An Introduction to Clinical Sexology

Close up of kissAs a unique form of short-term, complementary and alternative modality (CAM), clinical sexologists are largely under-recognized and under-used. Though it’s said we specialize in studying “what people do and how they feel about it,” sexology touches on everything from erotology to anthropology, law, medicine, psychology, anatomy and physiology (naturally!), gender studies, public policy, history, and so on. That’s because human sexual behavior is pervasive, it affects everything we collectively do and create. As a sexologist, my interests have included Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality, Native Hawaiian sexual traditions, objectum sexuality, parenting transgender children, the effect of sensory dysfunction on sexual behavior, and the use of hypnosis to address sexual concerns. Almost anything can provide delightful grist for a perpetual, intellectual mill and this has been my joy. Sometimes useful clinical insights emerge from regarding artifacts or incidents through a sexological lens. However, even when there is no immediate clinical application, the overall effect is a deepened respect for the unstoppable and endlessly creative human engagement with eros.

For some, this process accelerates during a “unique baptism by fire” known as the Sexual Attitude Restructuring (SAR) process. At the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco (which pioneered SARs during an earlier incarnation as the National Sex Forum), this is no mere weekend of “Sexuality 101 and 201”. At IASHS, you are immersed for eight days in everything you always wanted to know about sex and possibly a whole lot of things you may wish you’d never seen. Explicit media and small group processing are integral aspects. The experience is intense. Even seasoned sexologists have been known to melt down. But a good SAR results in a near-unconditional acceptance of one’s own erotic quirks, and those of fellow human beings. One goal of SAR process is to discover exactly what aspects of human sexuality are personal turn-ons or turn-offs, so that clients are not harmed by the reactions of untrained clinicians. I can say, after having experienced two eight-day SARs, that my ability to hear just about anything is pretty good – and I know when and how to gracefully suggest a referral when out of my depth. For this reason, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) requires a (briefer) SAR experience of everyone seeking certification through the organization.

AASECT certifies the separate categories of sex educator and sex counselor, but not the hybrid practice of clinical sexology, which does both. Though I have recently completed requirements for sex counselor certification, I am sorry my own professional category is invisible within an organization that has so many of us as members. However, I recognize the reasons for this. For one thing, standards for clinical training in sexology are not as defined or generally agreed upon as they should be. For another, right now in the public mind a “sexologist” may be anything from Masters & Jonson to a woman in lingerie groped in a darkened room during an episode of The Pick Up Artist.

However, clinical sexologists practice with Annon’s PLISSIT model: permission (P), limited information (LI), and specific suggestions (SS). We make referrals for intensive therapy (IT) if necessary. Our understanding of human sexual behavior is fostered by our training, which exceeds the sexuality education requirements of other professions. This depth enables us to attend to clients seeking techniques for sexual enrichment and/or short-term management of non-medical sexual problems. As complementary specialists, we work well in consultation with a range of licensed professionals. Within the ethical scope of our practice, we support sexual health, function, self-esteem, and the intimate capacities of our clients.

© Copyright 2011 by By Amy Marsh, Sexologist & Consulting Hypnotist (EdD, DHS, CH). All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jenna

    August 30th, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    Could I ask how long it took you to get into this area and to get licensed? Also what is your undergraduate degree in? I am curious. Also how do you determine what you are going to specialize in?

  • Amy Marsh

    August 31st, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Hi Jenna,
    Thanks for writing. If you check my bio, you’ll find that clinical sexologists (like hypnotists and hypnotherapists) are not licensed. I am board certified by the American College of Sexologists, and – as I mentioned in the article – am finalizing my application for sex counselor certification through AASECT after completing the requirements (supervision, training, etc.).
    If you want more info on training, go to the website of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. I completed my DHS requirements at IASHS in 2.5 years. And I’ve just finished my EdD in human sexuality and will graduate in Oct. My undergraduate degree is in women’s health and history – people come to programs like this with a wide variety of experience and education. Practical experience includes pregnancy counseling and patient advocacy in a free clinic (as a teenager!); postpartum doula work as an adult; and suicide crisis line counseling.
    I would say that people who gravitate to sexology, particularly as taught at IASHS, come from a huge range of backgrounds – with a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, formal and informal education. We’ve had physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, body workers, public health peer counselors, people who work at Planned Parenthood, and more. We all share a passion for helping people create sex-positive, sexually healthy lives.
    In this field, you discover your specialty by understanding your passion. I seem to have several.
    Take care,

  • MATT

    August 31st, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    Human sexuality is a complex issue and it touches just so many facets of an individual as you have rightly mentioned in this post. I am not surprised it requires such a high level of training and requirements are so strict.

    But then to be able to know and deal with so many different aspects on one’s life is not easy and these skills would be very useful because each case is different from the others and a personalized approach is required.

  • Nick

    September 1st, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    Wow,this info is not too common for our daily news followers.I thought there is just one specialization regarding sexuality but it seems like there is just so much in this.Never thought it would encompass so many areas either…!

  • Amy Marsh

    September 27th, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    Hi Nick and Matt,
    Thanks for your comments. Yes, the study of sex is mind-boggling and many faceted. That’s why I enjoy it so much! Always something new to learn! Thanks for reading!

  • R. Molvaer

    March 3rd, 2012 at 4:59 AM

    Many write about female orgasms as if it is a great achievement. Why do not more people know about the possibility of having a dozen female orgamsms or more during a single, and every, session of intercourse? It is not difficult to achieve for experienced lovers, but is practically unknown, almost as unknown as the art of the pompoir. Both described in detail, and how to achieve them, in the last chapter of TWO MAKING ONE: AMOR AND EROS IN TANDEM. It ought to be known by every couple.
    R. Molvaer,

  • Timeka

    September 1st, 2016 at 4:48 AM

    Reading this has made me realize how much I actually want to be in this field, however its not as easy as I’m based in a different country. I do not have access to such institutions to carry out these studies, but thank you for inspiring me.

  • deepalakshmiraj

    October 9th, 2017 at 10:43 PM

    Very useful blog that you have shared. Keep sharing. Thanks.

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