“It’s Not You, It’s Me” is a series that looks at dating in America from the perspective of different ethnicities, sexual identities, life experiences and circumstances.
Dating when you work as a sex therapist has its perks: For one, most sex therapists or sexologists have less sexual hangups than the average single person out there. Because of their job (and general sexual self-awareness), they’re well-versed in how to get others (and themselves) off.
The downside? People assume that just because a person is sex-positive, they’re quick to jump into bed or send a late-night sext before the first date has even happened.
Below, we speak to three sex therapists from around the country to get an even better understanding of what it’s like to date when you’re a sex-pert.
Responses have been edited for clarity and style.
What’s your dating life like currently? Do you think there are any major differences between your experiences and any other single person’s dating life?
Celeste Hirschman, a bisexual sex therapist in San Francisco, California: My dating life is wonderful. I’m generally attracted to men who are younger than me and have met really nice guys. The biggest difference in being a sex therapist is that you kind of skip over that coy part where no one talks about sex. It is clear from the beginning that I am a woman who enjoys and prioritizes sex.
Tom Murray, a bisexual 42-year-old sex therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina: As you can imagine, my role as a sex therapist piques a lot of interest. I’m in high demand at work, so the downside is that I feel like I have very little time for dating.
Cyndi Darnell, a sexually fluid 47-year-old sex therapist in New York City: My dating life is currently very active. I moved to NYC from Australia, so I’m getting to know life here in so many ways, including the dating culture. I guess the biggest difference for me, dating as a sex therapist is not feeling like I can say what I do without feeling a little misunderstood or even unsafe or at times. It’s a job thing, and it’s also a gender thing. That sucks. The world is still not comfortable with women who speak boldly about sex.
Some men are fine and perfectly respectful. Sometimes they take liberties with conversation and try to insist I discuss sex with them in ways that make me uncomfortable. I recently had a mild-mannered and almost shy guy I’d only been on one date with think it was OK to call me while he was drunk, very late at night, to ask me invasive questions about my personal sex life. He then took offense when I told him to step off ― I actually used much stronger language ― and that it was none of his business. I am pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if I had told him I was a kindergarten teacher.
Do you use dating apps? Do you mention your profession on there, and if so, do you think it has resulted in some weirder than usual messages?
Celeste: I online date on Tinder and Bumble, and I do include my website in case people want to know what they are getting into. So far, the worst thing that has happened is that people think I’m up for sexting right away, which I definitely am not. I have no idea if I’m attracted to someone until I meet them, and you never know who is on the other side of those pictures. For the most part, people are respectful.
Tom: Yes. I online date. Due to my limited schedule, swiping left or right is a way to put myself out there. I’m also a bit on the introverted side ― although, not shy at all ― so, going to the bar and other similar scenes aren’t my thing. As a male sex therapist, I get much less sexual DMs than perhaps women would get; I don’t envy my single female colleagues.
Cyndi: I’m on OKCupid and Tinder. I’m not looking for anything serious just now so I have no agenda which makes some people excited and threatens others. I am seeking friends as much as lovers so I am fine with things being platonic. I don’t write my job on my profile for the aforementioned reasons ― people, men especially, make assumptions ― but I do make reference to being very open-minded and comfortable with sexual fluidity and sexual politics. That is a requirement for me with anyone I date, too.
What’s been the best response to your occupation from a date? Or the weirdest?
Celeste: I had one guy who said that he had thought about being a sex coach in the past and, he was very knowledgeable. He’d read a lot of books on sex and was able to engage in a very intelligent conversation about it so that was sexy. The weirdest is people asking me if I have sex with my clients, which, of course, I don’t.
Tom: My bar for the weird is very high. A common question is whether I have sex with my clients. The answer is no.
Cyndi: The best response is total indifference. A “meh” when I tell them. I love it when people treat it the same as if I had told them I worked in I.T. or was a gardener or a bus driver. That’s rare though because most people feel kind of challenged by sex, no matter how old they are.
What are some misconceptions about your dating or sex life?
Celeste: Some men think that just because I’m sexual, I will want to sleep with them right away. I find this to be a turnoff as I actually like to have some buildup, flirtation and seduction before hopping right into bed. I think people are often intimidated by me and surprised at how supportive and easygoing I am. I am always willing to help people learn, and I do it very gently and non-critically.
People also assume I have a wild sex life and that I’ve tried tons of different things, which is pretty much true ― though it doesn’t mean that I want to do everything, which some people also assume.
Tom: That you’re especially good in bed because you’re a sex therapist. Sure, when it comes to sex, I certainly know what I’m doing, but everybody is different. So, I might know what is true in general, but everyone has their particular interests.
In bed, some people are nervous or self-conscious about their performance. I’m like, chill out. We’re here to have a good time, not win an Oscar.
Cyndi: The most common misconception is that I am up for anything with anyone all the time. For the record, I am most definitely not! I don’t always disclose my job upfront for that reason, there is just not a level enough playing field and people sometimes make assumptions about it that change the way they treat me.
“I’m willing to ask for what I want and teach partners how to give me pleasure. I’m also unabashed about bringing my vibrator into my sexual interactions, so that helps a lot!”
– Celeste Hirschman, a sex therapist in San Francisco, California
What are some dealbreakers or expectations you have for people you date because of your line of work?
Celeste: I expect them to be interested in giving me pleasure and not just receiving it for themselves. My biggest turnoff is if someone says or acts like I’m selfish in bed. I am a very giving lover and also expect to receive. They also need to be willing to learn something about emotional connection and communication if it is going to go beyond something casual.
Tom: I’m a naturally curious person and will ask tons of questions. If someone doesn’t ask me a question within the first exchange or two, I usually disregard them. I’m an excellent listener and don’t want to be a therapist for others in my private life.
Cyndi: Obviously, I can’t date someone who isn’t comfortable discussing sex respectfully and consensually. It’s just not going to work for me. I don’t need to talk about sex all the time, in fact I’d rather not, but when we do, I need them to be pretty competent in the ‘chatting’ department, including consent, pleasure, boundaries and so on.
I’m cool with people not knowing stuff or feeling challenged, but I am not OK with having to spoon-feed them. Most people have such poor sex education that even after being coupled, divorced or dating a long while, their knowledge of pleasure is still pretty rudimentary. If it starts to feel too much like my job, that’s not sexy for me.
Do you think singlelife and navigating sex is easier because of your profession?
Celeste: I think it is much easier to navigate single life and sex because of my profession. Through emotional work, I’ve learned how to be empowered and happy being single. Also, I know what I want and am able to have good to great sex because I’m willing to ask for what I want and teach partners how to give me pleasure. I’m also unabashed about bringing my vibrator into my sexual interactions, so that helps a lot!
Tom: Overall, because of my job, I connect well with people very quickly.
Cyndi: I’m pretty enthusiastically non-monogamous right now, so I don’t ever use ‘single’ to describe myself, except on legal documents where I might be forced to. I don’t think it’s easier for me as such, but I think I have fewer hangups about sex than most people, and because I’m not seeking “the one,” I am less inclined to get too wounded or cynical by the search. I am seeking pleasure, not convention, so I am pretty broad in my definitions of satisfaction for companionship.
I can be fairly direct about stating what I like and dislike and what I will and wont compromise on. It’s partly because of my job, partly my personality and partly because I am Australian. We can be quite direct. Some people are cool with that, others are not. It’s a good litmus test of whether that person and I are a good match.