What It's Like To...

What it's like to Be Sex Therapists

March 02, 2022 Elizabeth Pearson Garr Season 1 Episode 17
What it's like to Be Sex Therapists
What It's Like To...
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What It's Like To...
What it's like to Be Sex Therapists
Mar 02, 2022 Season 1 Episode 17
Elizabeth Pearson Garr

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Cliff and Joyce Penner never meant to become sexual therapists.  They each started down different paths, but became "accidental experts"--and have now published 11 books, spoken about sex around the world, train other sexual therapists, and continue to counsel couples on intimacy. They also specialize in helping religious couples of all creeds to connect with their spirituality through their sex lives.

On this episode of "The Experience Podcast," we’re going to therapy – sex therapy – with the Penners. Joyce and Cliff share stories and lessons from their career, and even give us some tips: What do you do when you and your partner are having intimacy issues? How do you know you should even go to sex therapy? How do you talk to your kids about sex? The Penners demystify touchy topics, discuss the common issues seen in sex therapy, and give us some good laughs. Tune in to hear all about what it’s really like to be a sexual therapist.


Want to know more about Cliff and Joyce?


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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Cliff and Joyce Penner never meant to become sexual therapists.  They each started down different paths, but became "accidental experts"--and have now published 11 books, spoken about sex around the world, train other sexual therapists, and continue to counsel couples on intimacy. They also specialize in helping religious couples of all creeds to connect with their spirituality through their sex lives.

On this episode of "The Experience Podcast," we’re going to therapy – sex therapy – with the Penners. Joyce and Cliff share stories and lessons from their career, and even give us some tips: What do you do when you and your partner are having intimacy issues? How do you know you should even go to sex therapy? How do you talk to your kids about sex? The Penners demystify touchy topics, discuss the common issues seen in sex therapy, and give us some good laughs. Tune in to hear all about what it’s really like to be a sexual therapist.


Want to know more about Cliff and Joyce?


Want to know more about The Experience Podcast?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to theexperiencepodcast.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:





Support the Show.

[Upbeat Music]


JOYCE PENNER Be intentional. Because of how our media portrays sex, you know, we're just supposed to look in each other's eyes and melt and fall in love instantly and go off and have amazing sex.


CLIFF PENNER Mad, passionate love. [laughs] Which may happen sometimes if people are just meeting and there's that dopamine spark, but for a lifetime of commitment and relating that's not how it works. 


ELIZABETH PEARSON GARR Cliff and Joyce Penner know how it really works. They are sexual therapists, and they’ve been in practice for more than 45 years. I’m Elizabeth Pearson Garr, and on this episode of The Experience Podcast, we’re going to therapy with the Penners. They’ve counseled thousands of people with their trademark straightforward approach and good humor. They’ve also written several books on the topic and they train fellow professionals. 


Please note: this is, by nature, a topic for mature audiences; Cliff and Joyce are sexual therapists after all, so we do talk about things relating to sex.


[Music fades]


PEARSON GARR It's lovely to see you, Cliff and Joyce Penner, thank you so much for being on my podcast.


JOYCE PENNER This is fun! 


CLIFF PENNER Yeah, we're excited about this idea.


PEARSON GARR I will let people know that actually, I've known you for quite a long time, because I had the pleasure of being roommates with your lovely eldest daughter, Julene, our sophomore year of college.  I will say, as college students, whenever anyone would find out that her parents were sex therapists, that would get quite a reaction. 


J PENNER Yes. 


PEARSON GARR And I'm wondering, is that something that you've dealt with your entire careers? What do people think when they hear on an airplane or at a dinner party, that that's your profession?


C PENNER Well, you know, we always have to be making a decision. Like I could say, I'm a psychologist,

 

PEARSON GARR Right.


J PENNER We're therapists. Or we’re counselors. So we kind of choose what we say. 


C PENNER But what often happens is that people will say, ‘well, what's your specialty?’ And then there we go. So usually ends up getting to sexual therapist, but often doesn't start there. And then they [say] ‘woah!’


J PENNER Well, there are two responses. One, either it gets kind of silent, or they really get interested: ‘Wow, that's great. Tell me about – how does that work?’ You know, that

kind of thing, 


PEARSON GARR Either end of the spectrum.

 

J PENNER Yes. Right, right 


PEARSON GARR So how did this become your specialty? I know that Joyce, you started out [and] trained with many degrees in nursing and Cliff as a psychologist, so how did sexuality become your specialty?


C PENNER I had been in practice for about four years after I got my PhD. So it would have been 1975, a long time ago. And then I was asked to talk to a group of young mothers about talking to your kids about sex. And I had a couple young kids, including the daughter that you were talking about. And I thought, ‘oh, that'd be a good subject for me to read up on’ and so I gave a little 45 minute talk. And somebody who was there was part of a group of women that met once a week, for 10 weeks in various kinds of classes or subjects, and they said, we'd like you to come and teach our group for 10 weeks, a couple hours a week on sexual adjustment and marriage. And I said, ‘well, I said everything I knew in my little 45 minute talk,’ and they said, ‘no, no, we think it'd be good. So could you come talk to us?’ Well, Joyce was busy doing other things.


J PENNER Yes. Well, I had been teaching nursing at Cal State University for eight years, and had just been asked to set up a curriculum to start a new school of nursing at Azusa Pacific University. And so I was in charge of that curriculum development, leading a group, when Cliff got this and you know, we had the two young kids, this was very high responsibility. I said, ‘I just can't do it,’ and he said, ‘but you're the professional!’ 


C PENNER And she was used to giving lectures all the time. And also, she does the organizing of stuff, I do it on the back of an envelope, and she produces 35 pages for the same talk.


J PENNER So he convinced me and we did those 10 weeks and just studied everything that was available, and presented the next class. And that changed those women's lives, which was not our expectation, we were just kind of doing what we were called to do, and preparing it and it launched us.


C PENNER So in fact, the last couple of weeks, they had their husbands join them, because they wanted it to be for their marriages. And so that's how we got started. So we never decided to be sexual therapists. But then what happened was, people came to us and said, ‘can we see you for sexual counseling?’ We said, we're not sexual therapists. And they said, ‘we'd like to see you anyway.’


J PENNER So all the way we've been pushed, we never asked to publish a book and we have 11 books. The publishers have always come to us.  People will say how do you get a book published? We don't know. 


PEARSON GARR Accidental experts!


C PENNER Then we did get trained. We went to Masters and Johnson in St. Louis and Helen Singer Kaplan and all the people that were the leaders back then.


J PENNER And UCLA eventually on male sexual dysfunction, and just went to all the training that was available.


C PENNER And so then we got trained and then became regular sexual therapists. That's how it happened. But it was never a decision. 


J PENNER Now we write the protocol for sexual therapy and train other sexual therapists around the world. So we've come a long way. 


PEARSON GARR What a story. 


J PENNER Yes. 


PEARSON GARR So you know that the topic is very touchy, shall we say, people say don't talk about sex, politics and money. And yet, this is something that really needs to be talked about. I mean, therapy's a safe place to do it. But do you find that people are still very reluctant to share?


C PENNER First of all, you have to recognize it by choosing to come to us, they have already acknowledged that they have a sexual issue. So when they call, they have that measure of openness already. 


J PENNER But some of them are very uncomfortable, and others are very comfortable, but the ones that are uncomfortable, about 10 minutes into the initial assessment, they'll say, ‘I just can't believe I'm talking this openly to you about it.’ And they get very comfortable with us and that something that almost has been there from the beginning. And we don't know whether it's a special gift, but now we're trying to help other sexual therapist, create that comfort, because if we're comfortable, then we're going to make the clients comfortable.


C PENNER Yeah, so what really happens is that they sense that we're not hesitant or cautious. We're just calling things what they are and naming it and and moving right along, we don't blush, we don't apologize. And then it flows literally after the first five or 10 minutes. It's a non issue.


J PENNER And part of that, I think, is because we talked openly about it so early in our marriage, because we were raised in Mennonite homes and churches, where the topic was not addressed. It was not like we had any bad experiences. We just were like empty slates. And so we spent the first year of our marriage in our spiritual growth, studying what the Bible had to teach about sex. And just going through every scriptural passage, trying to figure out whether we were supposed to be enjoying this or not. And we were, so we were trying–Cliff never had doubts that we should enjoy it– and so we've read and talked so much about it, that it really was good preparation for what we ended up being called to do. 


C PENNER And then our particular niche is in the religious community. So we have worked with most Protestant groups, Catholic, Jewish, but primarily in the Protestant part of the world.


J PENNER And even Eastern religious people come to us because they feel safe with us, because of our respect–


C PENNER We’ve dealt with quite a few Buddhists, and others along the way as well.


PEARSON GARR Is it sometimes one member of the couple is eager to have counseling, and the other is quite reluctant?


J PENNER That does happen.  I typically do the triage or assessment, people call or email or contact us in some way. And I'll find out the information. And sometimes the man's hesitant, but sometimes it's actually the other way, and they'll say, you know, ‘I can't get my spouse to come, what can I do?’ And we'll say, ‘if you change, it is going to force a change in your relationship. And it's likely that your spouse will want to get involved.’


C PENNER And so it's not uncommon at all that we'll start with one, and then after a time, the other one is willing to join. What people are cautious about is they don't want to be blamed. They don't want to be shamed. They don't want to be judged. And so that's a fear— and they're uncomfortable just being open about it because they've never been and so then we work with the one individual and sometimes get them reading one of our books together. So we often have people read one of our books out loud with each other. That opens it up and then

they'll come.


J PENNER That really breaks down the barriers many times and gets a lot of change going, just doing that. Reading something out loud helps them say the words and talk to each other. It's almost in some ways, like having a therapist there. So, many times if people are living in a place where they can't access the therapist, or they can't work virtually–


C PENNER Or they can't afford a therapist.


J PENNER – Right, we'll have them start by reading our book “Restoring the Pleasure” out loud together. Or if it's newly married couples, “Getting Your Sex Life Off to a Great Start” out loud together. And reading it out loud, what we tell them it's not to get through it, it's to use it as a tool to talk about… you read maybe read one sentence, one paragraph, one page, one chapter, whatever, and then if you start thinking about things start talking about what is going on in your mind as you read that.


PEARSON GARR So really communication is perhaps the root of a lot of the solution, or miscommunication, to put it another way, is the root of a problem.


J PENNER Probably more a lack of. The lack of communication and then the tension that builds where one or both feel blamed by the other, that things aren't going as they should go, or the that one isn't satisfied, or whatever it is, whatever the tension is between them, by reading, and not just saying the same things over and over, as you know, as you know, in marriages, all of us, we have our script almost that we've thought about many times it's [the] exact same thing over and over. 


C PENNER Thinking that this time, it'll make a difference.


PEARSON GARR I was reading some of your tips and advice. And just a few of them: you learn about sex, don't count on doing what comes naturally. Plan couple time: 15 minutes per day, one evening per week, one day per month, one weekend per quarter.  A great sex life takes a lifetime of talking planning and working. You know, there's a theme to these, which is you work on it. And I don't mean to say work as in, oh, it's such a drag, but it is something to think about and to put effort into, and to actually be thoughtful about.


J PENNER Yes, be intentional. Because of how our media portrays sex, you know, we're just supposed to look in each other's eyes and melt and fall in love instantly and go off and have amazing sex.


C PENNER Mad, passionate love, which may happen sometime if people are just meeting and there's that dopamine spark, but for a lifetime of commitment and relating that's not how it works. And so being intentional about it, planning it, being deliberate. One of the things people often say is ‘Oh, we just want it to be spontaneous.’  And we say to them, what Dr. Phil says: “How's that working out for you?”


PEARSON GARR Also, ‘Do you have kids?’ It’s a little challenging when kids come into the picture to be spontaneous.


J PENNER I often teach mothers of preschoolers. And I say, if you're having a hard time now just wait till your kids are adolescents, because then they go to bed later than you want to go to bed. 


PEARSON GARR Amen, sister!


J PENNER And yes, yeah.


PEARSON GARR Are there other general areas that you find, I mean know you can't give away specifics, but there must be overarching themes that you hear over and over again. So it's communication and intentionality. Are there other things that come up?


J PENNER There are very clear sexual dysfunctions that have to be treated and how sexual therapy actually evolved or got started was people would go to psychotherapy for years, and understand exactly why their body wasn't functioning or why it wasn't working, but it still didn't work. And so talk therapy is necessary to get with some of the issues, but it really has to be cognitive behavior therapy, actually changing your patterns– what we've found after 45 years as sexual therapists, is that sexual patterns are easily developed and set so that they're difficult to reverse or change unless you actually eliminate what's happening now and start over. So in our sexual therapy, we rule out all sexual activity as it is happening now, and start over with learning to give and receive touch, to feel in the moment, to really take in the feelings, to be able to talk about what it is that's going on, to learn. So we always give three exercises between the therapy sessions: one on talking, one on teaching, and one on touching. So teaching, talking and touching. And then way at the end, we arrive at entry. You know, that isn't where you start. Because if you repeat what your brain has conditioned, your brain will keep that pattern going, unless you reprogram it.


C PENNER And so what we do in therapy is very different than psychotherapy. In psychotherapy, you, the therapist– and I do that work also– but you experience the person in the moment, or if it's marital therapy, you have the couple there in the moment, and you see them fight or, or stonewall or whatever. But in sexual therapy, we always kiddingly say that we don't get to watch! [Laughs] So it all depends on their report to us of what their experience is, which is very different than us observing a couple's relationship right there in the office.


J PENNER And we explain that right away when we get into sexual therapy, that if you just come in and say, ‘Oh, it was fine,’ end of conversation, you know, 


PEARSON GARR They're not going to get much out of that. 


J PENNER No, you have to try to create, in words, a picture of what actually happened. And we have to learn. In fact, we have a tool that we give therapists that we’re training, how to follow up on the assignments that we gave them at home, what kind of questions to ask what you need to find out, so that they are empowered to get more information.


C PENNER And often they themselves don't even think about it in any kind of concrete way–the couple–the couple doesn't. And so the difference between regular psychotherapy and sexual therapy is that sexual therapy is a combination of psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. And the behaviors are where the real change takes place. Yes, you need to be aware of what's going on. But then you’ve  got to change your actions, your behaviors.


J PENNER And so knowing where this stemmed from, whether it was something in childhood or something in their relationship or something with, we always talk about the sources of the problems can either be their history, like having been raised in an alcoholic home is one, and let's just explain a little bit about that. If a person is raised in an emotionally out of control home or alcoholic home, either way, some kind of out of control-ness is there on the part of the parent, the child learns at too young an age to internalize the need for control. Well, we have to totally lose control if we're going to be responsive in sex. So that person avoids tenaciously the sexual experience, because it's not just a lack of desire: there is a real powerful avoidance because that fear that happens that when they have a good sexual experience and do lose control, afterwards, they shut down immediately and don't want that again. And the spouse tries to figure out, you know, ‘We had such a great time, why wouldn't he or she want that?’ And that's a typical pattern that we've defined as the pattern of the emotionally out-of-control home. So history is something having experienced sexual trauma or abuse, and many other factors of rigid anti sexual teaching can be there. And then health is an issue. We almost always start with some kind of a medical workup before we start sexual therapy to make sure there's no physical basis for this because we could work forever, and if something is wrong physically, and often that's hormonally, then they're going to waste money and we're going to waste time. So we want to make sure the medical factors – and then the home so we always say history, health and home. And the home is their relationship, having kids. I remember one couple years ago came and had eight children, and they had a great relationship, but sex had died, well it can die with two or three, let alone eight. Theirs was mainly scheduling, figuring out how to plan life so they had time for each other. 


PEARSON GARR It's so interesting, because I know that maybe this is a cliche, but my understanding is, often in traditional therapy, you're taken back to your childhood and things that might have happened in your childhood that have formed who you are and how you behave and react today. And so that's one component in your sexual behavior as an adult, but there clearly are many others. 


C PENNER Yes. For example, if someone has been in an abusive relationship, either in dating, or in a prior marriage, or even in this marriage, that's obviously going to get in the way. But then there are some things that are just functional, sexual issues. 


J PENNER One thing we treat a lot are unconsummated marriages where it hasn't been possible to have entry.


C PENNER And they're not having intercourse just so we're clear.


J PENNER And the most common again, it can be the male for other reasons, but the most common is for the woman with a condition called vaginismus where the vagina has tightened up so tight and I think can enter. That can be due to past sexual trauma abuse, or it can be due to a fall, horseback riding –they got thrown off the horse and you know– something happened, or on the monkey bar they fall…


PEARSON GARR Wow. So these are the medical evaluations you would do prior?


J PENNER Yeah. Yes. So you have to get a physical history, a background history from everything they experience and a current sexual history.


C PENNER You see with unconsummated marriages, it's something that people never talk about. Because they don't come home from their honeymoon and everyone says ‘Hey how was it,’ you know, and, they wouldn't say ‘Oh, we weren't able to consummate,’ and then they've often gone to their, doctor or their pastor or their priest for advice, and almost always gotten bad advice–


J PENNER Or not helpful advice might be a better way to say that 


C PENNER –You know, like, just have a couple of glasses of wine or something.

J PENNER That's a common one, or valium, that’s a common prescription, it doesn't really help that muscle.


PEARSON GARR Like, just relax. If only you would relax.

 

C PENNER But it is very treatable. We have dealt with by now, I would say, in the hundreds of unconsummated marriages, 


PEARSON GARR Wow.


J PENNER We're kind of become known as experts in that.


C PENNER In fact, people have sometimes just googled unconsummated marriage and that's how they came to us.


J PENNER Yeah, after getting whatever advice now, they get to our website so,


PEARSON GARR So you do treat people all over the country, I mean via zoom and things like that, too?


C PENNER And the world in the world, really,


J PENNER I always say I've consummated marriages in Russia and Norway, the Philippines, Germany. 


PEARSON GARR Wow! So, you know, you say you've been practicing for 45 years or so. Has the nature of your work changed over time, as the culture has changed?


C PENNER Yes, I mean, there are some things that are basic, let's just say, difficulties with interest or desire, lack of desire, could be the man or the woman, that's been pretty constant.


J PENNER Well, the one change there is we used to think it was much higher in women than men. And it was just that men didn't come when there's lack of desire. And the statistics show that when the man lacks desire, they don't have sex very often, but the woman just doesn't confront that. When the woman lacks desire. They still have sex regularly. But he's frustrated that she doesn't want it.


C PENNER So lack of desire is a constant. Erectile dysfunction is a constant, premature ejaculation, orgasmic dysfunction for women, is a constant. So those have been true all along. But the two big areas of change… One is, is the whole internet and the availability of pornography, and the number of sexual addicts, I would say, I wouldn't be surprised if it's close to half of the couples that call when it's seen as the man's issue. It's about sexual addiction to pornography. 


PEARSON GARR Wow. 


C PENNER See it used to be if you wanted to see some porn, you had to go to the seedy side of town and slip into a little shop and all. And now everyone has billions of porn sites on their telephone. 


J PENNER Yeah, it’s right in your pocket.


C PENNER You can have it in a moment.


PEARSON GARR Yep. So readily available. 


CA PENNER So, that's been the big change on the side of men, especially some women, but mostly men. 


J PENNER In fact, years ago, we were going to be giving a sermon at Saddleback Church here in Southern California. So Cliff Googled ‘sex in the Bible,’ and a porn site came out called —


C PENNER ‘Babes in Babylon.’


PEARSON GARR Oh my goodness! You mean that's not what you were looking for, Cliff? 


C PENNER Point two in our sermon. So that's on the men's side, that is giant, and we get them all the time. From all over the country.


J PENNER Let's just say one thing about that: when the young man has gotten hooked on pornography, that is that dopamine surge where it's new every time, and there's so much dopamine energy, that isn't what will work in a long term relationship. That has to be intimacy. And pornography is the opposite of intimacy, it's really an intimacy disorder. So learning to have intimate sex, even after they get help for their pornography addiction, is the next step. So then they often go to a addiction specialist and then come for sexual therapy to learn how to connect intimately in marriage.


PEARSON GARR So it's a two-pronged approach.


C PENNER And then the big change of more physical issues for women. So talk about that one.


J PENNER Well, I would say more physical issues generally. Because for example, when we were trained by Masters and Johnson, we were taught that ED [Erectile Dysfunction] was 85% psychological. Now the research has shown that it's exactly the opposite: 85%, there are physiological medical issues that relate to ED, even if it starts as physical, it becomes… because now he gets anxious every time even if there's a physical reason. So both have to be treated, but you've got to treat the physical first, because you can't get rid of the anxiety if the physical is still there.


C PENNER But then on the womans’ side, the big changes come about as a result of all the change in the birth control pills.


J PENNER A lot more incidents of pain, because of the women's health study where estrogen has been greatly reduced in the birth control pills. 


C PENNER So we regularly get referrals, calls, emails, questions about the physical pain that women are dealing with. So we would say those two issues are the biggest change that's happened in the last 20 years.


J PENNER For women starting a sex life, we would really recommend doing some real good work and research on what she can take to control – the birth control rather than just going with whatever the common oral birth control pill is that the OBGYN or physician is commonly given. Do some more research on it. And make sure you get one method that can work for you and not cause problems with sex.


PEARSON GARR Do you have advice for parents of kids of how to introduce the topic of sex and sex education as they're growing up?


C PENNER Well, we would say that you would best make it as natural as you can at every stage of life starting at three or four or five. Not in massive detail. But being very specific. In response to any questions and having material around.


PEARSON GARR   I was always told to answer whatever questions my kids were asking, but don't keep talking. Don't keep droning on and on if they stop asking questions.


PEARSON GARR Yes. when they ask the question, don't give your 45 minutes – ‘Oh, this is the time to get the sex talk’. Just answer the question.


C PENNER Think of it as something that's just evolving over time. And if it's an open subject, it will evolve over time. Because there'll be stuff on TV, there'll be things in a book, there'll be stuff that a neighbor said, or something. And so if you look for those natural opportunities, that's how we would do it. And then there is a point around age 12, 13, 14– 


J PENNER Probably younger now, I'd say 10, 11, 12. 


C PENNER Yeah, where it is important to talk about the changes that are happening in their body. And even explaining hormones, and that kind of thing and letting them know that their bodies are changing, and what that means and how they take responsibility for that and all.


J PENNER Reading a book together or watching some clips on YouTube – there's some good ones– is a good way to do that. But not so often adults will tell us their parents gave them a book to read.


C PENNER And said, ‘Read and if you have any questions, just come ask me.’ Another one, I've never heard of anyone who said I went back and asked a question. 


J PENNER So do read books with them at that age. And we do teach in terms of answering questions. The five R's: reinforce them for asking– ‘so glad you asked me that. That's a very important question, it’s a family question and so it's good you asked me,’ and then reflect so you make sure you're answering the right question, because sometimes they're not asking… There's a YouTube [video] called, ‘What is a virgin?’ and the little girl’s asking, ‘What does virgin mean?’ And the mother gives the whole sex talk and then at the end, you see the olive oil bottle…


C PENNER And she says, ‘Well what does extra virgin mean?’[Laughs]


J PENNER You want to reflect. You know, you're asking what happens in your body, you're asking… you know, so reflect, then review. Where did you think of this question? What have you heard about it? And then eventually do respond with just give the answer, don't give the lecture. And then know you'll have to repeat this with more information as they grow older and ask more questions. And if they've been reinforced for asking, you've taken time to find out and get with them, they will ask more.


C PENNER So those are our little five Rs.


PEARSON GARR I like those five Rs. I love that you're still such active therapists at this for you know, several decades now. Is it exhausting work? 


C PENNER That's an interesting question. It has never been exhausting. No, I've been in practice now for 50 years – 


J PENNER And how many hours of therapy?


C PENNER Over 75,000 hours of therapy,


PEARSON GARR You should get a gold star watch or something for that.


C PENNER Please send me my gold watch.


PEARSON GARR That's fantastic. Think of how many people you’ve helped!


J PENNER I don’t have nearly that many hours, because I've always been part time. But we love it. In our book, “Getting Your Sex Life Off to a Great Start,” in the honeymoon chapter we give our telephone number. And say if you run into a problem, give us a call. And we get calls regularly, I usually take those


C PENNER We get calls from all over the world while people are on their honeymoon. And they've run into some kind of a problem. These would usually be people who have not had prior sexual experience with that partner–


J PENNER Which is getting less and less in our world today. Most people have had [sex with their partner], but it still is an issue. Or they've had prior experience but it's been a long time or not in this kind of a situation. And so many times it can be five or 10 minutes of my time. And it's going to make a difference in terms of how they celebrate their anniversary every year. Because it's not going to be this disaster that we ran into.


C PENNER We had a fun situation in response to that, we were teaching a seminar down in San Diego. And the people that were introducing us said, ‘The Penners don't know this, but we called them on our honeymoon.’ 


J PENNER 30 years ago! 


PEARSON GARR They saw the number in the book?


C PENNER Yeah. And then they went on to say about how it had been helpful and all that stuff. But it's just kind of fun. So we have never found the therapy process tiring. I know there are many of my colleagues that feel that way. 


J PENNER I think one reason is because of the RE conditioning the brain and seeing that. It's something very tangible, that you can make a difference. Yes, you have to get over some of the stuff from the past, or the relationship stuff that's getting in the way. That can be a little more tedious sometimes and discouraging, but ultimately, it's so rewarding. You've got something tangible to work with where you're making a difference.  


PEARSON GARR It must be quite rewarding. The impact that it’s had on people's lives. 


J PENNER Yeah.


C PENNER Yeah, we get regular reinforcement for it, that’s the other thing that keeps us into it. Just got an email today from somebody who said, ‘We bought your book 15 years ago and never read it, and now we're finally reading it.’ We’re always kidding, I say ‘It doesn't help by osmosis, you actually have to read it.’ It doesn’t help if you have it on your bedside stand.


PEARSON GARR Read it and then actually use the tips.


CE PENNER Exactly. So no, we get it, we get lots of positive on a regular basis, which is reinforcing and keeps us going. 


That's one thing we would want to say for anyone that's listening, particularly if they're struggling with something, sexual problems are solvable. And it isn't something that you're born with. And then now you're just stuck with it. If we just take something extreme, like unconsummated marriage, every couple that has ever worked with us is the only place we have 100% success –


J PENNER If they've done the work, some people have aborted the process before.


C PENNER – But when they've done the work, every single unconsummated marriage has been consummated. 


PEARSON GARR Wow.


J PENNER And now we have the help of pelvic floor physical therapists. So we don't work alone, we usually work with a pelvic floor physical therapist.


C PENNER So what we're wanting to say, though, whether it's an unconsummated marriage, or an orgasmic problem, or erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation, or desire– 


J PENNER Or just relationship tension about it –


C PENNER It is possible to bring about change. And we would want to just send out a message of hope to everybody, if they're struggling with anything. And even if they're not, their sexual life can be improved, if they work on it together. 


PEARSON GARR That's a great note, because I wonder if some people think, ‘Well, maybe this just isn't the partner for me, maybe we need to end this marriage because this isn't working.’


J PENNER I'm so glad you mentioned that. So many times, the two things we'll hear is, ‘I'm just not attracted to her anymore,’ or ‘I'm just not attracted to him anymore.’ And that's looking for that dopamine, initial sexual feeling, and not having learned the deep satisfaction of an intimate, long term sexual relationship, which can be learned. Or the other one is ‘We just don't think we're compatible sexually.’ That's not usually the case. People can learn to function together and have compatibility. 


C PENNER Now, if they're just using that as an excuse to get out of the marriage, that's one thing, but if they really want to make it work, it is possible. We know there are lots of people that can help with that. So we would definitely want to encourage people.


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PEARSON GARR Yeah. Well, this has been so interesting to me and I've learned so much, so thank you for your insights and for your humor and for all of the time that you've spent–your 75,000 plus hours, Joyce all your hours too–helping us. 


C PENNER Yeah.


J PENNER Thanks for having us, we enjoyed it. 


PEARSON GARR Thank you for taking the time. It's really been a pleasure to see you and thanks for all the tips. 


I appreciate Joyce and Cliff’s lighthearted and frank approach to what most of us consider quite a touchy subject. Here are some of my takeaways from our conversation that may be helpful to all of us. 

  1. Be open to career twists and turns. You may think you’re set on one path, but your true calling may be around a bend.
  2. No one wants to feel blamed or shamed or judged. A good therapist can help both partners feel valued and heard
  3. Be intentional. Be thoughtful. Be deliberate. This can be applied to life in general, not just your sex life.
  4. If you really love your work and feel motivated and rewarded by it, it’s not exhausting. You may even go to extreme measures like offering up your phone number for folks to call you from their honeymoons!
  5. Don’t give up hope. Problems are solvable. 


I’m so grateful for Cliff and Joyce Penners’ wisdom and advice. You can find out more about them and their books in the show notes on our website, the experiencepodcast.net. You can also listen to all of our past episodes there, find out how to follow us on social media, and sign up for our newsletter. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, please rate and review it, and subscribe! And also tell a friend!


I’m Elizabeth Pearson Garr. Thanks for joining The Experience!


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