“I don’t even notice race. I’m colorblind.”
Have you heard someone express this sentiment? It often springs from good intentions—from people who want you to know that skin color isn’t a deciding factor in how they treat others. However, even with the best of intentions in mind, the choice to be “colorblind” in our world is not a responsible one, especially for a sex coach.
Race, as a topic, is complex. It’s confounding. On the one hand, it’s a social construct; after all, the amount of melanin in your skin should determine little more than how much time you can comfortably spend in the sun.
On the other hand, this social construct affects us all in very real, often damaging ways. If you want to begin repairing the damage, the first step isn’t to blindly ignore it: it’s to acknowledge what’s actually going on, with honesty, acceptance, and a willingness to help however you can.
Why is race a significant topic in sex coaching?
As a sex coach, you’re no stranger to the litany of assigned meanings, myths, and stereotypes society associates with sex and sexuality. Can you think of many that are particularly helpful to our wider understanding of sex?
And when you consider race, just as much—if not more—misinformation undermines compassionate understanding of our fellow humans. To understand why race consciousness is so important for sex coaches, look no further than the intersection of sexual and racial stereotypes and injustices that affect BIPOC: fetishization, harmful stereotypes, tension around interracial sex and dating, and a heightened risk of sexual violence, to name just a few.
For BIPOC moving through the world, colorblindness isn’t an option. That’s why it’s important that, as a sex coach especially, you make the choice to address, rather than avoid, the topic of race as it relates to your clients.
Intentional Empathy Helps You Move Past Being Colorblind
Since you’re in this field, chances are you identify as an empathetic person. When most of us consider the idea of empathy, we think of it just that way: as an idea, a quality, or something we have. And while this is true, it’s also important to think of empathy in its other form: as an action.
To be empathetic with a person is to attempt to feel what they’re feeling. Yes, it’s impossible to truly know exactly how another person feels, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, anyway. But how do you actively practice empathy? What does that actually involve?
To start, think about what it means to you to be empathetic. Take a minute and reflect on the last time you felt true, deep empathy for another person or being. Picture where you were, what you were doing, and how you felt. What invited you to want to feel what this person was feeling? How did you gather information to better understand how they felt? Did you outwardly express this empathy, or only feel it within?
It may seem strange, but breaking down an emotional experience in your brain can help you understand it in a brand new light. So many of our emotional processes happen so quickly in our brains that we barely notice all of the depth, complexity, and beauty they can bring.
Empathy is a great place to start practicing this. Getting familiar with the language of your empathetic response—the thoughts and beliefs in your mind, the sensations in your body, the shift in your energy—will make it all the easier to call forth when it could be really helpful.
Intentional Empathy, Curiosity, and the MEBES© Wheel: Tools for Strong Allies
Race is obviously a charged topic, and not everyone feels comfortable approaching it.
This is usually because of the fear of offending, crossing a boundary, or causing more harm than good. Luckily, as a sex coach, you’re in a good position to navigate these waters well—after all, very few professionals have more experience speaking directly and gracefully about charged topics!
Be as open to discussing the topic of race with your clients as you are discussing the topic of sex—and let your clients know this. An easy way to do this is to work simple, guiding questions into your intake paperwork:
What cultural (racial, religious, etc.) aspects impact your relationship with your sexuality?
Are there any race- or culture-specific sexual concerns you’d like to address?
Incorporating these sorts of questions takes away a lot of guesswork when it comes to addressing race in your sex coaching sessions and gives you a natural opening to approach the topic.
A helpful in-session strategy is to use the MEBES© Wheel as a tool to discuss race. In his essay, “MEBES: A Soulful Lens to a Diverse World,” Dr. Nwachi Tafari identifies Dr. Patti’s model as a beautiful tool for practicing intentional empathy. “When I gently look at myself and others, not only clients, but all others, through the lens of MEBES©, I feel exquisitely human and have more space for forgiveness,” Dr. Tafari says. “Additionally, I give others back their humanity while respecting the importance of individual story.”
When working with your BIPOC clients (and all of your clients), consider their experience through the MEBES© Wheel. As they open up to you about the role race plays in their lives, imagine what they must be thinking. From there, imagine how that thought might make them feel. If you’re unsure what they’re thinking, ask! As a sex coach, your priority is your client’s growth, and being curious about what you don’t know is the only way to achieve that.
Observe what energy your client brings to the session, and notice the subtle shifts as they share certain pieces of information. Pay attention to their body language and what it’s telling you without words. Spend time considering their spiritual health and how racial injustice affects it. Use the MEBES© Wheel to envision them as fully and deeply as you can imagine, and hold tight to that image.
Being “colorblind” can feel like a form of erasure. Empathetically feel into what having a significant part of your identity ignored and erased could be like. Rather than ignoring the race of another person, try honoring it or celebrating it. Learn about Black culture, Black history, and the amazing contributions Black people have made to ALL disciplines and industries. Cultivate an appreciation for diversity so you can become a true ally and not an inadvertently hurtful, “colorblind” one.
Continue the Conversation
How do you address race in your sex coaching sessions? Does it ever come up, or is it something you haven’t encountered yet? What insight do you have for those who struggle to comfortably talk about race with clients of all colors? Let us know? Join us in our Facebook discussion group, Sex Matters, and contribute to the conversation today.