Without even a hint of embarrassment, Dr. Lindsey Doe quips that masturbation is normal and that almost everyone does it. A woman sitting next to us freezes just a moment with a forkful of cabbage dangling in front of her face, and her eyes dart between us with quiet wonderment.
“Are you really talking about masturbation here at the Good Food Store while I’m trying to eat?” the woman’s eyes seem to ask.
Doe, Montana’s only clinically trained sexologist, doesn’t seem to notice the woman’s shock and gawk routine during our discussion of self-love. It happens all the time, Doe says.
Our tablemate quickly leaves after finishing her salad, taking just a moment before departing to give us each another odd look. For Doe, the encounter proves a critical point: Even in an ostensibly open-minded community like Missoula, people still treat sex like something illicit, or an otherwise forbidden topic meant for whispers in the bedroom rather than luncheon discussions.
“Missoula has this image that it’s very open, very liberal about such things,” Doe says. “But really Missoula’s no different than any other place. Sex is taboo.”
Looking around the crowded Good Food Store deli, Doe makes an observation about the other 18 women present to illustrate the Puritan, repressive nature of American sexuality.
“Statistically at least three of them [the women] are suffering from dyspareunia,” she says, referring to a condition characterized by intense vaginal pain during sexual intercourse. “It could be something physical like an oversensitive vulva, or it may be a psychological response from a woman who hates her boyfriend.”
The pain can grow to an intensity that makes sex unthinkable, and often women become “sexually anorexic,” meaning they intentionally avoid sex not out of moral tradition, but because of the aversion to pain.
Unfortunately, people commonly delay seeking a remedy until the cost of avoiding treatment becomes more than receiving it, and that results in unnecessary grief, she says.
“It’s very important to have sex, and to express sexuality. Sexuality is part of a person’s physical care. Just like people go to the gym to avoid obesity and heart disease, they need to have a form of sexual expression,” she says.
Doe cites her experience dealing with disabled people as an example. She says all too often people assume those with disabilities, for instance those who must remain in wheelchairs, are asexual by proxy, but Doe scoffs at such a generality.
“Being in that situation doesn’t make someone lose their natural urges,” she says. “They still feel them, and want them, and they deserve to express that need like the rest of us.”
A self-described “sexologist,” Doe’s qualifications include a doctorate in human sexuality from the fully accredited Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in California and prior training in psychology from the University of Montana. She now teaches a UM course on human sexuality every fall as an adjunct professor.
Doe’s commentary on sexual topics tends to blur the line between the clinical (with words like dyspareunia), and the forthright (candid references to anal sex that almost surely would have offended sensitive ears much more than the masturbation talk). Even if she sometimes comes across to others as gratuitously graphic, Doe insists that discussing sexuality does not cause her shame or guilt. Scolding glances from eavesdroppers barely register. However, the friendly, 26-year-old brunette says some responses to her work give her difficulty.
“The worst part [about being a sexologist] is the amount of people who hit on me, especially teenage boys,” she says. “They’ll say things like, ‘I want to meet a girl as knowledgeable as you,’ or ‘Your boyfriend or partner is so lucky.’”
She laughs at the thought, conceding a bit of personal information.
“The shoemaker’s husband has no shoes,” she says. In other words, just because she possesses an impressive understanding of carnal behavior, her own troubles haven’t simply vanished.
Doe says she suffered with several sexual problems during her college years in Missoula, but found nowhere to turn for support.
“There was no one in Missoula at that time who could help me. I had to find all of that information out on my own,” she says. “That’s really why I got into this work, and wanted to open an office in Missoula, so that people experiencing problems, or couples experiencing problems, had somewhere they could go for help without fear or embarrassment.”
She says most sexual hang-ups stem from feelings of shame or guilt, and that the majority of time people are just looking for permission to engage in things they find pleasing. A woman may need permission to have more sex, or a guy needs to be told that he can masturbate without feeling guilty, she explains.
Mostly, she says people should remember that sex is a normal bodily function that all people wish to engage in, and not something dirty.
Dr. Lindsey Doe can be contacted through her website: http://www.doctordoe.com.