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Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in all things sex. Her aim is to take the intimidation out of sex therapy and bring the fun back into the bedroom. She sees clients in San Francisco, and offers online sex education and coaching programs like Finishing School: Learn How To Orgasm. In her spare time, she enjoys reading three books at once, going on walks with her pug, and making her husband laugh. Visit her at VMTherapy.com. Here, she and Mailande talk about having “the talk” with your parents, Vanessa’s #1 piece of sex advice, and some little-known info about the sex toy industry.

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Mailande: Hi, Vanessa! Let’s start at the beginning: what is sex therapy?

Vanessa: Sex therapy helps people have better relationships with their sexuality, and discover the kind of sex that feels healthy and exciting for them. My clients have different goals and histories, but my general approach is that I want to help them let go of any kind of shame, embarrassment, or anxiety that they might feel about sex and just have more fun with it.

Mailande: That sounds great to me. Can you tell us more about why it’s important? Why do we need sex therapy in our culture?

Vanessa: Well, I think that pretty much every single person out there has experienced some sort of shame about some aspect of their sexuality. We live in a society that’s completely saturated in sex, but at the same time is pretty sex negative. I think a lot people just don’t have accurate ideas of what sex is supposed to be like, and they have a lot of residual feelings of anxiety that might have been inherited from their parents, their culture, or religion.

Sex is such an important part of our lives. It’s a really big part of who we are, how we express ourselves, how we share love for other people. Sex therapy is very important for helping people find their own authentic sexual expressions.

Mailande: Awesome. How did you find yourself in this line of work?

Vanessa: I knew I wanted to be a sex therapist when I was 12. I don’t even know how I realized that it was a job or a potential career. The revolution actually came from my parents. We weren’t religious, and sex was never this completely taboo sinful thing. But when I was 12, I was starting to have questions about sex and my body, and I picked up on how uncomfortable my parents were about the topic, and how little they wanted to talk through it with me. We had that same old awkward “The Talk” conversation, and my mom just said, “You know that if you have any questions, you can ask me.” But it was clear that what she meant was “Please don’t actually ask me anything.” I thought to myself: Why is this so embarrassing? I do have a lot of questions. Why can’t we just talk about this and be normal?

That was the motivating experience: just wanting sex to be more straightforward, and easier to talk about. Acknowledging that it’s an important part of our lives. That same feeling continues to drive the work that I do with my clients now.

Mailande: What are some of the reoccurring issues that you see in your clients?

Vanessa: The number one thing for women is inability to orgasm. I often see women who have low sexual desire, wondering why they don’t want sex more often. I also work with a good number of women who’ve experienced sexual abuse in their past, so sex feels really painful, or scary, or traumatic.

With men, it’s pretty much exclusively performance anxiety. It’s usually around having a hard time getting or maintaining erections, or orgasming too quickly. I do see a good number of men who have a hard time reaching orgasm, as well.

Those are the most popular ones. I get a lot of couples, too: a couple might feel as though they’ve lost their spark, or have really different libidos that make navigating sex a challenge. Or they’re fighting a lot about sex and trying to figure out how to communicate about it without reverting to arguments.

Mailande: Obviously, a lot of your clients are people you see in person. Do you work with clients who aren’t in California? If people love your attitude and need your services, can they work with you if they can’t come and see you?

Vanessa: Yeah! I offer sex coaching to clients across the country, and even in other parts of the world. I have a good number of international clients. My clients love video chat because it’s so convenient, and can feel less intimidating than coming in person. 

I have a couple of online programs that I offer, too. I just launched a program for women about how to orgasm; I have another women’s program about how to bring more pleasure into your life on a daily basis. I also have a program for men centered around performance anxiety.

Mailande: If you could offer one piece of sex-related advice to every person out there, what would it be?

Vanessa: That’s a tricky one. I think it would be to give value to your sex life and to recognize that it is important. It goes back to the idea that we live in a sex-saturated culture, but we’re not taught to give importance to our own individual sex lives as part of being human.     

A lot of couples come to me who have been fighting about sex for 10 years; they just haven’t been willing to take that step to seek out resources or help. If you can recognize that your sexuality is part of who you are, and that it’s worthy of your time, that’s a great start. It doesn’t even have to be in a health sense: it can also show up like “I deserve to buy nice sex toys or lingerie, or do a boudoir photography shoot.” There are a lot of little ways to celebrate your sexuality and bring pleasure into your life.

Mailande: Yes, absolutely. Speaking of which, what are some of your favorite like sex-related products? Are there any that have been particularly great for your clients?

Vanessa:  I have a lot of recommendations! But my two favorites right now are just amazing. The first is the Minna Life Limon, a vibrator that’s made by a small company in San Francisco where I live. They’ve patented squeezable technology, meaning the harder you squeeze the Limon, the more intensely it vibrates. It’s simple and intuitive.

Another big one is lube. I think that most people don’t give lube the love it deserves.  It just makes things slide around better, intensifies sensations, and makes it easier to have an orgasm.My favorite brand is a German brand called Pjur.

In terms of where to find good products, I love an online store called Filthy Dirty. It’s run by a really cool woman, and she only carries products that are body safe. She and I have struck up a friendship, and she’s taught me a lot. I actually have a discount code you can pass on to your readers for 15% off: VM15.

Mailande: Awesome, thanks! I wasn’t aware that there were many products that aren’t body safe.

Vanessa: Yeah, they use some harmful stuff to soften the plastic and make it more pliable. Those chemicals have been associated with a lot of different medical conditions like endocrine problems, cancer, skin irritations . . . the list goes on. The biggest culprits are called phthalates. And a big thing to watch out for is products that are marked “for novelty use only.” Don’t ever buy those! That’s the wording they use as a loophole, so that they can use materials that aren’t actually intended to be used on your body.

Mailande: Wow. So much to learn! Speaking of education in general: we talked a little bit a couple times in this conversation about how our culture is saturated with sex, but we’re not taught how to talk about it. I’m curious about how you think about sexual education. What are the things that you would like to see change so that our kids grow up with more positive messages?

Vanessa: I mean, having sex education in general would be a welcome change. If there’s sex ed at all, it’s usually limited to abstinence, how not to get pregnant, and STDs. I would love to see sex education that’s much more comprehensive, and that goes beyond one conversation with the PE teacher.

I’d also love to see it addressed at different points in a child’s life, depending on what’s appropriate at that time. And I’d want to address the shame and embarrassment part of it. Teaching kids that sex is a normal part of a healthy life would be a game changer. And addressing the diversity of sexual expression, and helping kids deal with sexual abuse. Those are all so important.

Probably the most controversial piece of what I want would be for sex education to include the idea that we have sex for pleasure. Most sex ed out there right now is about scaring kids or teaching them that sex only happens within marriage, for procreation. It’s so strange that it’s a radical thing to say that people have sex because it feels good. I mean, that’s the reality, but we’re so afraid to acknowledge it. It would be so amazing if we could teach kids, in age-appropriate ways, that your body is capable of feeling really good, and that establishing a great relationship with your own pleasure is really important.

Mailande: Yes. For now, just having anything beyond abstinence education seems like a huge triumph, which is really depressing. I particularly want to see more sex education around giving and seeking consent; one of my huge interests is stopping sexual violence, and we don’t ever talk about how to communicate what you want or don’t want. And it’s so important to learn how to do that – and to be able to really listen to what the other person is saying.

Vanessa:  Yeah, I did a workshop as an undergrad in which the presenter brought up the topic of consent, and how to make it sexy. The idea was that yes, you do need to have clear consent, but it can also be a really arousing experience, and there’s something very beautiful and engaging about confirming that your partner isn’t just okay with whatever you’re doing, but that they really desire it. It’s so important, especially given the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, to get back to the basics of how to seek and give consent.

Mailande: I’m 100% with you. On another note, without sharing any specific client information, what kind of success stories have you seen lately?

Vanessa: Speaking generally, the best part of my job is just being able to hear when my clients reach a really important milestone. Like if a women I’m coaching about how to orgasm finally makes it happen. Sometimes I’ll get emails in the middle of the night saying “I did it!” That’s so exciting for me, to be able to celebrate with them through both big and small victories.

 

 

 

 

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