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Talking about your sexual problem is an important part of finding a solution - Psychologist and sexologist Eva Buitenhuis

I really enjoy discovering what motivates people: What makes someone do something? How does that person experience that? What do they think? Are those realistic thoughts? I think it’s amazingly cool to be able to help them look at what is going on in their minds. It is also really nice to become so close with someone. Thanks to the techniques that I have learned, when a person comes to me with a problem, I can make sure that person will never experience that problem again. I stimulate people to think or act differently. And I have the time to enter into a discussion with a client. Many people come to me for a 45-minute consultation once every two weeks. That’s more time than an HIV nurse can usually make available. It’s usually possible to solve the problem or in any case to make it much easier to live with it. And once in a while it doesn’t work, and that can be really frustrating.

Helping get rid of obstacles
I try not to steer people. Naturally I want to help my clients get rid of whatever obstacle is in their way, but that needs to happen in the direction the client wants it to go in. If it’s okay for my client, then it’s okay for me. An obstacle could be that you have become stuck in a certain way of thinking or acting or in a certain feeling: you feel ashamed or guilty or angry, for example. That will make you feel uneasy.

Putting you at ease
I am not easily shocked or surprised. You can talk freely about your feelings with me. It is my work to put you at ease. I adjust my use of language and my way of doing things to fit my clients; if someone is sombre, I won’t laugh exuberantly. Sometime I think: my colleague could deal with this particular problem better than I can. Or: this client would benefit more from a male sexologist. In that case, I will discuss it with the team. And sometimes a client will indicate that he or she does not feel a click with me.

Being caught up in your thoughts
Talking about your sexual problem is an important first step towards reaching a solution. You might come up against sexual problems in your life with HIV. It’s okay that those exist. It could be that you have become caught up in your thoughts. As an outsider, I can ask questions that can help people see things from a different perspective. That enables them to try a different approach and act in a different way.

Homework
I see most of my clients once every two weeks. In most cases we will simply talk, but I also give homework to some. If someone has the feeling that he or she is dirty, it can help to have him or her have a good look at his or her own body. If someone has an erection problem, I ask him to do exercises to let the erection come and go. That allows him to realise that he is capable of getting and keeping an erection and that he can control it. For those who worry too much, I teach them a way to do that less.

Partner
If my client has a partner, I always ask if the partner can also join us a session. If the partner would really rather not come, that is obviously okay. But the partner often has good insights into how someone reacts and what someone does. That is often a source of good information. The partner can observe from a bit of a distance. And in a good number of cases, the partner is part of the process.

Taboo
Why is it often so difficult to talk about sex? I think it’s still a taboo. Not that sexuality itself is dirty, but problems connected with sex are taboo: having HIV, being unable to get or maintain an erection, having no sex drive. Having a good sex life is the standard in this society. No matter how open-minded we are.

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