You need balls of steel to be a sex therapist in Kenya

You need balls of steel to be a sex therapist in Kenya. Photo | Photo search

What you need to know:

In most of our communities, there is an unspoken code of silence around sexuality, and sexologists’ work can be tiring and full of judgment

Last Friday was a special day in my career. For the first time, I attended to a sex therapist. Her name was Lydia. She waited for her turn.

“You should be in your clinic attending to patients,” I said as soon as she introduced herself, “What on earth are you doing paying consultation fees to come and see me?”

Generally, doctors do not charge their colleagues so her payment was strange. Stranger though was the reason that brought Lydia to the clinic, she did not have a sex problem.

“I am burnt out; I am sliding into depression. I did not know that my well-intentioned work would lead to the ostracisation that I am currently facing,” she lamented.

Lydia was newly trained as a sex therapist. As soon as she got her certificate she went full blast into the trade, not just attending to individuals and couples privately but also giving talks to groups and taking media interviews. Within no time the social media was awash with discussions about her. Most of it was negative.

“They are making jokes about me, some are demonising me, one even called me immoral,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Lydia was too young in the profession to understand that in most of our communities, there is an unspoken code of silence around sexuality. It is taken to be chaste not to talk about sex. Most people find it offensive when sex is discussed openly.

“But what that means is that they will continue suffering in silence!” Lydia exclaimed.

The truth is that most people prefer to suffer in silence than face the embarrassment of talking about their sexuality. The situation gets worse if the sexual challenge is one that is stigmatised such as homosexuality.

“Not even that,” Lydia adds, “a woman suffering sexual pain and avoiding relationships is seen as irresponsible and one not ready to start a family.”

“Yes, and a man suffering from premature ejaculation and erection problems may be abandoned by his partner because they are unable to amicably discuss the problem and seek help,” I replied.

This code of silence, in fact, is the reason our education system will not implement sexual education. Whenever this discussion comes up, it generates bitter exchanges. At the end of the day, children grow up without any knowledge of their sexuality.

“I frequently meet young people who think that if they have sex while standing they cannot conceive,” Lydia said.

“Yes, and others who believe that one-off sexual episode cannot pass the HIV infection,” I replied.

“And there are many men and women out there who will have sex with another person to re-confirm that they have a problem when sex fails with their regular partners instead of seeking medical help,” Lydia said.

“Yes, and many men who will resort to the blue pill for any sex problem even where the pill is not helpful,” I replied.

I realised that we had turned the session into an avenue for outpouring our frustrations to each other. It occurred to me that sexual health providers do not have opportunities for offloading and the accumulated frustrations can be a danger to their health. 

“So back to you now, what do you want from me?” I asked Lydia. 

She went quiet for close to a minute, her gaze fixed on the ground. 

“I am tired, I am stressed, everyone is talking about me, help me,” she said, fetched her handkerchief from her handbag, and wiped tears from her bloodshot eyes.

“I am happy that you came,” I said, “many health workers find themselves burned out and end up wallowing in alcohol.”

We live in a system that does not care for the caregiver. Routine checks are not done to determine the physical and psychological well-being of people who provide health services. Under the circumstances, caregivers must design a recovery formula that enables them to remain healthy as they serve the community. 

“Take a break and withdraw your services for some time,” I said, “you can only help others if you yourself are in the right state of mind.” I also referred her for general counseling, therapy support, and career coaching. She needed to think again if she is ready to face the murky waters of providing sexual health services and if she would stand the onslaught from the community for not obeying the code of silence.

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