Clinical Blindspots: Filling in the Gaps of Sexual Health Medical Training
A discussion with Heather Edwards & Alex Papale
These two have been doing a series of courses under the title of “Clinical Blindspots” that focus on some specific niches of kink and BDSM that involve pelvic health. These topics are often taboo and rarely covered in pelvic health education, leaving practitioners who have concerns regarding these more specific sex acts without anyone to ask. Likewise, if they do ask, pelvic health providers might feel exceptionally inadequate in understanding what these sex acts are or what the best practices for them might be. This is the void Heather & Alex are seeking to fill in the pelvic health field.
It’s frequently mentioned in the feedback they get from their courses that their short courses are SO MUCH FUN and feel like a truly accepting space free of judgement.
Heather: Hi Alex! I feel like we’ve really gotten to know each other under a set of bizarre of circumstances this past year. You’ve definitely been one of those bright spots of the pandemic… the whole “lack of being local” was no barrier to our co-creation! We’ve recorded, what like 9+ hours of really fun sex ed in 2021 so far??
Alex: Hi Heather! Truly, it’s been a wild time. This work relationship is definitely one of the highlights of 2021! I’m pretty sure that’s correct too, 9 hours sounds like a lot but I swear it flies by! We have so much fun.
Heather: I love that Pelvic Global (Pelvic Guru, LLC) has taken on these sex toy courses that we put together. I know lubes and toys are certainly things I get asked about often. What are some of the questions that you get most from patients (or other practitioners) on these topics?
Alex: That’s a good question! Usually it’s something along the lines of a patient telling me they don’t use lube or use a not so great lube because they’ve never really thought too much about it and I can then recommend a better option. Regarding toys, a very popular conversation is around what the options are for dilation products that aren’t as clinical or that can be multipurpose. This can be really really helpful in bridging the gap between the clinical dilation process and the patient feeling connected to their body in a more fun, pleasurable way!
Heather: Every time we teach together, I feel like you surprise yourself with the actual depth of knowledge you have on SO MANY sexual health topics! Seriously, I think we could have done a 1 hour course just on harness selection (and we probably will). Tell the folks reading this how you have accumulated this wealth of knowledge.
Alex: Haha, I do recognize I have that reaction often. I’ve always been a big nerd about all things sex and sexual health related, and I worked at a local sex shop for a few years. When I was there I went through an extensive sex ed training headed by a well known sexologist, and got a lot of on the spot experience with talking to customers from all walks of life about pleasure and products. I loved to teach a wide variety of workshops, and got to create a few brand new ones myself! This really dovetailed beautifully with pelvic health PT and the more clinical anatomy training.
Heather: I know that I got into the field of sex education from a combination of
Seeing how stressful sexuality and relationships were for my patients to talk about during their medical history for pelvic PT
Becoming aware of my own “not-as-straight-as-I-thought-ness” in my 30s and then starting to deconstruct why it was so hard for me to see it where there clearly so many bright flashing lights along the way
Having many of the same struggles with sexuality, desire, connection, and communication as my patients were having and being able to really feel on a deep-soul level the pain that happens with those issues and the feeling like I didn’t have anywhere to turn for answers.
My experience since childhood of making a safe space for others to explore and learn about themselves. My mom helped create this for me and so I extended it to my friends. I remember teaching my middle school friends about the angle of the vagina to help them understand why tampons were challenging to use, and I remember giving permission to my friends to sleep without underwear on! I mean, really, “sleeping at home by yourself without underwear on” was fairly scandalous for us at that time!
What were some of your motivations for starting the sexual health journey, Alex?
Alex: I think some of my biggest influences have been hearing my friends and partners struggles in getting accurate and gender/sexuality affirming information from providers or, more generally, on the internet. Another influence is watching other providers (especially when I’m in the patient role) show very obvious discomfort with talking about sex and struggle even with basic sexual health knowledge. It’s just always been glaringly obvious that there’s a huge lack of training for providers, along with our disappointing sex ed throughout middle and high school. It’s also been deeply rewarding to get to talk folks through picking out their first vibrator, gender affirming product, strap on, or whatever!
I had a similar experience with thinking I was cis and straight through most of my life (thank you compulsive heteronormativity and cisnormativity) and I do wonder whether a comprehensive sex ed experience would have helped me figure out a lot of aspects of my identity sooner.
Currently, one of my biggest motivators is being able to offer this information to all of my patients in a safer and judgement-free space. It really never gets old!
Heather: So we recorded these sex toy courses in two sections. Each section is about 2.5 hours and is FULL of so much information. While I was honestly a bit surprised at how big this topic was, it was kind of confirming as well… because when I’ve tried to record an hour worth of content (for Bubbles & Bubbly which you were also a part of) I feel like we only get to scratch the surface in so many ways. Do you mind telling our readers a little bit about the breakdown of the two courses and what parts you were particularly excited about getting to geek out on?
Alex: Of course! We broke our talk into the general topics of Materials (what your toys/barriers/lube is made of), Compatibility (what can and can’t go with what), Safety (what can and can’t go where), toy and product options (why this over that), and how all these things connect to patient care. To be honest, I loved the whole thing! It was truly one of my favorite projects to work on, but if I had to pick a few highlights it would be talking about all things lube – I’m a huge lube nerd – and getting to showcase our toy collections for science!! Sometimes I still can’t believe this is something I do for a living.
Heather: The “showcasing our toy collections for science” was defintitely one of the most fun things. I still want to get together and race Fun Factory thrusters across a countertop. And I’ll admit it was a bit of an expensive way to teach because I think I bought at least 2 of the toys you were showing on the screen because you just made them sound too fun to miss out on. The NJoy Pure Wand is definitely a happy purchase that it would have been a shame to miss out on.
We’ve gotten requests on when people can join us live, so we want to make sure people know that we will have pop up live Q&As for our courses. They’ll always be posted on the main course page. We’re planning on sticking to a schedule that uses “Friday at 5” when we hop on. We figure that talking about the clinical applications of kink and sexuality is a great way to end the work week… and of course we welcome having a drink (of any kind) with us as we wind down the week. We always have a ton of fun talking about this stuff and this is your chance to join in!
Alex, want to give them a preview of additional topics we’ll be digging into that you’re excited about?
Alex: Yes!! First I have to say, I’m SO excited to keep doing these Friday lives with you. It’s so fun, and I love the wide variety of questions and comments we’ve been getting. I know I wouldn’t want to be spending my Friday at 5pm any other way. But in regards to what’s coming up, I’m very excited about our impact play concepts and doing a deeper dive into dilators and strap ons. Basically anything that intersects with sex ed, kink, and pelvic health!
Heather: For those of you interested in jumping in on our Fridays at Five, they’re for the folks who are enrolled in our courses (on any platform), so if you want to hop on with us, get a course and then show up with questions!
Course options through Pelvic Global Academy, Pelvic Guru LLC:
Clinical Blindspots: Sexual Health Toys Part 1 (Materials, Lube, and Safety)
We answer the questions you’ve had about sex toy materials, use, and safety!
Be prepared for the scoop on:
- The materials that toys are made of and the pros/cons of each
- The types of lubricants, when they should be used, and what ingredients to avoid
- Safety with toys and barriers
Clinical Blindspots: Sexual Health Toys Part 2 (Types, Clinical Applications, Cases)
- Types of toys available
- Ways that toys can help with overactive pelvic floors
- Ways that toys can help with underactive pelvic floors
- Positioning for oral sex
- Timing/pacing of activities with options of variety
- Toys to enhance partner interactions
- Toys to enhance self-pleasure
- Toys for dexterity limitations
- Ideas on making sexual function rehab “less medical” for clients
BONUS LIVE SESSIONS!
Friday at Five with Heather & Alex: Q&A for clinicians about sex, kink, and BDSM
While all of the course content is pre-recorded, you can jump on to these Q&A times to talk to Heather and Alex about course content or special cases! The zoom video will be directly accessible within the courses!
- Friday, September 17, 2021 5:00 pm ET
- Friday, December 3, 2021 5:00 pm ET
GPHAM Members get 10% Off all Pelvic Guru Academy courses!
In addition to amazing webinars, illustrations, and handouts, GPHAM member get 10% off PGA courses. It’s so worth the price of admission, it isn’t even funny.
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