Psychotherapist Rachel Wright on Exploring Your Sensuality
Psychotherapist Rachel Wright is known as one of the freshest voices in sex and relationships, and for good reason. An advocate for sexual health AND mental health (they’re totally connected), she helps people navigate everything from sexuality to stress and jealousy. We asked Rachel a few qs about it all, and her answers are ones you won’t want to miss.
Can you share a little bit about your journey with us and how you became interested in this work?
As a little kid, I felt things really deeply; I was insatiably curious and wanted to understand the why behind most things. I also grew up doing theatre -- learning from a young age in acting class about identifying with someone else’s emotional experience. That’s empathy.
As I got a little older, it became evident to my teenage self that I would do one of three things: be on broadway (ha), be a therapist, or be a sex educator.
What I could have never realized or even imagined then is that I would get to do all three -- maybe not on Broadway, but other stages across the globe helping people. I studied psychology as an undergraduate, taking every human sexuality and psychology of sex course that I possibly could. And after graduating with my BA in Psychology, I got my MA in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. I was always interested in connecting our mental health, sexual identities and lives, and our relationships.
After doing 3,000 hours and taking two licensing tests, I finally got my license and set up shop in San Francisco. My dream had come true -- I had my therapy office with a couch I picked out myself, a tea station, and it was across the street from some of the best shopping in the city.
After about a year in private practice, I knew I needed to do more, so I brought my practice and presence online, and the rest is history.
How are sexual health and mental health connected?
Think about this: Orgasms happen in the brain. Pain occurs in the brain. Our libido comes from a multitude of factors, most stemming from the brain. Our sexual health is directly related to our mental health because it’s a part of who we are -- and part of who we are is sexual. When our mental health is not doing great, typically, our sexual health isn’t excellent either. Now, when our mental health is doing great, we’ll often have the energy and drive to take care of ourselves sexually -- on all of the different levels.
There can be a lot of stigma and shame around sex -- what are some ways that people can take steps to feel empowered in discovering their bodies and exploring their sexuality?
There IS a lot of shame and stigma around sex and sexuality. My first piece of advice is to recognize that. To realize that the shame and guilt we put on ourselves isn’t ours to carry and that we aren’t inherently bad (like the shame can make us feel that we are). Sex is natural, beautiful, and important— but also, give yourself grace if you feel that it is. We all have to undo the messy things we grew up learning.
My second piece of advice is to spend time alone with your body. Often if we grew up feeling shameful about our bodies, it’s probably scared us away from getting to know ourselves. Spend time looking at yourself naked in the mirror— notice areas of your body you love and acknowledge them.
Spend some time masturbating without the intention of orgasm but with the intention of exploration. For me, shame builds up when something feels secretive. Our bodies shouldn’t feel like a secret— they deserve to be known (especially by ourselves). Buy a new toy, explore your bits while looking in the mirror, cook naked, take extra long showers and explore your body— have fun! Treat your body as something exciting to experience.
My third piece of advice is to admit to someone safe and close to you that you feel this shame because it’s very likely you aren’t alone in feeling it. It is so powerful to release shame from being cooped up inside our bodies— let that shit out! You deserve it.
Feeling comfortable with our sensuality is deeply tied to body confidence. How can we work to unlearn societal narratives that can keep us in a place of comparison and discomfort?
As someone who grew up socialized as a woman with constant body image standards shoved in my face— I feel this deeply.
Confidence can sometimes feel like a dirty word— so today, let’s give it a new definition. I like to think of confidence as feeling at home in my body. Confidence feels like listening to my body, and in return, I generally feel better on the outside when I listen. The inside needs to feel good for the outside to feel good— it doesn’t work in reverse.
When we are super concerned with how our exterior looks, we aren’t providing space to feel present, and when we don’t feel present, it’s nearly impossible to develop sexual confidence.
For me, my sexual confidence grew by getting to know my body, by spending time with my body, listening to its needs, and learning how to meet those needs. Sometimes, I think our lack of confidence can come from walking around inside this body that sometimes feels like a total mystery! Of course, that affects how we feel!
Spend time exploring your body, spend time pleasuring your body (sexually and not sexually), figure out what makes you feel sensual (cooking, skincare routine, yoga, etc.), and just spend time getting to know you.
Often, there’s this idea that we need to “work on ourselves” before entering into a relationship. In a New York Times article, you talk about how it’s possible to do both rather than view dating and to work on ourselves as an “either-or.” Could you talk a little bit more about this?
I want to start with the caveat that I did not invent this idea -- and it’s also become a slogan of mine and my clients/students. AND. We often look at things as either/or instead of and. Just like this idea, we need to work on ourselves until we’re “ready” to enter a relationship. How will you know when that is? When is “ready”? It’s, of course, important to be a whole, healthy person -- AND (see?!) it doesn’t mean we’re not constantly working on ourselves and growing all the time. We can date AND work on ourselves.
We can live a healthy lifestyle AND eat a donut.
Where can you add AND?
What are the best ways to create a safe space and clear communication with a partner?
1. Set a time and container
2. Ask your partner what would make the container feel safe.
3. Take turns listening to each other
4. Only use “I” statements
5. When you say “I feel..” make sure an emotion follows it.
6. Each offer a possible step forward from that conversation and commit to an action together