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This is part of our Taboo Series.

A sexual guide can be a valuable companion in helping you connect to your sexuality. While you can make these sexual connections on your own, sometimes the activation of sexual energy and the opening of the heart, pineal gland, and other subtle body phenomena is often easier and more explicit when exploring your sexual side with a trusted compatible person

Stella Harris, Certified Intimacy Educator & Coach, notes how navigating the plethora of books, podcasts, social media posts, and other media penned by those proclaiming to be “sexual guides” can be tricky indeed. “There’s a lot of academic gatekeeping that prevents wonderful folks from attaining certain degrees, and even certification programs can be expensive. Meanwhile, a person may have the most impressive credentials but are absolutely terrible and do a great deal of harm to their patients or clients.”

Instead of relying on credentials, learn what you can about the person.

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Read articles and blog posts a potential sexual guide has written. Watch their videos, read their social media posts, and see if you like their point of view. 

Once you select someone you sense might be a compatible match, ask for a consultation call. In your conversation with them, see if their approach is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions and be choosy about finding the right fit. Harris suggests asking these questions: 

  • Certification or not, what training have they received? 
  • What modalities do they work in? 
  • How long have they been in business? 
  • What testimonials and reviews do they have? 
  • What’s their reputation in the various communities they participate in?
  • Do they have experience with people like you? 
  • Have they helped people coming from a similar place? 

Distinguishing between charismatic and narcissistic energies in a sexual guide

As Gwenn Cody, a sex-positive therapist, observes, humans often have complicated and conflictual feelings about idealizing others. “It’s built into our primate heritage to long for charismatic leaders to follow.” Unfortunately, the line between charisma and narcissism is often thin. Cody delineates between charismatic and narcissistic traits. 

Charismatic leaders have these hallmarks: 

  • Confidence
  • Thinking outside the box/risk-taking
  • Vision
  • Determination
  • Powerful communication skills.

Conversely, narcissistic leaders possess these behaviors:

  • Grandiosity 
  • Entitlement
  • Manipulative communication skills
  • Aggressively determined to prevail
  • Excessively self-confident and risk-seeking.

Observing the sexual guide in action 

As these traits can look very similar at first glance, Cody suggests observing a potential sexual guide in action to help you ascertain how they engage with those under their care. As you observe their work, ask yourself these questions. 

  • Do they accept responsibility for their behaviors or prefer to suggest others are at fault?
  • Do they accept criticism and feedback with some level of grace and humor and make efforts to improve?
  • Do they ask about the needs of the students or community or assume they know what’s best?
  • Do they take the time to consider the possible negative outcomes of their actions and how others might be affected?
  • Are they open to “no” as well as “yes” when they suggest or recommend things to their students? No is a complete sentence and any pushing against anyone’s no represents a major red flag.

In your observations, Harris recommends paying attention to how people talk about this potential sexual guide. “Admiration is fine, but being in awe of someone is a bit much – especially if there are many people who behave that way.” In particular, pay special attention if complaints are ignored or dismissed or if people complaining are ostracized or discredited.  

Connecting with a sexual guide

If there’s going to be any touching whatsoever in this session, Harris advises that the sexual guide should be very clear in advance about what’s involved and what its purpose is. For modalities like sexological bodywork that may include touching, make sure you read up about the modality in advance so you understand the best practices in the field. This will give you a basis of comparison for this professional. 

While it’s common for a sexual guide to encourage their students to potentially push themselves outside of their usual comfort zone, this pushing must be done with caution. Harris opines, “The professional should clearly explain what is expected of clients and how they can make sure they’re taking care of themselves during the process.” Along those lines, discomfort is an indicator that should be taken seriously. “It’s important that clients are helped to trust their gut, not to ignore it in favor of the professional’s instructions,” Harris adds. 

Be mindful of how power dynamics can muddy consent. Approach with extreme caution instances where leaders participate in their events or engage with people they met via their events outside of the event container. Harris suggests researching best practices within the modality or profession this guide is working in. For example, therapists can’t date or even be friends with their current or former clients until after a significant waiting period. 

Following these guidelines can help you become more aware in your search for a sexual guide with healthy signs of high self-esteem who can help lead you in exploring your sexuality.

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As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School/Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith &...