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Dr. Shelly Varod

Dr. Shelly Varod speaks fluent Hebrew and has her Doctorate in Human Sexuality from the Institute for The Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. She is a media clinical sexologist, who focuses her clinical practice and workshops on sexual education, as well as, resolution of clients’ relationship and most intimate concerns. Recently Shelly graduated with her second Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She says, ”I have decided to increase my field of expertise in mental health to be able to help more clients.” Dr. Varod Specializes in helping people from all sexual cultures and orientations. She counsels individuals, as well as couples, of all sexual orientations and cultures on healthy sexuality, body image, intimacy and effective communication. She has created unique workshops for women about sex, intimacy and sexual lifestyles on new ways to get in touch with their body as well as improve and “spice up” their sex lives. Dr. Varod is available for public speaking, media, product endorsements, and one on one private sessions. For a private session with Dr. Varod the options are in person, phone, Skype, or email.

My Life As A Sexologist! By Shelly Varod

Even though I have been a sexologist for five years now, certain situations still make me feel embarrassed.

For instance, I love to read books in coffee shops while I’m drinking my iced latte. But ever since I started reading books about sexual matters, I have started to flip the pages under the coffee table. Some of the books I read have rather…descriptive titles, like this one book I read titled “Sexual Dysfunction.” Every time I hold it up to read it, I expose its title to the people who pass by me. I can not help but notice the looks I get when people see it. So I have gotten into the habit of hiding the book’s cover when I read it in public.

Right now as I am reading a book about men’s erections (interesting reading), it is tough to get lost in the pages and not feel a little self-conscious, when across the book’s cover, on a bright red background is written in a very prominent, white and bold letters: THE HARDNESS FACTOR. I am glad there is not a picture on the cover, but even without a diagram, it is not too “hard” to figure out what kind of “hardness” this book is about. Or maybe I’m being a little paranoid?! Regardless, I cannot (nor do I want to) imagine what people must be thinking when they see a young woman reading about men’s hard-ons.

After I made the decision to study sexology, I was a little shy at first telling people what I study. Every time my friends’ parents asked me what I was studying: I started to mumble and found myself saying something that sounded like a cross between “psychology” and “sexology.” I think it was “seckology.” Or maybe “Sikesology.”

And the response would inevitably be:

“Uh, did you say psychology”?

“No”, I’d reply, “I said sexology.”

“SEXology” they repeat after me, a little excited, and add, “That’s what I THOUGHT I heard but you know….”

O yes, I know!

But, as I started telling more and more people what I study, I felt more secure and I found myself more and more ready each time to deal with people’s reactions. I knew that if I want to become a clinical sexologist I should be prepared to accept comments.

I told my close friends about my plans to become a clinical sexologist last year on my birthday party. It was a night hang out with a large group of friends – lots of fun and towards the end of the party, as things were winding down, a small group of my friends stayed behind and we got to chatting. The topic turned to my plans to return to school and my studies and then one of my friends asked me what I planned on going back to school to study? I told her that I was going to the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality to start my masters and PhD in sexology.

“You’re…going to SEX school?” One of them asked, rather loudly, making everyone stare at me suddenly.

“Its not exactly a sex school” I said, “It’s more of an educational institute for sex.”

Awkward silence. And then after what seemed like an eternity, another friend asked:

“So…you have beds there?”

“Very funny,” I replied.

“I can help you with homework!” my other friend said, “You know when you need to… practice,” he added, making everyone laugh including me.

From this moment and on, the jokes were only about “sex school” and me, and I must admit, they were so funny we could not stop laughing for an hour.

Well, it has been almost five years since my big announcement and I must say that most people, after they hear what I do, make a joke. Then, whether they know me well or not, ask me for help. I have been approached by married men, single women, friends at the very beginnings of relationships, men who have issues with their sex life or women who struggle finding their sexuality, just to name a few.  Even people I just met share personal information with me about their sex life and ask for advice.

It seems to me that many people are thirsty for knowledge about sexual matters and are looking for someone to direct them. Put more simply, I think we are all looking for a happy sex life!

Information and knowledge are the keys for overcoming our fears with regard to sex, improving our overall experience during the act of sexual intercourse and helping us discover a lot about our body and mind. I, for one, am still in the process of discovering and learning and as much as I love helping clients, I also love writing about topics that relates to my work and my life as a sexologist.

Sex & Pregnancy

When I was nine months pregnant, many women came to me for information regarding sex and pregnancy. Of course they could ask their doctor or OBGYN for help, but I discovered most women do not feel comfortable asking questions that relate to their sex life and pregnancy.  The more questions I received, the more I realized that many of these women were facing the same concerns. I identified the most common ones as “feeling unattractive while pregnant” and “my husband refuses to have sex with me because I am pregnant.” In order to get more specific answers, I scheduled an interview with a dear friend of mine, who is a very knowledgeable clinical sex therapist and doctor of clinical sexology and human sexuality, Dr. Chris Donaghue.

I met with Chris in a small coffee shop on Melrose place in Los Angeles, California.  As we started the interview and got into a serious conversation about sex, libido, cheating and other hot topics, I noticed how the people around us got very quiet. This behavior is typical as most people want to know about sex, but still consider that topic taboo, especially in public places.

My first question to Chris was: “Why are so many men hesitant to have sex with their pregnant wife/girlfriend? And have you heard about the notion that having sex with a pregnant woman will hurt the baby?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“You mean, why so many men think that their penis may touch the baby when they have sex?!  Men are afraid they will hurt the baby not because their penis is big but because they do not know female anatomy.   Not really surprising that men do not understand the female’s body but it turns out women don’t either.  I do a lot of work with clients educating them about anatomy and sexuality.”

“What would you tell a client who doesn’t find his partner attractive because she is pregnant?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“In general, if you love your partner you are attracted to him/her. We cannot choose whom we are attracted to.  I will never shame a client because of their lack of sexual attraction.  We have to take them for what they are.  If a man has issues finding his pregnant girlfriend/wife attractive, we will discuss it. He will tell her how he feels and why. They will discuss together what they can do to start having sex again.”

“But if he does not find her attractive what types of solutions can you offer?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“Couples can lose attraction for one another, not only when the woman is pregnant or when there is some type of body change, it can happen naturally.  When they lose attraction, they need to be creative. Not everything needs to be done the “standard way.”   It is OK to do what you need to do to make it work.  The number one thing I hear in my office is that people want to be normal.  What is normal?  It’s OK to do things that are not perceived as normal and put the relationship first. Stop trying to be typical, don’t be normal, and have “abnormal” sex. Have no sexual boundaries! Especially in a long-term relationship, you should have no have limits and explore.”

“Talking about limits, many women told me that their husbands refuse to pleasure them, even with oral sex. Why do you think that is?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“I think it happens because from a very young age we are taught that these parts are “dirty” because it is where we pee. Parents say things like “that’s dirty, do not touch that!”  Some people generalize this notion so everything around this area is bad or dirty.  I think that it is very limiting sexually.”

“What do you suggest they can do? Let’s say you have a client who comes for couple counseling and she tells you that her boyfriend refuses to give her oral sex?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“I do not give him permission to continue with this behavior.  A client who wants to try something new or something he likes, has the right to ask for it. In order to help the client who finds this act not attractive, I will teach him how to eroticize this area.   The truth is that the more he will do it, the more you will be OK with it. When a person is sexually aroused, he/she will be willing to do things he/she normally would not do.   It is easier to try new sexual engaging acts when you are aroused.  Also, this can happen if the woman is not comfortable touching herself or being sexual. It is most likely that the boyfriend/husband will not be comfortable with it as well.”

“What if a couple tells you they love each other, but the female client tells you she her husband is cheating on her?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“There is a problem with monogamy.  It limits everyone and when people fail at it, it is understandable.  I believe that  “cheating is a an expected phase of marriage.” I am not saying it is a good thing or bad thing, I am just saying its expected.

In this type of situation, we have to see what can be done in order for it not to happen again.  Culture will tell you that by being cheated on, something wrong was done to you, but I do not view it in this way.  Nothing has been done to you, something happened and there is a consequence.   When a man or a woman struggle with commitment, it is not done personally to their partner.  Personally, I do not like the word cheat because it’s not fairly describing what is happening.”

“Lastly, I want to ask you, when working with pregnant women, what are their main concerns?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“I work a lot with clients who want to get pregnant or struggling to get pregnant.   For example, I met with a client who told me she experiences pain with penetration. Other clients are unable to identify and name their female parts and want to be pregnant.  You have to be comfortable talking about your parts with your OBGYN and let them do a medical check.

Other clients come to see me because their sex life is not satisfying while they are going through fertility treatments trying to have a baby.   Such practices can take sex away from something that was once fun and bonding to a place that can be nasty, stressful and horrible.  Having sex only when she is ovulating, on the clock, can be hard.   Moreover, if the treatment is not successful and the couple was not able to get pregnant, it can ruin the relationship.   It reminds me how easily derailed and vandalized sex can be.

In some cases, the women are more interested in getting pregnant than their husband and they will do anything to make it happen.  The men feel abused because they are no longer important and it is just about their penis or sperm. The women are not taking into account what the men want or even acknowledging how they feel.  They want them to have sex when it’s time and dismiss their needs or feelings.”

“What do you do when it becomes so technical and not spontaneous and pleasurable?”

Dr. Chris Donaghue:

“Empathy building! I show them empathy and make sure they understand that it is a phase.  It is very important for me to work with the woman as well.   She needs to understand the impact it has on the man so she can better manage her frustration and feelings of disappointment if the fertility treatment does not work. If the process does not succeed, the women can be angry with the boyfriend/husband so I need to help them manage the anxiety and frustration.  Moreover, I tell my clients that in life you do not always get what you want and help them manage disappointments. It is important to teach them how to respect each other. It is what I describe as a couple’s issue not just fertility.   Both have the right to say, “I don’t want to do this” and many times the boyfriend/husband is really scared to say that.  If the wife does not respect the husband’s needs, it will happened again and again in the future, not just with this issue but with other problems as well.   Not everyone gets to have a child in a natural way; learning that also helps couples recognize all the other options.”