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Interview with Dr. Charlie Glickman

We had the pleasure of interviewing well-known sex educator Dr. Charlie Glickman for our Real Sexy “Ask the Expert” series. Charlie currently runs Good Vibes’ sex education program in San Francisco, CA and conducts his own workshops on topics ranging from prostate play to getting over shame and sex. It was a true joy listening to him answer our questions and eloquently impart some valuable sex ed.

Here’s the interview: What’s missing in adult sex education today?

Dr. Glickman: The awareness that adults need sex education.

A lot of the adult sex education that does exist tends to be problem-based. It’s focused on how to spice up a sexless marriage or your boyfriend or your girlfriend wants to try something and you’re not sure about it. I don’t think there’s enough conversation about why to have sex. What are the reasons people have sex?

There’s a book that just came out by Marty Klein – he’s a sex therapist in Palo Alto. It’s called “Sexual Intelligence.” And his whole book is about how, either there’s skills that you need – like an awareness of your own pleasure and your own body – and most-known tools to be able to talk about difficult stuff, and recognizing that if you are acting out of resentment – your obligation – you’re not going to be enjoying sex. I mean it’s all of these things that need to be the foundation before you get to know how to give somebody a great blowjob or 17 new sex positions to drive your boyfriend wild or whatever it is.

But the problem is that those things are harder to sell. What’s easy to sell is, “5 New Ways to Stimulate the G-spot.” That’s easy. How do you help people as a sex educator?

Dr. Glickman: What I like doing is workshops. My intention is to find out, two things – “What is it that this person thinks is the problem?” “What is it that they think they need?” And then there’s “What do I see is the problem?” or “What I think would be usual for them, and how do we fit all of that together?” So, sometimes, it’s different from what they think that they need.

Dr. Glickman: Well, like the guy who came in to the store who was having erection difficulties because he’s taking blood pressure medication, it’s very common side effect. And he came in convinced that he needed was a cock ring. And what I was hoping, I mean I did eventually sold him a cock ring but part of what I talked about in the conversation with him was, “Look, your sex life doesn’t have to all be about having a hard penis. There’s a lot of stuff you can do and really enjoy. Let’s talk about what your other possibilities are.” So, sometimes what people think they need and what I think might be useful is not always the same thing. How do you feel about polyamory?

Dr. Glickman: There’s a saying in the swingers community that swinging will make a good relationship better, and a bad one worse. And I see this in a lot of people, especially in the polyamorous world, especially in San Francisco. “Things are little rocky for us, let’s open up our relationship.” That’s just as much as a disaster as people who say, “You know, our relationship isn’t very good, let’s have a baby. That will really make us closer with each other.”

You got to have a solid foundation first. What’s your favorite type of workshop?

Dr. Glickman: I really enjoy talking about prostate play because I think the world would be a much happier place if more men would experience it! How do you educate people about prostate play?

Dr. Glickman: When I talk with folks about prostate play, most who come to the workshops, already have some kind of interest in the topic. But sometimes, it’s one person who is interested and they’re kind of dragging their partner along and so, my co-teacher, Allison Mercy and I, we always start off talking about the barriers to it and the three top fears that come up over and over again with men.

“Is it going to be painful?”
“Is it going to be messy?” and
“Is it going to make me gay?”

So, we always start with those and break those down a little bit. And then we get into the two sides of things because a lot of it just really understanding how the body works.

A lot of people learn how to have sex from watching porn. And I used to say that learning to have sex from watching porn would be like learning to drive from watching a car chase movie…or learning gun safety from watching action movies.

I think a lot of heterosexual men who have never been in the receiving end of penetrative sex. It’s hard to really understand why a partner might say something like, “I need to be really turned on first, I need you to go slower” – anal or vaginal, it doesn’t matter. Because a lot of guys, they do that, “You know, I’m so turned on, I can’t hold back.” That kind of thing. “We have to hurry.” There’s this sort of rushing to it. And once you’ve been on the receiving end and you’ve experienced how your own body needs to get turned on first, you need to be really connected with your partner; you need to be very comfortable, all of a sudden a lot of guys say, “Oh wait, I get it.” You know, “Yes, we’ll spend half an hour making out and have oral sex first.” I get it.

Women when they’re on the giving end especially when they’re pegging, realize how much work and effort and responsibility and sometimes power goes into doing that with someone. And you won’t have to even worry about a dildo getting soft at the wrong moment. Imagine if dildos were programmed that one out of every twenty times, some random time after you start having sex, it would just go soft and nothing you could do to change that. Add that to the mix and I think it would offer a more insight into what’s that like on the other side, so in my experience for a lot of heterosexual couples, it creates a better understanding. You know, it’s walking a mile in the other person’s shoes. What does a successful workshop look like?

Dr. Glickman: For how-to oriented workshops, it’s the folks who say, “Yeah! I’m going to go home and try this right now.” Or they buy some toys or they e-mail me a week later and say, “You know, I got the chance to try that thing you said and it was awesome.”

What makes me really happy as a sex educator is knowing that right now, at this very second, somebody out there is having better sex, better orgasm or a better relationship because of something that I did, makes me happy. I like knowing that. I’ve talked to enough people that it’s a guarantee that somebody right now is doing something that I suggested to them. Do you have a lot of people that come for workshops and then after you explained to them the benefits of it, now they are like, “Oh! Now, I want to try it.”

Dr. Glickman: In those situations, I really try to validate, “You know, you never have to do anything that you don’t want to do.”

In my view, you never have to pretend to like sex or a particular sexual act, the world would be a better place if fewer people pretended to like sex that they don’t want to have. And don’t even get me started on faking orgasms. Actually, I read a blog post today, I don’t remember who wrote it but they were saying that not only does it mean that you’re not getting what you want, but you’re encouraging your partner to think that they know what you like, and they’re going to keep doing that same thing. One of our slogans is, “If she’s squirting, she’s not faking it.”

Dr. Glickman: Yeah, it’s hard to fake that one. You can’t really fake female ejaculation. How do you feel about female ejaculation?

Dr. Glickman: Nobody knows for sure what it is. There have been studies that show that it’s more similar to prostatic fluid. There has been studies that show that it doesn’t contain the chemicals that are urine and there are studies that show that it does but in lower quantities. I don’t particularly care what it is as long as people are enjoying the experience. I do, I am pretty confident that it’s not urine. It’s only because it doesn’t look or smell like it. I’ve definitely witnessed it both part in the expression first hand and also on video and I’ve talked to enough people who’ve experience it, it’s real whatever it is. But we don’t know exactly where it is or where it comes from. But I also don’t want to get so caught up in putting it on a pedestal because I know people who feel really bad about it, “Oh, I can’t do this,” or “I can’t make my partner do this.”

G-spot ejaculation is a lot like other types of orgasm. The more goal-oriented you are, the harder it is to make it happen. Especially for guys, but some women too. But a lot of guys have incorporated this idea that “If she ejaculates, it means I’m a really good lover and that makes me super macho.” How are you perceived as a sex educator in your community? You grew up non or Pagan, non-secular…

Dr. Glickman: I grew up non-practicing Jewish but very assimilated East Coast Jewish. How’s this affected you as a sex educator?

Dr. Glickman: Well, Judaism has a really interesting relationship to sex. In many Jewish traditions, it’s considered a mitzvah to have sex and not just to have sex but have female orgasm. For a couple of thousand years ago, there’s a common belief that you needed to have female orgasm in order for there to be conception. And so, among many Jews in many different cultures, the idea was Friday night on the Sabbath, you go the temple, you pray and then you go home when you have sex and it’s the man’s responsibility to give his wife an orgasm.

There’s a different relationship to sex generally speaking than you see in some of the more church-based traditions. You wrote the article “Why Make Sex Sacred?” How did your audience respond to that?

Dr. Glickman: It’s been interesting; I just posted it yesterday. So far, the feedback has been really positive – even from the folks who are in the “sex is sacred” camp. So it’s divided: on one side you have sex is sacred and on the other, sex is not.

Dr. Glickman: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, if calling it sacred makes it better for you, I’m not going to get in your face and tell you not to, as long as you’re not expecting me to agree with you.

…I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with recreational sex. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a one-night stand or anonymous sex in the sex club or a highway rest stop as long as everybody’s consent, pleasure and well-being are cared for. I don’t think that calling sex sacred gets you anywhere if you are then shaming people for having other kind of sex.

…Whatever it is for you, that’s what it means to you. Don’t shame somebody else who has a different experience of it. If your sex is transactional, you’re doing it for money, if your consent, pleasure and well-being are part of that process, that’s all I care about. You’ve been non-monogamous 20 years. How did you make this work?

Dr. Glickman: I’ve never been monogamous, although my partner and I, we’ve been together… we just had our 20th anniversary. And we have had either 3 or 4, I lost track, a few time spans of several months up to over a year, where we were choosing to not have other partners because we had so much stuff going on that we needed to focus on each other. But we weren’t monogamous because we weren’t saying “we’re doing this” — to me there’s a difference between being monogamous and choosing to not have other partners. By the same token, somebody who is monogamous and bisexual is still bisexual even if they’re only having sex with a person of one gender. It’s a question of identity versus action. If you can be a heterosexual man who can give other men blowjobs, you can be a non-monogamous person who is not having sex with any other person. Do you identify with a particular label?

Dr. Glickman: At this point, I very rarely identify with anything. I describe myself but I don’t identify. There’s a great line in the movie Dogma with Chris Rock, where he says, “I was talking about the differences between beliefs and ideas.” And he says that ideas are better than beliefs. You can change an idea much more easily than a belief. People kill for beliefs, people die for beliefs.

I’ll describe myself as non-monogamous or as queer or these other things but I don’t identify because it’s not the only thing I am and it’s easier for me to change my description than my identity. I talked to somebody once who literally said to me, ”I can’t be attracted to this guy because I’m a lesbian.” I said, “Well, you know, you identified yourself as a lesbian and that’s getting in the way of your attraction for this person who you really are drawn to. What if you could just not let it get in the way?” What do you recommend for someone who is looking to go form monogamous to polyamorous relationship?

Dr. Glickman: There are two books that are worth getting, one is called “Opening Up” by Tristan Taromino and the other one is “Love in Abundance” by Kathy Labriola. The thing about open relationships of any shape is you’re dealing with variables and so you really need to be able to handle big emotions and process through them quickly and efficiently because otherwise, you spend all your time processing. What do you mean by processing?

Dr. Glickman: Processing like, “Sweetie, you did this thing and I’m feeling really upset about it and I’d like to sit down and talk with you about it.” If you are able to sit down and have that conversation, and “Oh yeah, I did this, I didn’t mean to do it, I apologize.” Or “Wow! You misunderstood, I really meant to do that, let’s figure out how to keep this from happening again.” As compared to the “Oh no, here we go again, you’re going to start talking about your feelings, I’m going to sit here and resent it.” I mean it’s why many of the men I know who are in open relationships are kind of touchy-feely because you need to be able to process emotions. What do you recommend people do if they want to overcome shame about their sexuality?

Dr. Glickman: If people want to overcome shame about sexuality, get a therapist. A sex therapist?

Dr. Glickman: No, sex therapists are just therapists who specialize in sexuality issues, just like there are therapists who specialize in divorce or drug and alcohol or grief or these other things. There are plenty of great therapists who don’t specialize in sex, who are really good at dealing with issues in shame but there are also especially for people who are in gender or sexual minorities, it can be useful to have a therapist who understands who isn’t going to say to them, “The reason why you want to be tied up and spanked, it must because you were abused as a child.” or “The reason why you want to have multiple partners is because you can’t commit.” Nobody ever says to somebody the reason why you’re monogamous is because you’re a trauma survivor. But that can happen, too; the stories that people have are very complex. So, the kind of therapist who can separate out the behaviors from the reasons. A sex therapist is a good way for that but not the only place. Do books on this topic also help?

Dr. Glickman: Yeah! Brene Brown’s book. “I Thought It Was Just Me”. She did the Ted talk on Shame and Vulnerability, and her book nails it pretty much all the way down the line. Have you seen a number of people get over shame? If so, what does it usually look like? Do they go to a therapist or do they read books?

Dr. Glickman: People get over shame in a lot of different ways. For some people, it involves a lot of journaling and self-reflection and solo time. For some people, it might be a support group or working with a therapist. Sometimes, it involves sexual exploration. Ever since the 70’s, Betty Dodson has been teaching workshops where women just sit down, rest on some pillows, spread their legs and take a mirror and a flashlight and look at their vulvas because they’ve never seen them before, they’ve never looked at them before and that can be a very healing and profound experience. There are a lot of workshops on how to overcome a lot of resorts and issues.

The way that it usually looks is people moving from being shutdown to being more expressive; being really rigid to be being more flexible; being willing to explore and experiment a little bit more, less reactive about things, and are more able to state their needs and their desires and their boundaries. Can you be religious and a sex educator?

Dr. Glickman: There are people who do it; I actually met somebody at Momentum. I don’t remember if she’s a sex educator or a sex therapist but she is a practicing mormon and we had this lovely conversation and she talks to her kids about sex, she talks to her teenage daughter about sex and she also very firmly believes that this is what is right for her but she also didn’t judge me, I got no sense of judgment towards me about being queer and kinky and poly.
We had a lovely conversation. You can find folks like that everywhere but some traditions are more easy than others to find people like that. But it was really very eye opening to me to see somebody coming from this tradition that is generally considered very sexually restricted taking a very different view. It’s a good reminder that even when the public phase is one-way, there are individuals who are not that.

And the thing about shame is that when it comes up, you have three options. You can try to control the situation, so controlling other people so they don’t do whatever is triggering you or I don’t want to be around, I don’t want to see it. You can avoid the whole thing entirely, like not talking about whatever is happening or withdraw from somebody, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore because you’re gay.” Or you can process through your shame and heal from it, which is the only way forward but it’s a lot of work, and it’s really hard.

All that stuff, and the only way to move through it is to move through it. But even though that’s very difficult, what helps me with that is remembering that if I don’t clean this up, I’m going to inflict it on somebody else, and at the end of the day – at the end of my life – when I’m looking back on it, I would much rather know that I wasn’t making a mess that somebody else is going to have to clean up. Whether I’m a guest in someone’s house and I do my own dishes, or in my relationships, I would rather work on my own shame than shame my partners. Last question. How are you influenced as a sex educator by your community?

Dr. Glickman: I couldn’t do what I do without my community. We’ve got this myth of a lone cowboy kind of thing, but we’re social creatures…I like to surround myself with the sorts of people who I would like to be like.

Once I was having a birthday party and I had this moment of realization. I looked at all these awesome people I know. And I realized, if I met somebody else who knew all of these cool people, I would think that they were really much more amazing that I thought that I was. And so, who was I to think that I wasn’t cool when I knew all of these great people who clearly cared about me? I couldn’t have… And that has been a big shift for me in terms of my own self-esteem and overcoming my own shame and I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t have my own community. Well there you have it, folks. Thanks Charlie for taking the time to talk to us today; you kept it real & informative!

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One Comment

  1. Camila says:

    Wow, this was so in depth. Thank you!

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