What it’s really like to be a sex therapist

Juliet Grayson tells Marie Claire what it’s like to aid couples through their most challenging times

Juliet Grayson has been a therapist focusing on sex and relationships for the past 25 years – and yes, after being in the business for that amount of time, she really has seen it all.

So, what is it really like to be a sex therapist? Is a lack of sex drive simply down to bad sex? Can most relationship problems be solved? Is there a fundamental difference between men and women? Juliet explains to Marie Claire what life is really like on the other end of the couch…

Juliet’s first book, Landscapes of the Heart,

is out now and follows sessions of the particularly potent form of

psychology called Pesso Boyden System Pyschometer (PBSP) therapy, which

she specialises in.

What are the most common marriage problems that bring people to you?

There are many, but a common one is definitely when one partner wants sex and the other has gone off it.

Can something like that be repaired?

It can be repaired, but there are so many reasons why people go off sex. Sometimes it can be a medical reason, so I often ask them to book an appointment with their GP, as if they have a low testosterone level they can cause a low sex drive. If you have a low sex drive, then once every three weeks can still feel like negotiating for a partner who has a higher sex drive. In that case, I’ll help them still to try to feel satisfied by masturbating or other ways.

Can lack of sex drive simply be down to bad sex?

Yes. One question that is always worth asking is, ‘was the sex that you were having worth having?’ For instance, it could be that what she was doing for him wasn’t really satisfying, and vice versa. A lot of the time both party will feel uncomfortable telling the other one that, so I’ll have to tease it out of him. One key thing is helping people be honest with each other and not flying off the handle – but if they do, then there’s help. Once we’ve established that the issue is unsatisfying sex then we can help them learn how to make it satisfying for both. There are so many reasons why people go off sex, resentment and work stress are also big factors.

What’s the most difficult part of your job?

When I’m with a couple who are really struggling and in agony. There’s a stage where some couples get to where they refuse to see the good in each other because they’re so cross with each other, and this has gone on for 10 or 15 years. Sometimes I feel like they’re so hyper-sensitive to each other, there’s so much bad feeling, so overdrawn at the bank of positivity and goodwill, that there’s no generosity left and my job with them is to try and turn them around and help them begin to see the other one not as an enemy.

Is there ever so much bitterness that you think the relationship is beyond repair?

I used to think I could tell who would split, but the fact is I can’t, and that is very freeing. The majority of the people I work with actually end up staying together. But because I don’t know whether they will last, it takes all the pressure off. I just work with them until they feel they can continue without my help, or one or both of them say they want to separate with dignity.

What are the main differences that you’ve found between men and women?

There’s a cliché that men tend to just jump in and solve problems, rather than just listen to what the partner has to say. As a huge generalisation men have a different attitude to sex than women do. Having sex is like having a cup of tea to them, it’s a social event, very nice, there’s no emotional connection. For many women, having sex inevitably builds a emotional connection.

Why do you think that is?

My Juliet answer is that men are biologically designed to spread their seed as much as they can, so they can have sex with that many people, without much connection. And women are designed to raise children, so for us, it’s important to have someone around to raise those children, we’re going try and hang on to the person. We want an emotional connection, a person who will hang around after the sex. I’d say it’s probably biologically-driven, but I don’t have any research to back that up.

Would you say that men and women are fundamentally different?

I have a friend who has twins and one’s a boy and one’s a girl and she was utterly dedicated to the fact that men and women are the same. Her girl picks up pink dolls, and her boy picks up guns, and she tried to give the girl guns and the boy pink dolls and they weren’t having it. I have the privilege as a sex and relationship therapist to sit with an individual deepest sharing of their world secrets of their heart, and they have no reason to bullshit me or to give me this story that they think the public should hear. In fact, quite the opposite, so I really get an insight version.

Women and men are fundamentally different. Men do tend to have a bit more ‘me, me, me’ and a bit more goal-oriented and out there in the world. Women tend to have more of a sense of caring, and compassion for other people, and be a bit more ‘us and we.’ They’re more concerned with how other people will be receiving them. Men tend to be, ‘Well this is who I am and the world will have to get on with it.’ Whereas women see things like, ‘She’s prettier than I am and all that.’

You specialise in PBSP, what exactly is it?

It’s a profoundly psycho-therapeutic technique, so within the space of an hour people can have completely life-changing results. It doesn’t always happen that way but it can happen that way.

Is this specifically for relationships?

It can be for anything. What it’s really good for is working through problems from our childhoods that manifest in our adult relationships, unbeknown to us. For example, if someone had a father who was violent with them, their partner only has to raise his voice a bit and it’s like you’ve got corn and someone’s treading on it. It’s a sensitive hot button to aggression but you’re reacting not only to the here and now, but also what happened in your childhood. It’s the same thing if you had a mother who was very critical, and you team up with a woman who is critical. You react to the criticism in a much bigger way, than just the present issue, because you’re being affected by your past.

Which character types are the most difficult to work with?

The most difficult person to work with is the arrogant person who thinks there’s nothing wrong with them the way they see the world knows that everyone else is the problem and they’re not.

What kind of behaviour do they exhibit?

If I make a suggestion, it’s brushed off. They will find ways of not allowing me to talk, or to intervene. They all have strategies they’ve learnt in life to stop people being able to influence them, shutting other people out not letting them out. Some people really, really, really believe that they are god’s gift and they are marvellous and there is nothing wrong with them.

Which sex is more likely to be like this?

I’d suspect maybe a few more men than women, but women do it in a slightly different way. They’re subtler, a woman might seem like she’s absorbing, but she’s just learnt to appear like she is. Men are more obvious.

You divorced your first husband shortly before training as a therapist, does your job impact your second marriage?

It’s going through a divorce that is really helpful. I didn’t want to settle for just something that was okay. I really wanted to find someone I really wanted to be with, who would enhance my life and add something. But I wasn’t desperate. My husband William and I met through a Lonely Hearts advert, I advertised and he answered. I think second relationships are often sweet because you’ve learnt a lot of lessons from your first relationship going wrong. I got too complacent in my first relationship so I’m more attentive in this relationship to continue to work on the relationship and to continue to put time and effort in. But to answer your question, it makes me really appreciative of the fact that we get on really well and we’re friends as well as lovers. I feel very fortunate and very blessed to be with William.

Is the job emotionally taxing?

Sometimes it can be taxing. Sometimes I hear some really traumatic things that have happened. I am professionally trained to handle that, so my training has helped me and my years of experience mean that I can carry it without it feeling like a burden. And we also as professional counsellors have supervision. So if I have something that has kind of got into me, I can anonymously talk about it with my supervisor, and I have mechanisms to take care of myself. We have to have supervision, we have monthly supervision and we can ring him anytime if I need to if something’s challenging me.

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