Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why does a person stop at a stop sign? The role of discovery in sexual health.

One of my favorite exercises is to ask a client: Why does a person stop at a stop sign? After a moment of confusion often based on the thought “what is the purpose of that stupid question” the client will usually respond with a nice answer that is sometimes punctuated with an attitude (and for drama, a nice roll of the eyes) of “that is so obvious.” My enjoyment is to follow-up with “Why ELSE might a person stop at a stop sign?” And the exercise continues until the person exhausts all of the answers; usually this is about 2-3 responses. Then I ask them to think of a funny reason, a silly reason, a stupid reason, an absurd reason etc. In one group setting, the group eventually identified 41 reasons why a person might stop at the stop sign. My point had been made. Until you think outside the box, your options are limited.

So often in the realm of sexuality, we assume we know the answer to the question. We’ve been taught, told, indoctrinated, forced, or otherwise encouraged to “know” the right answer that we haven’t thought about what is our response to the question “what is sexual health for me. The movement toward sexual health is a process of discovery and thinking outside the box. Your purpose in this process is to ask, “Why do I think this?” What else may be an answer, response, thought, issue, concern associated with the topic? This process is about unfolding, uncovering, and discovery. A great concept from my experience is the concept of discernment. Discernment is the exercise of discovering, uncovering, and revealing the truth within you (for those with a religious faith, this truth within is believed to be the Spirit acting in your life.).

I want to provide three simple examples where the concept of discernment helps us understand the movement toward sexual health.

In my opinion, staying in or leaving a relationship is a process of discernment. It is uncovering, revealing and discovering the health of the relationship. It requires an honest evaluation of your contribution to the state of the relationship, and assessment whether you are capable or willing to help build, repair or develop the relationship. It requires assessing whether the relationship can be transformed or declaring it should end.

What does it mean to live as a LGBT individual is my second example. There are many cultural factors (religious, family, community) that affect this process. In the end, the individual is charged with discovering what it means for him/her to live as an LGBT individual. I’ve seen it all. From an individual who knew at age 12 they were LGBT and appeared to have little difficulty in the process of living as an LGBT individual to a 70-year-old man coming out and choosing to stay with his wife of many decades.

My third example is to link discernment to sexual behavior. Ultimately it is up to you to determine what behaviors are sexually healthy. In other words, what behaviors help me grow as an individual, foster respect in my life and the life of my partner and the health of my community? As you see in the previous blogs, it is a process to discovery the behaviors that reflect and protect the values you use to shape your life.

Two notes of caution.

Discernment is a process. While the first response to what is healthy may “seem” like the “correct” response, sometimes discovering your personal truth needs time. Many times we edit or limit our thoughts, beliefs and desires. Uncovering sexual health requires you to challenge the thoughts, beliefs and values you assume to be true. Sexual health is about integration resulting from many trials and errors, experimentation, successes and trip-ups. And sexual health is about continuing the process when all seems dark.

Discernment is about responsibility. It requires you to step-up and say, “This is important to me. This is what I believe.” Too often, people avoid this responsibility for any number of fears including fear of judgment, or disapproval. Paradoxically, when you step-up and take responsibility for your journey, freedom is possible. It is also communal in sharing your choices with others. Should you say, “Yes this is me!” but fail to talk with your primary support network, I would say that you are avoiding the responsibility of your choice.

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