Sex + (positive) is a new ongoing series aimed at reducing negative stigma and promoting honest education and community around issues of sexuality.
So much of the conversation surrounding sex, like that surrounding drugs, is fear-based and chock full of negativity. Stigma about sex, like that around drugs, forces behavior underground where miseducation and shame cause suffering and even death. While not all aspects of sex seem positive, sex positivity is an outlook that seeks to remove moral judgment from the conversation of what turns one on, making a key distinction between fantasy and action. Through a harm reduction lens, Sex + will explore issues such as sex work, sex and spirituality, sex and healing, sex policy, and sex positive erotica for a healthier society.
So that’s what this is all about.
We spoke with Dee Dee Goldpaugh, a featured speaker for the Sexuality Speakers Series (a monthly sexual education series by the creators of the Alt Sex Conference) presenting on the therapeutic use of psychedelics in treating sexual dysfunction and trauma on Tuesday, December 20th in New York City.
Dee Dee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) conducting psychotherapy in private practice based in New York City. Dee Dee specializes in sex and body-positive psychotherapy that utilizes techniques and tools from Psychodynamic, Jungian, Mindfulness and Transpersonal therapy models. Her practice is focused on LGBTQA and poly identities and concerns, and spiritually informed therapy such as Psychedelic Integration.
Hi Dee Dee. You’re facilitating a workshop on current research and clinical applications of psychedelics for sexual health and healing. Tell me how it works, being a therapist who focuses on sexuality and a spiritually informed/integration therapist.
Great question. I think it’s really important to say upfront that I do not give psychedelics to clients and do not refer them to “underground” healers. My practice is actually one centered on sex positivity and body positivity combined with a transpersonal or spiritual lens. I also create space for people who have experienced healing with psychedelics prior to their work with me to process their experiences in a safe place.
That makes sense. I imagine that sex/body positivity is a natural extension of transpersonal theory, since both are focussed on positive influence rather than a disease model to help humans reach their full potential for happiness and growth. Do you incorporate psychedelic principles into your practice, or do you just focus on integration of past psychedelic experiences with those who have had them?
One feature unique to my therapy work is that I have developed a series of guided meditations and exercises that I call Psychedelic Embodiment that I use with clients in my practice to help them to get more comfortable with being alive and safe in their bodies. These exercises are also very useful for combatting intrusive memories of sexual abuse that emerge for many survivors during sexual activity. So, I use principles I’ve learned from the master plant teachers and create ways of accessing the wisdom of the body without using psychedelics.
So some of your therapy has been informed by your experiences with psychedelics. At what point in your career did you realize that you were going to specialize in sex and the plant medicines? Which came first?
It was intuitive for me to focus my psychotherapy practice on serving the sex positive and LGBTQA communities in New York as I identify as a queer poly person. My direct lived experience in those communities gave me unique insight about the struggles and strengths that people with “alternative” sexualities might experience, so that was my starting place. I saw sexual identity issues and sexual trauma as a source of so much pain and confusion in clients. I felt if I could benefit others by helping them to accept and embrace their sexuality, I could do a small part to make the world a better place.
Separately, I was becoming increasingly aware of the astounding emerging research on psychedelics to heal trauma, depression and anxiety, and as a therapist I was deeply intrigued. As renewed research emerged of the tremendous healing potential of psychedelics in a controlled, supportive clinical environment, my interest grew and grew.
The turning point for me was my work on my own healing. I’m very open about being a survivor of abuse in childhood and also sexual assault as an adult. Those experiences had a profound impact on my identity and my ability to have healthy relationships. I had tried psychotherapy and meditation, but found that there were some very deep scars that I personally could not heal using those modalities.
It was in a desperate desire to find my own healing that I came to ayahuasca. I credit my ayahuasca experiences as giving me healing I never thought I would be able to achieve. I was able to deepen my compassion for others, forgive myself for all of the negative beliefs I’d been holding onto about myself my whole life, and eventually find and sustain a very healthy relationship full of love.
While I would never say ayahuasca (or any psychedelic) is the right treatment choice for every person, it allowed me to heal from trauma and regain my sexual freedom. I knew that the niche of radical sex positivity and psychedelic work was my life’s calling. That is to say, my ideal therapy practice of the future would be to use psychedelics legally with clients to heal from relational trauma, sexual trauma and find self-love.
Apart from advocating for psychedelic research, are you “out” as a psychedelic person?
If clients come with prior experiences with psychedelics and want to talk about them, I think they get a sense pretty quickly that I have personal experience with psychedelics. As an advocate for the rescheduling of psychedelics for controlled clinical use, I’m very much “out” as someone who has been healed by these medicines and wants to see them available for people who cannot afford to leave the country for, say, an ayahuasca retreat and used in safe clinical environments.
So you’re in favor of abolishing prohibition of psychedelics?
I think psychedelics are the most promising thing we have in psychiatry today for the treatment of trauma and certain mood disorders. That said, I think it’s also very dangerous to take medicines that have been used in indigenous contexts for healing for millennia and medicalize them. That to me is the pinnacle of Western arrogance. I believe there is a place for psychedelics in society based solely on the principle of cognitive liberty. But, I also see that we need science to back up these claims to change drug policy.
The description for your workshop says you’ll delve into how psychedelics might aid clients in recovery from sexual trauma and dysfunction and increase satisfaction in sexual relationships. Without ruining the surprise, could you tell us a little more about that?
Yes! I see psychedelics as a tool to heal from trauma and have increased satisfaction in your relationships and life in general. I’m going to specifically talk about MDMA for the healing of sexual trauma, psilocybin for the treatment of sexual dysfuntions that have a psychological etiology (meaning a dysfunction not caused by a physical health issue such as heart disease) and ayahuasca as an aid to connect sexuality and spirituality.
I believe spirituality is the missing ingredient to much contemporary sex therapy. Many people have experienced shame around sex due to religiously-based sex negativity or even rejection from religious families over queer identity, so even the mention of spirituality as a dimension of sexuality really throws off a lot of clients!
With psilocybin I’m particularly interested in applying the work of the Johns Hopkins team on Openness. Dr. Katherine MacLean authored a wonderful paper that showed higher dose psilocybin sessions that occasion a mystical experience are correlated with increased Openness, meaning elements of personality once thought to be fixed are actually not static with psilocybin.
One of the biggest challenges I see with clients who experience sexual dysfunction is intense fear and anxiety and very rigid thinking. I think we can make a good argument that psilocybin can be used to very positive ends to ameliorate existential anxiety around sexual performance and help people to be present with their experience of sexual pleasure.
Where would you like to see more research emerge in the next 10 years?
Of course I’d like to see more specific work done on the subjects I’m speculating about: psychedelics and sexual healing. There has been so little published clinical research on sexuality and psychedelics as a discrete topic. We need research to back up these self reports so we can start to use these medicines safely in clinical contexts.
I’m also extremely interested in seeing how psychedelics might be used to treat sex offenders. We do a terrible job at rehabilitating people who have committed sexual crimes. (And trust me, this is not a subject I take lightly.) But, there is a group in Brazil doing very interesting work with the incarcerated using ayahuasca. We know psychedelics foster empathy and connection with other living beings. I think we would have a safer and healthier society if psychedelics could be used to treat both victims and offenders.
What is the number one best habit you would recommend to people for maintaining a healthy sexuality?
Radical self-acceptance. As long as you are practicing consent and whatever you are into sexually is non-coercive, you are essentially OK! Treating sexuality as a sacred right of human beings and embracing an entitlement to sexual pleasure are good starting places! Much of the behaviors we have pathologized are simply out of control behaviors designed to avoid pain. Changing our framework from pathology to wholeness is a big part of affirming a healthy sexuality.