespan. I was glad to see representations of sexuality in disabled populations and the elderly. It can be all too easy to balk at the idea of such individuals as sexual beings, which is disempowering, infantilizing, and dangerous to those individuals. I appreciated the opportunity to process what we watched with fellow cohort members. I learned as much from my peers’ input as I did the videos themselves.
The only aspect of the SAR that really triggered me was the segment on pedophilia. The problem, I realized, was that pedophilia is a fetish that, when acted upon, causes physical and psychological damage to another human being. I’ve worked with the repercussions of pedophilia for too long to be able to have a neutral stance on this matter. Our facilitator was wonderful, and spoke with me privately when she saw I was triggered. She asked if I thought there was true evil in the world. She said that she chose not to believe that there was, just broken people. I don’t know if I agree with her. This was a very hard realization for me to sit with. I really wish I could adopt our facilitator’s philosophy.
For me, the SAR was a powerful reminder of how crucial empathy is to this work, even to those who judge others out of fear, shame, ignorance, or some combination thereof. Part of my job as a therapist and representative of AASECT is to educate and listen whenever possible.