Rachel Klechevsky is a certified sex therapist based in New York City. She has been practicing since 2012, having received her MSW from NYU and a degree in human sexuality education from Widener University. Rachel answers readers’ questions bi-monthly at:
Hi, Rachel! Thanks for sitting down with me to chat about sex therapy. We're so excited to share your work with our readers. I'm sure they, like myself, would like to know what made you decide to become a sex therapist?
If you ask any sex therapist, it’s always for a personal reason. I grew up in a Jewish, middle eastern, orthodox community in a tiny bubble, and it never felt right for me. It never felt right for me because I am queer and because I am a woman. I just had a lot of questions that no one was able to answer. And when I started answering those questions, I realized that this is a thing I can really understand and also convey to other people.
I imagine with sex therapy, the progress of your clients must be pretty measurable. Is that true?
What’s nice about sex therapy is that you’re really working towards a very specific goal. When I’m speaking to queer clients who are struggling with internalized homophobia, to watch that moment when they are like, “Wait a minute, I don’t have to apologize for myself anymore,” or someone who has been anorgasmic suddenly having their first orgasm, is such an amazing experience. I had a phone call from a client RIGHT AFTER she had an orgasm, and then I’m like, “This is inappropriate” (laughs). It's amazing being a part of that journey.
What is the demographic of your clientele?
I started by saying that I am a polyamory competent therapist, but that market is so tiny. People were always very touch-and-go because it changes their relationships. [For example,] you will have a lot of straight people who have all of these privileges their whole lives, and they are suddenly discovering this about themselves. Then they are having a hard time because they know that they have to experience a “coming out” that they never thought was in their world.
[In addition to] non-monogamy, I started focusing on social justice and relationship anarchy, which opened up my racial and queer demographic. However, my demographics have varied, so it’s very hard to say, “This is my group” because it’s always changing and growing.
What is the most common phrase or sentiment that new clients say in their first session?
It obviously depends on the reason they come in, but I would say the feeling of being “broken” is definitely present. I’ll never forget the first time I experienced this with a client who was 40 years-old and never had an orgasm in her life, not through any experience. I remember saying to her, “This IS possible for you” and she broke down. She had wanted me to confirm that she’s broken.
She said, “I just need to let go of this desire, and I need an expert to tell me that I'm broken and that's the end of it. But you told me that's not the case.” And now she is a wonderfully orgasmic woman, but it took a lot of confrontation. It really was quite impactful for my career, because I realized how much that “broken-ness” really resonates with people and how it becomes part of their identity.
Tell me more about this idea of “broken-ness,” because I’ve even heard friends (including myself) say this when dealing with a sexual issue. It’s very common to just assume you are broken when something doesn’t feel “normal.”
When someone is saying, “I'm broken,” it’s because they have internalized everything about their sexuality that tells them that they're wrong. And how can I blame them? Our society does tell you that if you don't fit into this tiny narrow category, you are wrong — you are broken. There is a moral thing against you.
However, if you came to me and told me that you’re broken, you're already one step away from where you were. Because you are now reaching out feeling like, “No, this brokenness doesn't make sense, but I'm still feeling this way.” So when I see that, my heart goes out to [my clients], and I'm with them in that process.
I think most people who visit a sex therapist for the first time are probably nervous that they are weird or will shock you somehow. Do you find that to be the case?
Most of the time, people are really worried during that first session, and I’m like, “Oh, it's just a foot fetish? Okay! Oh, you’re submissive? Okay!” Then they say, “Wait a minute, isn’t that weird?” and I tell them, “Not even a little bit.” I think it helps my clients when they realize that I have not only heard of this, but I’ve seen it so many times and personally engaged in some of the activities myself.
Outside of the office, how do people react when they find out that you’re a sex therapist? Like at social gatherings, for instance?
Interestingly, this has changed over time. Back in 2012 when I just started practicing, I realized that I was getting invited to events that I didn't think that I would be invited to, and I was being treated like a party favor. People were like, “This is my friend, the sex therapist,” so they were cool by proxy.
There were moments [when I thought,] “That’s not cool.” But I did realize there was a lot of desire to talk to someone like me, and so I learned to embrace it. Sex therapists are not that novel anymore. Most of the time, people want to talk to me because they want to be a sex therapist.
People are also understanding boundaries a lot more. It's kind of uncomfortable when you are drinking at an event, you’re a little bit buzzed, and someone is telling you about their trauma. You’re like, “That's not where I thought I would be tonight.”
It seems like things are changing, and it's not so taboo anymore.
I literally had to come out twice to my mother. Once for being queer, and once as a sex therapist. Her reaction was the same to both: “Why are you doing this to me?”
I feel like Hispanic moms and Jewish moms are a little similar [laugh]. So what is the biggest misconception you’ve had to face as a sex therapist?
I get a lot of unsolicited dick pics. I get a lot of cis-hetero men posing as individuals who are interested in therapy, but then they will send me dick pics on my professional profiles and in my emails. They think that I am there as their toy. Part of the work is telling them that this is inappropriate, that I am a mental health professional, and that if they want, they can hire a sex worker — but I think they first need to learn to respect women. I’ll be really confrontational with someone who I know that I’m not going to work with because they’ve already crossed professional boundaries.
What are you hoping to achieve with this article series?
When people are writing to a sex therapist, they are looking for space and validation a lot of the time. And I want to give them that space and that validation. I also want other people to be able to see what that feels like for them. So if I’m going to communicate with a person who is coming to me with their struggle, people are going to see the difference between the beginning and end of that conversation, [as well as] the process of what it's like to be heard and what it’s like to have the space to be heard.
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If your question is chosen, Rachel will privately reach out and engage in a brief discussion so as to provide an in-depth answer. Each person’s story is individual to them. We feel it’s important to create a dialogue between individuals and our sex therapist so that provided responses are neither vague nor generic, but considered and pertinent. No identifying information will ever be used in any article, thereby preserving anonymity.
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