Health·Posted on Sep 30, 2021
I’m enrolled in one of the few human sexuality graduate programs in America. Here’s what my day-to-day life as a sex therapy grad student looks like, along with things I’ve learned along the way that both singles and couples should know.
When someone asks me, “What are you studying in grad school?” I mentally prepare myself for the reactions I’ll get after I tell them I’m in school to study sex therapy. I usually get asked, “Wow, you can really get a degree in that?” and sometimes people command me to fill them in on everything I learn in class. Now that I’m in the second year of my graduate program as a sex therapy graduate student, I have much more to share about what it’s like, what I’ve learned, and what I think everyone else should know, too.
So, you may be wondering what the point is of getting a degree like this. Well, I’m specifically in the dual Social Work and Human Sexuality (MSW/Med) program at Widener University, which prepares students and professionals to teach, consult, and provide therapy in a variety of settings on complex issues of human sexuality, ranging from topics that include sexual dysfunction, sexual trauma, intimacy, emotional connection, sexual satisfaction, and more. Think of it like going to school to become the real-life version of Dr. Jean Milburn from Netflix’s Sex Education.
I know what you might be thinking right now. Sounds interesting, but two degrees at once?! That sounds like a lot to keep up with. It can be quite a handful, but my schedule is flexible. Most of my human sexuality courses take place on specified weekends, and my social work courses happen during the week. My first year in the dual master’s program mainly focused on the social work portion of my studies, and my second year in the program has shifted into focusing on the clinical sex therapy part of the program.
Speaking of curriculum, it probably isn’t shocking that taking classes as a sex therapy grad student is never a boring experience. Even when I study, it never feels as draining and monotonous as studying used to feel during my undergraduate years or high school.
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The curriculum involves courses fit for every topic within human sexuality that I can think of. Some classes examine general concepts in human sexuality like physical anatomy and reproduction, sexuality across the lifespan, or the history of sex education. Others have a focus on sex and relationship therapy for both monogamous and non-monogamous couples. There’s even a sexual fantasies class, addressing how different theorists have historically explored sexual fantasies within the context of psychological theories.
One of my favorite classes is the History and Ethics of Human Sexuality course because it emphasizes how sexual values concerning marriage, premarital and extramarital sexuality, masturbation, fertility, contraception, gender roles, and sexual orientation have changed over time. I also loved that I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the ethical concerns about using sex robots.
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Fun fact: According to a survey conducted by Tidio, about 42% of their respondents indicated that they would have sex with a robot.
And of course, I can’t forget to mention the Sexuality Archives located in the school library, filled with materials such as journals and books dating all the way back to 1835.
There are artifacts like antique condoms inside of packaging that look similar to an Altoids Mints container.
There are also electric vibrators from the early 1900s.
Fun Fact: Before vibrators were what we know them as today, they were marketed as medical devices used to provide temporary relief from physical conditions.
As if the Sexuality Archives couldn’t be cooler, there’s also an erotic manga and anime section!
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There’s a lot of groundbreaking knowledge I learn and have access to daily that may also enhance your understanding of human sexuality and help your sex life in general. Here are some of the most helpful things I’ve learned as a sex therapy grad student:
1. The vagina and the vulva are not the same thing.
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Typically, people use the term “vagina” to refer to the entire genital region, but that’s not accurate. The vulva is actually the correct term for all of the external organs, including the mons pubis (pubic mound), the labia majora and minora, the clitoris, the external openings of the urethra (aka the hole you pee from), and the vagina.
2. The clitoris gets erect too.
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Normally penises are associated with erections, but did you know that the clitoris can get erect too? When turned on, blood flow rushes to the clitoris, causing it to swell and become more sensitive to touch. When erect, the clitoris retracts from the clitoral hood and grows up to 50% to 300% in size.
3. Fixating on penis size isn’t helpful.
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Often I hear questions like, “Does size matter?” or, “What’s considered big vs. small for the size of a penis?” The truth is that questions like those are too subjective to answer. Sure, I can point to studies that show that the average length of an erect penis is between 5.1 and 5.5 inches. I suppose you could also ask numerous people their personal opinions on penis size and compare each answer. However, it’s better to focus on all aspects of sex equally rather than hyper-fixating on how penis size alone may affect a sexual encounter.
4. Even before the pandemic, Americans were having less sex than ever before.
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A study that was co-conducted by Brooke Wells, Associate Professor and PhD Program Director at the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University, shows that the number of 18- to 29-year-olds who are not living with a partner has increased from 48% in 2006 to 64% in 2014. Results also show that on average, American adults reported having sex about 64 times a year in 2002, but their reported sexual activity dropped to 53 times a year by 2014.
5. It’s a good idea to share your definition of cheating with your potential partner before the relationship starts.
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I used to assume that everyone generally had the same definition of what is considered cheating in a relationship until a professor of mine led a class activity that made me realize there isn’t always a clear consensus of what people count as cheating. Talking about your perceptions of infidelity can eliminate the assumption that you and your partner have the same boundaries in a relationship and potentially save you from misinterpretations that may lead to feeling betrayed.
6. Sexual orientation isn’t always black and white. It exists on a spectrum.
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When it comes to sexual orientation, there’s more to it than just straight or gay, with no in-between. Sexuality can be fluid, and it can change in different situations for some, and maybe throughout the years for others. When describing how sexuality exists on a continuum, I like to use an analogy of liking certain sports. Let’s take basketball, for example. On one end of the spectrum, people may absolutely love watching basketball no matter what. On the other end of the spectrum, they may not have any desire to watch basketball under any circumstance. Then there are people who may fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and prefer watching basketball during the NBA Finals or the Olympics, as opposed to watching it regularly. Also, basketball may be someone’s only favorite sport, whereas others may equally enjoy both basketball and football without liking one over the other.
What questions do you have for me? Let me know in the comments below, and maybe I’ll answer them in a future piece!
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