Rocky Mountain Sex and Intimacy Summit: Reflections on Marty Klein

Not my image

This past weekend, I went to the Rocky Mountain Sex and Intimacy Summit held in Salt Lake City. It was a fantastic weekend and I certainly gained from it. I made some great friends, was surrounded by many people who were sex positive, and received some excellent goodies. You won’t see this kind of swag at a philosophy conference. There were four speakers total, but I want to focus on two of the speakers.  I won’t go into the entirety of their talks, but I wanted to focus on some salient philosophical points that I can extract from their talks.

The first is from Dr. Marty Klein, a sex therapist.

Klein had two talks, and I’m going to focus on the first one which was on sexual intelligence. In the talk, Klein discusses what people really want from sex. To find that out, you have to talk people, but not just simply say, “hey, what are you into?” You have to help them swim through the clutter of social expectations so that they don’t focus on those things, and instead help them focus on what they really desire. The way to do that is get them to focus on their experience. Here are some strategies on how to do that:

  • Hardly should you ask “why?” when they are talking about a sexual experience. Instead ask “what was it like when…?” This gets straight to their lived experience rather than thinking in categories.
  • When you say something like, “how come x happens?” and the client says, “oh you know.” You can respond with, “yeah I know, so tell me again, how come x happens?” It puts the client back into the experience so that they actually have to answer about x.
  • Focusing on whether you’re a good person or sexually competent makes enjoyably-related sex impossible. Help people relax and the way to do that is get to them to pay attention to the experience, which will help them change their relationship to sexuality.
    • We have narratives about sexuality which constructs our relationship toward sexuality. But sexuality doesn’t have any inherent narrative. We’re the ones that give it meaning and these meanings are infused with our cultural upbringing and they’re hard to shake off. With that, we can design our picture of sexuality to help people with their relationship to their sexuality. And the way to do this is to reexamine our stories and narratives. The starting point is to ask what is that like for you? People focus too much on sexual content and not enough on the sexual experience. Don’t ask “what should we do?” but ask “how do I want to do it?”
      • “Normal” sex disrupts many sexual relationships. But there’s no inherent hierarchy of sexual activities. Once you say something is normal, you start to demarcate what is deviant.
      • So we need a new vision of sexual “functioning” which should include information, emotional skills, communication, and pleasure.

My analysis: I think Klein is correct with his phenomenological route to have a healthy sexuality. It’s tough to be self-critical and self-reflective when it comes to sexuality. With the proper tools such as a therapist who can ask the right questions, one can hopefully escape the narrative of what is socially expected of you to one where you get to formulate a sexuality that pertains to your own subject.

Another note: during this talk, I was struck by this slide:img_0574

Inherently, then, sex isn’t the problem. Ah, but then it almost sounds like he’s saying you are the problem. We are the problem because the destructive narratives are still there. While I agree with Klein that we are constantly bombarded with narratives and that it’s hard—if not impossible—to escape them, he did suggest that we are responsible for these narratives. Here, I can interpret this in two ways. The first is to say that we made these narratives and so we should take responsibility for these narratives. But how can we be responsible if these narratives are ingrained in us from our culture? How can they be conscious decisions? Here, we are “actively” responsible because we’ve consciously chosen these narratives.

The second way is to say that we are responsible for these narratives because we continuously allow them to pass, but it’s up to us to change them so that we can change the narrative—and eventually the culture—of sexuality. So we are responsible for them because we “passively” accept them.

I don’t think either one is tenable, however. For the first, why would someone actively choose a destructive narrative? Perhaps it’s so that we can fit in the social mold of sexual/gender expectations. But the ethical import would challenge this and get out of this narrative. After all, if the narrative isn’t working and making people unfulfilled, unhealthy, and unhappy, then we should get rid of and not choose the narrative. The second suggests that we choose the narrative because we passively allow it. But if people don’t realize that the narrative is destructive, if they don’t know any other options, if they don’t even see or understand that they are operating in a narrative, how are they responsible? In a way, it almost feels like victim blaming.

The only way this second option could work is if someone told us there was a narrative and offered us alternatives and these alternatives are better than the standard narrative. Thus, if I give you knowledge about other routes, but you still take the same route that is destructive, then you are to blame. So Klein’s work is to get people to see and understand these narratives, and break out of the current narrative because the current model is destructive. Well, is this true? If doing x is destructive and you don’t know any other path, then I don’t think you’re to blame. But if I told you that there are other routes such as a, b, c, and, d, but you still choose to do x, are you to blame? I’m not so sure. Doing x has been a big part of your life and doing otherwise feels jarring and uncomfortable. You’ve been so habituated to doing x that doing otherwise feels, well, wrong. Hopefully the slow steps away from x toward another route is a better route and immediately blaming someone for not doing the alternative when that person is so used to doing x is too demanding. Granted, Klein’s talk gave of the highlights of his therapeutic practice and perhaps I’m missing the bigger picture, but that part was the most jarring to me. Still, I think that questioning our narratives is key to live more fulfilling lives and the way to do that is not just experience, but a resource that tells you that the current narrative you live in may not be enriching enough or provide you with well-being.


About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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1 Response to Rocky Mountain Sex and Intimacy Summit: Reflections on Marty Klein

  1. Pingback: Rocky Mountain Sex and Intimacy Summit: Reflections on Al Vernacchio | Shaun Miller's Ideas

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