Empowerment Series: Beverly Hills Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Director of SHAPE Center, and Sexual Health Expert, Dr. Shannon Chavez Educates AW During Sexual Health Awareness Month
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. The topic of sex, as a whole, can trigger embarrassment, alarm, or delight. There can be different reactions, depending on gender, culture, upbringing, and experiences lived. Men are perceived to be more confident when talking about it, while women, can be more private. However, modern times are changing the landscape and encouraging direct dialogue. We are increasingly less intimidated to discuss the things that long ago were taboo.
Nationally recognized experts such as Dr. Shannon Chavez, a Clinical Psychologist based in Beverly Hills, California are helping demystify the subject of sexual health. She is using her teachings to encourage a candid exchange on the topic. The educator and therapist has been featured in major media platforms including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Women’s Health, HuffPost, The New York Times, GQ, Men’s Health, and others. Recently, Dr. Chavez partnered with the #1 dating app for Latiné singles, Chispa to help couples navigate the sometimes, intimidating topic. Together, they are working on providing a safe and supportive space to have honest conversations about sex.
AW sat down with Dr. Chavez to discuss prioritizing our sexual well-being, open communication in relationships, sexual fulfillment, cultural influences that shape our views about sexuality, and improving the way we think about sex.
Many of us struggle with expressing our wants or needs, particularly with a partner or someone we are dating. Oftentimes, as women, we look to please, forgetting that we also require attention. When navigating conversations about our desires, what have you found to be the biggest challenge that couples face in relationships? Would you say the problem is communication or knowing what we want? Great question and it is a little bit of both, to be honest. The issue may be with vulnerability. We know how to communicate but there is hesitation to relay the information. Fear of judgment or shame, wanting something that may be different from our partner’s wants or needs. We have learned this idea of “normal” sexuality then there is – everything else but the reality is that we have diverse sexualities.
Sexuality and sexual health are about intimacy, pleasure, and connection. There are many ways to have that, we will have differences in what those are. There is a barrier, communicating is a vulnerability because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Plenty of people have had negative outcomes. Possibly, a partner has laughed at them, ignored the conversation, or felt their embarrassment. An experience like that can lead to shutting down or feeling reservations about sharing interests.
In your opinion, what is something we can do as individuals or partners to improve how we share our desires? I would recommend that people focus on individual health before partnered intimacy. Ask yourself the questions, first. When I work with people individually, I find that it is hard for them to even ask themselves, “What are my values? How do I feel about monogamy or openness?” Doing that self-reflection and checking one’s awareness will offer some bullet points. It can give you a sense of intention around communication. Doing a bit of reconciliation around the questions can help. It may not necessarily make it easier but helps us figure out true wants which is a great first step!
Growing up Latina, in a Dominican household, the word “sex” was a no-no. Discussions about our bodies, desires, or sexual health in general did not happen. I have worked hard to break that cycle with my daughter and do something different. In your experience, how can cultural influences shape our perception of sexuality? How will your partnership with Chispa help improve the way we embrace identity while exploring preferences? I love this question. Thank you for sharing your experience because it was mine too, being raised in a conservative Latino household. This was one of the reasons, why, I began this work. Culture has a lot to do with our programming, working models of love, relationships, success, and so many of these teachings that run deep. We have generations of traditions, teachings, modeling, and observation. Therefore, when we are changing them, it can seem like a huge leap outside of our comfort zone. We can feel like we are being bad or naughty, carrying guilt with these emotions.
Focusing on unique experiences in our culture is so important. It was one of the reasons for this partnership with Chispa. This is a dating app for Latino singles who are going out and dealing with issues that we all share. We can help you navigate these situations and reconcile how to hold on to your culture while embracing a modern world. There are new rules for dating and people are using technology.
As Latinos, we are prideful about our culture but there is still shame around sex. We need to learn that it can be empowering. My role is to educate and make the subject approachable without fear of talking about it. I’d like to encourage the normalizing of discussions around the topic. Get beyond the barriers that impede us from pleasure and connection.
There appears to be shame in conversations about sexual fulfillment. How can your strategies help build a stronger connection with a partner in this area and increase relationship satisfaction? My biggest goal is to broaden individuals’ and couple’s understanding of what sex is because it is not just having it. It’s all under the umbrella of intimacy. The way we interact, communicate, negotiate, compromise, and share with empathy and not judgment. Curiosity about experiences with pleasure looks different for everyone. If we get caught up in the idea of “This is sex,” we’ll find a large number of men and women are not satisfied or motivated by only that aspect of sexual health. Instead, having emotional intimacy, quality time together, and being able to connect on various elements taking place in your life can lead to more desire for play and pleasure. Bringing that integration into the relationship is key. We have found that sex and pleasure are much more than what we have been taught it is, especially for women. We need to feel empowered about sexuality. Pleasure is about learning to understand your body, anatomy, and how things work. Remember, it will be different for women than it is for men. We are wired, and our bodies respond, differently than theirs.
I appreciate the work being done by you and Chispa to empower others to take charge of their sexual health. Making trustworthy information available to men and women can inspire new and improved connections. Can you share what type of resources are being made available to the community during September, Sexual Health Awareness Month? We have created sexual health videos and resources that include questions that you may not want to ask a friend, partner, or doctor. Discussions around common issues that can happen at different stages during your life span, relative to sex and sexuality.
Whether you are a man or a woman who is in a partnership, or not, it is essential to learn about your sexual health to be able to manage situations and questions or avoid awkward moments. For more, visit findtuchispa.com
We like to end AW interviews with a piece of advice, mantra, or quote to inspire. As we celebrate Sexual Health Awareness Month, what message would you like to share about the importance of taking charge of your sexual health and navigating its challenges? I think the most important thing is to start where you are! It does not matter if you think you are behind or in the dark. I tell clients, that not knowing is a good place to begin. This is the point where we can find and access what is needed to feel more confident. Age is not a factor, we are always learning. I’m constantly learning new things every day. It’s part of the process and making that fun and approachable is key. No shame and no ego should be in play. Taking care of your sexual health is my mantra for everyone!
AW is grateful to Dr. Chavez for providing her expertise on a subject that at times is uncomfortable to openly talk about with others. Long gone are the days when the stigma around sex would scare us into a sentence of dissatisfaction. The fact is that we are sexual beings and sexual health is a part of our overall wellness.
This is an opportunity to learn, and maybe keep an open mind to doing things a different way.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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