Have you ever considered seeing a hands-on sex therapist?
Perhaps you’re struggling with some aspect of your bedroom life - erection problems, anxiety. Perhaps there’s something in your past that’s distracting you from having fun in the present…or just a niggling feeling that you could be having better sex, if you really ‘knew what you were doing’.
Many clients of escorts and other sex workers have had these experiences. You might pray it goes away, or hope to stumble across the solution by trial and error in the course of your adventures. But there’s another option.
Meet Lorraine Pentello, a Melbourne therapist who helps people from all walks of life have great sex. She’s joined me to talk about the work she does, how it helps her clients, and why working on yourself is a worthwhile endeavour, if you want a fulfilling sex life.
About our expert
Lorraine is a sex therapist and sexological bodyworker based in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. She’s a bodyworker, EMDR practitioner and somatic therapist (more about that in a moment).
Like many of us, Lorraine’s career path is full of surprising twists and turns. Her interest in sex therapy grew out of her experiences as an erotic dancer. “I was in the club one day, and one of the customers was a bit drunk and went to slap me on the butt...I stumbled in my heels and hurt my back,” she says. “I already had a very painful pelvis and lower back, from decades of trotting around in heels and swinging around poles. And something in me just snapped. And I just sat that night out,” she says.
Fortunately, her night was about to improve. “This customer came in who was struggling with his sexuality. He wanted someone to talk to. He bought a bottle of champagne, he booked the VIP room...and we had the most beautiful conversation. It was almost like a sex therapy session. I was like, 'This is what I want to do with my life.'”
Lorraine assumed she would study psychology and become a ‘talk therapist’. But her searches led her in a different direction - she discovered sexological bodywork, a hands-on, therapeutic service that changed her life. “It took a few years, but I healed my pelvic pain…and bodywork as well - I absolutely love receiving bodywork.” From there she explored other disciplines, such as somatic therapy and EMDR.
What’s involved in hands-on sex therapy?
We’ve used a lot of technical words so far. Sexological bodywork, somatic therapy, EMDR…what’s involved?
Although many kinds of sex therapy are ‘talk only’, Lorraine offers a slightly different service. Basically, these three ways of doing therapy are the cornerstones of Lorraine’s work. By applying these different approaches, she can tackle her customer’s hang-ups, traumas and issues head-on.
Sexological bodywork is a hands-on (or ‘hands-in’) sex education that’s designed to ease pain and create increased awareness and pleasure in the body. It’s based on the concept of ‘embodiment’ - tuning in to how your body feels. “It includes practices from many different modalities such as Tantra, Taoism, mindfulness and Scar Remediation ,” Lorraine says. “But in my opinion, the main aspect to sexological bodywork is the embodiment practices. You're noticing what is happening in your body and then you're receiving a specific kind of one-way touch from your practitioner.”
This touch is delivered using gloved hands, and can be on any part of the body. It can ease pain, repair scarring from past injury, or help you explore sensation. It’s not specifically about sexual pleasure, but feeling good can be part of the experience. “Everybody is allowed to feel pleasure when they're receiving touch. But there is a learning aspect too.”
Sexological bodywork draws heavily from the practice of somatic therapy, a kind of therapy that trains you in awareness of your body, to keep you focused on the present and help you process difficult emotions. For Lorraine, learning somatic therapy was a very helpful experience. “I had a lot of built-up anxiety,” she says. “I was learning these somatic exercises to calm myself. I was also learning and receiving from my peers. Some pretty serious trauma from my earlier years came up and the somatic therapy provided the security that allowed me to move through it.”
Eye movement desensitisation therapy (EMDR)
To take this a step further, she began to experiment with eye movement desensitisation therapy (EMDR). EMDR is a type of trauma therapy that helps people deal with troublesome thoughts, memories, or behaviour patterns. When thinking about past trauma or difficult feelings, bilateral stimulation - touch on both sides of the body, or eye movements that cross the body - is used to calm the person, so that those feelings become less intense over time.
Lorraine says that EMDR was a game-changer. “For some people somatic therapy is enough, but others need something a little bit different. That's when I started receiving EMDR therapy, and I found it incredibly useful. It was life changing.”
There are a few theories on why this works so well. One is that movement or touch on both sides of the body connect the two sides of the brain, helping difficult feelings come ‘unstuck’ by strengthening neural pathways. Some practitioners suggest that it mimics rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the time during the night when we process the events of the day while dreaming. Last, Lorraine says, it may simply be about creating a safe place to get more comfortable with difficult feelings. “We're grounding ourselves in our body…and while we're with the therapist, we've also got safety. So we can start to process it.”
Who is this kind of therapy for?
Lorraine says that people of all backgrounds come to her for therapy - and there’s a range of reasons they might seek out this service. “It's not always for fixing problems. People come to see me that don't have any problems - they're happy with sex but want to make it better.”
Someone might want to learn how to have an orgasm, or last longer during sex. Some clients struggle to maintain an erection. These issues are often about more than just the physical goal. “A lot of people come to see me because of a problem they're having with sex,” she says, “But if there's a problem with sex, there's usually a problem in other parts of their lives as well. So we might have a problem with our confidence, for example.”
There’s also the problem of sexual trauma - painful experiences from the past that interfere with our sex lives. Trauma affects people of all genders, and can be psychological - due to abuse, accidents or loss - or damage resulting from injury or surgery. “With physical trauma, I see people who have had prostate surgery, I see people who have given birth and been injured.”
She sometimes works with people who have had sex mishaps. “Sometimes clients can get a bit carried away with what they want to stick in their butt. And they might encourage their worker to go harder than their tissues can handle - their mind is consenting but their body isn't. And that can create all kinds of injuries and tears - problems with the pelvic floor, problems with the tissues around the anus.” Doing remedial work in this area can promote healing and help avoid future injury.
This kind of therapy isn’t necessarily sexual - it may involve orgasms, or may simply be about breaking down scar tissue. Regardless, Lorraine says there’s always a certain pleasure that comes from touch. “Pleasure is part of the conversation.”
I often work with sex workers,” she says. “Once the client has learned these techniques, they might need someone to practice it with...and who better to practice with than a sex worker?
A typical session…
So, we’ve learned what hands-on sex therapy can help with…but what does a typical appointment actually look like? According to Lorraine, it depends - each session is uniquely tailored to the client’s needs and level of comfort.
“I don't tend to do just talk therapy, although talking is involved,” Lorraine says. “I'll be… guiding people in orienting exercises and embodiment exercises.”
Instead, she combines a number of body-based therapies - guiding her clients through exercises or working with touch. She says that most of her clients get an idea of how she works from visiting her website. “I have a questionnaire if they want to book in, that asks them what they're coming to see me for. And the email that they get when they've booked in outlines the things that they might want to do in the session.”
Most often, it’s a slow start. Rather than tackling the issue directly, she gives her clients time to get used to the situation. “It's perhaps a calming hand on their shoulders. Or a cranial hold. That's what they need to calm themselves down. Some people prefer to be nude straight away, receiving that type of calming touch. Others want to be fully clothed, and they don't want to receive the touch straight away. It might be two or three sessions before they even feel comfortable taking off their jumper or their pants.”
For pleasure and for a better life
Lorraine is passionate about the benefits of embodied therapy, EMDR and sexological bodywork. Lasting longer in bed, experiencing more pleasure and connecting with our sex partners are just the beginning…there’s also the potential to reduce anxiety and stress, and live a healthier life.
“It's so beautiful to see their faces just relax and the sort of the surprise that comes from it. 'Oh, I didn't think I'd feel this today. I didn't think I'd be able to have this conversation with you.' she says. “They got themselves there....and then I can help.”
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