Sex Therapist Stefani Goerlich Keeping it Real

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Sex and sexuality can be difficult, tremendously personal topics, fraught with shame or emotional and physiological barriers—even within the mental health profession. Sex therapist Stefani Goerlich specializes in healing the wounds between ourselves and our bodies, partners, and sexuality.

Stefani’s focus on sex and sexual health began early in her career. “Before I was finished with my bachelor's degree I was working as a first response advocate with sexual assault in the first 48 hours after the assault,” she recounts. “After my college days, I ran a crisis line and drop-in center for high-risk women and girls in Detroit, which often means a lot of survival sex, a lot of commercial sex, a lot of human trafficking. I wanted to kind of flip the script and I wanted to keep working in the world of sexual health and empowerment, but on the other side. So, I went to University of Michigan, I did my sex therapy training, I got my sex therapy certification, and I have been in private practice doing exclusively sex therapy ever since.”

Stefani went above and beyond and is both an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Board Certified Sexology Diplomate—the highest certifications possible for her field. Stefani’s practice, Bound Together Counseling, is based in Detroit—but, thanks to telemedicine, Stefani is certified in many states and able to offer virtual counseling across the country.

New patients are often daunted by the idea of sex therapy…is it different from talk therapy? Do clothes come off?

“Never in my office,” answers Stefani. “It's really important that people understand that sex therapy is talk therapy. But it is focused on having conversations about an aspect of people's lives that a good chunk of people aren't necessarily comfortable talking about, and most clinicians aren’t trained to engage in. So, a sex therapist has advanced training in lifespan human development and human sexuality. We have training in physiological dysfunction, the actual medical conditions that can impact sexuality, we have training in sexual minorities and sexual diversity.”

Stefani Goerlich’s expertise stretches even further. She spent several years in seminary studying to be a rabbi, before completing her Masters in social work—Stefani is just as comfortable bringing her spiritual knowledge to faithful couples in her practice as she is leaving religion at the door for her secular patients.

“I am a person of faith, and a big part of my spiritual practice is the idea that God doesn't make mistakes. We are all exactly who and what we are intended to be.”

Stefani’s practice is kink-affirming as well. Kink may include BDSM, fetishes, non-monogamy or polyamory: “Kink is a broad umbrella term that, at its core, just means anything that falls outside of what is considered socially normal in a sexual relationship or sexuality,” Stefani says. What is considered “kinky” may vary from society to society, region to region, as what is “normal” isn’t the same everywhere in the world.

Stefani is so experienced with kinky couples she wrote a book: Stefani’s first book, The Leather Couch: Clinical Practice with Kinky Clients, is widely available for mental health practitioners. Her two upcoming publications, Kink Affirming Practice: Culturally Competent Therapy from the Leather Chair and her first book for couples, With Sprinkles on Top: Help and Hope for Vanilla Partners of Kinky People, will be released in 2022 and 2023. Not all sex therapists are kink-affirming: Stefani, specifically, is prepared to administer care with sensitivity and awareness to all couples and individuals, kinky or not.

For kinky and vanilla couples alike, Stefani often gives similar preliminary guidance:

“One of the things that I get teased about a lot (because I say it so often to the couples that I work with) is that kindness is foreplay,” she jokes. “Often, we think of sex as starting in the bedroom, when usually sex and intimacy starts about six hours beforehand, when everybody gets home from work. The act of running your hand down your partner’s back as you're passing by to put the kids in the bathtub is foreplay, and cultivating outside of sexual spaces like our beds, a sense of intimacy and closeness and kindness is really key to a healthy sex life. Our bodies are not wired, typically, to separate our emotional state from our physical state. And so, if we want to have a moment of intimacy with our partner, we want them to be safe and relaxed and feel comfortable, feeling physically aroused. And that safety, that relaxation starts with every decision we make before we ever open the bedroom door.”

So, how might couples at home begin to foster this safety, relaxation, and comfort in and out of the bedroom? What advice does she offer for couples wanted to deepen their sexual life or explore kink?

“One of my favorite homework assignments to give to my couples is to have each partner pick out some form of erotic media that they enjoy,” Stefani suggests. “That might be porn clip, that might be a chapter from a book, it might be a snippet from a podcast, it could be anything, and to share it with their partner. Then, talk about what they like about it talk about what in that scene or in that paragraph appeals to them. And once they both kind of had their show-and-tell turns, talk about what of this might have surprised them. What didn't I know about you? What am I curious about too, now that you bring it up? What could we experiment with from this information? That is really fun to do. And it makes a great sort of stay-at-home date night for these pandemic days.”

Stefani’s practice is defined by empathy and open-mindedness. She is flexible and able to offer care to trans, cis, and nonbinary patients, couples and individuals, kinky and non-kinky patients, the religious and the secular.

“We all have things that we need to work through. But me being the therapist, with somebody else as the client doesn't mean that they are more broken than I am. You know, we all have fractures, we all have cracks. It might not always be sexual, but we have the shame, the guilt that we carry. My job is to hold space for my clients and to help them come to see themselves as worthy and deserving. And whole—just as they are”

For inquiries about her consultation services, visit https://www.stefanigoerlich.com/about.html, and for Bound Together Counseling and therapy appointments, visit https://www.boundtogethercounseling.com/stefani.html.